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THE SITUATION ROOM

Nationwide Boycott Dubbed "Day Without Immigrants"; Interview with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Iraq: 3 Years Later

Aired May 1, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now, it's May 1st. They're calling it "A Day Without Immigrants," a nationwide strike and boycott as illegal immigrants seek to show their importance to the nation.

Will they help their cause? Will they hurt the economy? I'll ask the Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, and CNN's own Lou Dobbs.

On May 1, 2003, President Bush stood under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" and declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. Three years later, is the end of the war any closer?

And May 1st marks one month until the start of the next hurricane season. How bad will this one be? Can New Orleans withstand another storm?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Businesses shut down, children out of school, and a sea of proud and passionate protesters in the streets. In Chicago, Denver, Miami and elsewhere, chances are you're seeing the effect of a nationwide strike and business boycott by millions of immigrants and their supporters. Protest organizers are calling it "A Day Without Immigrants," the latest in a series of protests against a proposed crackdown on illegal immigration.

We're covering events from east to west and in between. Ali Velshi is in New York, but let's go to Chris Lawrence. He's on the scene for us in Los Angeles -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when all is said and done, this rally here in Los Angeles will probably be the largest of its kind anywhere in the country. The mayor of Los Angeles told students here not to come to these rallies. He instructed them to go to school, but we just learned from the school district that about 72,000 students from grades 6 through 12 did not go to school today, just a tremendous turnout here at some of these events. And what a lot of people here are saying is this is the nation really waking up to the growing political power of Latino Americans. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice over): Markets bustling with business on Friday empty out during Monday's boycott. And millions of marchers rally across America. But organizers are already looking to the next step.

NATIVO LOPEZ, ORGANIZER: Today's movement translates into augmented voter power and voter consciousness and a voting bloc.

LAWRENCE: That last part won't be easy. Different groups, different priorities. Some want the government to legalize undocumented immigrants, but some Asian-Americans say it first needs to ease the backlog on family visas for those who emigrated here legally.

EUN SOOK LEE, KOREAN-AMERICAN RIGHTS LEADER: Because there's not enough visas for services, people are waiting a long time.

LAWRENCE: Eun Sook Lee says she knows families who have lost decades.

EUN: Would you wait 20 years to bring your daughter to the country? Wouldn't you find any other means?

LAWRENCE: Politically, some see a growing sophistication in the immigrant rights movement, such as replacing Mexican flags from earlier rallies with American flags.

ALLAN HOFFENBLUM, POLITICAL ANALYST: Here in California, Latinos decided to become an active political force.

LAWRENCE: Political analyst Alan Hoffenblum says Republicans controlled the state legislature 12 years ago, but they lost it after taking a shrill stance on immigration rights.

HOFFENBLUM: So I warn my Republican allies nationwide, better be careful. Look here what happens here in California. They lost every legislative seat in California that had a predominant or a significant Latino population. Because Republicans perceive that being anti- Mexican, anti-immigrant, the Latinos vote for them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Yes, and to put that in some sort of political perspective, back in 1994, Latinos represented about 7 percent of registered voters here in California. Today, that number is right around 19 percent. Some of the organizers have been telling us that they're here trying to register even more voters.

So, again, while the rallies and the spectacle and some of the speeches will get a lot of the attention, it's what comes after this, the political power that's put into play after this that a lot of people say will be the growing legacy of this movement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, thanks for that.

Let's check the situation in New York right now. CNN's Mary Snow is in the middle of the action. She's joining us on the phone.

What's the latest there, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a few thousand people, an estimated few thousand people here now going downtown, marching south. This is part one of this rally today.

The scene here, the chants, "Si se puede," the crowd keeps chanting, "Yes we can." There are immigrants from all over, but predominantly we're seeing flags from Mexico, Ecuador, Puerto Rico. And these people who are here today are saying that they are fighting for a full right.

Now, we had Jesse Jackson kicking off this rally here today, but absent, Wolf, from this rally, what we saw a month ago, politicians. This is mostly loosely organized from a dozen -- a couple of dozen organizations here in New York. And we've heard from some union leaders. But mostly now what's going on is this rally, which really packed Union Square, heading down south, and it's going to culminate at Foley Square (ph), where there will be rally in a few hours from now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, we'll check back with you on the latest in New York City.

How big of an impact will today's protest have on the nation's economy?

Let's check in with our Ali Velshi. He's got "The Bottom Line" -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's almost impossible to put a price tag on the economic impact from today's rally. We just don't know how many people are taking part in the boycotts or to what extent. But what we do know is there are a number of big-name, high-profile companies across the country with some operations shut down today either as a sign of support or as a result of worker shortages.

Now, Tyson, which is the nation's largest meat producer, said nine of its 100-plus plants had suspended operations. The company said it wasn't encouraging workers to participate today.

Other meat processors, Cargill and Swift, closed plants across the Midwest. Perdue Farms closed eight of its 14 processing plants, also because of an expected lack of workers today.

In Sonoma, California, Gallo Wines offered time off to its employees, but the company says its wine plants are still fully operational.

Goya Foods, the country's largest Hispanic-owned food company, suspended deliveries today in observance of the day, but, remember, anything the company didn't deliver today, like those other companies, will likely get delivered later this week.

So, it's difficult to measure the economic impact.

Now, locally, here in New York, trucking and deliveries felt the impact at today's rallies. Fresh Direct, which is an online grocery service, says its service was in short supply today.

So, we're tracking it. No long-term economic impact that we can see, but definitely some short-term messages -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll have to wait and see in the days to come what the fallout is going to be economically.

VELSHI: Yes.

BLITZER: Ali, we'll check back with you.

In Mexico, meanwhile, instead of calling it "A Day Without Immigrants," organizers are calling similar protests there "A Day Without Gringos." Protesters are boycotting, get this, Wal-Mart, McDonald's and hundreds of other U.S. companies. Organizers say it's a show of solidarity for Mexican migrants working here in the United States.

Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Three years ago today, Wolf, President Bush declared victory in Iraq. Well, sort of.

Remember this? He made a dramatic landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln underneath that now famous banner "Mission Accomplished." Three years later, Americans are still dying in that country, and Americans here are wondering if the mission will ever be accomplished or completed.

A CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation shows that only 9 percent of Americans think the U.S. has accomplished its mission in Iraq, 84 percent of us don't think so. When asked if the U.S. will eventually accomplish its mission there, 49 percent say yes, 44 percent say no.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Joe Biden wrote in "The New York Times" this morning that, "It's increasingly clear..." -- quoting here -- "... that President Bush does not have a strategy for victory in Iraq."

So, here's the question this hour: Will the United States eventually accomplish its mission in Iraq?

Your thoughts, caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise, Jack, what the president said three years ago today. He said, "My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended." He went in on to say, "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

"Have prevailed." He never flatly said "Mission Accomplished," although the banner was there.

CAFFERTY: Well, that's why in the beginning of my report here I said he declared victory, sort of.

BLITZER: Well, he said our allies -- the United States and our allies have prevailed. So, he sort of did declare victory.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Well, we'll hear what our viewers have to think on that as well, Jack. Thanks very much.

Up head, how much is the war in Iraq affecting how much you pay for gas? We're going to tell you what the experts are saying right now.

And there are new developments in the case against conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh is speaking out about his problems, and there are reportedly new details on what he needs to do to stay in the clear.

All that coming up.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the so-called "Day Without Immigrants" protest here in the United States today, many demonstrators marched through the streets of Los Angeles to their city hall.

Joining us now is the mayor of L.A., Antonio Villaraigosa.

Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.

Was this a good idea to organize these demonstrations and these boycotts today?

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: What I've said is -- on that issue is that participating in a boycott is a personal decision. I didn't oppose or argue for a boycott, either way.

What I did say was that I want kids to stay in cool. We know many have stayed in school, but some are participating in today's march. I also said that there would be an opportunity later on in the day to -- for young people to march, and we're hoping that that's what they'll do.

You know, it's hard to tell. I only say this: that these marches, that the tens of thousands of people -- and we don't have an exact estimate, but we know that it's going to be a very, very large demonstration. We understand maybe the largest in the nation.

What's clear is they're peaceful. What's clear is that they're celebratory in their mood, their families, children, grandparents. It's a very positive environment. I, of course, have spent most of my time with the emergency operation center to ensure that we're managing this number of people. Although we expect it to continue to be peaceful, there's obviously a lot of things that can happen when you have so many people concentrated in such a small area.

BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, has there been any problems yet, any demonstrations getting violent, any incidents?

VILLARAIGOSA: No. In fact, we just had an update about an hour and a half ago of our emergency operation center. It was reported that there had been no incidents, no arrests, no -- one injury. Somebody tripped while walking. Other than that, things have been very, very peaceful, very positive.

And I'm happy to say that the vast majority of people have American flags, as they should. And that people are very, very positive about the American dream.

BLITZER: Should they not carry Mexican flags?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I've said from the beginning, look, we live here in the United States of America, I was born and raised here. If you want to be part of this nation, an American flag is appropriate. And, you know, the other flags that people may fly are certainly an indication of their, you know, yearning for the old country, but, you know, it's important for us to demonstrate that we want to be part of the American dream.

BLITZER: What did you think of this controversy that erupted in recent days over the translation of "The Star-Spangled Banner" into Spanish? What was your take on that?

VILLARAIGOSA: Wolf, let me just say to you, let me make it absolutely clear, I was offended. I was offended, because, for me, the national anthem is something that I believe deserves respect. And I think that the -- without question, that the vast majority of people in the United States of America were offended, as well.

We want, you know, this -- our anthem should be sung in English. The Spanish and Mexican anthems should be sung in Spanish. The French anthem in French.

So, I was offended by it, and I think most people were. And remember, very few people bought into that. It really was a non- issue, but I think it was important to dismiss it as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: A lot of us were concerned when we heard last week, Mr. Mayor, that there had been death threats against you and the lieutenant governor of California, Cruz Bustamante. Where does that stand right now? Is it indicative of a bigger problem that erupted here, growing out of this whole battle of immigration reform?

VILLARAIGOSA: I hope not. And first of all, let me make something absolutely clear, Wolf. The FBI looked into that threat. There's nothing to it.

There have been others in the past, I'll admit. But I can tell you this, that with a job of mayor or governor, you're going to get that kind of thing from time to time. I don't let it bother me. I have a great security team that's with me at all times.

I can tell you this, my belief is that you call them like you see them. You stand by your convictions and your principles. And, you know, if people disagree with that, so be it.

BLITZER: Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California, your neighbor out in Orange County, he said this not that long ago. He said, "Over the years it's been evident that the Democrats exploit illegal immigrants for political reason. Granting amnesty will only serve to draw more illegal aliens to our country and add to the burden placed in our public school system, health care system and criminal justice system."

On this specific issue of amnesty, a lot of the protesters today want amnesty for the 10, 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. Where do you stand on the issue of allowing these people to live here legally and eventually become citizens?

VILLARAIGOSA: First, let me just say that Dana Rohrabacher is a friend of mine. I have a lot of respect for him. We don't agree on every issue. In fact, we don't often agree on many issues. But he's a good person.

I disagree with that idea, though. I -- the idea that somehow all of these people are asking for amnesty. What they're asking for is a fair and sensible bipartisan immigration reform that secures our borders, that enforces our laws, that holds people accountable for the consequences of breaking the law by finding them, that says that employer sanctions should be levied on employers who hire the undocumented, but that there should also be a pathway for citizenship if you play by the rules and pay your taxes and have not gotten involved with the law.

So, you know, look, people are going to say what they're going to say. Unfortunately, some like to polarize. I don't think that's something endemic to any party. I think, unfortunately, there a lot of demagogues out there and they like whipping it up.

BLITZER: The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa.

I know it's been a busy day for you. Thanks for spending a few moments here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's get another perspective now from our own anchor, Lou Dobbs. He's been a -- he's been a vocal critic of a lot of the immigration reform proposals. He's joining us now from New York with more on today's protest.

What do you make of what's going on today, Lou? LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, I think it's a demonstration, protest and a boycott that is absolutely a boycott, in my opinion. The mayor is being political, as he must. I don't have that burden.

This boycott is an inane idea. It's not a very smart idea. And there's going to be a significant backlash to those who thought that they could shut down the Port of Los Angeles, who've succeeded in closing down a number of companies.

Frankly, those companies, Wolf, that hire illegal aliens in this country, I don't care if they're all shut down. You can board up their windows. I don't care what their shareholders lose. I don't care what their banks lose. We don't need those kind of corporate citizens in this country.

I was very pleased to hear Mayor Villaraigosa say that he has urged kids to stay in school. That is -- that is an issue that certainly Mayor Villaraigosa and I share a great agreement about.

In his town, his city, Los Angeles, more than half of the Hispanic students there are dropping out of high school. And the reason that that is occurring in large measure is because of a huge influx of illegal aliens into that community. No community has a greater number of illegal aliens in it than Los Angeles County.

So, these demonstrations, I think, are great. I think that even those who are not citizens of this country, our Constitution embraces the idea of free expression, free speech, free assembly. And I cheer them on, because I think these kind of demonstrations invigorate the national debate, they enrich the debate, and they raise the public consciousness as to the importance of truth.

And it's important for all of us to see what is being demonstrated for and what is being demonstrated against. And what is being demonstrated for here is clearly amnesty. Clearly, we have millions of people in this country and their supporters who believe that you should be able to break the law and be moved to the front of the line in immigration.

You know, Wolf, we bring in 1.5 million people legally into this country each year, emigrate to this country to work, to become citizens. A million and a half. No other industrialized nation has that level of immigration. And, in point of fact, we have the highest birth rate, as well, of any industrialized nation.

So, this is a welcoming, welcoming nation and has been throughout its history for legal immigration. And it is important for us to focus on the fact that we are the most diverse nation on the face of the earth.

And when I hear this, the advocates of open borders and illegal immigration speak, it's as if they're talking about another country, one I certainly don't recognize. And all I can think about throughout this day -- I don't know about you, Wolf, but as I watch these people demonstrating in our streets, and some of the placards talking about racism, rights now, amnesty, why in the world, why in the world would they not be in their home countries? Particularly Mexico, where just about 70 percent of the illegal aliens in this country originate from?

What would be the impact, Wolf? Imagine if those people had the conviction and the opportunity to be expressing themselves in their home country, where there's a 50 percent poverty rate, where the government of Mexico is advocating precisely what they're demonstrating here for, pushing these demonstrations while they have a 50 percent poverty rate, while the government remains corrupt and ineffectual and does not share with the United States a like mind towards securing that southern border.

I think it's -- and it's just time for people to get to the truth. And I think today is a very good step in that direction for all of us.

BLITZER: And Lou, you're going to have a lot more coming up on this subject at the top of the hour.

Lou Dobbs, thanks to you.

DOBBS: You bet you.

BLITZER: Thanks to Mayor Villaraigosa, as well.

Coming up, English or Spanish, which language should be used to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner"? One senator right now pushing a resolution that offers a clear choice.

And in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, he recently referred to himself as "the decider." Our Jeanne Moos will show you how some comedians and bloggers are having a field day.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today marks another milestone in America's long and bloody mission in Iraq. Exactly three years ago today, President Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" and he made a major declaration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president heard from secretaries Rumsfeld and Rice about their recent visits to Iraq and offered an upbeat assessment of the current situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: This nation of ours and our coalition partners are going to work with the new leadership to strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve success, a victory in this war on terror. This is a -- we believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens and it's a new chapter in our partnership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Six weeks before the president stood under that "Mission Accomplished" banner, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld laid out what he saw as the goals for the war. How many of those goals have been accomplished?

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you well know, it's hard to pin Defense Secretary Rumsfeld down on anything, but three years ago he was very specific about the goals and objectives for the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice over): Back on March 21, 2003, just two days into the Iraq war, Rumsfeld put himself on record about what was supposed to be accomplished.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Our goal is to defend the American people and to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and to liberate the Iraqi people.

MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld outlined eight objectives, of which only one is complete.

RUMSFELD: To end the regime of Saddam Hussein by striking with force on a scope and scale that makes clear to Iraqis that he and his regime are finished.

MCINTYRE: The search for weapons of mass destruction is over, but only because no WMDs were ever found. The effort to drive out terrorists has evolved into a vicious counterinsurgency operation with no end in sight.

As for gathering intelligence on terror and WMD networks, goals four and five, intelligence has improved as Iraqi forces have taken over, but the U.S. still doesn't have a clear idea of the extent of the insurgency or its links to WMDs. The Iraqi people have seen some improvements, but a report out just this week shows, despite a $21 billion rebuilding campaign, projects in some of the most critical areas, water, electricity, and oil and gas, are less than half complete. And while many oil facilities are back on line, production is barely at prewar levels and no where near at covering the cost of rebuilding the country, as some had hoped.

The objective that's perhaps the most crucial and still in some doubt is the transition to a representative self-government. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Now, Pentagon officials say while many of the goals outlined by Rumsfeld have not yet been fully achieved, they insist there has been progress on all fronts. And Rumsfeld himself argues that he will be vindicated and validated by history -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thanks for that report.

President Bush, as we know, declared that the U.S. role has now begun a new chapter in Iraq. But three years after he declared an end to major combat, are there any signs that the Iraq war has reached its final chapter?

Joining us now, key member of CNN Security Council, our world affairs analyst, the former defense secretary, William Cohen, the chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group here in Washington.

I guess a lot of people in the administration would like to take back "mission accomplished" banner, but those things happen. Listen to what the former secretary of state, Colin Powell, himself four star general, retired, former chief -- chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said on British television over the weekend. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: I had arranged directly with General Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld and in front of the president, the size of the force that was going in. But I'm the secretary of state, not the secretary of defense or the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and the president's military advisors felt that the size of the force was adequate. They may still feel that years later. Some of us don't. I don't. And I have said that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's being very blunt right now looking back on what many analysts now believe was a mistake in not having a much more robust force, not to overthrow Saddam, but for the occupation.

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, he's being consistent. He has always taken the position if you're going to deploy our forces in any kind of a combat situation, they should be of such size and magnitude that they are overwhelming. He's also correct that he, even though he was a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and given his status as a war hero, nonetheless, he was secretary of state and the president takes his military recommendations coming from the commanders in the field through Tommy Franks right through Secretary Rumsfeld. So, I think his statement, that of Secretary Rice's are both compatible that he made his position apparently clear to the president, the president decided he is going to listen it his top military advisers, instead.

BLITZER: Here's what Condoleezza Rice said on "Late Edition," here on CNN yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I do remember that the president had a meeting with the joint chiefs of staff in which he asked, are we adequately resourced to execute this plan? And they said "yes."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, there are some retired generals and other outside observers who say these generals, like General Franks, General Abizaid, and General Myers who were in the chain, they were sort of browbeaten by Donald Rumsfeld who wanted to do this with a minimal amount of troops and in the end, they succumbed to that kind of pressure. Do you buy that?

COHEN: Well, as I said before, the obligation of the military is to speak to civilian authorities, to give them their very best advice. And if they feel that advice as being rejected and will be -- result in catastrophe, or misadventure, then they have a choice. They can either say -- salute, and say we're going to follow you, sir, into battle, based upon our recommendation being rejected or they can retire. I can't make that decision for them, looking in hindsight, but that is the choice they always face. It would be a dereliction of duty if they felt, personally, that the advice they were given was -- the right advice was being rejected by civilian authorities and they were going to send their troops into battle ill-prepared. That would be a dereliction of duty.

BLITZER: The Iraqi democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden, came up with this idea today, effectively, to divide Iraq into three autonomous zones. Have a central government, but have a Kurdish, a Sunni, and a Shia zone along the lines of what you oversaw when you were defense secretary in Bosnia. Is that a good idea?

COHEN: Well, you may recall that Les Gelb's co-author of the article, Senator Biden, hadn't made this recommendation to you and me back in the summer of 2003 and he had recommended that at that time and, again, its plausibility was in question. At the time it would require, for example, to basically engage in sort of theocratic cleansing. It would be the equivalent of saying you can have those are the Jewish or Catholic faith in the east or those who are Protestant in the center of the country and everybody else on the West Coast.

I think what's taking place on the ground and what both Les Gelb are arguing with Senator Biden is that the violence on the ground is now forcing these people into this situation, sectarian violence is forcing them to move out of hostile areas and so you're seeing a partition take place on the ground. The key element in their proposal, one that should be looked at very carefully is that you must have a central, a strong central government. Otherwise, you will have a very rich north where the Kurds are, a rich south where the Shia are, and nothing for the Sunni who are left in the greater Baghdad and central Iraq area. That would be a prescription for disaster. So, can they put together some kind of a combination that would have a strong, central government that would then distribute the resources equitably to all of Iraq? That remains to be seen. Plus, the very notion of having separate autonomous regions would pose something of a threat to the Turks who would look upon this as, perhaps, leading toward independence in the north, which they would be very opposed to. And it might also encourage Iran, in the south, to have a more dominant influence there. So, it has a lot of problems, also a lot of promise.

BLITZER: As if there was a Kurdish zone in the north. The Kurds in Turkey, presumably, might be inclined to go along with that.

William Cohen thanks very much for that analysis, as usual.

And I just note, that in recent days reports have surfaced that 100,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the U.S. led invasion because of all the ethnic and sectarian violence.

Coming up, wasn't the war in Iraq supposed to lead to an increase in oil production? Is there a link between events on the ground in Iraq and your pain at the pump? Our Brian Todd has been investigating.

And was convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff a frequent visitor at the White House? We may soon find out -- new documents emerging. We'll explain what's going on. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Zain is off this week. Betty Nguyen is joining us from the CNN Center in with a closer look at some other stories making news.

Hi, Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hi there Wolf. The controversial Spanish version of the national anthem is taking center stage of Capitol Hill and it's not meeting with a course of approval. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander has announced a non-binding resolution to keep the national anthem in English. President Bush agrees the "Star Spangled Banner" should be sung in English. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she's not offended because she's heard rap, country, and classical versions.

Well new information is coming out about convicted lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, and his contacts with the Bush administration. Court documents filed today show the Secret Service has agreed to produce all logs showing when Abramoff visited the White House and whom he met with, that's despite repeated objections by the White House. A conservative watchdog group went to court seeking information about Abramoff's White House visit. A federal judge approved for these documents to be released by May 10.

And a Supreme Court victory, today, for former "Playboy" playmate, Anna Nicole Smith. The court unanimously ruled that she can pursue her legal battle in federal court to share -- to a share of her late husband's billion dollar estate. The youngest son of oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall says he is the rightful heir.

Rush Limbaugh says he is vindicated by a settlement with Florida prosecutors. The talk show host reportedly must take random drug tests for the next 18 months. Limbaugh says he's already been doing that for the past couple of years. He says the agreement underscores his innocence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: The sum total of all of this is, the case is over. And the operative words that everybody needs to understand here are "not guilty." Not guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: OK. Under the agreement, a single charge of prescription fraud will be dismissed if Limbaugh completes 18 months of treatment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Betty, for that.

It's an informal tradition at the University of Colorado. Every year on April 20, hundreds of students gather on campus to smoke marijuana. But this year school police are using the Internet to track down the pot smokers. Our Jacki Schechner has more on the campus controversy -- Jacqui.

JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, do you know who these people are? Well, the University of Colorado police and administration are hoping you do and that you'll call them with a tip. They say they're offering $50 to anyone that, they say, trespassed on to Farrand Field. Administration officials and police closed it down with the hopes of deterring the annual event of people, they say, allegedly smoked marijuana.

Now, what they're doing is putting these photos online. They've got some 150 photos. They're hoping that people will I.D. them. They will then summon those people to the office of judicial affairs. They tell me they don't know what the punishment's going to be yet, but they're hoping to deter again, the annual event.

We reached out to a student union representative and didn't get to them in time for this segment, but we did talk to a local marijuana advocacy group who is completely outraged by this. They say it's one thing to take the photo and to deal with the matter privately, it's whole other thing to put it up on the Internet. As for the police department, they say they have gotten some angry e-mails, but they have gotten some 200 calls so far, Wolf, identifying people in these photographs.

BLITZER: Good work, Jacki. Thanks for that.

Still to come, the price of oil has more than doubled since the invasion of Iraq. Does the war have anything to do the price you're now paying that pump?

And the next hurricane season, get this, only a month away. Could New Orleans stand up to another storm? We're watching the story. Stay with us you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. The price of oil has skyrocketed since the start of the war in Iraq three years ago. But is there a connection? CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into that. He joining us live from the newsroom -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you ask any oil analyst and they'll says this market is so sensitive that even small factors can push prices up or down and right now there are several driving factors. But they also say with Iraq, just put two things together. You've got a full-scale war being waged on top of one of the world's largest oil reserves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): How much longer will you be excused whenever you squeeze that handle? A dire prediction from the U.S. Energy Secretary.

SAMUEL BODMAN, ENERGY SECRETARY: We're going to have a number of years, two or three years before suppliers are going to be in a position to meet the demands of those who are consuming this product.

TODD: Compare that to three years ago. In the spring of 2003, oil was at less than $30 a barrel, compared to more than $70 now, more than a doubling in the three years since the invasion of Iraq.

FRANK VERRASTRO, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: It's a contributing factor. When markets are tight, in terms of supply, and we've had growing demand, then the contribution from Iraq is really important.

TODD: Iraq sits atop one of the largest oil reserves and U.S. officials had predicted before the war that oil exports would pay for the cost of reconstruction. Now, experts say, Iraq produces at least 500,000 barrels less per day than it did before the invasion.

SAAD RAHIM, PFC ENERGY: On any given day, if you have, you know, militants blowing pipeline or threat to a port or any sort of supply disruption you're really starting to see those barrels come off of the market and just aren't available.

TODD: But experts caution Iraq is just part of a perfect storm that's driven prices up in recent years. Market jitters over what might happen with Iraq's oil producing neighbor, Iran; violence and political unrest in oil-rich Nigeria and Venezuela; hurricane devastation in the Gulf of Mexico, refining capacity not up to par and ever-growing demand in China, India and the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Still, one expert says if Iraq could raise production even slightly, it would noticeable relief at the pump. But analysts says that won't happen any time soon. Even if Iraq were stabilized tomorrow, they say, it would take at least two years to build back to its previous capacity -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

This footnote: Before the war, before the war, oil went for under $30 a barrel, now three years later, it's going for more than $70 a barrel. We'll continue to watch this story. Up ahead, on May 1, 2003, three years ago exactly today, President Bush announced an end to major combat operations in Iraq. Three years later, the war, though, is still going on. Will it end any time soon? Jack Cafferty has your e-mail.

And three little words become Washington's latest "it" phrase -- "it" phrase. President Bush said it first, why now everyone else seems to be saying, quote, "I'm the decider." It's coming up on our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour. Jeanne Moos looking that store story. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's been eight months since Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. Much of the city was under water and now much of the city is still piled high with debris. And the next hurricane season, get this, beginning exactly one month from today. Is that ravaged city ready for the next storm? Let's go live to CNN's Sean Callebs. He's on the scene in New Orleans -- Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, June 1 is a day that has really been etched in the minds of everyone along the Gulf Coast, but especially here in the city. The only thing protecting New Orleans from the water that surrounds it, the system of levees and the floodwalls and now the flood gates that are being constructed from the water outside here. Will it be ready? We have talked with a scientist who is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and an engineer who has been working on the key project, the flood gates that are going up along the Lake Pontchartrain to protect the city from the water that could be pushed in from the lake and both of those tell us, despite the corps' promise, it will not bow ready by June 1, however, the corps Colonel Lewis Setliff, who is overseeing Task Force Guardian says, indeed, the city will be protected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. LEWIS F. SETLIFF, CMDR. TASK FORCE GUARDIAN: And I think the proof will be in the pudding on one June and at some point our work will get tested by Mother Nature. So, we know that going in and we're not going to take any shortcuts. We're building everything to design specifications because not only do we know the world is watching, but we will get tested.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CALLEBS: Now, Setliff also adds this caveat. He said June 1, all the construction in this area will not stop. There are 350 miles of levees, so you will see construction on the flood gates, and see construction on the concrete floodwalls, as well, as the earth and levees. Also, Wolf, one critically important item that is also going on, the mayoral election is scheduled to take place May 20 and the residents of New Orleans will decide who will guide this city, who will lead it, who will be the person overseeing this protection. It will either be the current Mayor C. Ray Nagin or the democratic lieutenant governor, Mitch Landrieu of the state and, once again, the voters will decide in fewer than three weeks. Wolf, important deadlines on this important story.

BLITZER: Good luck to al the people along the Gulf Coast. Sean, thanks for that.

Could this year's hurricane season outpace the record 27 named storms that developed last year? One weather guru already has some predictions that are out there. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner has the details -- Jacki.

SCHECHNER: Wolf, that's Dr. William Gray from Colorado State and his predictions are as follows. He says there are going to be 17 named storms this season, nine hurricanes and five intense hurricanes, that Category 3, 4 or 5. The chances these will make landfall, 81 percent the entire U.S. coastlines. Taking a look at the Gulf Coast, 47 percent it'll hit the Florida Panhandle westward to Brownsville, Texas. How accurate are these forecasts? Well, last year we were pretty off, but I don't think anyone could have predicted how bad was going to be. Again, with 27 named storms, 15 hurricanes and 7 intense hurricanes. This report will be updated once again at the end of the month. If you want to read the current one go to cnn.com/situationreport -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks Jacki. Up next, will the United States eventually accomplish its mission in Iraq? Jack Cafferty has your e- mail. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go up to New York and Jack Cafferty.

Hi Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is will the United States eventually accomplish its mission in Iraq?

Maria in Ft. Collins, Colorado writes, "Jack, the mission is accomplished in Iraq, where have you been? Bush told us three years ago 'Mission Accomplished.' He was right. Oil profits are up, defense industry profits are up, and Saddam is gone. This war was never about terror.

Jim in San Diego, "If our mission was to alienate our country, drive our country into debt, and kill some of our best and brightest, then 'Mission Accomplished.'" Paul in Dallas, Texas, "Hey, Jack wake up! The administration has already achieved its mission with the war in Iraq. It got Bush re- elected and has allowed Bush to rule without any of those pesky oversight groups because we are on a war footing."

Frank writes from Oregon, "Almost. Saddam is gone, Iraq has a government. Now our troops must come home. The United States occupancy is now fueling the problem."

Timothy in Minnesota, "Iraq will continue beyond the Bush presidency, the 2008 presidential candidate who proposes the most sensible exit strategy will win the White House."

And J.B. in Florida writes, "The U.S. will not achieve victory in Iraq as long as CNN and other media outlets keep harping about probable failure. Make me king for a day and babblers like Cafferty will be wearing an unbreakable muzzle. Freedom of speech has gone too far." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You think, Jack, getting back to Brian Todd's report, oil per barrel was going for under $30 a barrel before the invasion three years ago and now it's going for more than $70 a barrel. Was the war, in part, responsible for this enormous hike in the price of gas?

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know about that I know that the speculators have capitalized on the uncertainty over the oil markets and I know that the flow of crude out of Iraq never met the expectations we were told it would before the invasion. Remember we were told that oil would pay for the war. Well, that hasn't happened and, certainly, has to be a contributing factor to the higher price of crude.

BLITZER: Jack, see you in one hour back here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're on weekday afternoons 7:00 p.m. Easter. "Lou Dobbs Tonight" starts right now. Lou's in New York -- Lou.

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