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President Bush Meets With Top Generals to Discuss Iraq Strategy; Retreat From the Right in Kansas?; New RNC Ad Sparks Controversy

Aired October 20, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you for all for joining us, as we wrap up the week here.
Tonight's top stories: the developing story in the Iraq war. The White House calls the nation's top generals for urgent meetings on the war and U.S. strategy.

In politics, Republicans under fire for a controversial campaign ad that uses al Qaeda's words to count down to a terrorist apocalypse.

And we are witnessing a warm-up -- or are we, for a 2008 campaign? We are going to take you to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's first reelection debate.

Let's get straight to that developing story right now tonight: the emergency White House meetings in Iraq, as the situation looks dangerously close to spinning out of control. We are in the middle of what could be the bloodiest month ever for U.S. forces in Iraq. And, today, a Shiite militia overran the entire city of Amarah in southern Iraq. That battle killed at least 16 people in street fighting, and wounded nearly 100.

Just a little bit earlier on, I spoke with senior national correspondent John Roberts, reporting tonight from Baghdad.


ZAHN: So, John, how is the news of this weekend meeting likely to play out with troops on the ground there?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I -- I would expect, Paula, that the troops on the ground here in Iraq would -- would appreciate and embrace anything that helps them accomplish their mission.

There's no question that things have not been going well here, particularly in Baghdad, for some time now. Just this past week, Major General William Caldwell admitted as much, saying that it has not -- it has not secured the city of Baghdad, the way that they thought it would.

And it has been such a difficult time for U.S. forces here, particularly during the month of October, Paula, that, if they can come up with some sort of new plan as they get together for their summit, I think the troops here would -- would really be happy about something like that.

ZAHN: And you mentioned the month of October -- coming off this week, one of the bloodiest in the war so far in Iraq, the president saying that he doesn't anticipate a major shift in strategy. But is there a growing sense there that major changes are in store?

ROBERTS: It's not clear what they can do by tinkering around the edges here. They have tried it a number of times, and it -- and it never seems to work.

So, anything other than a major shift in strategy would -- would appear to be just another sort of mid-course correction. And -- and it -- it's clear from a lot of people that you talk to that they don't need a mid-course correction. They -- they need a 180-degree turn, or a 360, or however you want to put it, to say, let's come up with an entirely new way of approaching the situation here.

ZAHN: And they also need a stable Iraqi government to pull off these changes. How stable is the government?

ROBERTS: The -- the government is -- is not stable at all. And that was proven by what happened in the city of Amarah, down in the south, in a Shiite area, over the last couple days, when the Mahdi militia literally took control of that city for -- for a time.

You know, the government forces just do not have the capability to be able to secure those areas and -- and to hang on to control. And it's also pretty clear that the Iraqi government has, at this point, no way to -- to -- to keep control of those areas. It had to send in a bunch of reinforcements, had the British army on standby, if they needed to go in to try to quell the violence.

So, things are very dodgy here. And -- and everybody, from the -- from the prime minister, to the two deputy prime ministers, now working as hard as they can, trying to figure out a way to the sectarian violence that's just threatening to engulf the entire nation.

ZAHN: John Roberts, thanks so much for the update.


ZAHN: And John will have much more on the situation in Iraq on his weekly roundup of war news, "THIS WEEK AT WAR," tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, again on Sunday at 1:00 p.m., right here on this cable news network.

Another U.S. soldier died today in Iraq today, killed by a roadside bomb southwest of Baghdad. A total of 75 U.S. troops have died in Iraq so far this month.

And, just a short time ago, President Bush met at the White House with the top military commander in the Middle East for urgent talks on new ways to deal with the situation that appears to be growing more chaotic by the day.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has the latest for us now.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While it appears Iraqi police may have retaken control of Amarah, what worries U.S. officials is that, for most of two days, it was overrun by hundreds of Shia militiamen from anti-American cleric Muqtada al- Sadr's Mahdi army.

In the chaos, the Iraqi police station was destroyed, black smoke billowing from three buildings flattened by explosives. British troops, which turned the area over to Iraq months ago, were ready to go back in, but Iraq's government insisted they were not needed.

Still, Amarah now joins Ramadi and Balad as cities where Iraqi forces are supposed to be standing up, but, instead, have fallen down in their ability to contain sectarian fighting.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued, those setbacks are temporary, and may be a result of a deliberate challenge to the U.S. plan to gradually turn areas over to the Iraqi army and police.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It might be because the enemy said, well, fair enough. They have passed that over to the Iraqi forces. Let's focus on that, increase the effort against them, and see if we can't take it away from them, and, so that the press of the world will notice that we have taken it away. They're smart, the enemy. They have got brains, and they use them.

MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld conferenced with top generals John Abizaid and George Casey by video hookup hours before Abizaid was summoned to Washington for more meetings with President Bush and his national security team.

Rumsfeld described the hastily-called session as a regular meeting, insisting it was nothing unusual. And he carefully parried questions about whether the overall strategy is under review.

(on camera): Mr. Secretary, can you just say, plainly, whether you believe a course correction is needed in Iraq or not?

RUMSFELD: I think the way I will leave it is, I would prefer to give my advice to the president, rather than you, Jamie. I'm old- fashioned.

MCINTYRE: Don't you think the American public deserves to know whether you're considering making major adjustments, rather than just refining tactics?

RUMSFELD: I mean, no one on the National Security Council or a commander in the field makes a decision and sets a course, and then puts their brain at rest.

MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld continues to counsel patience, arguing that, given enough time, the Iraqi government will come together and Iraqi forces will rise to the challenge. The question is, how much patience does President Bush and the American people for the current strategy?

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Pentagon.


ZAHN: The Iraq strategy sessions going on at the White House will continue into the weekend, but can the Bush administration turn things around?

White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has been looking into that.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush is under intense political pressure from critics, now including some prominent Republicans, to change course in Iraq. But the administration insists the president's White House talks with his top commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, is merely business as usual.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He is eager to -- to hear about other ideas. But leaving is not going to work.

MALVEAUX: Publicly, Mr. Bush remains resolute that his Iraq strategy will not change.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the key issues in this election is who best sees the future and who best has the plan to deal with it. I firmly see the threats we face. And the best way for America to protect ourselves is to go on the offense and to stay on the offense.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush maintains he will not pull out U.S. troops before Iraqis can govern and protect themselves, but he says he is open to changing military tactics to get the job done.

Over the weekend, Mr. Bush will hold a videoconference with his secretary of defense and his Iraq point man, General George Casey.

Skeptical journalists engaged White House Press Secretary Tony Snow in a war of words over the difference between change in strategy and change in tactics.

SNOW: Well, I think what they're talking about...

QUESTION: ... strategy, in your definition?

SNOW: I think -- I think they will agree with what I have described as strategy, which is...

QUESTION: How come you're not going to -- you're not even considering a change in strategy -- no, Tony, sorry.

SNOW: No, Martha, no. But...

MALVEAUX: Frustration over language in the briefing room. But the question about what is to be done on the ground in Iraq remains unanswered.


MALVEAUX: And, Paula, of course, tomorrow, all eyes on that conference call. It would involve the president, the vice president, secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well, top generals in Iraq, as well as the United States, all of them talking about tactics, what to do next, how to change this equation.

President Bush also met, as well, with the independent commission heads of the Iraq Study Group, Lee Hamilton, as well as the former Secretary of State James Baker. They, of course, will issue their recommendations after the elections -- Paula.

ZAHN: The timing of this, Suzanne, isn't lost on anyone, of course, coming just a couple months -- excuse me -- weeks out from the midterm elections.

How important is it for the president to show the American public that he is actively engaged in -- in this process and trying to adopt some new tactics here?

MALVEAUX: Well, it's actually very important.

And there are two examples that really illustrate that. One, this week, the president, for the first time, acknowledged some similarities between the Iraq war and the Vietnam War, which he had never done before.

And, then, of course, it was last week, in the press conference, he literally just threw out the slogan, the Republican slogan, stay the course, the rallying cry, and said, well, that's only a quarter correct -- so, the administration going to extraordinary measures to at least try to demonstrate or convince the American people that they're trying to be flexible -- Paula.

ZAHN: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks -- part of the best political team in TV. Appreciate it.

We turn now to the "Top Story" in politics -- next, a controversial new Republican campaign ad that is about as subtle as a nuclear bomb.

And, then, a little bit later on: a rehearsal for 2008? We are going to drop in on Hillary Rodham Clinton's first debate, as she campaigns for reelection to the Senate. It just wrapped up. And we are going to show you some of the highlights.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Another "Top Story" we're following tonight: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on the campaign trail. Coming up: She is debating her Republican opponent tonight, but are we really watching her doing a run-through for 2008?

Our "Top Story" in politics right now has a lot of people crying foul tonight, because a startling new campaign ad will hit the airwaves this weekend, the kind that comes along once in a generation.

Now we're going to do something we don't often do here. And that is show you the entire ad. And there is a reason why. It is from the Republican Party. It hasn't been aired yet. But you're going to see why it already has made a lot of Democrats outraged.

Take a look.



On screen: "What is yet to come will be even greater" -- Osama Bin Laden, Al Jazeera, 12/21/01.

"With God's permission we call on everyone who believes in God to comply with his will to kill the Americans" -- Osama Bin Laden, The World Islamic Front, Fatwa, 2/23/98)

"Kill the Americans."

"They will not come to their senses unless the attacks fall on their heads and until the battle has moved inside America" -- Interview, Al-Jazeera, 10/21/01.

"Inside America."

"We sent our people to Moscow, to Tashkent, to other central Asian states and they negotiated. And we purchased some suitcase bombs" -- Ayman Al-Zawahri, "Al-Qaeda: We Bought Nuke Cases," "New York Daily News," 3/22/04.

"Suitcase bombs."

"Our message is clear -- what you saw in New York and Washington and what you are seeing in Afghanistan and Iraq, all these are nothing compared to what you will see next" -- Ayman Al-Zawahri, "Al Qaeda Threatens More U.K., U.S. Attacks,", 8/04/05.

"Nothing compared to what you will see next."


"What is yet to come will be even greater."


"These are the stakes. Vote November 7" -- (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, Democrats responded today by calling that ad -- quote -- "a pathetic use of fear-mongering," and accused Republicans of being desperate to hold onto power.

But fear of terrorism has been used as a campaign strategy by both parties. So, is this ad really out of bounds? And will it really sway any voters?

Let's put that to a "Top Story" panel tonight of campaign ad experts.

David Mark is the author of "Going Dirty: The Art of Negative Campaigning." Mark Putnam is a political ad consulting with Murphy Putnam Shorr & Partners. He's worked on campaigns for John Kerry and four Democratic governors. And Tracey Schmitt is a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, the group that paid for the controversial ad.

Welcome, all.

Tracey, I'm going to start with you tonight.

Certainly, the RNC knew it was going to be criticized for this ad. Why isn't this fear-mongering?

TRACEY SCHMITT, SPOKESPERSON, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, it's not fear-mongering if it's the truth.

And, if you listen to the ad, it is not fiction. Those are the words of terrorists. And when we head into this critical election, we thought there couldn't be more, frankly, an appropriate way to remind people of the stakes, not only in this election, but in the war on terror.

And I understand why Democrats are upset. They shirk from anything that involves a conversation about their record in the war on terror.

ZAHN: Mark, this ad is compared to the disturbing daisy ad that was ran during Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign in 1964 against Barry Goldwater. And we are going to show the video of that ad now for the audience.

A little -- you see a little girl and a countdown to a nuclear blast. They even have, these two ads, the same tagline about the stakes.

Is there any research to show that appealing to people's fears works? Is it an effective campaign tool?

MARK PUTNAM, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well, I mean, people have fears. There are legitimate fears that seniors have that their Social Security will be privatized. Families are afraid that their health care costs are going to go well beyond their reach. And Americans have legitimate fears about terrorism.

But an ad like this that is -- is patently absurd, when the only impression they try to leave with you is that, if you vote Democratic, you're going to get blown up, I mean, it -- George Bush has had five years to work on terrorism, to try and catch Osama bin Laden. And he has failed.

And, when Americans are looking at this campaign, and -- and they look at this ad, it's a transparent ploy. It's clearly a scare tactic.

ZAHN: David, is this ad patently absurd? It's not like negative campaigns ads haven't been used effectively in the past.


This is really the third straight election cycle in which we have seen terrorism issues being used as -- as wedge -- wedge issues, really thrusts and parries in campaign ads.

This is really the most blatant we have seen it, though, since September 11, 2001. I think this one may be a little bit over the top, just a little too blunt for folks. And, also, we don't hear that much about Osama bin Laden. We hear mostly about Iraq. So, I think it's kind of -- a little bit jarring.

PUTNAM: The -- the problem for the Republicans with this ad is, it offers not a single solution, nor even a single achievement, because, really, they have nothing left to say about terrorism.

They have -- they're -- they -- we're bogged down in Iraq. We have North Korea that is detonating nuclear weapons. Iran is trying to do the same thing. We have Osama bin Laden living in Pakistan, with Pakistan's blessing.

The Republicans, it's -- it's curious that they have really nothing to say about terrorism. And the ad reflects that.

ZAHN: Well, Tracey, what is the risk you're taking here? Because we're going to put up the latest poll, showing how the American public actually favors Democrats over Republicans on terrorism issues. A little more than two weeks before the midterms, as -- as Republicans, and, in particular, the president is talking about making some changes in Iraq, how are you so sure this is a slam- dunk for you guys?

SCHMITT: Well, it's interesting. I saw some polls today that showed the exact reverse thing.

And, you know, frankly, the point of any ad is to begin a conversation. And the reality is that the woman that wants to be speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, if the Democrats were to regain control of the House, is someone who says: We're not at war. We're in a struggle. And Democrats across the board have opposed every tool necessary that law enforcement agents need to win the war on terror. So, this is a discussion that we think is very important. And it's important to remind people...

ZAHN: Well, what about...

SCHMITT: ... terrorists have said: We will stop at nothing.

ZAHN: ... the point that -- that Osama bin Laden hasn't been caught or captured since...

SCHMITT: Well, it...

ZAHN: ... the 9/11 attacks?


ZAHN: I think Mark was making that point.

SCHMITT: Democrats like to talk about Osama bin Laden.

And, frankly, they're missing the forest from the trees. This is not a war against one man. This is not even a war against one country. This goes back to the end of the ad.

ZAHN: All right.

SCHMITT: This is a war against an ideology and a movement.

ZAHN: Mark, you get the last word tonight.


PUTNAM: Well, it -- it's just clear that they have nothing they can say on this issue.

And -- but the interesting thing is, this is what they want to talk about here in the last two weeks of the campaign. That's why we're here on your show today, talking about terrorism, because they can't talk about the economy. They can't talk about job loss. They can't talk about rising health care costs. So, we're here on your show talking about terrorism.

It's convenient for them, but people will see through the scare tactic.

SCHMITT: It's on the minds of Americans, Mark.

PUTNAM: Well...

ZAHN: Well, let's see what happens during the midterm elections, and whether these polls accurately reflect where the American public is.

David Mark, Mark Putnam, Tracey Schmitt, thank you, all. (CROSSTALK)

SCHMITT: Thank you.

ZAHN: Now we're going to go to Melissa Long to start our nightly countdown of the top stories on

Hi, Melissa.


A lot of people who logged on today wanted to know about actor Harrison Ford's next film. And that is number 10 on the countdown tonight -- the 64-year-old actor teaming up again with director Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, for "Indiana Jones 4" -- so far, no details on when it will be in the theaters for you to check out.

Story nine: Actress Gina Lollobrigida is back in the spotlight tonight. The 79-year-old actress is getting married for the second time to her 45-year-old boyfriend. They have been dating, I should mention, for 22 years.

And story eight: An 89-year-old man who killed 10 people and injured more than 70 when his car plowed through a farmers market in California three years ago has been convicted of vehicular manslaughter. He will be sentenced next Friday, Paula, facing a maximum of 18 years behind bars.

ZAHN: And we heard news of that tragic accident happening.

Melissa, thanks.

LONG: Mmm-hmm.

ZAHN: We're going to check back with you in a few minutes.

Our next "Top Story" in politics: As Election Day gets closer and polls show Republicans are suffering, we're going to check out a surprising trend: Republican candidates suddenly becoming Democrats.

And, a little bit later on, the "Top Story" on the "Security Watch": a surprising look at the hunt for terrorists at home, and why so few end up serving any serious jail time. Is the government overreaching?


ZAHN: Our "Top Story" in politics continues now.

With just 18 days until the most hard-fought elections in years, something very strange is happening in the very red state of Kansas. Republicans overwhelmingly control the statehouse there, and voters haven't elected a Democratic senator since FDR was president. But now several former Republican candidates have suddenly become Democrats. What's behind this trend?

Our Susan Roesgen went to Kansas to find the answer.


CINDY NEIGHBOR (D), KANSAS STATEHOUSE CANDIDATE: I can hand, you know, them to people or put them right directly in their yard.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cindy Neighbor tells voters she will be their friendly neighbor in the Kansas legislature. She also the Neighbor who jumped over the political fence. In this heavily Republican state, she has switched parties, and is now running as a Democrat.

NEIGHBOR: I looked at the Republican platform in Kansas, which calls for vouchers, charter schools -- it's against embryonic stem cell, all the things that I couldn't support anymore.

ROESGEN: Like Cindy Neighbor, in the last year, more than half- a-dozen Kansas Republicans currently running for statewide office have switched to the Democratic Party, claiming the Kansas Republican Party has become way too conservative.

Former prosecutor Paul Morrison, who used to be a Republican, now wants to be the state's attorney general as a Democrat.

And even the former head of the Kansas Republican Party, Mark Parkinson, is now the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

BOB BEATTY, POLITICAL SCIENTIST: It's something that is going on nationwide, to a degree. It's the -- the traditional Republicans vs. Republicans who are much more interested in social/cultural issues.

ROESGEN: But, beyond a philosophical break with right-wing Republicans, there's something else here compelling some candidates to change parties: a better chance of making it to the general election.

(on camera): Because Kansas is a closed-primary state, only one person from each political party makes it to the general election. And some of these candidates who switched to the Democratic Party could have been facing fellow Republicans they couldn't beat in the primary.

RON FREEMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANSAS REPUBLICAN PARTY: They looked at who they had to run against in the Republican primary, and said, "I can't win." And they say -- instead of being honest, they say, well, "It's because the party left me."

NEIGHBOR: And, so, I'm ready to go out, stick another sign in the yard, and say, here I am.

ROESGEN: Cindy Neighbor says, whether she wins or loses the election, the Democrats have won a convert...


ROESGEN: ... and she won't be switching back.

Susan Roesgen, CNN, Kansas city, Kansas.


ZAHN: Interesting.

Right now, we're going to get back to Melissa Long at just about 26 minutes past the hour to continue our countdown.

Melissa, carry on.

LONG: Well, Paula, story seven is about Iran's president. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is warning Europe that it may pay a heavy price for supporting Israel, and called that nation's leaders -- and I quote now -- "a group of terrorists."

Story six about the investigation into a death-row suicide in Texas -- authorities say Michael Johnson slashed his neck and arm with a metal object early Thursday, about 15 hours before he was to be executed.

And story five: Prosecutors in Atlanta say a 16-year-old girl counted down her suicide attempt through text messages to a female classmate who had rebuffed her sexual advances. They say the girl crashed her vehicle into an oncoming car. The woman driving that other car was killed. Her 6-year-old daughter was seriously injured -- Paula.

ZAHN: What an awful story.

Melissa, thanks.

LONG: Mmm-hmm.

ZAHN: We will see you in a couple minutes, or two.

When we come back, a "Top Story" on the "Security Watch": Is the hunt for terrorists here in the U.S. only sweeping up small-time crooks? Is the government overreaching?

And, a little bit later on: what could be a major development in the North Korean crisis, as North Korea's leader seems to say he's sorry for testing a nuclear bomb.


ZAHN: Still ahead in this half hour, top security or story on the security watch. Why so few people convicted in terror cases spend more than a month in prison.

Also, a top international story. Surprising words of conciliation from North Korea about its nuclear tests. Did Kim Jong Il actually blink?

And then, coming up at 9:00, "LARRY KING LIVE" hosts Jesse Jackson. Another top story in politics tonight, will she or won't she? That's the question on a lot of voters' minds tonight as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton wraps up the first of two debates against Republican challenger John Spencer, a race she's expected to easily win. But Clinton's Senate campaign is being closely watched for another reason. Could it be a rehearsal for a presidential campaign in 2008? Let's go straight to our Mary Snow, who joins us from Rochester, New York tonight, where the debate ended just a short time ago. Mary, how was it?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, the question about Senator Clinton's ambitions certainly dominated this debate, and came up several times. It's not a topic that Senator Clinton likes to talk about, but she was pressed on it by not only the moderator, but also her Republican opponent, John Spencer, brought it up.

When asked about 2008, she said she's flattered by the fact that people are talking about her making a potential White House run, but she insists that she's not made a decision, that the Senate job is very important to her.

She did acknowledge, however, that if it is a concern for voters, that is something that they need to take into consideration.

She was asked by the moderator why she wouldn't make a commitment to stay the full course of her Senate term for six years like she did in 2000. Here was her answer.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I don't know what the future holds, and I have no decision ready to be made or even waiting in the wings. But I want to be as, you know, clear to the people of New York as I can be. And if that concerns any voter, then they should take that into account when they go to the polls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But come on, Senator, you haven't thought about it at all, about running for president?

CLINTON: I didn't say that. I said I haven't made any decisions.

JOHN SPENCER (R-NY), CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE: Every newspaper story I read on the way up to Rochester today was about this debate basically being practice for her presidential election.


SNOW: That is her Republican opponent, John Spencer, you just heard. He is a former mayor of Yonkers, New York, trailing badly in the polls, by at least 30 points.

He has tried to also make Iraq a big factor. He brought it up in tonight's debate. He's made an issue of the fact that he was in Vietnam while Senator Clinton was protesting the Vietnam War. Here's what he had to say about Iraq. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPENCER: I was in a war, and I hate war. We want to get out of that, and we protest the war, but never protested so loud or debated so loud that our soldiers, our men and women, can hear it. And Senator Clinton has done that. That's divisive to the nation.

CLINTON: There's no doubt that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and dangerous, which is why we have to change course. Blindly following the same plan that is not working is not a strategy.


SNOW: And Senator Clinton also said that it was time for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to go. That is a call she's made in the past. And her opponent stopped her at one point and said, or when he was answering, saying, Senator Clinton, you're not president yet. So that was kind of the tone for tonight's debate. And they'll have a second debate on Sunday morning. These are the only two debates of this election -- Paula.

ZAHN: You covered an awful lot of territory there, Mary. If you wouldn't mind standing by, I want to bring in two other members of the best political team in TV to join our top story panel and talk all things Hillary. Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, senior political analyst Bill Schneider, and Mary Snow back with us. Welcome all.

So, Mary, before I move on to your colleagues, even though Hillary Clinton said she hasn't decided yet, I think John Spencer, her opponent, stated just about what everybody is thinking, that perhaps these two debates are nothing more than practice for a 2008 presidential run. Is that the prevalent feeling there?

SNOW: That has certainly been the feeling going into this debate. However, some people pointed out that if she hadn't gone into any debates, that perhaps she would have been criticized for that.

This is an election, Paula, when you tell people that she was debating her Republican opponent, most people would ask you, who is she running against? And that pretty much sums up this race. She is leading by a wide margin in the polls. She has $15 million in cash on hand as we speak, with her opponent barely having half a million dollars. So that kind of speaks to the spending. But so many people saw this as perhaps a test of sorts for a potential White House run.

ZAHN: All right. Candy, if Hillary Clinton was laying down the groundwork today for that potential run, what is it that she got right tonight? What did we learn? Anything new?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think Hillary's positions are pretty well-known. One of the things that I think is interesting is her continuing sort of moving away from this war. Mary mentioned the calling for Rumsfeld to resign. Now we have that it's time to change course. And certainly over -- it's interesting to me that she has a very pro-Bush administration policy in Iraq candidate, because it sets up sharply how she has moved on this war, and something that indeed her advisers have felt she needed to do, because the Democratic Party, the core of it, that would vote in the early caucus and primary states, is very anti-war.

ZAHN: And a recent CNN poll, Bill -- and you know these backwards and forwards -- shows her slightly ahead of John McCain if the two ran for president in 2008. And a lot of people find this surprising, given her lack of military experience. What is giving her the edge?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: One word -- change. Voters are desperate for change right now. That's why they're so angry at Congress, that's why President Bush has such low ratings. She represents change. Just about any Democrat would, and she represents not only change, but the name is Clinton, and there's a considerable amount of Clinton nostalgia.

Clinton was a very decisive president, as is President Bush, but there are a lot of people, most of them Democrats but some others as well, who remember the Clinton years as years when they were making a lot of money and things were pretty good. So that plus the desire for change is giving her a real boost.

ZAHN: What impact, Candy, does her gender have if she decides to make this run?

CROWLEY: Well, it certainly gets a lot of play. I mean, obviously, just with the name Clinton, as Bill mentioned, there will be cameras everywhere. But the possibility that the first really strong run at a party's nomination for the presidency will be made, obviously just brings in a lot of limelight to her.

Now, you know, the question is when that falls away. There has to be a first all the time, but in the end -- and I'm sure Bill can tell you better the numbers than I -- I think the most interesting in the polling is the number of people who will say I will never, ever, ever vote for Hillary Clinton. It's a very high mark. So she starts right away with some damage that has already been done as first lady -- for whatever reason, people don't like her.

So it's going to be interesting. I think it cuts both ways, but I don't think it has to do with her being female so much as how she was perceived in the White House, and the feeling that she's liberal, which of course the people around her say she's not.

ZAHN: Given everything Candy just said, Bill, in one word or two, can she win in 2008 if she runs?

SCHNEIDER: Sure. Because if the change issue is as strong two years from now as it is now, and if she gets the nomination, which is a big test, sure she can win, because a lot of people will be desperate to change things as they are right now.

ZAHN: Hey, I gave you 23 words, but who's counting. It's Friday night and you were a good guy to join us after a long week. Bill Schneider, Candy Crowley, Mary Snow, thanks. Coming up next, our top story in security watch. Five years after 9/11, why are most people convicted in terror cases spending less than a month in prison?


ZAHN: Our top story in the security watch tonight: Since 9/11, hundreds of terror suspects have been arrested in the U.S., and just about every time you see the Justice Department and the FBI make an announcement with a lot of fanfare in front of a lot of TV cameras, but so many times we never hear about those the suspects again. So what happens to all of these big terror cases? Investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has some very surprising answers.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the FBI's war on terror, this man came close to being another Justice Department statistic.

(on camera): Do you know of any, have you heard of any terrorist group in your circle?

ABDUL BERRO, GAS STATION ATTENDANT: Trust me, if the FBI or the government know one person I have any relation between all these terrorism organization, trust me, I wouldn't be sitting with you now.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Abdul Berro is a gas station attendant in Detroit. He's also about to be sentenced for credit card and bank fraud.

BERRO: I pled guilty. That's right. Yes. I pled guilty for some kind of stupid -- I call it mistake.

GRIFFIN: He is not being sentenced for terrorism, even though the FBI spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating him and others for plotting against America. The FBI had an informant who said there was more going on with Berro than just credit card fraud. According to Berro's attorney, that informant told the FBI drug sales, credit cards and bank frauds were being used to support terrorism in Lebanon.

According to documents, the bureau paid that informant more than $200,000.

It wasn't until Berro was arrested and driven downtown to Detroit's federal building for questioning that he learned how much trouble he was in.

BERRO: Oh, yes, yes, related to terrorism. Oh, at the time, I was crying.

GRIFFIN (on camera): You were crying?

BERRO: Yes. I cried. GRIFFIN (voice-over): The FBI's informant turned out to be a liar, a con man, now serving a 10-year sentence for his expensive misinformation. Abdul Berro and 16 other defendants in the Detroit area, mostly Lebanese Americans, have pleaded guilty to using credit card and bank frauds to steal nearly $2 million, and they face serious prison sentences, but not for terrorism.

Berro's attorney Philip Thomas says his client was targeted simply because he's of Arab descent.

PHILIP THOMAS, ATTORNEY: When you look at the number of cases nationwide that have gone to trial since 9/11, they're very, very small. And yet there is a tremendously large budget that is being devoted towards the investigation and the uncovering of those crimes.

So I think what we want to do is we want to start asking ourselves, is that money being used fruitfully, or are terrorism dollars being used to investigate people for credit card fraud?

GRIFFIN: Federal appeals court Judge Richard Posner, who studied many terrorism cases, worries that the government is so focused on making quick arrests that it's missing the real threat.

RICHARD POSNER, FEDERAL JUDGE: Five years after 9/11, we do not actually know what the scope of the terrorist danger to the United States is within the United States. We don't know whether there are terrorist cells, terrorist supporters, whether there's some kind of terrorist infrastructure waiting for a signal from abroad.

GRIFFIN: As an example, Judge Posner cites the highly publicized case of the Lackawanna Six in upstate New York. In 2002, the six men were indicted and then pleaded guilty to terror charges related to visits to Afghan training camps before 9/11. Posner says the FBI arrested the men too quickly before finding out what they planned to do.

POSNER: You'll get the small fry, or the people who aren't very good at concealing what they're doing.

GRIFFIN: The latest Justice Department report says 441 terrorism-related cases have been filed since 9/11, and 261 have led to convictions. But an independent research group at Syracuse University says half the sentences for these terrorism-related cases are for 28 days or less in prison. In fact, many of those convicted don't serve a single day behind bars.

The FBI's John Miller insists that even these lesser convictions are vital in the war on terror. That if left alone, these sympathizers would eventually aid terrorists.

JOHN MILLER, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: The idea is to neutralize these groups either before they are able to transmit money to a terrorist organization overseas, before they are able to put together an attack plan here.

POSNER: They are not necessarily the really dangerous people, but they're the easier people to catch.

GRIFFIN: Judge Posner says the U.S. needs a new domestic agency, one less concerned with making quick arrests and more willing to take the risk of sitting on a case to see if it leads to a bigger terror threat.

The FBI's Miller disagrees.

MILLER: This is not a game of chicken we're playing, where we can see whether we get within hours of them striking to get just that much more proof.

GRIFFIN: If small-time criminals like Abdul Berro are swept up in the process, justice still has been served, but Judge Posner wonders, are we really any safer?

Drew Griffin, CNN, Detroit.


ZAHN: And one thing that's always pointed out to us as we report on homeland security issues, is that five years have passed since 9/11 without a single terrorist attack on the U.S. Many in government say that success speaks for itself, but federal Judge Richard Posner says even that statistic can be deceiving, reminding us of eight years that went by between the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, and then, of course, 9/11.

We're going to take a quick biz break right now. Stocks closed mixed today. The Dow dropped 9 points, but is still above 12,000 territory. The Nasdaq and S&P were both up about 1.5 points. Oil prices tumbled $1.68 today, below $57 per barrel, hitting the lowest level this year.

A setback for a Sony consumer product. The electronics giant is holding back the location for a TV box for more testing. It streams TV shows wirelessly to other devices.

And say good-bye to the car that was the best-seller for so many years. The last Ford Taurus will roll off the assembly line next week. The mid-sized sedan became a sensation after it was first introduced in 1985. Drivers liked its design and fuel efficiency.

"LARRY KING LIVE" coming up in just a few minutes, and you have a very special guest tonight. You're hanging out with Jesse Jackson?

LARRY KING, HOST: Yes, I am. The Ford Taurus. Nothing...

ZAHN: You had one of those?

KING: Once I had one, yes. Nothing is forever.

ZAHN: I've rented one. I'm kind of nostalgic about the whole thing.

KING: Oh, she rented. ZAHN: You don't need a car in New York, Larry. We have a lot of those yellow cars with the flashing lights.

KING: The one and only Reverend Jesse Jackson is our guest tonight. We're going to cover everything, Paula, from my guest last night, Senator Barack Obama, and when we might ever see an African- American president, to being there that awful day in 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Reverend Jesse Jackson with phone calls and emails too, at the top of the hour, Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Larry. I like that pink palette you have got working tonight.

KING: Thanks.

ZAHN: It's flattering. It's that set of yours.

OK, we're going to move on to Melissa Long. She's standing by to wrap up our countdown tonight -- Melissa.

LONG: Quite a catch to show you. Story number 4: Two teens in Arizona reeled in a huge catfish in an unlikely place, a canal near Phoenix. The fish, four feet long, weighs about 40 pounds.

Story three: A teenager in Florida has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder in connection with a fatal stabbing of another teen at a bus stop in a high school in Orange County. Police say the attack happened during an argument over a girl, Paula.

ZAHN: A lot of violence in our top 10 list tonight. This really drew in the computer-goers today. Thanks, Melissa. Still ahead, our top international story. The latest on the North Korean nuclear crisis. Is there a sign the North Korea's leader blinked after all? Is he really backing down?


ZAHN: There could be a major development tonight in a top international story we have been watching very closely from here. A report from South Korea today said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il says his country has no plan to conduct a second nuclear test, and he expressed regrets for the first one.

Now, if that report is true, it may be a sign that pressure from China is making the North think twice about its nuclear program.

Pressure is also coming from the United Nations. Six days ago, the U.N. imposed tough sanctions on North Korea. And the next man to head the U.N. can make a huge difference in the crisis. South Korean diplomat Ban Ki-moon takes over as secretary-general less than three months from now, making him one of our "People You Should Know." Here's Richard Roth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nicknamed the Man With No Enemies, we'll see if South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon keeps that moniker as the U.N. secretary-general.

BAN KI-MOON, SOUTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I thought that with my personal experience, as well as collective wisdom and experience Korea has going through, we can offer the reform and better future of the United Nations.

ROTH: Soft-spoken and known for his calm demeanor, the 62-year- old has drawn criticism for being too passive. Ban will oversee a $5 billion budget and over 90,000 peacekeepers. His affection for the U.N. started in 1975 while working as a staff member.

WILLIAM LUERS, U.N. AMBASSADOR OF THE U.S.: He's intelligent. He's a good diplomat. He has done a lot of work in studying what the U.N. is all about. He is a talented man, who may, with time, emerge as an influential leader.

ROTH: French-speaking and Harvard-educated, Ban is married to Madam Yoo Soon-taek, whom he met in high school. The couple have one son and two daughters.

(on camera): Ban's most prominent role has been with the six- party talks, working to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. People close to him say he wants to be the world's best diplomat. Being secretary-general is no guarantee that's how he'll be remembered.

Richard Roth, CNN, United Nations.


ZAHN: There's another thing to add. Ban Ki-moon takes over as secretary-general on January 1st.

Time now to wrap up our countdown with Melissa Long, who's standing by -- Melissa.

LONG: Paula, No. 2 on the list, more than five years after 9/11, police and forensic experts are again digging through the rubble at New York's ground zero. The city's mayor ordered the search after a contractor found human remains in a manhole at the World Trade Center site Thursday. Remains of more than 1,100 victims are still missing.

And story No. 1, about the personal life of "Gray's Anatomy" star T.R. Knight, coming out after months of rumors about his sexuality. He told "People" magazine he is gay, Paula.

ZAHN: Guess that will stop all the rumors, won't it, Melissa?

LONG: Yes, it will.

ZAHN: All right. Thank you so much. Have a good weekend, Melissa. Coming here at the top of the hour, the Reverend Jesse Jackson joins Larry King to talk about civil rights, politics and surviving scandal. We're going to take a short break. Please do not go away.


ZAHN: Updating our top story tonight. The White House calling an urgent meeting of top U.S. generals as the situation in Iraq seems to be close to spinning out of control. We are in the middle of what could be the bloodiest month ever for U.S. forces. So far, 75 soldiers have been killed. And today, a Shiite militia overran the entire city of Amara in southern Iraq, burning police stations, killing at least 16 people, wounding nearly 100. Administration officials and the generals will meet again this weekend to assess the U.S. strategy in Iraq.

That's it for all of us here. Thanks again for dropping by tonight. We hope you have a really good weekend and we hope you'll be back with us same time, same place Monday night. Good night.


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