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Hillary Clinton Talks About Barack Obama's Pastor; Straight Talk from John McCain About Economy; Not Enough Federal Air Marshals; Violence in Basra

Aired March 25, 2008 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton weighs in, talking about Barack Obama's former pastor. The big question, though, are her comments meant to take away attention from this, tape of her visit to Bosnia as first lady? She has claimed several times she had to duck and run because of sniper fire.
Well, the video there shows otherwise. And the story has been a big embarrassment for the senator.

Also tonight, he calls it straight talk. Others call it tough talk -- John McCain sending a message to a lot of homeowners behind on their mortgages: Don't expect the government to bail you out. There's a lot more, though, to it than that.

Dana Bash is digging deeper into Senator McCain's plan for dealing with the mortgage mess.

Also, a 360 exclusive on the people who are supposed to be guarding your safety in the air, federal air marshals, allegations there simply aren't enough from them. Tonight, you will hear from the marshals themselves, who say, hey, we need help. Drew Griffin is keeping the government honest tonight.

A lot to cover, but we begin with the growing war of words between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- a major shot today from Senator Clinton. The subject: Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama's former pastor.

Just when it seemed that story was fading, Senator Clinton put it squarely back in the spotlight, saying -- quote -- "He would not have been my pastor," and, in another interview, indicating Senator Obama should have gotten up and moved from the church.

Clinton supporters say the senator was simply responding today to questions that were asked of her by reporters. Her detractors say she was reading from prepared remarks and was trying to deflect attention from that video, which disproved her repeated remarks that she had had to dodge sniper fire in Bosnia as first lady.

Senator Clinton yesterday said it was a misstatement, had more to say about it today as well. We will get to all of that in a moment, and our panel weigh in on this war of words.

But, first, you decide for yourself about today's remarks on Reverend Wright. Here is Senator Clinton today at a news conference in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Until now, she's let her surrogates attack Senator Obama over his former pastor. Today, for the first time, she weighed in when asked whether Obama should have left his church.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I answered a question in an ed board today that was very specific about what I would have done. And I'm just speaking for myself. And I was answering a question that was posed to me.

But I think, given all we have heard and seen he would not have been my pastor. I gave a speech at Rutgers about a year ago that was triggered by the Don Imus comments.

And I said that it was time for standing up for what is right, for saying, enough is enough, for urging that we turn a culture of degradation into a culture of empowerment, for saying that, while we of course must protect our right to freedom of expression, it should not be used as a license or an excuse to demean and humiliate our fellow citizens.

Senator Obama spoke eloquently at that time as well. You know, we don't have a choice when it comes to our relatives. We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend.

Everyone will have to decide these matters for themselves. They are obviously very personal matters. But I was asked what I would do if he were my pastor. And I said I think the choice would be clear for me.


COOPER: Well, she clearly came prepared. You can see her consulting her notes throughout that. It was a very carefully parsed answer.

In a newspaper interview with "The Pittsburgh Tribune Review," Senator Clinton also said -- quote -- "I just think you have to speak out against that," speaking about what she called hate speech. She said -- quote -- "You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly, by getting up and moving."

The Obama campaign wasted little time in firing back at Senator Clinton today, issuing a statement that reads, "After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it's disappointing to see Hillary Clinton's campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia."

Again, the senator's supporters say she was responding to questions asked by reporters, but the timing, her detractors say, is not coincidental. Her press conference came less than a day after the Bosnia exploded onto the front pages, which pundits saying it undermines the central premise of her campaign, her experience.

Yesterday, she said she misspoke. Today, she went much further. Take a look.


CLINTON: You know, I made a mistake in describing it. I have said many times, I have talked about this many times that we were, you know, very much told by the Secret Service and the military that we were going into a war zone and that we had to be conscious of that. I was the first First Lady taken into a war zone since Eleanor Roosevelt.

And, you know, I think that the military and the Secret Service did a terrific job. But we certainly did take precautions. There is no doubt about that, and I remember that very clearly. But I did make a mistake in talking about it the last time and recently.

But, look, this is really about what policy experience we have and who's ready to be commander in chief. And I'm happy to put my experience up against Senator Obama's any day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Obama campaign is now saying that this is a pattern of exaggeration on Bosnia with the three events that they sent out with the same sort of story.

How do you respond to that claim, that this is sort of a pattern that's developing?

CLINTON: Well, I just disagree with that. You know, look, I made a mistake. And, you know, I had a different memory. And, my staff and others have all kind of come together trying to sort out. So I made a mistake. That happens. It proves I'm human, which, you know, for some people, is a revelation.


COOPER: Earlier, she blamed her misstatement on fatigue, telling "The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review" she was -- quote -- "sleep-deprived." We should point out she told the Bosnian sniper story on more than one occasion. We're not sure if she blames each misstatement on sleep deprivation or just the last one.

A lot to discuss tonight with Clinton supporter and former Bill Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis, also Obama supporter Jamal Simmons, and "TIME" magazine supporter Joe Klein.

Jamal, she was responding to reporters' questions. Why shouldn't Hillary Clinton weigh in on the Reverend Wright controversy?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, Anderson, what is interesting about this is, reporters have been asking her questions about this for a week. And, for a week, she said, oh, talk to Senator Obama. I don't want to get into that.

She's deflected those questions. So, clearly, the answer -- the question is, why did she choose to answer the question today? And I think that some of the other folks today have gotten at it. You have got to admire the Clinton spin operation. They're very good at what they do.

What they have done is, they have now introduced this question of Reverend Wright again today to deflect from the fact that Hillary Clinton stood on stage several times and told a very vivid story about getting out of an airplane and ducking her way into a car that just simply didn't happen.

We have already had an administration that has exaggerated when it comes to issues of national security. The American people need to know they can trust their president's judgment and they will tell them the truth when it comes to these kinds of important issues.

COOPER: Lanny, what about that? Her remarks were clearly written out. She was glancing down at prepared text. Did the Clinton camp hope this would detract attention away from the embarrassment over the Bosnia misstatements?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I can only tell you what I hope, and that is we accept the expression that most people in Washington don't accept, honest mistake, and that we also don't listen to double standards.

So, let me reply to my friend Jamal. When Senator Obama said that he passed nuclear waste legislation that actually ended up not being passed, and "The New York Times" published that he had said that, my assumption was, he made an honest mistake.

When he claimed credit for an immigration that Senator Dodd said that he didn't really have much to do with, my assumption is, he made an honest mistake.

So, Senator Clinton has said, honest mistake.

COOPER: Lanny, you're completely changing the subject.

DAVIS: Well, no, I am not. I'm talking about whether we assume people can make honest mistakes or whether we say that they're intentionally deceiving. That's a big difference. I'm not changing the subject at all.


COOPER: My question -- let me just -- but let me just -- my question was, do you think they're trying to deflect attention away from the misstatements? You clearly didn't answer it. Do you think -- yes or no, do you think they're trying to...

DAVIS: Well, I said I don't know.

COOPER: You don't know?

DAVIS: I said I -- I believe that her answer was appropriate, not to judge Senator Obama and tell him what to do with his congregation, but to say what she would do, and not what to say what Senator Obama would do. She carefully walked that line. That's the line I walk, that I would not stay in a congregation if my rabbi said the things that Reverend Wright said. But I respect Senator Obama's decision for his reasons to stay in his congregation. I think that's an appropriate line to walk.

COOPER: Joe, let me bring you in. What do you make of all this? Have the campaigns run out of substantive ways to distinguish themselves from each other. Or is this just the media's fault, covering the spectacle, not the substance?

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": Well, on the big issues, there was never really a substantive difference.

I'm feeling kind of less charitable than I did last night, when I was willing to give Hillary Clinton a break for the imaginative embroidery of that story in Bosnia. It was a war story.

But, today, what we saw, I think, is pretty transparent and a very clear sign of desperation. She moved the -- you know, the focus of this campaign back to race and hate speech as an issue. Now, that may well be a -- you know, a significant issue in this campaign.

But to deny that what she did today was, you know, finally moving that issue into the fore, in order to distract attention from her embarrassment is baloney. You know, I think it's pretty clear what happened today, and it's a real sign of desperation on the part of the Clinton campaign.

COOPER: Why do you think they're so desperate?

KLEIN: Well, because I think that the margin for error is very slim.

The chances are that she's -- you know, that she's not going to be able to put together the math needed to win this nomination, unless Obama tanks completely. And, you know, the best chance of Obama tanking is white people not voting for him. And the best way to get white people to not vote for him is to remind them of the things that Jeremiah Wright said. It's that simple.

COOPER: Lanny, is this a sign of desperation?

DAVIS: There are few people I respect more than Joe Klein. So, we just have a disagreement.

We just have a disagreement here. And he knows that I loved his book about Bill Clinton, because I told him so.

I just disagree with you, Joe. First of all, she walked a line by saying what I have been saying, which is, I wouldn't stand for my rabbi saying that...

COOPER: Yes, but you said it last week to -- you said it last week to "The Huffington Post."

Why is she saying it today, after about a week, after the story's already faded?

DAVIS: Well...

KLEIN: The appropriate thing -- there was an appropriate course of action for a candidate to take...

DAVIS: I didn't get a chance to answer.

COOPER: Go ahead and answer, please.

DAVIS: My answer is, I have no idea, except I think it's a legitimate way that she said it, which is that she personally would not put up with somebody who says that 9/11 are chickens who come home to roost, that Israel is a state-sponsored nation, and that there are generic comments made about white America.

My rabbi...

KLEIN: Lanny, you're doing it right now.

COOPER: Lanny, it is amazing. Lanny, it is amazing.

I'm not taking sides here, but we all know what the comments were. It's funny that you feel the need to repeat them over and over again.

DAVIS: It's appropriate.

KLEIN: You know, Lanny, Lanny, you're spreading the -- you're spreading the poison right now. And the fact is, you know, everybody...

DAVIS: That's not poison. Those are facts, Joe. Those are facts. And I'm not saying Senator -- I also said Senator Obama...

COOPER: Let Lanny finish.

You have -- OK, Joe, what's your point?

KLEIN: My point is that the Clinton campaign and Hillary Clinton had taken the road that I would have expected of her, as being an honorable person, which is to stay away from this stuff.

And now, suddenly, after a week, she's not.

DAVIS: It's an appropriate subject.

KLEIN: And she's having her surrogates, like Lanny -- like Lanny, you know, raise stuff about 9/11 and Israel is a state sponsor of terrorism.

DAVIS: Joe, I speak for myself. Nobody tells me what to do. I'm not part of the campaign. So, she's not having me do anything.

COOPER: All right.

DAVIS: I speak for myself. I think it's an appropriate topic to talk about, but not to judge Senator Obama. That's his decision.

But it's appropriate for those of us who feel differently to say what we would do under the same circumstance. I think it's respectful for Senator Obama.

COOPER: All right.

DAVIS: But it's also our opinion.

KLEIN: Lanny, I'm not a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV. But aren't, by bringing those things up, you casting some judgment on Senator Obama?

DAVIS: I'm certainly saying I would have acted differently, and it's an appropriate topic for the American people...

KLEIN: That's a judgment.

DAVIS: ... to decide for themselves.

COOPER: All right. We're going to leave it there. We're going to leave it there. We're going to leave it there.

We will let our viewers decide. We're going to more from our panel coming up. Also, we're blogging tonight. Join the conversation. What do you think of what you just heard? Go to

Senator Clinton was asked today about why she hasn't yet released her tax returns. Senator Obama put his out this morning. We will give you a look at it after the break.

And later, a 360 exclusive: How safe are the planes we fly on from terrorists? Drew Griffin is "Keeping Them Honest."


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If there is one place Americans should feel safe after 9/11, it should be here, sitting on a commercial airplane about to land or take off at Washington's Reagan Airport. Certainly, any attempt to take over the plane would be thwarted by federal air marshals. But that is only if federal air marshals are on board.



COOPER: Barack Obama on vacation with his family in the Virgin Islands, but still finding a way to fire a shot in the campaign. He released his tax returns today and repeated the call for Senator Clinton to release hers. Why hasn't she?

With the "Raw Politics," here's Suzanne Malveaux.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Being a bestselling author has its benefits. The tax returns for Barack and Michelle Obama in 2005 and 2006 show $1.7 million in earnings from his books. The campaign posted six years worth of their personal tax records on the Internet and said they are highlighting a contrast Senator Obama has been trying to make with his rival, Hillary Clinton.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She doesn't believe in transparency and hasn't even released her earmarks, because -- just like she hasn't released her income tax returns.

MALVEAUX: Obama has posted all his requests for earmark spending online. Clinton has not. Clinton now says she will release six years worth of tax returns for her and her husband, perhaps within the next week.

CLINTON: Now he should release his records from being in the state senate and any other information that the public and the press need to know from his prior experience.

MALVEAUX: But a top Obama aide dismissed that call, and said Clinton's release should come sooner.

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: All she has to do is send someone down to Kinko's to photocopy tax returns and post them immediately on their Web site.

MALVEAUX: Obama has taken some flak of his own about how up forthcoming he was with his relationship with fund-raiser Tony Rezko, now on trial in Chicago.

But his aides have kept up a drumbeat of criticism on Hillary Clinton's disclosures, from her schedule as first lady, to her disclosure of earmark requests, to her tax returns, to the Clinton Library donors list.

JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO.COM: I think that Barack Obama is both trying to lay some subtle hints back to the scandals of the Clintons' past. And then it's a more offensive tool as well, because he's hoping for some immediate information that he can use against her in the primary.

MALVEAUX (on camera): Aides to Obama made a list of 10 questions they would like to know the answers to regarding the Clintons' finances. Meanwhile, the Obama's tax returns show that, in the two most recent years, they list $137,000 in contributions to charity.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: A lot to talk about with our panel. Joining me again, Democratic analyst and Obama supporter Jamal Simmons, former Clinton lawyer and Clinton supporter Lanny Davis, "TIME" magazine columnist and author Joe Klein. Joe, just one quick question to you, and then we will get the supporters on the other side of this next break.

Why wouldn't Clinton just release the records and be as transparent as possible, Joe?

KLEIN: Oh, I don't know. I mean, once again, this is silly season.

We're dealing with these things while there's a big battle going on in Basra in Iraq. I would much like -- much rather hear what the candidates had to say about that. I mean, tax returns are always an issue in these campaigns, and they're never very relevant.

COOPER: We're going to hear from the supporters in just -- a break.

We will take a short break, a lot more to cover coming up, the "Raw Politics," what happened on the campaign trail to Chelsea Clinton -- a lot of cover.

We will be right back.



CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF BILL AND HILLARY CLINTON: Wow. You're the first person actually that's ever asked me that question in the, I don't know, maybe 70 college campuses that I have now been to. And I do not think that's any of your business.


COOPER: Chelsea Clinton answering a question, not missing a beat, when she was asked whether her mother's creditability had been hurt during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a moment of raw politics on the campaign trail today, but not the only raw politics.

Joining me again, Jamal Simmons, Lanny Davis, and Joe Klein.

Lanny, why is -- what is taking Clinton so long to release her tax returns? What is the big deal?

DAVIS: I don't think there's a big deal. I agree that she's going to release her returns going back to the year 2000.

Let's not forget that her financial statements have been published as a senator. And for the last 15 years, when she was first lady in Arkansas, the tax returns were fully public.

But I also agree with Joe Klein. This is silly season. We have people losing their homes in foreclosures. We have lost 4,000 young men in Iraq. We have no way out and an administration that needs to be replaced by one of these two Democrats, who agree on virtually every issue. So, transparency with Mr. Rezko, transparency with tax returns, at the risk of being accused of changing the subject by you, Anderson.

Suzanne Malveaux did mention Mr. Rezko. We still don't have answers to how those houses were purchased.

It would be nice to have transparency on that, too.

COOPER: I wouldn't expect you to answer that question without bringing up Rezko. So, I'm not going to jump on you after that.

DAVIS: I'm glad I didn't disappoint you.

COOPER: Jamal, how come the Obama campaign is pushing this issue? What do they think that Clinton is hiding?

SIMMONS: Hi, guys, it's nice to get back and talk to you.

You know, actually, the Obama campaign, I think, is asking this question because there is a legitimate question here about, what is it that we don't know? What else is in the Clinton closets that we have not yet gotten a chance to see? And, so, I think this is the real question on the table.

You talked about Rezko. You know, Barack Obama sat down with "The Chicago Tribune" a few weeks ago and gave them an hour-and-a-half worth of discussion about Rezko. He answered every single question that they had. They wrote a phenomenal editorial about it.

The fact that Hillary Clinton, who has not released these tax returns for the last six years -- and Lanny, who is an attorney, I think he understands the difference between the tax returns and Senate statements -- the fact that she hasn't released these sort of -- makes people wonder, what's in them that they don't want to have out because typically if it's an easy answer to a question you get it out pretty fast.

So, I think it's kind of the audacity of audaciousness for Hillary Clinton to then ask that Barack Obama should release more information, when he's been the one that has been the most forthcoming so far.

COOPER: Jamal, did you come up with that term like a couple hours ago and just waiting for the opportunity to use it?

SIMMONS: I have been holding it all day for you, Anderson.

COOPER: I think you have been.

DAVIS: Hey, Anderson, don't steal my punch line. That's a great one.

And I agree with my friend Jamal and so does Senator Clinton. She's going to release her tax information, all six years' worth. And we are all going to find, as Joe Klein has pointed out, there's nothing there. This is silly season. COOPER: What about the library donor list?

DAVIS: He said it was silly list.

DAVIS: And the library donor list, as far as I'm concerned, all that should come out as well.

But what's really important is what's happening in the economy, what's happening in Iraq. And the American people, with all due respect, because I love your show, Anderson, don't care about what we're talking about. They care about the economy and they care about Iraq. And what these two Democrats are going to do to fix both of those is what people care about.

COOPER: Well, no doubt, you watched our hour-long special about Iraq last night at 11:00. I hope you did, because...

DAVIS: Yes, sir. It was great.

COOPER: Good. I'm glad.

DAVIS: It was great.

COOPER: And we're going to have more on Iraq later on this evening. We are going to talk to Michael Ware live.

Joe, I just want to talk politics a little bit, though. What is the endgame here?

KLEIN: Could I just say I love these guys?


KLEIN: I'm feeling very Solomonic (ph) here.

COOPER: It's a giant lovefest.

KLEIN: I mean, I agree with Jamal about Rezko. I mean, that stuff has really been vetted now.

And I agree with Lanny about the tax returns. What the Clintons are embarrassed about here and why they have held it back is that the number is going to be a very big number. And people are going to say, wow, they have been -- you know, President Clinton's really been raking it in. And, so, there's some embarrassment there.

But I don't think that there's criminality or anything like that.

SIMMONS: This is America. What is there to be embarrassed about doing well and making money?

COOPER: In terms of the political campaign, Joe, does this -- do you see this going all the way to the convention?

KLEIN: Probably not. I think that it has gotten very, very intense over the last few weeks. And I think you are going to see some efforts -- Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, alluded to it today -- on the part of the party to close this thing down after we have a few more primaries.

You know, there -- I don't know which way it's going to go. Nobody does. But I think that the Clintons are very dogged, but they're not kamikazes. And I think that, after a certain point, it's going to become apparent that this campaign has to be wrapped up.

DAVIS: I need a quick -- I need a quick 10-second rebuttal here.

COOPER: Go for it.

DAVIS: First of all, Senator Clinton is running for president, Joe Klein, not "the Clintons." And I know that's the way a lot of people put it.

Secondly, Hillary Clinton was counted out before New Hampshire. She was counted out after South Carolina. And now she's being counted out after she won Ohio and Texas. Watch what happens after Pennsylvania. Watch the national polls. Let's see who can win the White House.

That's when we will decide, when we go to the convention, who should be the nominee.

COOPER: We're going to end it there. Jamal Simmons, Lanny Davis, Joe Klein, always good to have you all on. Appreciate it.

Still to come tonight: Nancy Reagan says John McCain is her man, as he speaks out on the housing crisis. That's ahead.

But, first, Erica Hill joins us with a 360 bulletin -- Erica.


Two construction workers are dead after another crane collapsed. This time, it happened in Miami. At least four others were injured. The crane at a high-rise condo fell on top of a house. Ten days ago, a crane collapsed in New York, killing seven people.

The mayor of Detroit and his former chief of staff have pleaded not guilty to felony charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and misconduct in office. The two are accused of lying under oath about an alleged affair.

And a U.S. Airways pilot removed from duty after his gun went off mid-flight on Saturday. He says he accidentally fired the gun, blasting a hole in the cockpit. He's also been suspended from the federal program which allows pilots to carry firearms, pending an investigation -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, I don't understand that. What was he doing with his gun that it accidentally went off? Mid-flight?

HILL: That's the big question. COOPER: Wow.

HILL: And that's what the investigation is. He said it accidentally went off. They want to find out how.

COOPER: Wow. Yes, that will be interesting to find out.

Erica, still more to come: more insecurity in the skies, a CNN special investigation. Where are all the air marshals? We will look at that.

But, first, a car stolen in broad daylight, the crime actually caught on tape. The suspect picked the most unusual spot to steal the car. What was he thinking? We will find out ahead.

And here's tonight's "Beat 360": former President Bill Clinton signing a woman's arm cast in Indiana.

Here's the caption from our staff winner, Kathleen: "I'm not twisting your arm. Really, you can vote for whoever you want."

Yes, well, if you think you can do better, go to Send us your submission. We will announce the winner at the end of the program.


COOPER: Erica, time now for our segment "What Were They Thinking?"

What you are about to see may look like a routine interview with a police spokesman, but it's not. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still have my police equipment with me. That's going to be every officer.

Watch out!


COOPER: He allegedly steals a car that was parked at the police station. He did it in full view of the parking lot full of police officers. It happened in Gilbert, Arizona.

It seems the owner of the car was thinking about selling his ride to the suspect. Somehow, both of them ended up at the station. There was a short chase. The driver was arrested, presumably for theft, not sheer stupidity.

HILL: But he should be arrested for stupidity. I mean, really?

Are you kidding me?

COOPER: Yes. Yes. HILL: You're stealing a car from a police station.

COOPER: With a camera right there. Always good.

HILL: How stupid are you, hmm?


COOPER: A good question the judge should ask.

Still ahead: a special investigation. If you think an air marshal is on your flight keeping you safe, well, think again. On the 28,000 flights a day nationwide, you will be surprised by how few air marshals are reportedly on duty.

Tonight, some air marshals are speaking out, saying, more needs to be done. Drew Griffin is keeping the government honest.

And we will go to Dana Bash just a few miles south of here, where John McCain got some kind words from former first lady Nancy Reagan and some -- had some blunt talk on the economy.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have always been committed to the principle that it's not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they're big banks or small borrowers?




NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: Ronnie and I always waited until everything was decided, and then we endorsed. Well, obviously, this is the nominee of the party.


COOPER: Former First Lady Nancy Reagan earlier today with John McCain by her side. Mrs. Reagan endorsed the presumptive Republican nominee here in Los Angeles. It's a major endorsement, but not surprising. The two have been friends now for years.

Earlier today, McCain addressed the No. 1 issue for Americans: the economy; in particular, the housing crisis. His message was one of tough love, you might say, with no government bailouts for banks or for borrowers.

CNN's Dana Bash is digging deeper.


DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John McCain pointedly blamed the housing crisis on both irresponsible lenders and Americans who borrowed more than they could afford, and said it's not Uncle Sam's job to save either.

MCCAIN: I've always been committed to the principle that it's not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they're big banks or small borrowers.

BASH: Usually, McCain speaks without notes. But today he used a teleprompter to deliver the most extensive remarks to date from the GOP candidate who admits he knows far more about national security than economics.

MCCAIN: In this crisis, as in all I may face in the future, I will not allow dogma to override common sense.

BASH: But his address was more of a framework for what he would not do to remedy the housing crisis than what he should do.

MCCAIN: No assistance should be given to speculators. Any assistance for borrowers should be focused solely on homeowners, not people who bought houses for speculative purposes.

BASH: McCain spoke in California's historically Republican Orange County, where there were more than 3,000 foreclosure filings in January, up 128 percent from last year.

But the presumptive GOP nominee offered little in terms of proposals for immediate assistance. In short term ideas - a meeting of accounting experts and a pledge to help from mortgage lenders.

MCCAIN: They've been asking the government to help them out. I'm now calling upon them to help their customers and their nation.

BASH: In hard-hit Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton chastised McCain's hands-off approach.

CLINTON: Well, it sounds remarkably like Herbert Hoover, and I don't think that's a good economic policy. The government has a number of tools at its disposal that are well suited for just this situation.

BASH: It's a stark illustration of a philosophical divide. A day earlier, Clinton proposed a $30-billion assistance plan. About that, McCain said...

MCCAIN: That idea, I believe, is a very expensive one. I don't believe it works, and I'd like to know how it's paid for.


COOPER: Dana, McCain focused on housing today. This wasn't a broader economic plan that we were expecting. When is that going to come?

BASH: That's going to come, we're told by McCain advisers, Anderson, early next month. He's going to unveil a broader, a major economic plan, according to the campaign.

You know, but it was very interesting and very telling that he gave this speech today on the housing crisis, because it's indicative of the fact that he realizes he just simply can't ignore the economy right now, can't wait just a couple of weeks, especially given the fact that this really was the first major address that McCain has given on any one given policy issue.

So when we heard he was going to give this speech, Anderson, we sort of thought, OK, well, that makes a lot of sense. But when we started reading it, and even when we heard him this morning, he did give a lot of parameters, a lot of analysis of the economic problem, but not a lot of specifics.

Democrats really jumped on it immediately and said it's because he doesn't get the economy. He says it's because, as a conservative, he wants the markets to deal with it.

But one thing it definitely does show is something that you were talking about with your panel earlier. Democrats may not be that different on issues. They are very, very different from John McCain. It's going to be a whole different world when the fall campaign really kicks in.

COOPER: Dana Bash thanks very much.

Up next, a 360 exclusive. They're supposed to be guarding your safety in the air. So why are so many planes taking off without air marshals? Drew Griffin is "Keeping Them Honest," next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a hijack! Move! Move!


COOPER: Training against terrorists. You're looking at federal air marshals learning the lethal skills they need to keep us safe in the skies.

Ever since the September 11 attacks, Washington has told us it has significantly increased the number of armed officers on commercial flights. But the government has never given out an exact number. And now, as you're about to see, several air marshals and their supporters are coming forward, telling us far more needs to be done to keep our flights safe.

With the CNN special investigations unit report, "Keeping Them Honest," here's Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If there is one place Americans should feel safe after 9/11, it should be here at Washington's Ronald Reagan Airport. Certainly, any attempt to take over the plane would be thwarted by federal air marshals, but that is only if federal air marshals are on board.

CNN is being told by air marshals themselves that on 99 flights out of 100, they're not.

(on camera) If I would say 1 percent, less than 1 percent, would I be far from the mark?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think so. I don't think you'd be far from the mark.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): These two federal air marshals told us on camera what at least a dozen of their colleagues and pilots have told CNN off camera. Afraid to be identified for fear of retribution, they say the Department of Homeland Security hides behind national security laws, because making the facts public would be a P.R. disaster.

(on camera) Are the numbers classified because the numbers are embarrassing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be very embarrassed by them if they were to get out.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): "Keeping Them Honest," we spoke directly with numerous air marshals. They all tell us about 1 percent of the 28,000 flights that take off or land in the U.S. each day are protected. One pilot who crisscrosses the U.S. and flies internationally says he hasn't seen an air marshal on board in six months.

A federal law enforcement officer who travels to Washington every week says he can go months without seeing a marshal. And another pilot who wanted to protect his identity because he carries a weapon on flights, flies in and out of New York's airports and says the marshals are almost nonexistent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having to guess, without a doubt, it's fewer than 1 percent of all my flights.

GRIFFIN: The Transportation Security Administration, the TSA, runs the air marshal service, which has refused an on-camera interview.

Assistant special agent Greg Alter (ph) wrote to us that the figures we've been given are incorrect. Alter won't divulge his figures but says, "While the exactly number of flights that air marshals protect is classified, because we don't want terrorists to play a mathematical guessing game based on percentages, the actual number of flights that air marshals cover is thousands per day. This represents exponentially more than 1 percent and is well into double digits" and adds, "The Federal Air Marshal Service employs an intelligence driven and risk based approach to covering flights."

Covering flights is a deliberate choice of words, we're told. Air marshals tell us the administration internally says at least 5 percent of flights are covered.

(on camera) A spokesman for the Air Marshals Service says when the service says a flight is covered it means a federal air marshal is on the plane. But the federal air marshals themselves and armed pilots say that's not exactly the whole story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've specifically told us that we're a covered flight, when we're -- when there's an armed, trained armed person on the plane, then that's a covered flight.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Even if that person is not an actual air marshal, but some other kind of law enforcement officer, who could even be on vacation.

As for any claim 5 percent of flights are covered, Dave Mackett with the Airline Pilots Security Alliance just doesn't believe it.

CAPTAIN DAVE MACKETT, AIRLINE PILOTS SECURITY ALLIANCE: We are not seeing anywhere near the coverage that they are asserting they have. It's -- I think they're whistling past the graveyard, hoping against hope that this house of cards that they call airline security doesn't come crashing down around them.

GRIFFIN (on camera): What's happening here? We're told federal air marshals are leaving in droves, some for better jobs, and they're not being replaced.

The TSA says the number leaving has remained a constant 6.5 percent a year since 2001. Numerous sources are telling CNN so many federal air marshals have transferred to other jobs or left the service that staffing at field offices has nearly been cut in half.

(voice-over) For instance, Las Vegas, which had as many as 245 air marshals, checked in last month with only 47. This year, the TSA is advertising to hire 50 new federal air marshals.


COOPER: Drew, you know, when I first heard you were doing this story, I kind of said to myself, is this really something we should be talking about? Doesn't it encourage terrorists if they know only 1 percent of planes or however many it is only have marshals on it? But clearly, the marshals you spoke to felt it was important that this information gets known publicly.

Why is that? If the camera actually finds you?

GRIFFIN: I think it's found me now. Anderson, it's very simple. The stakeholders in this, the people who are actually on these planes, these pilots, and these air marshals, say they'd much rather have you and I know about this now in an embarrassing news story than to find out about it after the fact, after we learned from some catastrophic incident that the air marshals were just not there.

They think that this is a national security concern that needs to be fixed. That's why they're coming forward. COOPER: Because I know you blogged about this on the 360 blog and some people have been critical of it. I suppose it's the same as when we investigated the effectiveness of TSA screeners or port security. If no one actually challenges the government on this stuff, nothing ever changes.

GRIFFIN: That's right. And you know, keep in mind that the government has done its own testing on TSA screeners and put that out in the public, as well. We get inspector-general reports that show holes in security. They do these tests, and they make them public for a reason. They try to get these agencies to move.

These federal air marshals don't think they're getting heard. They want to be heard. They want you to hear this.

COOPER: It's interesting. I've flown -- I fly all the time. I've actually known that I've flown on two flights with air marshals, because they come up to me afterwards to say hello. So it is always a nice feeling when you realize subsequently that they have been on the flight.

Drew, I appreciate the report. "Keeping Them Honest" for us. Drew Griffin, thanks.

Other news now, new fighting in Iraq. Up next, the latest on a major eruption in Basra with implications for the rest of Iraq and perhaps the future.

Also Michael Ware and what might happen if and when American forces start pulling out. That and more when 360 continues.


COOPER: Deadly violence today in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. At least 50 people killed in clashes between government forces and fighters with Muqtada al Sadr's Mehdi Army.

Because the city's largely under its own control since British forces pulled out, the battle raises a terrifying question tonight. Is it a taste of things to come nationwide when American forces go home?

General David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, wants troop levels to remain high for the rest of the year. So does John McCain. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each favored a phased pullback, in consultation with military commanders.

I spoke about it earlier with CNN's Michael Ware.


COOPER: Michael, it appears from today's report that troop levels in Iraq are going to stay the same through 2008. So, really, any major decision on reducing troop levels is going to be up to the next president. Now, we know McCain doesn't want to set a pullout deadline. Both Democrats, Obama and Clinton, talk about withdrawals over a range of 12 to 16 months. What do diplomats and military officials that you talk to in Iraq, what do they think about these timetables for withdrawal?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a few days ago, I sat down with America's point-man in Iraq: U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Now, he made it very clear, he has grave fears about just exactly what would happen if there was a premature withdrawal of U.S. troops or any kind of U.S. disengagement from Iraq.

And this is what he had to say.


RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR IN IRAQ: I think the fight would be on, and on at a level that we just haven't seen here before.

WARE: We're talking, like, regional proxy war?

CROCKER: I think that's the possibility you have to look at. Because as bad as it was in 2006 -- and no one knows better than you how bad it was -- we were here. If we spiral into conflict again and we're leaving, everybody knows we're not coming back.

WARE: Yes.

CROCKER: So I think the gloves then come completely off. And it's in that environment that the risk of regional involvement in the conflict, particularly from Iran, becomes very grave indeed.



COOPER: He talks about regional proxy wars. What does that specifically mean, Iran getting even more involved?

WARE: Iran, of course, is front and center. Iran is already directing a proxy war against America, as we speak, in Iraq. They're using Iraq as a battlefield to gain leverage over America and a host of other areas, including the area of nuclear technology.

But this isn't just restricted to Iran, Anderson. We're also talking about Saudi Arabia, Jordan, potentially Egypt, Kuwait; most of America's Arab allies.

COOPER: What about Iraqi security forces? I mean, can they step in? The plan is for them to take over security responsibilities as the U.S. draws down: one to two combat brigades a month, if the Democrats get in power.

WARE: Let's take a look at today's events. We're seeing in Basra a massive Iraqi and police operation against rogue militias, so- called, directed by the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki himself. But when it boils down, this is in a broader context. Within the Shia block of Iraq, this is one Shia faction, backed by Iran, fighting another Shia faction, backed by Iran. And in many ways, this is a window into the future of what Ryan Crocker suggests may evolve in the vacuum of a U.S. withdrawal.

COOPER: Michael Ware, thanks very much. Michael, I understand it's also your birthday. I want to wish you a happy birthday. Can I ask how old you are?

WARE: Anderson...

COOPER: Or is that better not asked?

WARE: ... that's -- yes, I -- I seek my Fifth Amendment right on that, and I decline not to answer. And thank you for asking. Remind me to thank you when I see you in New York.

COOPER: Uh-oh, I'm in trouble. Michael, thanks very much. Happy birthday.

COOPER: I think I am in trouble.

Just ahead, a huge and disturbing surprise in the Antarctic. A gigantic ice shelf is breaking apart much sooner than anyone predicted. We'll show you the dramatic pictures in just a moment.

But first, Erica Hill joins us again with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, don't you know a gentleman never reveals his age?

COOPER: I guess so. He's Australian, I thought, why would he care? But I guess he does.

HILL: A new report released today by a top Republican lawmaker is questioning whether Roger Clemens did, in fact, lie to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs. The Associated Press says that report contains information that could challenge the credibility of Clemens' personal trainer, who testified he had, in fact, injected the Major League star with the drug.

Home prices plunge by record levels in January from a year ago, falling nearly 11 percent in 20 key markets. That's according to an index that's been tracking home prices for two decades.

And a federal appeals court today striking down a New York law which mandates airline passengers stranded on a tarmac for more than three hours receive access to food, water, fresh air and rest rooms. The ruling said that the issue is one for federal regulators to decide, not for the states.

So there goes that hope.

COOPER: Wow. As someone who was just stuck on a plane for, like, three hours, or four hours on a tarmac, I sympathize, I must say.

HILL: Absolutely.

COOPER: Yes. Now our "Beat 360" winners. You know how it works. You post a picture on our Web site. We have the cheesy music. You try to come up with a better caption than our staff.

Tonight's picture, take a look, shows former president, Bill Clinton, signing someone's cast after his speech at Rochester High School in Indiana, where he was campaigning, of course, for his wife. That's the picture.

Now the words. Tonight's staff winner's Kathleen, and her caption: "I'm not twisting your arm. Really, you can vote for whoever you want."

Well, yes.

Our viewer winner is Conrad. His caption: "This ballot is a bit tricky to write on. I think your state doesn't quite get the meaning of casting a vote."

HILL: Oh, Conrad.

COOPER: Conrad.

HILL: You are a witty fellow.

COOPER: A raconteur. Check out the caption to beat out, check our Web site,

Just ahead, an icy collapse and its possible chilly implications: why scientists were taken by surprise in the Antarctic.


COOPER: Erica, time now for "The Shot." Here's a sight no one wants to see, not if you're concerned about our planet in peril. This is new video from a reconnaissance flight over something called the Wilkins Ice Shelf. That's this thick sheet of ice the size of Connecticut -- take a look at that -- which is now, as one scientist put it, hanging by a thread to the an Antarctic Peninsula.

A very big part of the ice shelf has suddenly broken apart. And you can see for yourself the scale of this thing. Here's why it's so troubling. Scientists did not expect to see this ice shelf start to disintegrate for many more years.

HILL: That is scary.

COOPER: Another sign, perhaps, that global warming may be having a more rapid impact than virtually anyone anticipated.

HILL: I'm glad we're ending on an up note there.

COOPER: Yes, I know. It's not really a good note to end on. At least the pictures were pretty.

HILL: Yes.

COOPER: You know, you've got to hold on to something.

For international viewers CNN Today is next. Here in America, Larry King is coming up.

See you tomorrow night. Thanks for watching.