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THE SITUATION ROOM
American Airlines Cancels Additional Flights; Jimmy Carter Plans Meeting with Hamas; Violent Threats Target Justice Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court; Senate Passes Foreclosure Bill
Aired April 10, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, an ongoing nightmare for air travelers. American Airlines canceling hundreds of additional flights today, stranding tens of thousands of people. The company says it's very sorry. We'll hear what some passengers are saying.
He brokered the first Arab-Israeli peace agreement, but has recently been raising controversy with his views on the Middle East. Now the former president, Jimmy Carter, planning to meet with a group the U.S. government labels a terrorist organization.
And the Olympic torch relay pulled a stunning end run around waiting protesters and well wishers. Now both groups are disappointed. I'll speak live with the San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom, about the Olympic Flame fallout.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A massive new wave of flight cancellations and an ongoing nightmare for tens of thousands of would-be travelers on the nation's largest airline. For the third day in a row, American Airlines is scrapping hundreds of flights for safety inspections, prompting the airline's CEO to say he's "profoundly sorry."
Let's go to CNN's Susan Roesgen. She's following the story -- has been following it from the very beginning, watching what's going on.
Susan, you're at, what, O'Hare Airport in Chicago?
SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Uh-huh.
BLITZER: Which is one of American Airlines' hubs. It must be a mess out there.
ROESGEN: Well, actually, Wolf, you'd be surprised because I think American Airlines was able to accommodate a lot of people or a lot of people just said forget it, I'm not even going to go there. Today, we have not seen that many cancellations, although the chief executive officer of American Airlines did say in his apology today that nationally, 140,000 people were stranded.
Wolf, I want to show you the departure board -- the arrivals and departure board here. You can see that it looks fairly normal -- not that many cancellations at all. But this does not tell the whole story.
ANDREW TOUPIS, STRANDED PASSENGER: I was unable to get a hold of the airline to find out if the air -- if my exact flight was canceled. So I got here and it was canceled.
ROESGEN (voice-over): We tried to help Andrew Toupis save his family reunion. But when we left him at the American Airlines counter, it didn't look good. Thousands of passengers again were stranded.
(on-camera): Could you have given them advance notice?
MARY FRANCES FAGAN, AMERICAN AIRLINES SPOKESWOMAN: We gave them as much advanced notice as we could give them.
ROESGEN (voice-over): American says it had to comply with what it calls "technical issues" raised by the FAA involving wiring in the wheel wells. But the FAA gave American and other airlines using MD-80s a warning about the problem in 2006.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The U.S. economy can't afford to have one of its major airlines just shut down for days. And the FAA took no interest in enforcing these regulations until it surfaced that FAA employees were turning a blind eye to some flagrant violations.
ROESGEN: Those flagrant violations were brought to light by CNN's Drew Griffin, investigating lax inspections by the FAA on Southwest airplanes. But no comfort for passengers like Dora Toupis, whose husband never did get the flight they wanted to the family reunion.
DORA TOUPIS, STRANDED PASSENGER: You know, you just feel completely helpless. And, you know, there's not much you can do. I mean we're at their mercy, basically. You know.
ROESGEN (on-camera): I hope you get home.
D. TOUPIS: Thank you.
ROESGEN: And, Wolf, we did some checking about other airlines. There are apparently 50 domestic and international airlines that also use MD-80s, but not to the degree that American Airlines does. A third of American's fleet are those MD-80s and American says it had to check every one of them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Better to be safe than sorry, I suppose.
Thanks very much, Susan, for that.
President Bush today made it clear the U.S. troop drawdown in Iraq will come to a halt later this summer. But the defense secretary, Robert Gates, appeared to contradict both his boss, as well as his top military commander in Iraq. Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.
Jamie, what's going on?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you listened to President Bush this morning and then Secretary Gates this afternoon, you came away with two more different ideas about whether U.S. troops will be coming home from Iraq any time soon.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): Just hours after President Bush rejected the word pause...
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's misleading because none of our operations in Iraq will be on hold.
MCINTYRE: Defense Secretary Robert Gates embraced it in Senate testimony.
ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: A brief pause for consolidation and evaluation, following a return to pre-surge troop levels, will allow us to analyze the process and its effects in a comprehensive way.
MCINTYRE: But the differences between Gates and his boss, the president, and his Iraq commander, General Petraeus, were more than semantic. President Bush indicated the freeze on withdrawals was indefinite and General Petraeus could delay further cuts well beyond the 45 days.
BUSH: And I've told him he'll have all the time he needs.
MCINTYRE: But Secretary Gates insisted the period of review, as he called it, would not be long.
GATES: And I would emphasize the hope, depending on conditions on the ground, is to reduce our presence further this fall.
MCINTYRE: Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin could not believe his ears.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: General Petraeus refused to use the term "brief" or "pause" and he refused to use any idea of a time period for that second period that began in September.
You're aware of the fact of his refusal?
GATES: Well, one of the benefits of being secretary of defense, I suppose, is that I'm more allowed to hope than the field commander is.
LEVIN: Well, I hope that you're doing more than hoping. I hope you're giving a hard-headed assessment of what you are recommending to the president.
(END VIDEOTAPE) MCINTYRE: Gates may be hoping for the best, but his last rosy prediction didn't pan out. As Senator Levin noted, he asked Secretary Gates about his prediction in September -- his hope, rather -- that the U.S. troop levels would be down to 100,000 by the end of this year.
He said, do you still have that hope? And Gates' short response was no, sir -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jamie, for that. Jamie is at the Pentagon.
Retired General Colin Powell is warning the presidential candidates that Iraq and Afghanistan will pose a huge burden for the next commander-in-chief.
He spoke with ABC's Diane Sawyer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I'll tell you what they're all going to face, whichever one of them becomes president on January 21st of 2009. They will face a military force -- a United States military force that cannot sustain -- continue to sustain 140,000 people deployed in Iraq and the 20 odd or 25,000 people we have deployed in Afghanistan and our other deployments.
They will have to continue to draw down at some pace. None of them are going to have the flexibility of just saying we're out of here, turn off the switch, turn off the lights, we're leaving.
They will have a situation before them. The United States armed forces are very, very stretched. That is an extremely difficult burden for the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps to keep up. At the same time, we have responsibilities in Afghanistan.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC ANCHOR: So you're saying whatever Senator McCain says about staying there as long as it takes in the numbers it takes to stay there and win, he can't do it, that the reality is he's going to have to drawdown, too?
POWELL: If the numbers are as they are now next year and people think that that's needed, I think it is going to be unsustainable for the United States armed forces to maintain that level indefinitely. We're turning...
SAWYER: Have you told him this?
POWELL: Senator McCain and I have talked about this a number of times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. General Powell, who served also as secretary of state in the Bush administration, says he's still undecided when it comes to the presidential election. He says he's looking at all three candidates and considers himself a friend of each one of them.
So what changes will the president's statement on the troops bring about actually on the ground?
Let's bring in our own Michael Ware. He's here in Washington. He's covered the war right from day one, mostly in Iraq, but now here in Washington.
You had a chance to speak with General Petraeus. You sat down with him earlier today. First of all, let me get your reaction to what we just heard from General Powell, that the U.S. military won't be able to sustain, let's say 140,000 troops in Iraq, for a whole lot of time given the other requirements in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, I don't have the global perspective or the at home perspective of exactly the status of U.S. forces. But I can tell you now, General Powell might be right. The problem is in a year from now, you might still need 140,000 troops. So you may end up finding yourself between a rock and a hard place. One hopes that you don't find yourself there.
Let's hope that Iraq is not in the situation that it is in now, that the messy status quo that Senator Obama was pitching for, perhaps even that might emerge, because right now, there's no promise of anything -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. You sat down with General Petraeus earlier today here in Washington. I'm going to play a little clip of this exchange you had with him.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARE: You would know, as well, that many of your intelligence agencies say Iranian agents have influence stretched to the highest levels of the Iraqi government. We've seen the interdiction by the president of Iraq during the detentions of some of the Quds Force operatives.
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Yes. And the...
WARE: Does that concern you?
PETRAEUS: Again, it's a reality. And it is...
WARE: That there is that kind of infiltration in...
PETRAEUS: It's a reality. Again, look, as you pointed out earlier -- but, again, for the listeners, your audience -- these parties are products, many of them, of time in Iran. It's where a number of the current Iraqi leaders spent their time in exile, where they went when pursued by Saddam's army or his thugs. So a lot of that is understandable. And, again, it is a reality. And it's something that just has to be dealt with. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's be precise, Michael, what that reality is, based on the intelligence sources you're talking about, because I've heard the same thing from others, that among the highest levels of the Iraqi government -- ministers in the cabinet and elsewhere -- what they're suggesting is that a lot of these people, at least some of these people are, what, agents of the Iranian regime of President Ahmadinejad?
WARE: Absolutely. And certainly in terms of agents of influence.
Now, do they follow Tehran's dictates?
Not necessarily. It's kind of like saying Muqtada al-Sadr, the head of the Mahdi Army, he has a relationship with the Iranians, but it's very complex. He takes their money, but doesn't quite take their orders.
So these are very complicated relationships. But, yes, from the president of Iraq on down, the building blocks of this so-called ally, the Iraqi government, come from parties that have ongoing connections to Iran. And it spreads throughout the political structure. The head of the Constitution Committee, the head of their Armed Services Committee, the head of the Parliamentary Overwatch Committee, these are all people from parties that were built in Iran, sheltered by Iran or are funded by Iran. This is your ally.
BLITZER: This is -- well, yes, it's a tough crowd out there, Michael.
I know you're going to have a lot more of your interview coming up later tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360."
Michael Ware is here in Washington. Good work today, as usual.
Let's go to CNN's Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."
That's pretty shocking stuff, Jack, when you think about it, that some of these Iraqi leaders are really agents of influence of the Iranian government.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, what's more shocking is that Michael Ware is not the only one who knows that. There are people in Washington in the intelligence agencies, and probably in the White House, that know it, too. And nothing's being done about it. That's the real sad part.
Now, if you're planning to jet off somewhere for a summer vacation, you may want to consider some other mode of transportation. And that's because of this week's massive flight cancellations by American Airlines. They're likely to spread to other airlines, as federal regulators step up enforcement of maintenance and safety regulations. And some would say it's about time they did that.
American says it canceled another 900 flights today -- the third day in a row of cancellations, 2,500 flights in all. The airline says it expects to have all its planes inspected and ready for flight by Saturday.
In the meantime, 140,000 passengers have been simply stranded. The company's CEO is apologizing, saying he accepts full responsibility for failing to meet FAA standards.
Meanwhile, Midwest Airlines also grounded 13 MD-80 planes today. These inspections were ordered to look for potential wiring hazards in wheel wells and other possible faults -- things that could cause problems. You know, like fires, trouble with the landing gear, stuff like that.
In recent weeks, Delta Southwest, United Airlines have all canceled flights in order to do safety checks. One expert says flight delays and cancellations could soon get worse, especially for airlines with older fleets of planes, and could last all the way into June. It's estimated about 35 percent of the U.S. commercial airline fleet is more than 25 years old.
Meanwhile, FAA insists it's just doing its job of enforcing the rules.
Today, senators blasted the FAA for becoming too close to the industry it regulates, saying it had been neglecting its safety operations. A lot of these issues came to light when it was learned that Southwest Airlines had been flying airplanes even after -- even after cracks were found in one of the jet's fuselages.
There's a comfort.
Here's the question: When making travel plans this summer, are you less likely to fly?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you for that.
He helped bring about the first Middle East peace deal, but Jimmy Carter's more recent views have been raising some controversy. Now he's planning something that's going to raise even more controversy.
A U.S. Supreme Court justice and the court itself targeted by deadly threats. As incidents mount is security there on the court up to the job?
An Olympic flame fallout -- the torch pulled a stunning end run around protesters and well-wishers alike. Coming up, I'll speak live with the San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In news around the world, he brokered the first Middle East peace agreement three decades ago over at Camp David in Maryland. But his more recent Middle East efforts have raised lots of controversy.
Now, the former president, Jimmy Carter, may be planning to meet with a group that the United States government calls a terrorist organization.
Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching the story for us.
All right, Brian, what's this all about?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's about Jimmy Carter again taking a tack that makes the current president and those who want to succeed him very uncomfortable.
TODD (voice-over): Again, he's pushing the boundaries of convention in the Middle East. And, again, he's taking heat for it. Former President Jimmy Carter plans to meet soon in Syria with Khaled Meshal, leader of the Palestinian militant group, Hamas. That's according to a Hamas representative in Lebanon.
A spokeswoman for the former president would not confirm the meeting. But in a statement, Mr. Carter said his purpose in going to the Middle East next week is not to negotiate, but to spur momentum for peace.
Still, the State Department has called Carter and made its position clear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the fact that we counseled against it.
TODD: Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. It's called for Israel's destruction. And for decades, Hamas and the Israelis have waged lethal campaigns against each other. Hamas did win Palestinian parliamentary elections two years ago and controls Gaza.
But in the United States, those who want Jimmy Carter's old job are not willing to follow his path.
John McCain's campaign calls Carter's plan "a dangerous mistake."
Hillary Clinton disagrees with Carter, as does Barack Obama, even though he's willing to meet with governments like Iran, accused by the U.S. of supporting terrorism.
SUSAN RICE, OBAMA FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: There's a great difference between a terrorist organization and a nation state. Hamas is a terrorist organization that is, as we speak, attacking Israel and its population on a daily basis.
TODD: But despite Obama's stated support of Israel, he could find himself in a political squeeze here. President Carter has hinted strongly he supports Obama's candidacy. And Carter has a contentious relationship with the Jewish community because of his book comparing Israel's policies to apartheid. DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ADVISER: There's a cocktail here of Carter having antagonistic relations with the Jews right now, being close to Obama, Obama trying to win in Pennsylvania and win in a party where American Jewish votes and voices are very important. That makes this a very volatile mix for Barack Obama.
TODD: But it's not like Jimmy Carter is all alone on an island. This letter to President Bush last fall says it's better to talk to Hamas than to isolate it, that if Hamas is ostracized, violence could escalate and any gains toward peace could be wiped out. The letter was sent by, among others, former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Thomas Pickering, and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, a member of the Iraq Study Group and 9/11 Commission.
One other note here, Wolf. Some other notables who were going to take this trip with Jimmy Carter seem to be pulling out. Former South African President Nelson Mandela, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had planned to go. They say they're postponing their trip. They don't say why. But this announcement came just after Condoleezza Rice called Kofi Annan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. Brian Todd reporting.
A Supreme Court justice and the court itself targeted by deadly threats.
Let's go right to Deborah Feyerick. She's watching this story for us.
Deb, how real are these threats?
What is going on?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we can tell you is that when it comes to security, the Supreme Court, arguably, is not as high profile as the White House or Congress. But this latest threat is a reminder that nowadays nothing and no one is immune.
FEYERICK (voice-over): A threat at the Supreme Court serious enough to lead to an arrest. Justice Clarence Thomas was the target of the threat, mailed by a man in Cleveland, prosecutors say. It said: "We will use detectives to find you. I will blow up the Supreme Court building. I want him killed."
David Tuason is accused of sending that letter and at least eight other threatening letters and e-mails, laced with racist slurs, especially about African-American men who married to white women.
His lawyer declined comment to CNN.
The case is one of several recent security threats at the court.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: There have definitely been more threats in recent years. There was an anthrax scare at the court in 2001. There were poison brownies sent to the Justices a couple of years later. And now this. This is a big change at the Supreme Court.
FEYERICK: Protection at the court is low profile and court watchers say the Justices prefer not to think of their court as high security. While the court building is protected, Justice Thomas, like the other justices, is not surrounded by guards, especially during his time off.
MICHAEL FLETCHER, AUTHOR, "SUPREME DISCOMFORT": He'll go to a campgrounds and just sort of strike up friendships with people, you know, fry catfish on an open fire. And he loves nothing more than kind of living kind of an anonymous life when he's away from the court.
FEYERICK: But security at the court is on track to become more noticeable.
TOOBIN: The court is in the middle of a big renovation. And the famous steps up the front will no longer be an entrance to the court for the public because of security.
FEYERICK: And prosecutors say there's no evidence that the threats had taken shape in any way, no evidence of actual preparations or attempts to hurt anyone. Still, if convicted, Tuason could face up to 10 years in prison.
The Supreme Court is keeping quiet, declining to talk about security and how the threats against Justice Thomas were handled -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Deb, thank you. Deb Feyerick reporting.
The change of plans that caught the world by surprise -- San Francisco's Olympic torch relay praised by some, panned by others. The mayor, Gavin Newsom, he's going to be here live to defend the city's decision.
Also, some details of shocking new deficit numbers. You're going to find out what they mean for the economy.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Carol, what's going on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's more disturbing economic news. The federal deficit through the first half of this budget year is at an all time high -- more than $311 billion. That's the word from the Treasury Department. The deficit is up more than 20 percent from the same period a year ago. The record deficit reflects an overall economic slowdown.
A Texas sheriff speaking out about thing investigation into the polygamist compound in Eldorado, Texas. He says he worked with a confidential informant for four years who fed him information about life inside the compound. The sheriff says it wasn't until authorities searched the compound that they learned about the bed allegedly used by men for sex with underaged girls they had married. The beds were found on the top floor of the temple.
There is word of a settlement involving Virginia Tech shooting victims. Lawyers who represent 21 families of the victims say they've reached an $11 million settlement with the State of Virginia. The settlement is designed to avoid future lawsuits. The attorneys say the settlement papers should be drafted in the next week or two and say they'll release more information then. The one year anniversary of the shooting, next Wednesday.
Marion Jones' former relay teammates are now paying the price for her doping offenses. They're losing their medals from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The International Olympic Committee executive board had disqualified the eight athletes and stripped the medals from them. The athletes include those who won gold with Jones in the 1,600 meter relay and bronze in 400 meter relay. Jones returned her five medals last year and she's now in prison for lying to investigators.
Back to you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that.
One newspaper calls it an Olympic-sized torch trick. But was it the only way to save San Francisco's relay? I'll speak live with the mayor, Gavin Newsom, about the stunning last minute change. You saw it live unfold right here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday.
Also, you're going to find out why one famous Hillary Clinton supporter is now accusing the United States of misogyny. We're going to show you the controversy -- the controversy following Elton John's remarks. What's going on?
Plus, housing and credit crisis, the war in Iraq -- you're going to find out what toll they're taking on President Bush's approval rating.
Stay with us. Lots more news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the Senate has overwhelmingly approved a home foreclosure bill with tax breaks for builders and credits for buying a fore closed property but critics in the House of Representatives say the bill does little to help people in danger of losing homes and the White House says it actually would drive down the value of some homes.
The troubled economy is helping drive down President Bush's approval rating. A brand-new "Associated Press" poll puts it at just 28 percent. That's its lowest level ever.
One day after its tumultuous San Francisco appearance, the Olympic flame has arrived now at its next torch relay stop. That would be in Buenos Aires. Argentine officials says a security force 6,000 strong will guard runners during tomorrow's torch relay. We'll see what happens in Buenos Aires.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Barack Obama and John McCain are weighing in on a possible U.S. boycott of the Beijing Olympic opening ceremonies one day after Hillary Clinton called on President Bush not to go. But her rivals stopped short of that with Barack Obama saying in a statement that a boycott should be, quote, firmly on the table. But this decision should be made closer to the games.
McCain gave his position on the TV program, "The View."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unless they change something pretty quickly, I would not go to the opening ceremonies. And, Barbara, you can't have a nation that's the world's superpower in many respects behave like this in an oppressive and brutal fashion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The surprise change in San Francisco's Olympic torch relay is being praised by some as a brilliant move to block the protesters. Others though see it as a sneaky trick.
Take a look at the planned route where thousands of people waited for hours versus the actual route in an entirely different part of the city. We're going to be talking about all of that in just a moment with the San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom. He's standing by live.
But first, let's go to CNN's Dan Simon. He's joining us live with more on the fallout.
You were there covering the story yesterday. What's going on, the reaction, Dan, on this, the day after?
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I have to say it was a huge let down for the thousands of people who came here to downtown San Francisco, especially for those who wanted to celebrate the torch's arrival but the police department felt like they had no other choice but to change the route.
SIMON (voice-over): The torch is lit and disappears into a warehouse. Everyone is confused.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't even know where it is right now. We don't even know what happened.
SIMON: It eventually surfaces on an altered shortened route never making its way to the celebratory finish line. Neither the protesters nor the crowds of enthusiastic Chinese Americans and other well wishers actually get to see it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are very angry. Maybe I can only use one word. Sad and also a little disappointed.
SIMON: Today's local headlines blunt, tortuous journey, torch shell game. Police say they were forced to make a change.
CHIEF HEATHER FONG, SAN FRANCISCO POLICE: If we had started down the route I guarantee you would see helmet clad officers with batons having to push away protesters and we would then not be able to ensure our commitment to the safe passage of the torch route.
SIMON: Mayor Gavin Newsom defended the last minute decision.
GAVIN NEWSOM, MAYOR, SAN FRANCISCO: I know there'll be a lot of second guessing and I know there will be a lot of finger pointing but at the end of the day, people were safe. At the end of the day, no one got hurt.
SIMON: The conventional wisdom out there today is that this was really a disaster. How do you see it?
WILLIE BROWN, FORMER SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: I think the conventional wisdom is totally wrong.
SIMON: That's former Mayor Willie Brown who ran the last leg of the relay and showed us his new collector item. Brown says the city was put in a tough spot either face the prospect of chaos in the streets like in London and Paris or change the route and take a PR hit.
BROWN: It was a good call and Gavin Newsom, in my opinion, grew in stature, at least in my eyes, by virtue of making that call because it was his choice. You're not going to win either way. But you reduce the amount of damage if you take the latter. He took the latter.
SIMON: From the police department's perspective it had to be a pretty successful day. They only had five arrests. Then again, the protesters never really had the chance to disrupt the torch's progress -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dan Simon in San Francisco for that. Let's discuss the controversy now with the man at the center of it all, the mayor, Gavin Newsom. He's joining us from our San Francisco bureau.
Mr. Mayor, thanks for coming.
NEWSON: My honor. Good to be here.
BLITZER: "The Washington Post" lead in their story today was simple. And I'll quote it now. It said, "In the end, San Francisco punted."
Walk us through your mind set, why you decided to try too to fool all of us by quickly moving the route away from the planned route.
NEWSOM: Well, with respect, I don't accept the premise of the question that we tried to fool anyone. We dealt with reality. That reality suggested we had one of two choices.
We could move forward with the prescribed route and put everyone at risk. And not least of which the protesters and those that were there to support it as well as the torchbearers themselves including those that were in wheelchairs. I could not in good conscious look those torchbearers in the eyes and put them in that position.
So we could simply cancel it or move forward and make a decision in real-time that we made, that we thought was an appropriate one to provide a save journey for the route and the torch bearers and allow for people their full first amendment rights in free expression which we did.
No one injured, only a handful of arrests. People were able to get their point across, a difficult decision, not one that I particularly wanted to make but felt I needed to make.
BLITZER: What about those thousands of San Francisco residents who had waited hours? They weren't there to protest. They just wanted to see this Olympic torch relay go through the streets of San Francisco and they were obviously so disappointed.
NEWSOM: Yes. I couldn't agree more. I'm very sorry to them. I'm disappointed myself personally. I know that the lot of the torchbearers had friends and family along the route. Obviously this was not, as I said, what we intended to do. It's what we felt we needed to do to keep people safe.
Wolf, my job at the end of the day is not to deal in abstracts, not to deal in the ideals. We deal in reality. These were the cards that were dealt.
We had thousands, literally thousands of people either walking down the main route. We had a bus that was surrounded and people that were on the ground not allowing the bus to move. We had conditions that we could not control with thousands of people at multiple sites along the route. We had people burning flags. We had the conditions that precipitated in violence and major arrests in Paris and London. We could have gone down that path but I thought that was the wrong approach.
We went down a path where the torch relay was conducted. People were safe. There were few arrests. We were able to do what other cities had not been able to do even though I recognize it was unorthodox.
BLITZER: If you had to do it over again do you wish San Francisco would not have been selected for this?
NEWSOM: That's a very legitimate question. The fact is at the time we were quite honored. We're a gate way city, the Asian Pacific, a third of our population of Asian dissent, the first and largest Chinatown in the United States. We're very proud of those relationships.
This is a difficult time. None of us imagined what would occur in Tibet. We condemn that and we continue to condemn that.
My biggest fear, Wolf, is moving toward. We were able to survive as difficult and challenging as it was. I know how frustrated you were in particular as I watched a portion of your show last evening. The challenge is now moving forward through places like Tibet. I think that's a colossal mistake.
BLITZER: Should President Bush in your opinion boycott the opening ceremony?
NEWSOM: Well, I often tell - express my point of view related to the president. In this case I'll allow him to make that judgment. I don't know it's the right thing to do. I'm not big into boycotts. That being said, I think the real question is whether the IOC wants to continue this incredibly challenging process through places like Tibet, which I just think would be a colossal failure. That, frankly, is my immediate concern, the issue of safety, not now in California and San Francisco and the United States. Thank God it's moved on but in these other respective countries.
BLITZER: I know there's a Chinese Consulate in San Francisco. Have you heard directly or indirectly from Chinese officials in San Francisco?
NEWSOM: I have not today. I certainly was with them for a good part of yesterday.
By the way, they were not anywhere near the decision makers or the decision making process. The decision to move this event and make the decision was made in real-time just minutes after the opening ceremonies began. And it was made with consultation of our law enforcement exclusively. I have not had the chance to down load since then with them.
BLITZER: Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, thanks for coming in. NEWSOM: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Elton John stars in a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton and causes an uproar with a remark about her campaign and American attitudes. You're going to find out what he says that's creating a buzz out there.
And is the ongoing airline meltdown making you less likely to fly this summer? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail. That's coming up.
All that and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The flip side of racial questions raised by Barack Obama's bid for the White House and it took no less than Elton John to raise the issue of misogyny and Hillary Clinton's campaign, a controversial remark that has people talking today.
Let's go to Mary Snow.
What's going on here, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we checked in with a representative for Elton John to find out exactly what he meant. A spokeswoman says Elton John has nothing to add. That his words at a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in New York last night speak for themselves. Those words have sparked a larger conversation.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sir Elton John.
SNOW: Elton John's music raised millions for Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
The British rock star didn't make a splash with his lyrics, rather his message on the 2008 election.
ELTON JOHN, SINGER: As someone who comes from abroad and is in America quite a lot of the time, is extremely interested in the political process in America because it affects the whole world. I never cease to be amazed as the misogynistic attitude of some of the people in this country. And I say to hell with them.
SNOW: Elton John wins applause from woman's leadership advocates.
MARIE WILSON, THE WHITE HOUSE PROJECT: Thank god a man said it. That was my reaction because when women say it they think we're with no sense of humor instead of wait a minute, our daughters and sons are watching this so good for Elton.
SNOW: Marie Wilson agrees that's a strong statement since misogyny is defined as hatred of women but she says beneath hatred is fear.
WILSON: I think misogyny is underneath in this country and what this election has done is brought it to the surface.
SNOW: We got different answers from men on the streets of New York.
(on-camera): Do you think there's a misogynistic attitude against a female candidate?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I think she just comes across as bitter sometimes. My wife is a Democrat. She supports Hillary.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, it's just ridiculous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are voting based off of what the issues are, I don't think people are voting based off of gender.
SNOW (voice-over): But in Europe where there have been several female leaders they're scratching their heads.
ROBIN OAKLEY, EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: The Europeans look at the American system and think why the hell hasn't it up to now produced a female president?
SNOW: On the campaign trail today, Senator Clinton was asked about the role of misogyny in America. She didn't directly answer the question. She did say race and gender are embodied in her candidacy and Senator Obama's but she says, at the end of the day, people have to decide who'll be the best president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Mary Snow. That's what they have to decide.
They were squeezing in very close for a picture when Barack Obama's cell phone started buzzing. How the candidate headed off a bit of embarrassment. We'll tell you what happened.
And safety checks grounding thousands of flights. Jack Cafferty is asking, when making travel plans this summer, are you less likely to fly?
Stay with us. Much more in THE SITUATION ROOM coming up.
BLITZER: Grace under pressure as Senator Barack Obama posed for pictures at a diner in Indiana today. Two waitresses and the cafe owner were squeezed next to the candidate when one of the women bumped against the cell phone in Barack Obama's pocket.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's my phone buzzing there. Don't want you to think I'm getting fresh or anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Cute moment on the campaign trail.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He said he don't want anyone to think he's getting fresh or anything like that.
CAFFERTY: You know there are times he's almost Reaganesque a little bit, you know that easy kind of flare and charming sense of humor that sort of bubbles to the surface and takes away all the stress from moments just like that one. That was very funny.
The question this hour: When making travel plans this summer are you less likely to fly?
There are not a lot of friends of the airlines at least based on these e-mails.
Wendy in New Hampshire writes this: "I can get in my car without taking off my shoes or passing through a metal detector. I can travel by car. I have plenty of leg room. I can choose my meals, bathrooms, even the route. I can carry shampoo, nail clippers, scissors for my knitting. I refuse to be treated like a petty criminal or a major threat to safety all for the privilege of hurdling through the air eventually in a flying caddie car."
Peter in Texas says: "People who want to fly and have made plans to fly will fly. Some may be inconvenienced but the world doesn't stop because of glitches in air travel. It just gets delayed a bit. The problem may very well be resolved by then and people don't usually make plans for a vacation on the spur of the moment."
That was about as friendly as the letters got.
Harold in Alaska writes: "Unfortunately, residents of our state and Hawaii have no practical alternative to the airlines."
Colleen in North Carolina: "I'm sick of flying and traveling. I find myself staying home more often and I like it that way. Our family of four will drive to Michigan from North Carolina this summer prompted by a family wedding. Not only is flying not cost effective but you're not even sure if you're going to make it. The 16 hours of driving will be more pleasant than the potential for two days in airports."
Renee says: "I have reservations to go on a trip in July. I'm already trying to mentally get ready for the joy of waiting in long security lines in Atlanta with a 10-year-old. Woo hoo. That being said, I'd rather airlines take the time, make sure maintenance is accurate and there are no mechanical issues."
And Kim in Dodge City, Kansas: "Not unless I absolutely cannot avoid it. Pile the safety concerns on top of rude treatment and high prices. But the airline shouldn't worry too much. Pretty soon China will own our air carriers and we know what they do to people who complain. So buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
If you didn't see your e-mail here you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. That's where my blog is. You can look for your e-mail there along with hundreds of others.
That was a very funny thing in that diner.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. Thanks very much.
The latest film to take on the war in Iraq has a very dramatic twist and a big name behind it.
Our entertainment correspondent, Brooke Anderson, is in Hollywood with a preview -- Brooke.
BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a litany of films has been released about the conflict in Iraq. The latest is "Body of War" which follows one soldier's struggle to overcome a devastating injury and find a voice in the Iraq war debate.
THOMAS YOUNG, ANTIWAR ACTIVIST: And I was shot right -- right through here.
ANDERSON: Thomas Young's life was changed forever after serving less than a week in Iraq.
YOUNG: It dawned on me, crap, I'm going to be paralyzed. And I -- I immediately started to try to cry out for somebody to go ahead and end it right there.
ANDERSON: At 22-years-old, Young enlisted in the army two days after 9/11, motivated by President Bush's speech at ground zero.
YOUNG: It was because I saw the pictures of him standing on top of the pile saying that we were going to smoke the evil doers out that did this to us and we were going to find them in their caves.
ANDERSON: The new documentary "Body of War" follows Young's painful journey from wounded soldier dealing with paralysis.
YOUNG: I sit back there in my back bedroom laying in bed crying with very little control.
ANDERSON: To staunch anti-war activist.
YOUNG: I don't think this war was necessary.
ANDERSON: It's the latest big screen attack on the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slow down. Don't rush this through.
ANDERSON: Former talk show host and first time filmmaker, Phil Donahue, co-directed and produced the movie inspired after meeting Young while he was hospitalized at Walter Reid in Washington.
PHIL DONAHUE, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER: We think we might be able to put energy to the back of the millions of Americans who right now are out there demonstrating against this war.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thank you so much.
ANDERSON: For his part, Young travels the country participating in anti-war rallies and sharing his story. Though his body is confined to a wheelchair, his spirit is unrestrained.
YOUNG: Each and every one of you is going to have to work hard if you want to try to bring about a change.
ANDERSON: A White House official tells CNN they do not normally comment on movies and will decline to do so in this instance as well.
"Body of War" is gradually opening in theaters across the country this month -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brooke Anderson, thank you.
The Senate takes action on the home foreclosure crisis. But is it the right move? Lou Dobbs wants to see more. He's standing by live. He'll be talking about that with us.
Plus, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain is setting out to win over voters crucial to his campaign. We're going to show you what he's doing, who he's targeting.
That and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou. He's got a show coming up in an hour.
But I want to pick your brain, Lou, on what's going on in Washington. Congress trying to do something about this mortgage mess, the housing crisis out there. The Senate taking some action today. What do you think?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, I think that unfortunately this is bailing out more homebuilders than it is homeowners who are facing foreclosure in the country. That's the first question about it.
This is by far -- no way is it a final piece of legislation. But this looks like a huge amount of money for homebuilders. I'm not quite certain why anyone would be concerned about bailing them out rather than homeowners because that's the first mistake that has been made here in terms of the bail out of Bear Stearns. Instead of bailing out the homeowners and moving that money back up the chain, they're trying to bail out the people who are most responsible.
And we heard Senator McCain today, Wolf, talking about the responsibility of the homeowner here as if they're a bunch of irresponsible louts. I mean we came very close today to hearing Senator McCain say let them eat cake and that is not what any of us want to hear.
BLITZER: You weren't impressed with his economic speech in New York?
DOBBS: I am not impressed at all. I am not and I'm not frankly impressed with any of these candidates at this point. We need to start hearing some rational, intelligent economic policy from these camps and I understand they're not going to be able to make economic policy for another nine to ten months but they have got to be going it seems to me responsibly to put forward those ideas.
I have to give Senator Obama credit. He's beginning to sound a populous message. So is Senator Clinton but Senator McCain is far from putting people first. You know I've been criticized a great deal for being a populist. It's nice to see these candidates moving now in a populist direction because that's what this country requires.
BLITZER: Lou, we'll see you back here in one hour.
DOBBS: You got a deal.
BLITZER: Lou is getting ready for his show at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
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