Return to Transcripts main page


Why Clinton Tactics Worry Democrats; Uproar Over Obama's Comments on McCain; Inside U.S. AID Command Center for Myanmar; Hezbollah Takes West Beirut

Aired May 9, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the Democratic presidential contest moves to the Northwest with subtle, but important shifts both behind the scenes and in one candidate's speeches. We're going to show you what's going on.

A major turnaround in devastated Myanmar. The military rulers there suddenly reversing course and now allowing in some desperately needed aid from the United States.

But will it arrive on time?

Plus, the controversy over those tax returns from John McCain's wife Cindy. Now she's speaking out about why she won't release those tax returns. She said ever.

Is it enough to silence her critics?

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

Right now, battleground Oregon -- Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both setting their sights on the state, which holds its primary a week from Tuesday. Sixty-five delegates in that state up for grabs.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is joining us now live. She's watching this story for us.

All this happening as Obama seems to be picking up some more of those crucial superdelegates.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Today, Obama picked up seven superdelegates. So now Clinton leads him by only four. And the undeclared superdelegates we talked to say they are watching the tone of Clinton's campaign very closely.



YELLIN (voice-over): Obama in Oregon, asked yet again if he'd pick Clinton to be his vice president. OBAMA: I think it would be presumptuous of me to suggest that she's going to be my running mate. She is very smart. And so I think she'd be on anybody's list -- short list of vice presidential candidates.

YELLIN: While he's staying above the fray, she's back on the attack, resurrecting criticism of Obama's rhetoric.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because I think this election should be about solutions, not speeches.

YELLIN: His health care plan.

CLINTON: How could anybody run to be the Democratic nominee for president and not have a universal health care plan?

YELLIN: And his electability, saying in a "USA Today" interview...

CLINTON: Senator Obama's support among working -- hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.

YELLIN: A message her campaign reinforced today with this letter from 16 Clinton supporters, who insist she's the stronger candidate, "because of her ability to connect with voters we must deliver in the fall, including blue collar Democrats."

These kinds of attacks sparked concern among Democratic Party leaders, who worry about a divided party. But if Clinton's aware of superdelegates' concerns, she is not showing it, calling for Obama to debate her again.

CLINTON: To really ask the hard questions. And to ask that there be a debate. And to ask that we come forward and tell you what we will do if we're so fortunate as to be your president.

YELLIN: And insisting she's pressing on with gusto.

CLINTON: Yes, of course, I'm going to keep going.

And why am I going to keep going?

I am going to keep going because you keep going.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, while there seems to be a real reservoir of respect for superdelegates among undeclared superdelegates, many who we talk to tell us that they are prepared to let this play out --, in other words, stay neutral until after the last primary. But that could change if Clinton's campaign becomes very negative or critical of Barack Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that last primary is June 3.

There already are signs that Obama is beginning the next phase -- beginning the new chapter, if you will, gearing up for a general election campaign.

YELLIN: That's right, Wolf.

First of all, his senior adviser has said he plans to campaign -- Obama does -- in some of those major states that have already voted but that Obama must win in a general election.

Secondly, Obama is focusing increasingly on John McCain and his remarks.

And, finally, they are starting a major voter registration drive this weekend to register many new voters that they hope will come out for Obama in November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much.

Jessica Yellin reporting.

John McCain's campaign is accusing Barack Obama of taking a back- handed dig at McCain's age with a remark he made right here yesterday in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Brian Todd is following this back and forth for us -- Brian, what's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is all about a remark from Obama in your interview with him, where he referred to McCain "losing his bearings. Now, analysts say this is an example of how the campaigns are going to be walking on eggshells whenever there are hints about things like race, age or health.


TODD (voice-over): His age has surfaced again as a campaign issue.

The question is, who's raising it?

Asked by Wolf Blitzer about John McCain's comment that the militant group Hamas favors Barack Obama as a candidate, the Democrat replies...

OBAMA: It's an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination.


TODD: We apologize. We have some technical problems with our piece there.

What Obama said in that interview with Wolf yesterday was "for him toss out comments like that is an example of him losing his bearings."

Let's go to the Obama sound on that from Wolf's interview yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: For him toss out comments like that, I think, is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination.


TODD: Now that prompted a very angry statement by the Obama camp -- excuse me, by the McCain campaign, which said that he "used that phrase" "intentionally, a not particularly clever way of raising John McCain's age as a campaign issue."

Now, the Obama campaign flatly denies that. They say that they were referring more to the fact that they believe that McCain is going back on his promises not to go negative.

Now, John McCain himself is kind of letting his surrogates do the talking on the age issue. He was asked about that earlier today at a campaign stop.

Here's what he said.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I just want to report that this morning I personally checked John McCain's bearings. He has not lost any of them. They're all really in great shape.


TODD: Of course, that was Senator Joe Lieberman with Senator McCain talking about the age issue.

Now, what McCain said was, "If that's what the American people want to discuss, that's fine. I will continue to introduce them to my 96-year-old mother and display the same vigor and the same energy as I've always displayed in this campaign."

Now, Wolf, analysts say this is going to come up in the campaign. Age is going to be out there. It's something that voters are thinking about. The campaigns are kind of figuring out how to deal with this.

The McCain campaign, interestingly, when I asked them if they had kind of a strategy to deal with the age issue, they didn't answer it directly. But they said, look, we're going to point to his 14-hour a day campaign schedule. His wife Cindy McCain had gotten into the act, saying that he's planning on hiking the Grand Canyon this summer with his sons. They kind of are getting used to the idea that that's going to be out there and they're now figuring out ways, you know, on how to deal with it.

BLITZER: And some are not just questioning the age issue, but also his health. He had said several weeks ago he was going to release all of his medical records by April 15. It's now well into May already.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: We still haven't received those medical records.

What's going on?

TODD: Well, I asked them about that today. And they said, look, he's got a clean bill of health. They released his records in 2000. They are sticking to the promise. They say look for those records to be out maybe later this month. One campaign aide pointed to the date of May 20 -- around that day. So he said, look, you guys are all going to have a chance to look through these with a fine-tooth comb.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Brian Todd reporting.

For the latest political news any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker at The Ticker is the number one political news blog out there on the Web. And you can always read my latest blog post there, as well. I posted one just before the show.

Let's get back to Jack for the Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The worsening economy forcing half of Americans to cut back now on spending. A new Gallup Poll shows 51 percent of those surveyed say they and their family have had to make significant cuts. Forty-nine percent say not yet.

It comes as no surprise those being squeezed the hardest -- lower income families. Seventy percent of those living in households that earn less than $35,000 a year say they have trimmed their spending. That compares to 51 percent of people who make between $35,000 and $75,000. Only 36 percent of those making more than $75,000 a year have cut back.

The top way that people say they're saving money is by driving less or buying less or cheaper gasoline. No surprise there. The national average now $3.67 a gallon for regular unleaded.

Next, people say they're cutting back on travel, vacations. That's followed by food and groceries. Other ways Americans are saving include spending less on entertainment, eating out less frequently or buying only necessities.

And a separate "USA Today"/Gallup Poll that just came out shows that record high gas prices are forcing Americans now to drive less for the first time in three decades. People are making major changes, too, in their driving habits -- things like running fewer errands, taking steps to boost gas mileage, driving more slowly or seriously considering getting a more fuel-efficient car.

So here's the question: In these tough times, is the economy forcing you to cut back on spending?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf. BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.

More than a million people desperately waiting for emergency relief in storm-wrecked Myanmar. Now there are new developments inside one of the world's most isolated countries.

And another secretive country has opened its doors to our own Christiane Amanpour. She takes us inside North Korea and its controversial nuclear program.

Plus, President Bush in an entirely different role. You're going to find out how he's handling the thought of being the father of the bride tomorrow.

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


BLITZER: In Myanmar, the situation grows more dire by the moment. But finally -- finally the country is slightly opening up its doors to U.S. aid. A U.S. military aircraft is ready and waiting at an airstrip in Thailand and will likely be the first American relief flight into Myanmar on Monday.

But the country's military rulers are still keeping out U.S. aid workers. They're now considering their options for helping cyclone victims.

CNN's State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, went inside the U.S. aid command center a couple blocks from the White House -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the nerve center for U.S. AID relief operations for Myanmar. People here are working around the clock. They are poised to launch a massive relief effort. They're in touch with people here in Washington, as well as in the region.

For the U.S. and the people of Myanmar today, a little bit of good news.


VERJEE (voice-over): Finally, a green light.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We have received approval from the Burmese government for a U.S. military C130 cargo plane with emergency relief supplies to land in Burma on Monday.

VERJEE: U.S. aid workers are still shut out from the country and the U.S. is negotiating who will distribute the aid to victims. Other U.S. military assets are on stand-by, ready to go in if given permission.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think there are three or four ships is -- either has or is offloading some helicopters to be available in Thailand, because they could reach Myanmar in a very short -- in a matter of hours from Thailand with relief supplies.

VERJEE: The danger of diseases like malaria and cholera is looming and senior U.S. aid officials say they must get clean water in as soon as possible. A U.S. disaster team is still waiting for visas to Myanmar. They can judge what's needed on the ground, which will open up the flood gates to more U.S. money.

The U.S. is ruling out high altitude drops from planes, but may consider low level helicopter drops, insisting ground coordination is key for delivering aid.

TONY BANBURY, WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: We've organized distributions so they're orderly and there aren't food riots and the young men don't appear and start carting off the food and old ladies and little kids are left with nothing.

VERJEE: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is reaching out to allies like China and India, urging them to pressure Myanmar to let the aid flow.

MCCORMACK: And use whatever leverage they have with that top decision making layer in the Burmese regime.


VERJEE: U.S. AID Chief Henrietta Fore says that she's hopeful that this is just the beginning of the aid. She says the U.S. has a lot of resources and genuine desire to help the people of Myanmar -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you.

That American spirit and desire to help victims of the cyclone is driving people online, as well.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what can people do online if they want to help -- and I know millions of people would love to help?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, if you visit some of the biggest sites online today, you will see them joining in efforts to help the victims of the cyclone, being directed on eBay to donate or buy or sell to support to victims of the disaster. The hundreds of millions of people that search on Google each day will see this banner to support victims of the cyclone, directing people to support either the United States Children's Fund or U.S.-based Direct Relief International.

I spoke to a spokesman for that group today, who talked about the amazing outpouring of public, support, but also the extreme frustration of so far not being able to get that aid in. He says this group has been pouring money into clinics along the border with Thailand, in the meantime, as their aid workers apply for visas to get into that country. has the page -- the impact page -- that's -- with a list of agencies who are supporting efforts in the region and ideas to help -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good idea.

All right, thanks, Abbi, very much.

And Myanmar is ruled by a brutal military government that came to power in September 1988. In 1989, the rulers changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar. A year after that, the National League of Democracy won a landslide victory in the country's first multi-party elections in 30 years. But the military leaders imprisoned the leader of that group, Aung San Suu Kyi, and refused to relinquish power.

Myanmar is the world's largest exporter of tea and is a huge source of jade, pearls, rubies and sapphires. Yet its people remain desperately, desperately poor.

Possible secret graves hidden for decades, along with secrets of one of the world's most notorious murderers at Charles Manson 's former desert hideout. Now a decision on whether to search for unknown victims of a notorious killing spree.

Plus, John McCain's multimillionaire wife now speaking out about her refusal to release her tax returns ever. Find out what she's saying right here 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, the 17-year-old son of wrestler Hulk Hogan is in jail today for reckless driving. Today, a judge in Florida ordered Nick Bollea to serve eight months. He was let off to begin his sentence immediately. In August, Bollea was racing a friend in his father's sports car when he slammed into a palm tree. A passenger in Bollea's car suffered severe brain injuries and he will need medical care for the rest of his life.

A train in Northern Ontario that was quarantined after a passenger died is expected to resume its journey soon. The VIA rail train was halted today after a woman died and six passengers became ill. One of the sick passengers was flown to a hospital. A doctor now says the woman who died did not have an infectious disease, nor did the passenger who was hospitalized. He says the death and illness are unrelated. The five other passengers are now being assessed.

Digging will begin May 20 at a California ranch that was once home to Charles Manson and his followers. In March, searchers found indications that human remains may lie within a few yards of the Barker Ranch. The sites were first identified by trained dogs. Soil testing proved inconclusive. The Indio County sheriff says it's necessary to either confirm or put to rest speculation that bodies may remain there from the Manson era. Manson is serving a life sentence for murder.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thank you.

A possible milestone in the Democratic race for the White House. You're going to find out what it means for the rest of the campaign and how it could change everything we've seen so far.

Plus, the violent new battle of Beirut. CNN's cameras are going behind the checkpoints to show you just what's happening right now and how it all started.

Plus, a massive show of force in Moscow. For the first time since the Soviet era, we're going to see what's behind it, what's going on. The U.S. watching very, very carefully right now.

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


BLITZER: A major, major blow today to the United States-backed government of Lebanon. Hezbollah militias have now taken control of Western Beirut in what was -- what has proven to be the worst sectarian violence in Lebanon since the end of the country's civil war.

CNN's Cal Perry ventured into the newly seized section of the Lebanese capital.


CAL PERRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thursday night into Friday morning brought a push by Hezbollah and those allied against the government. By midday, anti-government forces controlled half the city, all of West Beirut.

We decided to head into this newly-controlled territory to get an idea of exactly how tense the situation is.

(on-camera): We're still hearing sporadic gunfire coming from a neighborhood where we are right now. We're in the Hamar (ph) neighborhood. You can see the army is staging here -- not just the army staging. The international media is staging here, as well.

This is also an interesting neighborhood because Walid Jumblatt, one of the main leaders of the Jewish community, lives right over here. Seventy-two hours ago, he came out and said the telecommunications network on Hezbollah is illegal and a threat to state security. Today, he took a step further and said this is a coup.

(voice-over): It certainly feels like a coup in this part of the city, as we gingerly make our way forward. (on-camera): Across Beirut, as we drive to try to find out what's going on in the western part of the city, you come across these checkpoints everywhere. From time to time, we'll stop, ask them how things are going and see how safe it is.

(voice-over): But it's not just army checkpoints -- armed gunmen roam the streets.

(on-camera): We're still here in the Hamar neighborhood, just about a quarter of a mile from where we were. This intersection serves as a perfect example of what's going on in Beirut. For starters, when things are good here, this is a bustling part of the city.

Secondly, at the end of this corner here, there are gunmen with RPGs and machine guns. They've kind of taken cover behind that building. They've seen we're filming. But it gives you an, just a quarter of a mile away, the Lebanese Army. On this street corner, gunmen.

(voice-over): Of course, since Hezbollah took control of the western part of the city, some violence, coupled with civil disobedience, has continued.

(on-camera): Just a few after hours, ago this television station, which is called Future Television. It's owned by the Hariri family, was burned down. You can see masked men taking down political posters. They're still here on the scene, even as the Lebanese Fire Department tries to get the fire under control.

(voice-over): And on the side of the building, a portrait of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, is left as torn and smoky as the future of the country he once led.

Cal Perry, CNN, Beirut.


BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, another record day for oil prices. In New York, light sweet crude for June rose above the $126 a barrel mark for the first time today, before settling back to just under $126. For the week, the per barrel price of oil shot up nearly $10.

Calls get louder for the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert's resignation. Police in Israel say Olmert is accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign cash from a U.S. businessman. Some fear the investigation could derail peace talks with the Palestinians.

And people pick through the rubble in Central North Carolina in the wake of an apparent tornado overnight. One man died when his truck overturned in a parking lot near Greensboro. Three people were hurt. Officials say the damage could have been worse.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. A possible -- possible turning point in the presidential campaign.

Our special correspondent, Frank Sesno, is joining us now for our weekly "What If?" segment.

What's changing, Frank, in this race right now?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: What's changing is the dynamic -- absolutely, totally and thoroughly. Here I've got Barack Obama's travel itinerary. He leaps right out to Oregon. If you take a look here, he's got three events. He's got a town hall meeting. He's talking about the economics. And he's very much trying to play the part of the president, of the inevitable nominee.

And as that happens, the debate -- and, as I say -- the dynamics change.


SESNO (voice-over): What if we're on the verge of a Barack breakout?

It sure feels that way. The numbers are favoring him, the party is embracing him, the media is proclaiming him. She may not agree...

CLINTON: Well, I'm staying in this race until there's a nominee.

SESNO: She can fight, but if Obama appears inevitable, her money and buzz will quickly fade.

If he appears inevitable, the frame around this contest changes from this to this. And in that new frame, the contrast and the debate will sharpen instantly -- young against old, black against white, liberal against conservative. Raise taxes on the rich or keep them low. Have government fix health care or let the marketplace do it. Get out of Iraq or stay until it's won.

They're already warming up.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama obviously has no national security experience.

OBAMA: John McCain is running for George Bush's third term.

SESNO: If he steps into a different light, where people see him as the nominee, there will be more questions about his experience, his record, his thoughts about Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers and bitter Americans -- guaranteed. And race. In a general election campaign, that card becomes even more the wild card.

One Clinton superdelegate, speaking anonymously to speak candidly, says she'll work for Obama if he's the nominee, but believes he will lose. "He's not up to what will hit him" -- her words.

A lot disagree. What if this campaign shifts from primaries to principles? There will be a White House focus on John McCain too. It finally gets real.


SESNO: And as it gets real, as we say Hillary Clinton carries on. I showed you Barack Obama's itinerary. Here's her itinerary and she's off now in Arkansas. She's going to be doing a round table there, Wolf, talking about health care. She's going then to Kentucky where she's going to be talking about her issues to the party faithful, trying to raise money. And tomorrow a mother's day event back in New York with Chelsea. While she's not giving up, nonetheless the dynamic has changed completely already.

BLITZER: All right.

I want you to stand by. There's another subject I want to discuss with you as well.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain calls allegations about his vote in the 2000 Bush/Gore race nonsense. He's strongly disputing the liberal blogger Arianna Huffington who says McCain actually told guests at a dinner party shortly after the election that he didn't vote for President Bush, to whom he lost a bitter primary battle early.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I voted, campaigned for, worked as hard as I could for President Bush's election in 2000 and 2004. I voted for President Bush. I said so at the time. This is -- I know we're already in a silly season. But my record stands very clearly of campaigning all over this nation on behalf of the candidacy of President Bush and I think that some people believe that contributed to the fact that he won that election and also in the 2004 election. It's nonsense.


BLITZER: Still two other guests at that party are coming forward telling "The New York Times" they also heard McCain say he didn't vote for President Bush. McCain's campaign says the allegation is simply an effort by Arianna Huffington to get publicity for her new book.

John McCain's campaign is facing a growing controversy over his wife's tax returns and her adamant refusal to release them.

CNN's Carol Costello is here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching this story.

Why is this a potential issue, a potential problem out there?

COSTELLO: You know what they say. Perception is reality sometimes. It could be called perception problem for John McCain. Every other candidate and their spouses have released their tax returns. It just makes you wonder why Cindy McCain won't. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Cindy McCain made it clear again she will never, ever release her tax returns.

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: My husband and I have been married 28 years and we have filed separate tax returns for 28 years. This is a privacy issue. My husband is the candidate.

COSTELLO: She won't even release them if her husband is elected president.

NAOMI SELIGMAN, CITIZENS FOR RESP. & ETHICS IN WASH.: I've heard her say it's about privacy. This is about transparency. Her husband has made himself a paradigm for integrity and you can't be a paradigm for integrity if you're hiding behind privacy issues.

COSTELLO: McCain has released his tax return. He made $405,409 last year. Tax attorneys tell me he and other presidential candidates or their spouses are under no legal obligation to release any financial information.

PROF. DENNIS VENTRY, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: The argument for the McCains is, you know, until the American people really want this information to be made public or think that it's pertinent, there's -- there's not a whole lot they can do except for ask their Congress to enact laws that would require such information.

COSTELLO: But critics say law aside, we already know Mrs. McCain is loaded. She's an heiress to her father's beer distribution empire, chairman of her family's company. Some estimate she's worth $100 million. What's the big deal? Unless, they say, she has something to hide.

SELIGMAN: Trust but verify. That's why Mrs. McCain must release her tax returns.

COSTELLO: Senator McCain doesn't buy that argument. He's not the only presidential candidate whose wife refused to release her tax returns. In 2004, John Kerry's wealthy wife wouldn't pony up either. But Teresa Heinz Kerry did eventually partially relent releasing the first two pages of her tax return after intense pressure from Republicans.


COSTELLO: Others say given McCain's role of the leader of the campaign's finance management, it's hypocritical of McCain to refuse to give voters a more complete picture of how his wife's financial resources may have supported his political campaign.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Stand by.

Frank Sesno is still with us.

Frank, you know, you and I have been around Washington for a long time. We've seen the debates and we remember when the Republicans were going after John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry. She didn't want to release her tax returns.

Give us some context right now. What's going on?

SESNO: The context isn't what's going on. Actually as I said in the piece the focus changes entirely, white hot focus to McCains. This is a good example of that. Transparency is the watch word now. You know people want answers to these sorts of things. You're going to get interest groups, whether it's people for the American Way or people on the blogosphere or the media who are going to demand these things. It can become distraction and it can become background noise that the campaigns just don't want to have to live with.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people, Carol, have always made the point if you want to be president of the United States, forget about privacy, because all that privacy has gone away. The American people, the media for sure, they're going to want to watch everything.

COSTELLO: Well, there is an argument to be made. She files separately from her husband and only once before has that happened in a presidential campaign and that's with John Kerry. Everybody else files jointly. Of course they'll release their tax returns.

The other thing you might look at, and I talked to one tax attorney who said, how would you like your taxes made public. Nobody likes their taxes made public. So why should -- why should Mrs. McCain have to release it. She's not the candidate.

BLITZER: What's the answer, Frank?

SESNO: I seem to recall a lot of front page stories about the Clintons and $109 million over nine years. It's not very pretty. You don't want the whole wide world to know your finances look like. Again, this is the drum beat out there, that's the media backdrop and it's backdrop of public demand.

BLITZER: It's not going to go away. You want to be president, forget about privacy.

All right. Thanks very much, guys.

North Korea agreed to come clean about its nuclear program. Is it really complying? You're about to get a rare inside look to one of the communist country's nuclear facilities. Our own Christiane Amanpour takes us there.

Plus, what does it really look like inside a tornado? You're going to see firsthand in the video from a security camera inside the storm.

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

John McCain is pledging to focus in on the environment if he's president with a global agreement that includes China and India. Also coming up, CNN's Christiane Amanpour takes us inside a secret program in one of the world's most secretive countries. North Korea's nuclear facilities revealed, next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In news around the world, the door between North Korea and the west is inching open a little bit more. North Korea has handed over to the United States at least 18,000 pages of records documents its nuclear weapons history.

The move follows the recent ground breaking concert in the communist north by the New York Philharmonic and our CNN chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, not only received a long awaited visa to visit North Korea but also a rare look inside a nuclear plant.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We are 60 miles outside the capital Pyongyang driving down a long bumpy road on the way to a tightly shuttered out post at the center of worldwide controversy.

(on-camera): Thank you for having us. We're very interested to see what's going on here.

(voice-over): This is the top secret Yongbyon nuclear plant where North Korea used to make energy and has made plutonium for nuclear weapons. This is the last place we thought the North Koreans would ever let us film. But they want to make a point to CNN, and to the world.

In February 2007, North Korea agreed to disable Yongbyon in exchange for fuel oil, trade, and being removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

(on-camera): It is strange for you to have press here.

(voice-over): Though some might call this a carefully choreographed show, the tour appeared to be a sincere effort to prove that they have shut the plant down.

AMANPOUR: And North Korea continues to meet U.S. demands on this nuclear negotiation. Just this week it handed over an important cache of nuclear weapons related documents the U.S. has been long demanding and North Korea also promises a dramatic gesture to blow up that very distinctive cooling tower at Yongbyon, which will render Yongbyon virtually incapable of ever again, at least secretly, producing plutonium.

So this people to people diplomacy, this concert, did lead to a progress in moving forward in the nuclear negotiations. Many officials believe that just like 30 more years ago, the ping-pong diplomacy that led to the opening between the U.S. and communist China, this was an equally historic opportunity -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, thank you.

And please be sure to tune in this weekend when CNN's special investigations unit premiers Christiane's "Notes from North Korea." It airs Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

A major show of force by Russia staging its first national military parade since 1990. Tanks and missile launchers rumbling through red square as the country marked the anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, talked to experts about what the parade is revealing.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Russia is sending a message. It's back on the world stage with shiny new weapons and a new government.


STARR (voice-over): The Russian military is on parade for the first time in nearly 20 years. Moscow is showing off its newest intercontinental ballistic missiles accompanied by the latest tanks and rocket launchers and 8,000 troops marching through the city.

This was red square in 1984. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union paraded its big guns. People turned out by the thousands to watch. So did the CIA.

John McLaughlin, a former CIA acting director, was a Soviet watcher for much of his 30 year intelligence career.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL ANALYST: Back in the old days the CIA used to look at these, of course, mostly for close-ups on equipment we generally understood. The degree to which these parades are helpful to us was largely exaggerated because after about 1960, '61, the CIA and air force developed imagery from space.

STARR: But watching who was standing on Lennon's tomb was often a different matter.

(on-camera): What would the CIA discerned from who was standing next to who?

MCLAUGHLIN: Who's in power, who's up, who's down, who might be on the verge of purge or who might have been purged because they're not standing there that year.

STARR (voice-over): Defense Secretary Robert Gates, himself a former CIA director, recalls the parades were closely scrutinized.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Looking at who was standing next to whom. Who was more heavily bundled up than the next geriatric. You know, we -- and we probably made a lot more of it than was warranted. But, yes, we spent a lot of tile on it.

STARR (on-camera): What the parade didn't show, however, was, perhaps, the most important piece of intelligence. Russia's future intentions -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Barbara, thank you.

There's no doubt a little pacing and a few private family moments in the Bush household will be taking place tonight. Because in Crawford, Texas, tomorrow President Bush will shed his world leader mantle for a day and be simply the father of the bride.

And is the economy forcing you to cut back on spending? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail when we come back.

Lots more news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Two hundred guests will be at President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas tomorrow for the wedding of his daughter, Jenna and that's been very much on the president's mind as it should be.

Let's go to Elaine Quijano. She's already out in Crawford getting ready for the wedding.

Set the stage for us. What's going to happen?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the White House is certainly keeping a tight lid on many of the details surrounding the wedding. We do know that the Bush family tonight is going to be attending a rehearsal dinner. We're not sure yet but we believe it will likely take place at a neighboring ranch here in Crawford. And of course the count down is already well under way for the big event tomorrow night.


QUIJANO: He may be the leader of the free world, but in the twilight of his presidency --

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please excuse me if I'm a little sleepy -- 3:00 a.m. this morning the red phone rang.

QUIJANO: George W. Bush is embarking on a new role, father-in- law.

BUSH: The damn wedding planner.

QUIJANO: For months, President Bush has made light of becoming father of the bride to daughter, Jenna. Even joking about how future son-in-law, Henry Hager asked his permission for Jenna's hand.

BUSH: So the guy comes to see me and he says, I want to marry your daughter. I said, done deal.

QUIJANO: The lightness belies the emotional intensity of his daughter getting married.

BUSH: I've got a lot on my mind, by the way, getting ready to march down the aisle.

QUIJANO: Twenty-six-year-old Jenna Bush was born in Dallas, Texas one minute after fraternal twin, Barbara. Jenna is said to be more like her father, gregarious and fun loving, qualities that landed her in trouble early on in her father's presidency for underage drinking. Her mischievous streak still apparent campaigning for her father in 2004.

But since then Jenna Bush has carved out a different identity while entering adulthood, as a schoolteacher, a UNICEF intern and a book author. Now as a bride, she's made clear she shares her father's affinity for her home state by having her wedding at her parents' Crawford ranch.

JENNA BUSH, DAUGHTER OF PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think the White House is a historical, beautiful building, of course. But I wanted to have something more private and something that fit my personality a little bit more.

QUIJANO: Jenna Bush did offer a glimpse into her relationship with her father during a phone call while appears on the Ellen DeGeneres show last December.

BUSH: Dad?

BUSH: Yes, baby.

BUSH: Are you mad?

BUSH: No, not at all. I want to say merry Christmas to the audience and I want to tell my little girl I love her.

QUIJANO: Now as he prepares to give her away at her wedding, George W. Bush the father is learning to let go.

BUSH: It's been a blessing to see them grow up and I'm real proud of them.


QUIJANO: Now, the president will be leaving office in eight months and has said privately he would like grandchild sooner rather than later, a point he's already made to daughter Jenna as he considers life beyond the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to get a lot more about the wedding plans that's going on from you, Elaine, in the next hour. I know you've got some details you're going to be releasing. Stand by for that.

Elaine Quijano at the Crawford Ranch.

Congratulations, by the way, to the entire family, the bride and groom especially.

Let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: I also have four daughters; two of them are married. I'll bet the president is not joking around, that day she gets married. That is a very emotional and very profound moment in a father's life. The president may tear up a little bit. It's pretty good stuff.

The question this hour: Is the economy forcing you to cut back on spending?

Courtney in South Windsor: Connecticut says, "I haven't cut back yet but that doesn't mean I won't. Even though I'm in that lower income bracket. Fortunately I've remained relatively unaffected by the slowing economy. I owe all of that to my father who instilled in me a deep compulsion to save and penny pinch regardless of what the economy is doing. If things get tight the first to go will be my credit card."

Linda in California: "Carefully watching where I spend money, trying to use coupons more often. I started buying groceries at FoodMaxx where it's cheaper and you bag it yourself. But it does save me money so I'm not too proud to bag my own groceries. I fill up the cars at Costco where it's about the cheapest in the area. We try to eat home cooked meals more often. I pay extra on the highest interest accounts and loans. I'm hoping to get the car paid off soon. That will save a lot of Internet. I even pick up a penny when I see it. It adds up and I'm not ashamed to do so."

Seth writes, absolutely: "I'm a college student on a fixed budget. I've cut down on prescription drugs, driving, eating out, et cetera. Funny thing is I've never been happier. I think it's past time Americans learn to live within their means. At the very least, the recession may help all of us lose some weight."

Carol in Little River, South Carolina: "I coast up to red lights, drive the speed limit or less and attempt to not drive two or more days per week. Of course, we're retired. It's easier for us to do those things. However, we expected to be enjoying these golden years. It could seem the golden years are Exxon's, not ours."

And Ryan in Champaign, Illinois: "Yes. I have two weddings to attend this month and I'm trying to figure out how to go without breaking my fragile bank. I'm sure the Bush family friends are facing the same dilemma."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for your e-mail there. We post hundreds of them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. See you in a few moments.

There's about to be an announcement over at the Pentagon. We're standing by for that. Stand by with us.

Also, it's been a springtime of violent storms across much of the U.S. but you haven't seen anything like this yet except perhaps in a movie. No special effects here. This is the real deal. You get a good look at it. that's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's a story that's just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to go right over to the Pentagon. Jamie McIntyre is watching the story.

What's going on, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an unusually hastily called news conference late on a Friday as Pentagon officials are trying to head off a potential controversy about questions over how the remains of U.S. service members have been handled at a commercial facility used outside Dover air force base. This resulted from the complaints of a soldier who witnessed a cremation and believed that that cremation was taking place in the same facility where people were having their pets cremated.

That resulted in a letter from Capitol Hill to the Pentagon asking what was going on. And the Pentagon is responding in about a half hour from now. The Pentagon spokesman along with air force officials will answer questions about that. They insist that there's no indication anything has been done improperly at this commercial facility where it's true, some pets are commercial facility where it's true, some pets are cremated but in a separate section, a separate area, human remains are cremated as well.

It's all done according to the regulations for the funeral industry. They think this has been a misunderstanding and a misperception by the soldier who witnessed this. They're trying to answer this Friday rather than let the story brew this weekend and answer on Monday.

So in about 30 minutes from now we'll get the Pentagon's version of what's going on at this cremation facility. But again, what we are told is that they'll be defending the actions there and trying to reassure people that the remains of U.S. service members are being handled properly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie.

We'll stay on top of this story with you. Thanks very much.