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Obama Blasts McCain on Energy; Former President Bill Clinton Speaks Out; Anthrax Probe Closing

Aired August 4, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Barack Obama accusing John McCain of being in the pocket of big oil. And McCain dares Obama to do something now about gas prices. This hour, Obama's new plan and the sparring over energy.

Bill Clinton declares he's not a racist. The former president shares his regrets about what he said and didn't say during his wife's presidential campaign.

And warnings ignored over and over again, the startling lead-up to a collision in oil spill all caught on tape -- all that coming up, and the best political team on television.

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

The recent easing of gas prices across the United States hasn't eased the heat on Barack Obama and John McCain to do something about the high fuel costs.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Obama laid out a broad energy plan today that included a policy reversal that could open him up to charges of flip-flopping.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is working the story for us.

Jessica, Obama offered an aggressive new attack on John McCain as well.


Today, Obama accused John McCain of putting big oil's needs ahead of the needs of American consumers. And, as you say, he also outlined a plan to wean America off of foreign oil.


YELLIN (voice-over): Barack Obama on the offensive...


YELLIN: ... accusing John McCain of having a do-nothing track record on energy.

OBAMA: I could not agree more with the explanation that Senator McCain offered a few weeks ago. He said, and I quote, Our dangerous dependence on foreign oil has been 30 years in the making and was caused by the failures of politicians in Washington to think long term about the future of the country. What Senator McCain neglected to mention was, during those 30 years, he was in Washington for 26 of them.


OBAMA: And in all that time he did little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

YELLIN: He charges McCain supports more offshore drilling because he's putting big oil ahead of American consumers. It's a line of attack Obama highlights in a new ad out today.

NARRATOR: Now big oil is filling John McCain's campaign with $2 million in contributions.

YELLIN: But the McCain campaign points out Obama has received more than $300,000 from oil and gas company employees this year.

Obama outlined his energy proposals, including giving consumers an energy rebate up to $1,000 per family paid for with oil company profits. And to put one million plug-in hybrids on the roads within six years, in part by giving American automakers $4 billion to develop the cars and giving consumers a $7,000 tax credit to buy them.

His 10-year goal?

OBAMA: In 10 years, we will eliminate the need for oil from the entire Middle East and Venezuela.


YELLIN: And, Wolf, you mentioned a flip-flop. Well, today, Obama announced that he is now in favor of releasing oil from the nation's emergency stockpile. He had previously opposed that idea, but the campaign says, well, he's changed his position because he recognizes people are suffering with the ongoing high gas prices, and this constitutes something of a crisis. They also point out it's part of a larger long-term energy plan, so they think it's justified change -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you.

Here's a bit more about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Its the largest government-owned emergency stockpile of crude oil in the world, stored in giant manmade caverns underground along the Texas and Louisiana coasts, and can hold up to 727 million barrels. About 700 million barrels, by the way, are in the reserve right now.

It was created back in 1975 in response to the Arab oil embargo. It's been used only twice, most recently in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina affected oil industries along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. The other time it was used during the first Persian Gulf War.

Now to John McCain pushing back against Obama on energy. He's daring Democrats in Congress to stop talking about high gas prices and start talking -- start taking action right now.

CNN's Ed Henry is covering the McCain campaign today.

Ed, he's trying, McCain, to find a winning issue for himself.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're right. John McCain clearly feels that his support for offshore drilling in the United States is really catching fire with the American people. So, today, when Barack Obama was trying to make headlines, McCain went on offense himself.


HENRY (voice-over): Campaigning in Pennsylvania, John McCain demanded Barack Obama get his fellow Democrats to end Congress' five- week vacation and deal with high gas prices immediately.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Congress should come back into session, and I'm willing to come off the campaign trail. I call on Senator Obama to call on Congress to come back into town and come back to work.

HENRY: Of course, McCain himself has hardly been around Capitol Hill this year, missing at least 150 Senate floor votes. But the McCain campaign believes it's gaining traction on the issue. The latest CNN poll showing 69 percent of Americans back more offshore oil and gas drilling.

OBAMA: Thank you!

HENRY: After once calling such drilling a gimmick, Obama has now hedged, saying he might support it as part of a larger compromise. That uncertainty from the Democrats sparked this new mantra from McCain:

MCCAIN: You have to drill here and drill now. Not wait and see whether there's areas to explore, not wait and see whether there's a package that needs to be put together, but drill here, and drill now.


HENRY: Now, the McCain camp is also pushing back aggressively today against this new Obama ad that is charging McCain is in the pocket of big oil. Basically, the McCain camp pointing out that, back in 2005, when both men were in the Senate and voted on President Bush's energy bill that had all kinds of oil and gas tax breaks, McCain voted against it, while Obama voted for it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry working the story for us, thank you. We will more on the story coming up.

But there's also right now some stunning new evidence that is emerging about that 400,000-gallon oil spill off Louisiana that could have been avoided. Audiotapes have now been released that show repeated warnings about the disaster that was about to happen, warnings that were ignored.

Brian Todd, he was down in New Orleans watching the story.

And you're getting these tapes, and they're pretty shocking.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. And they really tell you what triggered this entire mess. It is still a huge mess, the barge still capsized in the Mississippi. Hundreds of thousands of gallons have spilled, as Wolf mentioned. The Coast Guard tell us they're now trying to pump fuel from that barge into another barge at this point.

Now these dramatic new audiotapes take us through that collision.


TODD (voice-over): The Coast Guard now tells CNN the captain of the towboat moving this barge was not on board when the barge collided with a tanker just a few feet from the banks of New Orleans on July 23. The Coast Guard says an apprentice not authorized to operate the vessel without the captain was at the helm of the towboat. And dramatic newly-released audio recordings from the Coast Guard of radio traffic that early morning show the apprentice was completely nonresponsive to warnings from a Coast Guard officer and the pilot of tanker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come in now, Oliver. Back on (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I'm going to run right over the tow -- Cap.

TODD: The two red blips on the radar screen get closer. Seconds later, they become one. The tanker pilot is surprisingly calm as he tells the Coast Guard what's happening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just took his tow out. The boat -- but the barge is right in front of us. And we're running it over.

TODD: The Coast Guard calls for any vessels in the area to assist. Four minutes after the collision, the tanker pilot says the barge is still wedged on his bow. At no time on the tape does anyone from the towboat responds.


TODD: All of this happened at about 1:30 in the morning local time in New Orleans. Now, despite the darkness at that time, the Coast Guard officer and the tanker pilot on the radio call immediately realize there's fuel from the barge spilling into the Mississippi River. The Coast Guard estimates some 400,000 gallons of fuel will have spilled into the river by the time they get this contained, which they have not yet.

The tow operator and the tanker pilot have been summoned to a hearing next week, Wolf. We should have some more answers after that. BLITZER: So, who is the Coast Guard, at least right now, blaming more?

TODD: Just about all of it is going to the tow operator. The Coast Guard tells us there are no -- quote -- "competency issues" with the tanker pilot or its crew. It's all going to the tow operator at this point.

BLITZER: Just what New Orleans didn't need, a huge spill like this.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Remember Afghanistan? Here's a quote -- "Afghanistan is in misery." That's the assessment of retired four- star General of the Army Barry McCaffrey. He just spent a week visiting NATO headquarters and Afghanistan and reports back on a truly dismal state of affairs in that country.

Almost 70 percent of Afghanistan's population has never known peace. The life expectancy in that country, 44 years. The country has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. One in six pregnant Afghan women dies for every birth.

Terrorist attacks, insurgent violence are on the rise, more casualties now in Afghanistan than there are in Iraq. The government is mostly dysfunctional and corrupt. Unemployment in Afghanistan is at 40 percent, and rising. Although an overwhelming majority of the Afghan people rejects the Taliban, they have little faith in the government to provide basic services and security.

General McCaffrey says we cannot win this war in Afghanistan solely with military might. He stresses a need for larger Afghan army and police forces, in addition to more U.S. troops. He believes we also need to help fix the Afghan agricultural system and that the international community must demand the end to the drug crops.

Here's the key. McCaffrey calls Afghanistan a narco state. The Taliban, al Qaeda and the warlords mostly funded by an estimated $800 million a year coming from the $4 billion opium and cannabis industry.

Now, these crops are up sharply in recent years. The industry now employees three million workers, addicts hundreds of thousands of Afghans, and of course provides the money that's necessary to corrupt both the government and the justice system.

So, here's the question -- it's bleak: What should be done to save Afghanistan?

Go to, post a comment on my blog.

Average life expectancy 44, and 70 percent of the people, Wolf, have never known a day of peace, I guess going all the way back to, what, the Russian invasion there, right?

BLITZER: And you just heard Barbara Starr report that some Marines are going to have to spend an extra month there because of the need, just to have enough troops on the ground. It's a pretty dismal situation, as you point out.


CAFFERTY: Tough stuff.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Jack, thank you.

Bill Clinton finally speaking out, and he's revealing if he's mad at Senator Barack Obama, if he regrets anything in the primary, and he has some serious words about any notion that he is racist. You are going to want to hear what he's saying.

In the investigation involving the 2001 deadly anthrax attacks, there are strange new details on the man who killed himself, and who is said to be the main suspect.

And underground Nazi bunkers unearthed for the first time since World War II.

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


BLITZER: Senator Obama hopes to do something to save you money. As we just mentioned, he is unveiling an ambitious energy plan.

And as part of our new effort to try to help you better appreciate, understand the presidential candidates, we're bringing you more of what they're saying in their own words.

Here's Senator Obama today in Lansing, Michigan.


OBAMA: There is a real choice in this election, Lansing, a choice about what kind of future we want for this country and this planet.

Senator McCain would not take the steps or achieve the goals that I have outlined today. His plan invests very little in renewable sources of energy, and he's opposed to helping the auto industry retool.

Like George Bush and Dick Cheney before him, he sees more offshore drilling as the answer to all of our energy problem. And like George Bush and Dick Cheney, he's found a receptive audience in the very same oil companies that have blocked our progress for so long.

In fact, John McCain raised more than $1 million from big oil just last month, most of which came after he announced his plan for offshore drilling in a room full of cheering oil executives. His initial reaction to the bipartisan energy compromise was to reject it because it took away tax breaks from oil companies. And even though he doesn't want to spend much on renewable energy, he's actually proposed giving $4 billion more in tax breaks to the biggest oil companies in America, including $1. 2 billion to ExxonMobil.

Now, understand, ExxonMobil is a corporation that just recorded the largest profit in the history of the United States. This is the company that last quarter made $1,500 every second. That's more than $300,000 in the time it takes you to fill up a tank with gas that's costing you four bucks a gallon. Senator McCain not only wants them to keep every dime of that money, he wants to give them more.

So make no mistake, the oil companies have placed their bet on Senator McCain, and if he wins, they will continue to cash in while our families and our economy suffer and our future is put in jeopardy. That's not the future I see for America. That's not the future I want for America.


OBAMA: I won't pretend that the goals I laid out today aren't ambitious. They are. I won't pretend we can't achieve them without cost or without sacrifice, without the contribution of almost every American citizen. But I will say that these goals are possible. I will say these goals are achievable. And I will say that achieving them is absolutely necessary if we want to keep America safe and prosperous in the 21st century.



BLITZER: And Senator McCain also wants to do something for the sake of the nation and for your sake. He's touting his own energy plan. He toured a company today in Lafayette Hills, Pennsylvania.


MCCAIN: We're going to solve the energy crisis that's affecting businesses like National Label Company, and we need an all-of-the- above approach. We need to aggressively develop alternative energies, like wind, solar, tide, biofuels, and geothermal. But we also need to expand our use of existing energy resources here at home.

That means we need more nuclear power. It means we need clean coal technology. And that means we need to offshore drill for oil and natural gas. We need to drill here and we need to drill now. And anybody who says that we can achieve energy independence without using and increasing these existing energy resources either doesn't have the experience to understand the challenge we face, or isn't giving the American people some straight talk.

Unfortunately, Senator Obama continues to oppose offshore drilling. He continues to oppose the use of nuclear power. These misguided policies would result in higher energy costs to American families and businesses and increased dependence on foreign oil. We're not going to achieve energy independence by inflating our tires.

I'm going to lead our nation to energy independence and I'm going to do it with a realistic and comprehensive all of the above approach that uses every resource available to finally solve this crisis.


BLITZER: Michelle Obama wants you to know something, some little known facts about her husband. We have details of a brand-new interview with her.

An Oscar-winning actor seriously hurt in a car crash. We will have the latest on Morgan Freeman's condition.

And inside some Nazi bunkers that haven't been opened since World War II. What's inside are amazingly intact and will surprise you.



BLITZER: Bill Clinton says there are things he wishes he didn't say while his wife was running for president. He's not mincing any words about his regrets and allegations that he played the race card.

Also, Democrats have been dared by John McCain to get back to work on energy. The best political team on television considers whether Congress should return from its August vacation.

And Barack Obama's birthday, we look for some subtle shades of gray.

Stay with us.


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

Happening now, former President Bill Clinton, he is speaking candidly about his regrets from his wife's rough primary campaign. He says it's not the ones you might think. We will talk about that and more with the best political team on television and we will hear precisely what he's saying.

Also, new details of the anthrax investigation, sources telling CNN it's on the verge of closing, even though friends of the dead suspect insist investigators are wrong again.

Plus, Michelle Obama, she is speaking candidly about what she calls her best accessory, her husband.

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

Bill Clinton is finally coming out to talk about the contentious race he and his wife fought during the Democratic presidential primary. What he's saying, though, right now is raising some eyebrows.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's working the story for us.

The comments were made, Mary, in a television interview.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, Wolf, it was a very wide-ranging interview. The former president declared that he isn't a racist. He also admits there are things he wish he hadn't said during the Democratic primary, and he chastises the media. His comments are the most expansive since his wife dropped out of the race for the White House.



SNOW (voice-over): Former President Bill Clinton addressing an AIDS conference. He's redirected his attention to his charitable foundation, but during a trip to Africa, he was asked by ABC's "Good Morning America" if he had personal regrets about his wife's campaign.

CLINTON: Yes, but not the ones you say. And it would be counterproductive for me to talk about it. There are things that I wish I had urged her to do, things I wish I hadn't said -- things I wish I hadn't said. But I am not a racist. I never made a racist comment. And I didn't attack him personally.

SNOW: President Clinton is referring to the anger sparked when critics accused him of belittling the significance of Obama's win in the South Carolina primary.

CLINTON: Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in '84 and '88. And he ran a good campaign. And Senator Obama has run a good campaign here.

SNOW: Hillary Clinton offered an apology. It was one of several times during the campaign when Bill Clinton crew the spotlight to himself.

He let it be known during the ABC interview he has more to say down the line.

CLINTON: I have bragged on Senator Obama hundreds of times. Now, I will be glad as soon as this election is over in January to have this conversation with you and everybody else. I have very strong feelings about it.

SNOW: But asked if he was angry.

CLINTON: I'm not. And I never was mad at Senator Obama.

SNOW: He called Obama a superbly gifted candidate with a great operation. While the Obama campaign welcomes Bill Clinton's support, one political observer says his help comes with risks. JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": At this point, given the way -- the kind of mixed emotions he's been showing, if I'm Barack Obama, or the Obama campaign, I don't know if I want to take a chance on him.


SNOW: Now, the Obama camp says it welcomes the former president's continued help and support through Election Day. What's still being worked out is Bill Clinton's role at the Democratic Convention and during the Obama campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much.

Let's discuss this and more.

Joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our own Jack Cafferty; and Steve Hayes, the senior writer for "The Weekly Standard." They're all part of the best political team on television.

You know, it's fascinating, any time you hear, Jack, Bill Clinton discuss these issues, people are riveted whether they love him or hate him.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, I guess. I mean it would have been -- it would have been bigger news if he said I am a racist. I mean he's not going to -- you know, he said I'm not a racist.

BLITZER: But nobody -- nobody who knows Bill Clinton thinks he's a racist.

CAFFERTY: Well, no. But I mean so it's not a big deal that he says I'm not a racist. Of course he's not a racist.

Did he say some racist things during the campaign?

I think you could make the argument he did. And I think if you buy David Gergen's column from last Friday suggesting that maybe Obama wants to take a second look at Hillary, Bill becomes a very big factor in whether that decision is made. He's a bit unpredictable. And as the gentleman suggested at the end of Mary's piece, you're playing with some dynamite there. You don't know exactly which way he's going to go on a given day.

BLITZER: That was Joe Klein, that gentleman.


BLITZER: Steve, what do you think?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, I'm most interested to see what he is going to say after the election is over.


HAYES: I mean he sort of teased us all and said, well, I'll tell you a little bit more later, after the election is over.

What is he keeping from us?

You know, what I thought was most interesting about this and the president saying what he said was the fact that last week, the McCain campaign tried to, I think, pick a fight with the Obama campaign by embracing President Clinton. And it was, I thought, rather an odd move. You can understand why they would do it politically, but McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt said, look, President Clinton has a wonderful legacy on race relations. The entire country should be proud of the way he handled this. It was something that did not go over well with a lot of conservatives that McCain needs the support of.

BLITZER: There are some who believe, Gloria, and I don't know if this is, you know, just wishful thinking on their part or what, that the longer Senator Obama waits to pick his vice presidential nominee, the prospect of maybe Hillary Clinton being that nominee goes up.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I know there are those who believe that. I don't -- I don't think that's the case. I don't think the prospect of her becoming the nominee goes up. And I think one of the reasons, as we've been talking about just now, is Bill Clinton.

Are they vetting Bill Clinton? Are they vetting the donations to his library? What was interesting to me is that Clinton said in this interview that Barack Obama ran a great -- he has a great operation, which is sort of a way of saying I'm not so sure he's experienced enough to be president. I'm not so sure he was a better candidate -- he is better than Hillary Clinton to be president, but he had a great operation. This is a fellow who's not very enthusiastic about Barack Obama. It's not hard to read it in his face.

BLITZER: You know, Jack, you raised this question in "The Cafferty File" earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM and you got a ton of e-mail. I wonder if there was a disproportionate majority going one way or the other.

CAFFERTY: Actually, there wasn't. We got a lot of e-mails suggesting that Hillary -- and that's not surprising. I mean she -- what did she get, 18 million votes?

A lot of mail suggesting that Hillary ought to be on the ticket and a lot of mail suggesting that she absolutely should not be on the ticket. And I don't know that there was an overwhelming percentage one way or the other -- very impassioned, emotional stuff.

Gergen's point was, in the column he wrote -- I think it was for Anderson's blog last Friday -- some Democratic leaders are a little disappointed in Obama's performance in some of these polls. And given Hillary's popularity with certain voting groups that Obama had a tough time in the primaries with, Gergen suggested it might be time, if the polls don't move, for him to reconsider here.

BLITZER: And very briefly...

BORGER: But that would show...

BLITZER: Hold it. I just want to ask Steve, quickly, would Republicans be worried or would they be happy if Hillary Clinton were on the ticket?

HAYES: Happy, understatement. Republicans would be ecstatic if Hillary Clinton were on the ticket.


HAYES: They would go after Bill. I mean Gloria raises a very good point. I mean nobody has vetted him, as far as we know, for, you know, not only what kind of business interests he has, but what kind of speeches he's given, how much he's made. You know, those are things that I think would raise a lot of very prickly questions for the Clintons, in addition to the kinds of contributions made to his library, things like this.

BLITZER: All right...

HAYES: I mean that's a mine field I think the Obama campaign doesn't want.

BLITZER: All right. Very quickly, Gloria, make your point.

BORGER: No, no. I was just -- I was just going to say that. I think the Republicans would be thrilled. That was my point. I think that people forget what a polarizing figure Hillary Clinton is. And if you talk to the Obama people, as I do, they will tell you, look, we're making inroads with these voters. We're doing really well with Hispanics. We're -- you know, we're doing a little bit better in rural America than we were doing during the primary.

So they're not as worried, as some people think they should be, but they're not. They're just not.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we have more to discuss, including a campaign surprise -- one voting bloc defecting from the candidate most experts expect them to be backing.

Also, the key piece of evidence investigators say links a dead scientist to the anthrax attacks.

And a deadly climbing disaster on the world's second highest peak -- two men live to tell the tale.

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


BLITZER: We're back with the best political team on television.

Gloria, they're really going after each other, McCain and Obama, on the whole issue of energy right now.

Who wins this battle? BORGER: Well, I think it's interesting because each of them have changed their positions, Wolf. On offshore drilling, for example, you have Obama saying now that he's going to support offshore drilling. This is some -- this is a position McCain has come to, although he's against drilling in the ANWAR.

And so I think what you're seeing is politicians who both want to show that they can work across the aisle, that they want comprehensive energy plans. And they're fighting for those middle class workers who really feel like these high energy prices are unacceptable.

So they're going for those same middle class, independent voters. And what you saw Obama do today, in his change of position, is say, look, you know, I feel your pain.

BLITZER: And what we're seeing, Jack, is that, what, 40 Republican members of the House, they're still in Washington. They didn't go back on recess or vacation. They're hammering away every single day right now, saying come back, the country needs us to do something.

CAFFERTY: Well, these same Republicans controlled Congress for six years, from 2000 to 2006, and did nothing about energy. It's an election year and now all of a sudden all of the members of the House and a third of the Senate are up for election in November. And so suddenly those people who might feel threatened if the cushy little lifetime jobs they enjoy in Washington are responding to $4 gasoline and a lot of nasty mail from their constituents. There's nothing genuine about this. It's an election year.

BLITZER: Is it possible, Steve, that both McCain and Obama will actually support this compromise that the so-called Gang of 10 -- five Democratic senators, five Republican senators -- have come with, even though they hate various parts of it?

HAYES: Yes. I think Gloria is right. What both candidates want to do right now is look to be doing something or, you know, to doing whatever they can to sort of ease the pain, as it were. And in this instance, McCain, I think was smart to get there first. I mean he changed his position on offshore drilling and he got there first.

BORGER: He was first.

HAYES: And now his campaign is eager to say, look, Barack Obama has switched to our position. We were there first. This is what we are doing. He's following our lead.

BLITZER: Actually...

BORGER: We switched ours first.

BLITZER: Actually, they're eager to insist he hasn't changed his position...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...he still opposes offshore oil drilling, even though the -- all the polls show it's something that's popular.

HAYES: Well, he said -- I guess what he said was he was willing to look at a compromise that would include the offshore drilling.

BLITZER: Yes. He would change his position as part of a comprehensive compromise package.

HAYES: Right.

BORGER: Right.

HAYES: So they're not there yet, but he's willing to potentially go there. And the McCain campaign, if you call and talk to them, they will say this is a good -- this is movement in our direction and we welcome him to our side.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, to Jack's point about self-interest here, if you look at this Gang of 10 that's supporting this compromise, four out of the 10 are up for re-election, you'll be surprised to learn. And...

CAFFERTY: What a shock.

BORGER: And two of the folks who were there -- a very strong supporter -- one, Lindsay Graham, who is attached at the hip to John McCain wherever he goes, and the other one is Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who was an early Obama supporter. So they each have supporters in this group. So that should give you some indication that the campaigns are looking at this quite seriously.

CAFFERTY: Well, if there's -- if there's any legitimate effort to come up with something coherent in the way of alternative energy, better CAFE standards, offshore -- whatever it takes to begin to develop some sort of independence from these people that we're giving $700 billion a year to in the Middle East, then I'm all for that. And if it takes an election and the threat of being thrown out of office to get them going, so be it.

BORGER: Well, you know, Congress is a crisis activated institution.

CAFFERTY: Yes, that's true.

BORGER: And they don't do anything unless they absolutely have to. And they're hearing from the voters and they'll come back in September. And maybe they'll get something done because their jobs are on the line.

BLITZER: And that's what -- the American people want action and they want it soon because it's -- it's getting rough out there, or, as Jack would say, it's getting ugly out there, as we all know.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

Jack's got "The Cafferty File" still to come.

And we're learning new information right now about the case against the scientist suspected in the 2001 anthrax attacks. He killed himself as investigators were closing in. But those who knew him well insist the government has it wrong again.

Let's go to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve.

She's learning new details -- Jeanne, what are your sources saying?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after 75 searches and 9,100 interviews, the seven year long anthrax case may be declared closed in the next few days.


MESERVE (voice-over): Government officials are not yet laying out the specifics of their case against Bruce Ivins, the Fort Detrick anthrax researcher who took his life last week. But sources who would not be identified because the investigation is ongoing say DNA evidence links the strain of anthrax used in the 2001 attacks to a flask in Ivins' office.

Another source knowledgeable about the investigation confirms that Ivins bought pre-stamped envelopes like those used to mail the deadly pathogen and computers that Ivins may have used were removed from a Frederick, Maryland library last week.

Meanwhile, an audiotape of a court hearing last month in which a social worker seeks a protective worker against Ivins raises more questions about his mental health. Jean Duley had treated Ivins in group therapy.


JEAN DULEY, IVINS' THERAPIST: He plots and actually tried to carry out revenge killings. He has been forensically diagnosed by several top psychiatrists as a sociopathic homicidal killer.


MESERVE: CNN has not been able to confirm those diagnoses. But a former prosecutor believes given what is already known, the government has a strong case.

ANDREW MCBRIDE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think there's enough there right now to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. I mean they've traced the particular strain of anthrax to a beaker that was in his desk area that he used. That's pretty powerful circumstantial evidence that he was involved.

MESERVE: Ivan's attorney says his client is innocent. And many people who knew Ivins believe the same. They aren't convinced Ivins had the know-how, the motivation or the personality to commit the crimes. JEFFREY ADAMOVICZ, FORMER IVINS COLLEAGUE: All of us that know him are really, really interested in seeing what there is, in terms of evidence to support these allegations, because simply all of us that know him don't believe that it's true.


MESERVE: Ivins' suicide and the botched case against another anthrax researcher, Steven Hatfield, is putting the government under considerable pressure to lay out its complete case. That could happen later this week, after the anthrax victims and his families are briefed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're anxious to get those details.

Jeanne, thank you.

Eleven climbers killed in an ice avalanche on the world's second tallest mountain. It's called K2. There are new details of the disaster coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, Jack Cafferty. He'll be back with your e-mail and this hour's question -- what should be done to save Afghanistan?

Plus, Barack Obama going gray on the campaign trail -- the toll running for president takes on your hair.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker" right now, the conservative columnist, Robert Novak, is announcing his immediate retirement. The 77-year-old former CNN political contributor, the long time co-host of "CROSSFIRE," was recently diagnosed -- was designed with a brain tumor. The "Chicago Sun-Times" reports on its Web site that Novak's prognosis is now "dire."

Novak explained just last year how important his work has always been to him.


ROBERT NOVAK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I've been blessed to be able to do this. And I hope people reading the book get some idea of what a joy it's been for me and how great it is to be in America and be a journalist.



The "Sun-Times" says Novak's doctors still are working details of his treatment, but the tentative plan is for him to begin radiation and chemotherapy. We, of course, wish him only the best. Michelle Obama is describing her husband in an unusual new way, as her best accessory. In an interview with "Ebony" magazine, the potential first lady says she loves having her husband on her arm and vice versa. And she also says -- and I'm quoting now -- "Barack and I, as partners, as friends and as lovers, we accessorize each other in many ways."

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out The Ticker, by the way, is the number one political news blog out there on the Web.

Let's go back to Jack.

He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: That's kind of a charming description of a spouse, don't you think?

BLITZER: I think they...

CAFFERTY: My best accessory.

BLITZER: I think they're deeply in love.

CAFFERTY: Yes. I don't know if my wife would describe me that way.

BLITZER: No. I don't think mine would either.

CAFFERTY: I think probably not. Yes.

The question this hour is what should be done to save Afghanistan?

Things are going from bad to worse over there.

Alexander writes: "Afghanistan supported 9/11, shielded the criminal Osama bin Laden. That's why we invaded. They have been punished enough. We should just leave. The next time some nation contemplates terrorism, they may be deterred by the misery that Afghanistan brought upon itself. Mission accomplished."

Nick writes: "Instead of sending soldiers to fight the insurgency, we should pull U.S. troops out and let our humanitarian organizations have the exact same budget the military had. That should get Afghanistan back on its feet."

Ryan writes: "We should do nothing to save Afghanistan. America has been too busy in the last 50 years trying to save the world and it's brought us more enemies than ever before. Bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq and everywhere else they might be in the Middle East. Then thousands of American lives and billions of dollars of American treasure will be saved."

Rasmus in Denmark -- Denmark: "The foremost priority should be to disable the heroin industry. It finances terrorism, a lot of it being shipped to the U.S., and corrupting much of the population here. Also, the good will of the people very important for victory. Without support from the people, victory is impossible. There must be steps taken to change the negative view of the Western world."

Susan writes: "We should pull out of the region completely. There'll never be peace there unless the ones who live there are willing to stand up to the thugs. We need to clean up our own backyard here."

Larry in Florida says: "It may be too late. Afghanistan is where we needed to be instead of Iraq. It was a mess there to start with, but it's a bigger mess now. We have to go there and we have to do it with great force. One problem is we don't have great force anymore."

And Hank writes: "There's only one hope for Afghanistan. We must invade Iran."

If you -- yes. If we didn't -- If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack.

Thank you.

Betty Nguyen is monitoring some important stories incoming in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest -- Betty?

NGUYEN: Hey there, Wolf.

At least 11 people are presumed dead after an avalanche swept them off the K2 mountain on the Pakistani-Chinese border. A Dutch mountaineer who survived said he offered help but to the three Korean climbers, but they declined, thinking rescue was on the way. K2 is the world's second highest mountain, but it is considered even harder to climb than Mount Everest because of steep ridges and sudden storms.

Well, if you've been looking for healthy meals for your children at top restaurant chains, you don't have many options. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says nearly every kids meal at places like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell or Chic-Fil-A are too high in calories.

This is not on the menu, but it may sound like it. Toyota is making its own version of a Segway. The motorized stand up and ride Winglet can go about as fast as pedestrians, but much slower than the Segway, which reaches 12-and-a-half miles an hour. Toyota will test the Winglet in Japan for user feedback over the next year. So we'll see if that remains on the menu -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Unbelievable.

All right, thanks, Betty.

Thanks very much.

Barack Obama is another year older and he's celebrating his birthday out on the campaign trail. Our own Jeanne Moos with a "Moost Unusual" look at the aging effects of presidential politics. You'll want to see this.

And sports on an international stage -- a U.S. athlete playing for Russia stands up for her national anthem.


BLITZER: Here's at look at this hour's Hot Shots.

In Michigan, a car burns outside The Lansing Center as a result of equipment problems.

In Bolivia, supporter of the president, Eva Morales, hangs a flag before a political rally.

In China, Becky Hammon, a U.S. citizen playing for Russia's Olympic basketball team, holds her hand over her heart during "The Star-Spangled Banner".

And in Afghanistan, a boy drinks tea at a shop.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Barack Obama turns 47 years old today. Happy Birthday.

And on this day, at least his age is an issue -- a "Moost Unusual" one.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barack Obama's MySpace page was ablaze with birthday greetings from supporters. But there's nothing like a birthday to make you count your gray hairs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.


MOOS: In one appearance, Senator Obama was serenaded as if he were already president.

UNIDENTIFIED SUPPORTERS: Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

OBAMA: Thank you.

MOOS: But a Cedar Rapids rally is no Marilyn Monroe...


MARILYN MONROE, ACTRESS: Happy Birthday, Mr. President...

(END VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: Marilyn Monroe sang to JFK for his 45th birthday. Obama just turned 47.

OBAMA: I noticed that I've been -- I've been getting gray since this campaign started.

MOOS: He's not the only one noticing. The graying of Obama has bloggers pouring over photos looking for gray. The amount of gray in a photo seems greatly influenced by the lighting.

But you don't need a magnifying glass to see the impact of eight years in the White House on President Bush's hair.

Senator Obama pays his Chicago barber, Zariff, $21 for a haircut. Zariff rates the candidate's gray at...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Between four and five.

MOOS: On a scale of one to 10.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten would be McCain gray.

MOOS: Speaking of McCain, one of the birthday greetings to Obama on the left-leaning Daily Kos Web site featured a knife-wielding Senator McCain with the caption: "Don't let McCain cut your cake."

(on camera): Now if you want to see what the candidates might look like after four long years in the White House, check out

(voice-over): Just drag your mouse across the candidate and watch gray and wrinkles magically appear.

Since McCain is already 71, his photo aging seems less of a shocker.

OBAMA: When I started this campaign, everybody called me a young man. And they're not calling me that anymore.

MOOS: Oh, some folks still are.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: He's a gifted, eloquent young man.


MCCAIN: For a young man with very little experience, he's done very well.

MOOS: Senator Obama, by the way...


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Happy birthday, Obama MOOS: a Leo and his horoscope...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You won't make nearly so many silly mistakes over the next 12 months as you did over the previous 12 months.

MOOS: Now, you're not catching any gray, are you?

(voice-over): Some wonder if Obama has dyed his hair to look younger. Others wonder if he stopped dying his hair to look older and wiser. But his hairdresser says...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's 100 percent natural.

MOOS: When it comes to the slight graying around the temples, that's change you can believe in.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: My hair used to be a lot darker, too, so I understand what's going on.

You can check out our new SITUATION ROOM screen saver and stay up to date on the latest political news. You can download it at

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT". Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.