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Obama Speaks Out on Illinois Controversy; Colin Powell Rethinks Gays in Military

Aired December 11, 2008 - 18:00   ET


Happening now: Barack Obama confronts questions about the scandal surrounding his former Senate seat. This hour, you are going to hear the president-elect at length. He's explaining what he said and didn't say to the Illinois governor.

And Colin Powell rethinks the controversy over gays in the United States military. We have an exclusive CNN interview with the retired U.S. general who was at the center of the don't ask/don't tell debate.

And some Republicans may be trying to relive old battles with Bill Clinton -- at issue, his fund-raising, his connections and his wife's confirmation as secretary of state -- all that coming up and the best political team on television.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Barack Obama said it right up front. He knew reporters had a lot of questions about allegations that his Senate seat was on the action block.

So, at a news conference in Chicago today, a news conference designed to name Tom Daschle as his secretary of health and human services, that news conference turned into a grilling about the Illinois governor.

I want you to listen to Barack Obama's remarks right now at length.

First, he was asked about any contact with prosecutors or the FBI and why his call for the governor's resignation didn't come sooner.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Number one, I think, like most of the people of Illinois, I was appalled and disappointed by what we heard in those transcripts. And, you know, here in Illinois -- as is true, I think, across the country -- there is a tradition of public service, where people are getting in it for the right reasons and to serve, but there's also a tradition where people view politics as a business.

And part of the reason that I got into politics, ran for the State Senate, ran for the United States Senate, and ultimately ran for the presidency is because we have to reclaim a tradition of public service that is about people and their lives, and their hopes, and their dreams. And it isn't about what's in it for me. And I think the public trust has been violated.

So let me be absolutely clear: I do not think that the governor at this point can effectively serve the people of Illinois. I -- the legislature is going down to Springfield to make a determination as to how to resolve this issue. I think they're going to come to the same conclusion.

OBAMA: I hope that the governor himself comes to the conclusion that he can no longer effectively serve and that he does resign.

In terms of our involvement, I will repeat what I said earlier, which is, I had no contact with the governor's office. I did not speak to the governor about these issues. That I know for certain.

What I want to do is to gather all the facts about any staff contacts that I might -- may have -- that may have taken place between the transition office and the governor's office. And we'll have those in the next few days, and we'll present them.

But what I'm absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat. That I'm absolutely certain of.

And the -- that is -- that would be a violation of everything that this campaign has been about. And that's not how we do business.

So, you know, I think that, like the rest of the people of Illinois, what I want to see is a quick resolution of this issue. I want to make sure that the next senator from the state of Illinois is carrying a forward tradition of service, that the next senator from Illinois is not tainted by what has taken place so far.

I want to make sure that the next senator of Illinois is focused on health care, jobs, and all the struggles that the families of this state are going through.

Phil Elliott, A. P. ?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. Thank you. Have you or anyone in your transition or campaign been interviewed as it relates to the criminal complaint? And who is the transition adviser referenced in the complaint?

OBAMA: I have not been contacted by any federal officials. And we have not been interviewed by them. As is reflected in the U.S. attorney's report, we were not, I think, perceived by the governor's office as amenable to any deal-making. And, you know, I won't quote back some of the things that were said about me. So -- this is a family program, I know.

So, you know -- so, beyond that, I'm not really certain where the investigation is going forward. I will leave Mr. Fitzgerald to address those issues.

OK, Mike Flannery, CBS.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, can you shed any light on how it was that the governor got the impression that neither you nor Ms. Jarrett nor any of the people from your office were willing to play ball and why he said those unrepeatable things about you and your -- and your staff?

And a two-partner. We have the former -- the immediate former governor still moldering in the federal prison here in Terre Haute. What's wrong with politics in Illinois?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I can't presume to know what was in the mind of the governor during this process, so I won't even speculate on that. All I can do is read what was in the transcripts, like the rest of you have read it, and shake my head.

Now, with respect to Illinois, look, as I said, I think in Illinois, as is true in American politics generally, there are two views of politics. There's a view of politics that says you go in this for sacrifice and public service, and then there's a view of politics that says that this is a business, and you're wheeling and dealing, and what's in it for me?

And there are -- one thing I want to make sure everybody is mindful of -- there are extraordinary traditions of public service coming out of Illinois, even after Abraham Lincoln.

You know, you've got people like Paul Simon, and Paul Douglas, our current senator, Dick Durbin, our senior senator, and many others on both sides of the aisle who have upheld the highest standards of ethics and have made enormous sacrifices to make sure that they're getting something done for the people of Illinois.

But what you also have, I think, are habits and a culture that thinks of politics as a -- as a means of self-aggrandizement. That's exactly what has to change.


BLITZER: The president-elect speaking in Chicago earlier today.

The Illinois governor is refusing to listen to Barack Obama or anyone else demanding his resignation, at least for now, but he doesn't leave -- but if he doesn't leave on his own, he might pushed out, probably will be in some way.

CNN's Susan Roesgen is in Chicago working this part of the story.

You have spoken to a lot of people, very influential people, Susie, who want this guy gone.


The one person we can't speak to is the governor himself. We're still in front of his house. It is dark tonight. We have heard no public comments from the governor, don't know what he intends to do, while just about everybody else says he has got to go.


QUESTION: Are you going to work, Governor?

ROESGEN (voice-over): Still going to work, as if nothing has changed. But, for Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, the options have dwindled to just two: Jump, or be pushed.

LT. GOV. PAT QUINN (D), ILLINOIS: I think that the governor has lost the confidence of the people of Illinois. And when you, in public life, at a statewide level, have no confidence from the people, in a democracy, there's nowhere else to go, but to resign and to step aside.

ROESGEN: That's Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, on deck to take over. And if Blagojevich won't step aside?

LISA MADIGAN, ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am prepared to take action.

ROESGEN: Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says, if the governor won't quit, she will take the standoff to court.

MADIGAN: I have the opportunity to actually go to our Illinois Supreme Court and ask them to declare, basically, that our governor is unable to serve, and to put in our lieutenant governor as the acting governor.

ROESGEN: The state legislature will hold a special session Monday and could begin the process of impeachment. Normally, impeaching a governor would be a tall order, but now even the neighbors want the governor to go.

JOHN POWELL, NEIGHBOR OF ILLINOIS GOVERNOR ROD BLAGOJEVICH: If I saw him walking down the street, I would tell him to his face, "You should resign."

ROESGEN: And with newspaper headlines screaming for the governor's head, Illinois lawmakers are under intense pressure to get him out as soon as possible.


ROESGEN: And here's one more thing, Wolf. If and when the lieutenant governor takes over, he has said that he will not call for a special election to let Illinois voters elect a new senator to replace Barack Obama. He says he will appoint that senator himself to fill the seat. He says the seat is too important to let it wait on the results of an election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Susie Roesgen, thanks very much.

Let's go right to Jack Cafferty. He's in Chicago -- he's in New York, not Chicago. He's got "The Cafferty File."


BLITZER: Everybody else seems to be in Chicago.


BLITZER: Me, too.

CAFFERTY: Maybe we should go do THE SITUATION ROOM in Chicago some time.

BLITZER: Maybe we will.



BLITZER: I would like to do that myself.

CAFFERTY: Yes, that would be fun. It's a great town. Not in the winter, though. Go in the springtime or the summertime.

U.S. automakers may not be able to avoid bankruptcy. A bailout for the auto industry cleared the House, facing an uncertain future in the Senate. Dana Bash reporting just a few minutes ago that Republican senators are in the process of negotiating some of the sticking points that they have objected to, and that perhaps there has been some movement that might eventually allow this thing to pass.

The Republicans were skeptical that the suits in Detroit would make the necessary changes to turn things around. Simply put, they doubted the $14 billion would save the industry. After all, that amount is substantially less than the $34 billion the Big Three asked for just a week ago.

Critics are worried that the $14 billion might just be the start of something, that the automakers would be back asking for more money in short order. Grappling continues over amendments that could be the key to getting this thing passed. A test vote could come in the Senate tomorrow.

If it passes, a car czar appointed by the president will oversee the loans, dictate the terms, and industry restructuring. It is all aimed at preventing Detroit's Big Three automakers from filing bankruptcy. It is supposed to be the better alternative, leaving consumers confident enough to still buy cars.

This is at a time when auto sales industry wide are down about 35 percent year over year.

So, here is the question. Will a government bailout of the auto industry make you more or less likely to buy an American car. Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Hillary Clinton may have a special concern becoming secretary of state, and his name is Bill Clinton. Could some things he has been doing hurt her chances, maybe if some Republicans have their way? Stand by.

And he is supposed to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States, but could he keep them out of his own house? There is a cleaning company mess involving the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff.

And Colin Powell rethinks the controversy over gays in the United States military in an exclusive CNN interview.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I didn't want it to become a law, but it became a law. Congress felt that strongly about it. But it has been 15 years and attitudes have changed.



BLITZER: A prominent African-American Republican is not very happy with his own party's treatment of African-Americans. But that is not all Colin Powell is talking about.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, the former secretary of state makes some eyebrow-raising comments about Sarah Palin and gays in the military.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think is going to happen to the Republican Party? You sounded concerned then, and you always have been concerned about certain aspects of your party. Do you think it's moving in the right direction?

POWELL: We don't know yet. I don't know yet.

I think that in the latter months of the campaign, the party moved further to the right. Governor Palin, to some extent, pushed the party more to the right. And I think she had something of a polarizing effect when she talked about small-town values are good.

Well, most of us don't live in small towns. And I was raised in the South Bronx, and there's nothing wrong with my value system from the South Bronx.

And when they came to Virginia and said the southern part of Virginia is good but the northern part of Virginia is bad, the only problem with that is there are more votes in the northern part of Virginia than there are in the southern part of Virginia. So that doesn't work. But it was that attempt on the part of the party to use polarization for political advantage that I think backfired. And I think the party has to take a hard look at itself. There's nothing wrong with being conservative, there's nothing wrong with having socially conservative views. I don't object to that. But if the party wants to have a future in this country, it has to face some realities.

In another 20 years, the majority in this country will be the minority. There was an article recently in The New York Times saying that most of our urban cities now have a minority majority as its population. And the Republican party has to begin appealing to Hispanics, to blacks, to Asians, because that's who we have lost, to a large extent, in recent elections.

And you can't appeal to them just by saying, you know, Horatio Alger, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and no more welfare and -- these sorts of loaded statements. The Republican Party has to now start listening to the African-American community and to the Hispanic and Asian and other minority communities and see what's in their hearts and minds, and not just try to influence them by Republican principles and dogma.

And so I think the party has to stop shouting at the world and at the country. I think the party has to take a hard look at itself.

ZAKARIA: Governor Palin, as the standard bearer for the next election, would not be the right direction?

POWELL: I think she came out on the national stage a little too soon, but she is -- she's a smart woman and she's a very distinguished woman. I just don't think that she contributed to the ticket at this time.

And we're going to have to not just rely on slogans. Joe the Plumber and They're socialists and that kind of labeling, which shifted almost every day, was not an effective response to what Senator Obama was doing in showing a consistent set of views with respect to how to deal with the economic issue. And that, I think, hurt Senator McCain. And I hope the party will not only analyze the problems we have with minorities, but take a look at how Senator Obama ran that campaign and the kinds of things that work.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about one social issue that you were associated with, which was don't ask, don't tell, the policy toward gay people being in the military openly.

Do you feel like the country has moved to a place where we could reevaluate don't ask, don't tell?

POWELL: We definitely should reevaluate it. It's been 15 years since we put in don't ask, don't tell, which was a policy that became a law. I didn't want it to become a law, but it became law. Congress felt that strongly about it. But it's been 15 years and attitudes have changed. And so I think it is time for the Congress, since it is their law, to have a full review of it. And I'm quite sure that's what President-elect Obama will want to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: And this important note: Colin Powell said a lot -- a lot more to Fareed Zakaria. You can see the entire interview this Sunday 1:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN, right after "LATE EDITION." That is an interview you are going to want to see.

And if you haven't seen "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" recently or ever, you should start seeing it this Sunday, 1:00 p.m.

Exclusive video of a nightmarish scene. You're going to want to see what happened only moments after a U.S. military jet slammed into a house in San Diego and killed four people.

Could Hillary Clinton have a roadblock to the State Department, a roadblock named Bill Clinton? The former president may need to take the hot seat, if some Republicans get their way, to help his wife.

And Michelle Obama will be doing a lot of work as the first lady, but should she and future first ladies be paid for their work? Our Alina Cho on the story right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Bill Clinton certainly wants his wife to become the next secretary of state, but might he wind up hurting her chances? Some Republicans are -- right now, they are salivating at the chance to try to put both Bill and Hillary Clinton on the hot seat.

Let's go to CNN's Samantha Hayes. She is working the story for us.

Sam, what is this one all about?

SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are some Republicans in the Senate who would like to zero in on the most controversial part of Hillary Clinton's nomination: her husband's overseas business dealings.


HAYES (voice-over): As we wait to see what happens, a man worth watching is Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. And he met with Senator Clinton yesterday.

GLENN THRUSH, "THE POLITICO": I think Senator Lugar would be the one that would have to make a lot of decisions on this. You know? A lot of the conservatives on the committee are making noise, and they really want to pressure the Clintons into disclosing as much as possible and potentially embarrassing them.

HAYES: The former president agreed to restrict his work overseas and provide a long list of donors to his foundation to clear the way for his wife's nomination.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says probing further is a high- stakes game for the GOP. RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And they have to look like they're just trying to make sure that the American people are protected with any loyalties that the president has given to his clients and to countries who have paid him for speeches and paid him for international deals. They can't go overboard though. This could seriously backfire on Senate Republicans if they really pushed it.

HAYES: Bill Clinton's office tells CNN that, Senator and President Clinton have the highest respect for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are cooperating fully with the committee's process.

It's not just a question of whether Clinton will be called to testify, but of how much attention Republicans can focus on his activities.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: I just can't imagine this will actually happen. I'm sure that a compromise would be reached whereby Hillary Clinton herself would answer questions about former President Clinton's activities.


HAYES: The key here is Senator Lugar, who has a very good relationship with Democrats on the committee and Hillary Clinton -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will watch together with you.

Sam, thanks very much.

We are also getting some exclusive new video coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM from a fiery plane crash in California. We are going to show you the pictures and have a live report. You will want to see this.

And he is responsible for keeping illegal immigrants out of the country, but the U.S. homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, may not have been able to keep them out of his own home.

And Michelle Obama will have a lot on her plate once she moves into the White House. Should she and other first ladies get a salary?

Stand by. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now: It cleared the House, then hit a Republican wall in the Senate. Is there still hope for the passage of a $14 billion auto industry bailout?

The homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff, steers efforts to stop illegal immigrants from sneaking across U.S. borders. Now he has fired his longtime cleaning company because they allegedly hired undocumented workers.

And a crippled U.S. military jet fighter crashes into a neighborhood earlier this week, killing four people in one family. Now we have dramatic and exclusive new video of the disaster. You are about to see it.

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

Let's get some of that exclusive video showing the terrifying moments right after a U.S. Marine Corps F-18 jet fighter slammed into a San Diego neighborhood on Monday. A mother, her two young children and the children's grandmother all died.

Let's go right to CNN's Ted Rowlands. He has been following this story for us.

And, Ted, the video is really shocking.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is unbelievable, Wolf.

We were given this video from a UCSD college student. He lives right around the corner from where this crash took place. And he was out of his house, instantly out after this crash. And you could see the amount of flame and debris immediately after this plane -- this F- 18 landed -- crash landed into this residential neighborhood in the City of San Diego.

The plane landed on the street that you see in the foreground there. And then the debris spread out into two separate homes. And you could see in the video the devastation of where that debris landed. And then, also, if you look to the side to the vehicles and other homes, where they were basically untouched, because the debris was the -- was what caused all this trauma and all this horrific destruction.

It was only two homes that were completely destroyed. In one of the homes, nobody was home, thankfully. In the other, unfortunately, as you mentioned, an entire family, almost, completely wiped out -- two young daughters and a mother and a grandmother.

Last night, at the accident scene, the father of that family went back to look at the wreckage. He brought in relatives from Korea. And he also -- they also brought -- released some photos.

But this is the video from last night. You can see what he's holding there. He was looking through the wreckage. He found the shreds of a little onesie from -- presumably from his youngest daughter, 6-week-old Rachel. And he, boy, I'll tell you what -- we were standing right there and it was unbelievably emotional. He held that thing and he was just in a trance. And you could see -- it was a very emotional scene.

And saw him later at a prayer service. And he was still holding that little piece of his daughter's clothing.

The family also released some pictures today and you can get a glimpse of how happy this family was the day before this horrible, tragic accident took place.

And this story has touched people around the world, Wolf, not only because of the tragedy, but also because of the way that Dong Yoon, the husband and father, has come out publicly and said pray for the pilot. He has ill will.

Really, a touching story that has touched people around the world.

BLITZER: And our heart goes out to that father. Our deepest condolences to him. What a sad, sad story.

Ted, thank you.

Moving on now to other important news, he's America's top immigration cop.

So how did a cleaning company that worked for Michael Chertoff allegedly hire some illegal immigrants?

Let's go right to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne, the cleaning company -- it's speaking out about this incident.

Tell us what happened.

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a complicated tale. But the bottom line is this -- last April Michael Chertoff and his wife fired the company that cleaned their house. The company was accused of using illegal workers.


MESERVE (voice-over): Michael Chertoff is responsible for keeping illegal aliens out of the country, but it turns out he might not have been able to keep them out of his house. The company that cleaned his home for three years has been fined almost $23,000 for filing faulty paperwork on some of its employees. And an investigation showed some workers were using fraudulent documents.

A Homeland Security official says the owner, James Reid: "Was fully aware that he was employing unauthorized workers," even though Chertoff and his wife had been "extremely blunt and clear that Reid was not to hire them or send them to the Chertoff property."

JAMES REID, OWNER, CONSISTENT CLEANING SERVICES: The dispute is I didn't fill out the document that I received -- List A, List B...

MESERVE: James Reid admits his paperwork was out of order, but claims he looked at his employees' documentation and provided it to the government and never knowingly hired illegal aliens.

It is an employer's responsibility to check the status of the workers, but Reid did not participate in eVerify -- a voluntary federal program advocated by Chertoff that lets businesses check employees electronically. Reid says he did, however, give his employees' paperwork to the Secret Service every time they went to the Chertoff home

If there was a problem with his workers' legal status, he says that the Secret Service should have caught it.

REID: The problem here is the Secret Service failed to do their job and they're going to use me as a scapegoat.

MESERVE: The Secret Service said it does security checks, not immigration checks. That is the job of another DHS agency, Immigration & Customs Enforcement. When ICE did eventually question Reid, he says he was shocked to find out ICE didn't know he was working for Chertoff.

REID: So here we are, we've got the head; the Secret Service, the arm; ICE, the other arm. And one arm doesn't know what the head is doing. You put all three of these together and let them communicate, maybe somebody is going to know something. You know, maybe they can figure something out in this country.


MESERVE: There's no indication that Michael Chertoff knew unauthorized workers might be working in his house. And it is not clear that any actually did. Although Reid has not been charged with hiring illegal aliens, publicity about the case has cut his business by 70 percent. We don't know who was cleaning for the Chertoffs now. But it is probably a safe bet that their immigration status has been checked and then checked again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, our homeland security correspondent.

Thank you.

The president-elect, Barack Obama, he's been sucked into a scandal and grilled with questions about contacts with the accused Illinois governor.

Are his answers sufficient?

We'll talk about it with the best political team on television.

Plus, breaking the mold for the first lady -- should Michelle Obama get a salary?

The pros and cons for a paycheck for the president's wife.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: President-Elect Obama sucked into the scandal over his old Senate seat and grilled by reporters today about contacts with the governor accused of trying to sell that Senate seat.

Let's talk about that and more with Beth Fouhy, she's a political correspondent for the Associated Press; and our political contributors, Steve Hayes with "The Weekly Standard" and Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post."

Beth, in the news conference, he spoke out. He didn't wait for the reporters' questions. He had a statement ready to go.

How did he do?

BETH FOUHY, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, I'm constantly amazed by his temperament. He's just so incredibly calm, unflappable. This was just another example of that. He just was extremely confident about what he was saying.

But he was a little bit elusive about a couple of things, Wolf, that I noticed.

One was he refused to name the transition official who was named in the complaint.

BLITZER: Who was talking to either the governor or somebody on the governor's staff.

FOUHY: Correct. Correct.

And why did Blagojevich know -- Governor Blagojevich know that he would not get any remuneration for naming Obama's good friend, Valerie Jarrett, to the seat?

Somebody must have told him that.

So, clearly, there was some contact. And Obama was asked about both of those things and he skipped the question.

BLITZER: And because he said, you know, the only thing I would get from Obama would be appreciation. And he wanted, allegedly, you know, some cash.


FOUHY: Or a job.

DANA MILBANK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR "WASHINGTON POST": For Obama, this was sort of a do-over. He did not say enough, I think, in pretty much everybody's opinion, the first time out. He did it again today. I think what he essentially did was bought himself some time.

He's promised this most transparent administration or transition. So we've gone from completely opaque to just a little bit translucent here. But he's now going to have to cough up this material that he's promised.

BLITZER: He said in the next few days, he's checking with all; of his staff members to sort of catalog what everybody did, their relationship, their contacts with the governor or the governor's staff. And he said he'll give it to the news media -- make it public as soon as he has it.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Right. And I expect that's what Republicans are going to hit him on and say where is the material?

Is he being as transparent as he promised to be?

And I think that was the only place substantive -- substantively that, where he may have caused a problem today. I agree with Beth entirely that he was very calm, as he always is, self-assured.

The one thing he said was, you know, look, I can assure you -- I'm absolutely certain nobody on my staff has had any conversations about any kind of deals...

BLITZER: Anything inappropriate.

HAYES: Anything inappropriate. And then he said now we're going to go investigate what kind of conversations they had. It seems like he's putting the findings of this internal investigation before the investigation itself.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk a little bit about the governor. He's under enormous pressure to step down, to resign, Rod Blagojevich. And the president-elect made it clear once again today he wants him to resign. But there's no indication he's about to do so.

FOUHY: No. And all 50 Democratic senators want him to resign. The lieutenant governor, who would replace him, has also called for his resignation, as has the attorney general of the state, who said she will go and file a legal complaint saying he's unfit for office. He has no friends left.

But you know what, the office is all he has. And it's his bargaining chip for whatever deal he wants to cut with federal prosecutors.

BLITZER: If the U.S. attorney is looking for a plea or whatever to reduce some sort of potential sentence, as part of that, he give up his seat as the governor.

MILBANK: He could. I mean, I suspect that we're all trying to attribute rational motives to this and it's very possible we're not dealing with a rational actor here.

BLITZER: You don't think he's rational?

MILBANK: Well, it -- based on everything we've seen so far, you might as well be trying to guess what Kim Jong Il is going to do as guess what Blagojevich is going to do next.


MILBANK: But, so, clearly, it's just a matter of time. BLITZER: What do you think is going to happen?

How do you see this playing out?

HAYES: Well, somebody could offer his wife a job to get him to resign and that might...

FOUHY: She could help (INAUDIBLE)...

HAYES: ...make him move.

FOUHY: this whole process.


HAYES: You know, I think he doesn't have any really -- he doesn't really have any cards to play -- if what we've seen in the complaint is, in fact, what happened. And I think we really know, at this point, a fraction of the totality of the story. He's in deep trouble. And whether he's governor or not, he's -- he's not going to be governor for long.

BLITZER: He's innocent, Beth, until he's proven guilty Beth. But if the evidence seems to be as powerful in that 76-page document that the U.S. attorney released, he's in deep, deep trouble.

FOUHY: Right. And as President-Elect Obama has said and others have said, he can no longer effectively do his job. Even if he does go through the legal process -- which he certainly has the right to do. The state deserves a governor who can function and he clearly can't.

MILBANK: And, also, remember, it's not just the Justice Department. It's Patrick Fitzgerald, who has a stellar reputation.

BLITZER: The U.S. attorney in Chicago.

MILBANK: Right. And the whole country knows him from the "Scooter" Libby case. So he carries a certain extra weight when he speaks.

BLITZER: And, presumably, he's going to be held on as the U.S. attorney, because when there's a new administration, the president can ask all of the U.S. attorneys -- about 100 of them -- to resign. But I'm hearing he's going to be asked to say on.

HAYES: If he were not asked to stay on by President Obama, it would be probably the single most foolish thing he could do at this point.



MILBANK: Unless he makes him the senator.

HAYES: Yes, right. Good point. (LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Leave it to Dana.

HAYES: But he's not...

BLITZER: He's always got some...

HAYES: He's not intervening.

BLITZER: He's got some creative ideas.


BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

It's a job unlike any other and recent first ladies have taken the position far beyond where it originated.

So is it time to pay them -- yes, to pay them for their work?

Let's go to CNN's Alina Cho.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She'll make history as the nation's first black first lady. But even before her husband's historic win, Michelle Obama was a powerhouse in her own right -- an Ivy League-educated lawyer with a six figure salary.

In a month, she'll be moving into a new home and a new full-time job -- working for free.

ROBERT THOMPSON, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: I think most Americans, when they hear the phrase "first lady," still think china patterns, tours through White House.

CHO: Jacqueline Kennedy won an Emmy for her TV tour of the White House. William Howard Taft's wife, Helen, attended cabinet meetings -- but she said only to keep her husband awake.

Nancy Reagan had her "just say no campaign."

Then came Hillary.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and made tea, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.

CHO: Hillary Clinton redefined the role of first lady -- taking on health care, traveling the world. Yet she was never paid a cent.

LISA CAPUTO, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: E used to joke that were a moving public works project. Wherever we would go, there would be new roads paved -- literally. She defined that role for herself and I think, in many ways, helped to pave the ground for future first ladies.

CHO: Like Michelle Obama.

THOMPSON: More and more presidents are going to, I think, have spouses who actually come to the job with a life, with a career. And the kind of things that they do might, in fact, be useful things to employ.

CHO: But a salaried first lady?

Some say the pay is in the perks -- big fancy house, first class travel, elegant dinners.

So what does the current officeholder think?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I don't think it should be a paid post. The spouse of the president is not an officeholder. We weren't elected.


CHO: Hillary Clinton, for example, attended, on average, 500 events a year. She traveled to 82 foreign countries and all over the U.S. There are meetings, events, dinners, bill signings, photo-ops with spelling bee winners and sports teams. And, of course, at this time of year, all of those holiday parties.

Now, the Obamas first big event after they move into the White House will be the annual governor's visit. Wolf, you know that. Michelle Obama will be key in the planning of that event. A lot of planning, a lot of work, but no pay -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Alina, thank you.

Alina Cho reporting.

Let's go to Lou.

He's coming up right at the top of the hour.

He's got a little preview of what you're working on.

What are you working on -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, we're working on a lot of things, including the fact there was no business as usual for the president-elect today. No matter how hard he tried, questions about the Blagojevich scandal kept arising. We'll have complete coverage, as well as some examples of evasion.

Also, how can the Department of Homeland Security keep illegal aliens out of this country if it can't keep them out of the home of Department Secretary Michael Chertoff's home?

The head of the firm that cleans the secretary's home says he used illegal workers -- and for years. We'll have the report. And outrageous comments tonight from a senator who claims that a bailout for the auto industry could lead to riots in the streets. Senator Jim DeMint made the remarks. He'll be among my guests here tonight.

Also, Julie Myers, the former head of Immigration & Customs Enforcement, joins us here tonight.

Join us for all of that and a great deal more at the top of the hour -- all the day's news from an Independent perspective -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: A solid hour of Lou coming up at the top of the hour.

Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: You bet.

BLITZER: A suspected terrorist plot thwarted and a woman with notorious al Qaeda ties arrested.

Was she targeting world leaders?

And a winter blast in one of the places you'd least expect it.

Who's getting a snowy surprise?

Plus this -- will a government bailout of the auto industry make you more or less likely to buy an American car?

That's Jack's question. "The Cafferty File" coming up.


BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Deb, what's going on?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in Belgium, police say a suspected terrorist plot targeting world leaders was thwarted and a notorious Al Qaeda figure was arrested today. Sources tell CNN police seized 14 people, one of whom was to carry out a suicide bombing. The suspected plot was to coincide with the European Union summit in Brussels today and tomorrow. One of the suspects is identified as Malika El-Aroud. She sat down with a CNN interview two years ago and told us she loves Osama bin Laden. Sources call her an Al Qaeda living legend.

And snow isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Louisiana. But there is a blanket of it over Southern Louisiana and parts of Mississippi today. Up to four inches were predicted today for parts of Louisiana. The last time it snowed in New Orleans was December 2004.

And finally tonight, a CNN special that you don't want to miss -- the second installment of CNN's "Planet In Peril." Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Lisa Ling travel to the front lines of environmental conflicts around the world. "Planet In Peril" is tonight at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific. And it's got gorillas and sharks and oil -- everything that makes good TV -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's getting fabulous reviews.

FEYERICK: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I think our viewers all over the world are going to want to see this.

Thanks very much for that, Deb. "Planet In Peril" coming up, 9:00 Eastern tonight.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's coming up right now -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: I saw that clip earlier with Lisa Ling and the -- with those lunatics in those gunboats.

BLITZER: Oh my gosh.

CAFFERTY: I mean that was...


CAFFERTY: That was quite a piece of tape.

The question this hour is: Will a government bailout of the auto industry make you more or less likely to buy an American car?

Jay in Texas writes: "Neither. I buy foreign cars because after one to two years, they do not rattle. American cars in the moderate price range rattle and they lose their comfortable ride. I don't want to buy a new car every two years. We must improve our quality."

Chryssa of Boise, Idaho: "I could care less where a car is made. I want one that's safe, cute, gets good miles per gallon and has cup holders in all the right places. This is what automakers need to address. Women make most of the buying decisions and they need to offer what we want. Nobody cares about hemis or towing power."

Mike in New York: "It will have no effect. The last eight cars I bought -- Hondas, Toyotas, Subarus -- they all lasted forever. I never had a major problem. The last American car I bought was a money pit." Bob writes: "A government bailout of the auto industry should cause all taxpayers to be more likely to buy an American car. The motive for doing so is quite simple -- a bailout results in taxpayers becoming creditors of the automobile industry. Our chances of recovering the money they owe us will be greatly increased if we buy their products."

Randy in Utah says: "I've never considered buying an aMurikan car." That's how he spells it. "Even if someone came out and gave me a G.M. or Ford for free, I think I'd take it to a bad neighborhood and just leave the keys in the ignition. They are junk." Bill in New Jersey writes: "My next car will be economical, high tech and as green as I can find. I don't care who builds it. G.M., Ford or Chrysler, you're cordially invited to build it for me. As long as you understand our relationship -- I tell you what I want, you don't tell me what I'm going to buy."

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: You were talking earlier about the "Planet In Peril" special that airs tonight. And Lisa Ling, a very courageous journalist, going to that area.


Did you see Anderson Cooper yesterday?

He's swimming with the sharks -- literally -- off the coast of South Africa.

BLITZER: Well, Anderson is -- you know, he loses it once in a while and does foolhardy things.

I -- what did -- did they put something on him as a shark repellant?

I mean, nobody goes in the water without a cage and swims around with great white sharks, do they?

BLITZER: He did. He did.


All right.

BLITZER: He's a courageous guy, too.

All right, we'll see it tonight.

CAFFERTY: Have a good night.

BLITZER: "Planet In Peril," 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

His hard to pronounce name, his hair -- it may be no laughing matter for him and a lot of other people. But the Illinois governor has become a target for jokes. Our Jeanne Moos with the story, when we come back.


BLITZER: Illinois' Democratic governor is the latest politician to be caught front and center in a headline-making scandal. And that's turning him into an irresistible target for jokes.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's the polite way of saying it and the not so polite. But what seems to be driving everybody nuts is the governor of Illinois' hair.




FERGUSON: He's crossed over from virile to monkey.


MOOS: A courtroom sketch on the blog Sparkle Pony prompted someone to post: "Perhaps he is, in fact, a Chia pet."

"Rod Blagojevich's terrible hair found guilty of everything," screamed Wonkette -- a cross, perhaps, between the star of "No Country for Old Men"...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know what you're talking about, do you?


MOOS: And a LEGO. Bla-LEGO-vich was the name coined by the Web site Chicagoist -- a LEGO under arrest.


GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS: And the things I'm interested in doing are always lawful.

JON STEWART, HOST "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART,": Well, clearly, this man has nothing to hide, except perhaps whatever is written on his forehead. Now...



MOOS: A "Chicago Sun-Times" photo caught the governor next to a raft ex-termination warning.


JAY LENO, HOST "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": It was so blatant how he was selling the seat.

Did you see the footage? It was so blatant.

Take a look.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a Senate seat up for sale, formerly Barack Obama's...



MOOS (on camera): Whenever there's one of these political scandals, it takes the folks who make t-shirts about 24 hours to jump on the bandwagon.

(voice-over): There's the classified ad: "For sale -- U.S. Senate seat, hardly used," or the "I gave Governor Blagojevich a bribe and all I got was this lousy (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) t-shirt."

For apparent irony, it's hard to beat the governor describing his mother's advice years ago.


BLAGOJEVICH: Promise me, son, you'll never take bribes. I said of course I'll never take bribes. Not that would that be dishonest, it would be illegal.


MOOS: Now his name...


LENO: Rod Bla-son-of-a-bitch.

Is that how you say his name?



MOOS: Is being dragged through the mud. Though the pronunciation may be muddy...

DOBBS: Illinois' governor, Rod Blaga -- Blagov -- Blagojevich -- Governor Blagov -- with the governor of Illinois...

BLITZER: Rod Blagojevich. I know you'll get it right by the top of the hour.


BLITZER: It's not that hard. I'll say it three times -- Blagojevich, Blagojevich, Blagojevich.

DOBBS: Blagojevich.


MOOS: Yes, Wolf, not that hard -- not until the next day, anyway.

BLITZER: The role of the Illinois governor, Rod Blagova -- Blagojevich's wife.

MOOS: We know a CNN staffer who remembers it by thinking of Goya beans.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN,": And then he was charged with one count of Blagojeviching.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos...





STEWART: Rod Blayyyy (ph)...

MOOS: New York.



BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne Moos.

Thank you, Jeanne.

We want you to check out our CNN political pod cast. To get the best political team to go, subscribe at

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.