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Senator Kennedy's Serve America Act; Shift in Torture Investigation; Interview With Mitt Romney

Aired April 21, 2009 - 16:00   ET


BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right. I want to thank the students and the faculty of the Seed School -- our hosts for today -- and their headmaster, Charles Adams.

Where is Mr. Adams? Is he here?


A shining example of how AmeriCorps alums go on to do great things.

This school is a true success story, a place where for four of the last five years, every graduate from the SEED School was admitted to college. Every graduate.


It's a place where service is a core component of the curriculum. And just as the SEED School teaches reading, writing, arithmetic and athletics, it also prepares our young Americans to grow into active and engaged citizens. And what these students come to discover through service is by befriending a senior citizen, or helping the homeless, or easing the suffering of others, they can renew their commitment to this country that we love. And that is the spirit in which we gather today, as I sign into law a bill that represents the boldest expansion of opportunities to serve our communities and our country since the creation of AmeriCorps.


A piece of legislation named for a man who has not only touched countless lives, but who still sails against the wind. A man who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country, and that's Senator Edward M. Kennedy.


You know, in my address to a joint session of Congress in February, I asked for swift passage of this legislation. And these folks on the stage came through.

So again, I want to thank wide bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate who came together to pass this bill, especially Barbara Mulkowski, Mike Enzi, Chris Dodd, John McCain, who is not here, Thad Cochran, as well as on the House side, Representatives Miller and Carolyn McCarthy, Buck McKeon and Howard Berman. More than anyone else, the new era of service we enter into today has been made possible by the unlikely friendship between these two men -- Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy. They may be the odd couple of the Senate.

One's a conservative Republican from Utah. The other is, well, Ted Kennedy. But time and again, they've placed partnership over partisanship to advance this nation, even in times when we were told that wasn't possible.


You know, Senator Hatch was shaped by his experience as a young missionary serving others, a period he has called the greatest of his life. And last year, he approached Senator Kennedy to share his ideas about service.

Out of that conversation came this legislation. And last month, at Senator Hatch's selfless request, the Senate unanimously chose to name this bill after his dear friend Ted.


That's the kind of class act that Orrin Hatch is.

Now, Ted's story and the story of his family is known to all. It's a story of service, and it's also the story of America, of hard work and sacrifice of generation after generation. Some called upon to give more than others, but each committed to the idea that we can make tomorrow better than today.

I wouldn't be standing here today if not for the service of others or for the purpose that service gave my own life. I've told this story before.

When I moved to Chicago more than two decades ago to become a community organizer, I wasn't sure what was waiting for me there, but I had always been inspired by the stories of the civil rights movement and President Kennedy's call to service. And I knew I wanted to do my part to advance the cause of justice and equality.

And it wasn't easy, but eventually, over time, working with leaders from all across these communities, we began to make a difference in neighborhoods that had been devastated by steel plants that had closed down and jobs that had dried up. We began to see a real impact in people's lives.

And I came to realize I wasn't just helping people, I was receiving something in return. Because through service I found a community that embraced me, citizenship that was meaningful, the direction that I had been seeking. I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America. It's the same spirit of service I've seen across this country.

I've met countless people of all ages and walks of life who want nothing more than to do their part. I've seen a rising generation of young people work and volunteer and turn out in record numbers.

They're a generation that came of age amidst the horrors of 9/11 and Katrina, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an economic crisis without precedent. And yet, despite all this, or more likely because of it, they've become a generation of activists possessed with that most American of ideas -- that people who love their country can change it. They are why the Peace Corps has three applications for every position available last year, why 35,000 young people applied for only 4,000 slots in Teach for America, why AmeriCorps has seen a 400 percent increase in applications in just the past four months.

And yet, even as so many want to serve, even as so many are struggling, our economic crisis has forced our charities and not-for- profits to cut back. What this legislation does, then, is to help harness this patriotism connect deeds to needs.

It creates opportunities to serve for students, seniors and everyone in between. It supports innovation and strengthens the nonprofit sector. And it is just the beginning of a sustained collaborative and focused effort to involve our greatest resource, our citizens, in the work of remaking this nation.

We're doing this because I've always believed that the answer to our challenges cannot come from government alone. Our government can help to rebuild our economy and lift up our schools and reform health care systems and make sure our soldiers and veterans have everything they need, but we need Americans willing to mentor our eager young children, or care for the sick, or ease the strains of the deployment on our military families. And that's why this bill will expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 slots today to 250,000 in less than a decade.


And it's not just for freshly-minted college grads. You know? As I said, my wife Michelle left her job at a law firm to be the founding director of an AmeriCorps program in Chicago that trains young people for careers in public service. And Michelle can tell you the transformation that occurred in her life as a consequence of being able to follow her passions, follow her dreams.

Programs like these are a force multiplier. They leverage small numbers of members in the thousands of volunteers. And we will focus their service toward solving today's most pressing challenges: clean energy, energy efficiency, health care, education, economic opportunities, veterans and military families. We'll invest in ideas that help us meet our common challenges no matter where those ideas come from.

All across America, there are ideas that could benefit millions of Americans if only they were given a chance to take root and to grow, ideas like the one that Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota that led to this school and expanded its model to others. And that's why this bill includes a new social innovation fund that will bring nonprofits and foundations and faith-based organizations and the private sector to the table with government so that we can learn from one another's success stories. We'll invest in ideas that work; leverage private sector dollars to encourage innovation; expand successful programs to scale and make them work in cities across America. Because we must prepare our young Americans to grow and act as citizens, this bill makes new investments in service learning. And we've increased the AmeriCorps Education Award and linked it to Pell Grant award levels, another step toward our goal of ensuring that every American receives an affordable college education.


Because millions of Americans are out of school and out of work, it creates an energy corps that will help people find useful work and gain skills in a growing industry of the future. Because our boomers are the most highly educated generation in history, and our seniors live longer and more active lives than ever before, this bill offers new pathways to harness their talent and experience to serve others. And because this historic expansion of the Corporation for National and Community Service requires someone with both bold vision and responsible management experience, I have chosen Maria Eitel...

Where's Maria?

There she is.

Stand up Maria -- as its new CEO.

The founder and first president of the Nike Foundation, Maria's a smart and innovative thinker, and a leader who shares my belief in the power of service.

And I also want to thank the acting CEO, Nicky Goren...

Where's Nicky?


... for guiding the corporation through this transition.

A week from tomorrow marks the 100th day of my administration. In those next eight days, I ask every American to make an enduring commitment to serving your community and your country in whatever way you can.

Visit to share your stories of service and success. And together, we will measure our progress not just in the number of hours served, or volunteers mobilized, but in the impact our efforts have on the life of this nation. And we're getting started right away.

This afternoon, I'll be joined by President Clinton and Michelle and Joe Biden and Dr. Biden to plant trees in a park not far from here. It's as simple as that. All that's required on your part is a willingness to make a difference. And that is, after all, the beauty of service. Anybody can do it. You don't need to be a community organizer or a senator or a Kennedy or even a president to bring change to people's lives.

You know, when Ted Kennedy makes this point, he also tells a story as elegantly simple as it is profound. An old man walking along a beach at dawn saw a young man pick up a starfish and throwing them out to sea. "Why are you doing that?" the old man inquired. The young man explained that the starfish head had been stranded on the beach by a receding tide and would soon die in the daytime sun.

"But the beach goes on for miles," the old man said, "And there are so many. How can your effort make any difference?"

The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and without hesitating threw it to safety in the sea. He looked up at the old man, smiled, and said, "It will make a difference to that one."

To Ted, that's more than just a story, for even in the midst of his epic fights from the floor of the Senate to enact sweeping change, he's made a quiet trek to a school not far from the Capitol week after week, year after year, without cameras or fanfare to sit down and read with one solitary child. Ted Kennedy is that young man who will not rest until we have made a difference in the life of every American. He walks down that beach and he keeps picking up starfish and tossing them into the sea.

And as I sign this legislation, I want all Americans to take up that spirit of the man for whom this bill is named, of a president who sent us to the moon, of a dreamer who always asked why not, of a younger generation that carries the touch of a single family that has made an immeasurable difference in the lives of countless families.

We need your service right now at this moment in history. I'm not going to tell you what your role should be. That's for you to discover. But I'm asking you to stand up and play your part.

I'm asking you to help change history's course. Put your shoulder up against the wheel. And if I -- if you do, I promise your life will be richer, our country will be stronger, and some day, years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together and we met the challenges of our new century.

Thank you very much, everybody. I'm going to go sign this bill.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There you see the president of the United States with Orrin Hatch, the Republican from Utah. You saw Senator Kennedy coming back, Senator Chris Dodd, and Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. Barbara Mikulski he just gave a kiss on the cheek to.

The former president, Bill Clinton, is there as well. The president of the United States about to sign into law this legislation which will dramatically expand AmeriCorps from roughly 75,000 volunteers right now to some 250,000 members.

He said this was a priority for the new Congress, the new Congress quickly passed it. Bipartisan support, and now the president of the United States enacting, signing this legislation into law.

The president will then, within the hour, go ahead and start volunteering himself. You just heard him say that he's going to go with the former president, Bill Clinton. They're going to go to a nearby garden and start planting some trees to symbolically underscore the commitment for public service.

All right. There it is. The legislation is being signed into law right now.

We'll continue to monitor the president of the United States. But earlier today, there was other important news that the president made.

He clearly is now rethinking his response to what he calls a difficult chapter in America's history. He says he's leaving open the possibility of criminal prosecution for the architects of the Bush administration's harsh interrogation policies, tactics some criticize as torture.

Today, President Obama took questions on this subject for the first time since releasing those Bush-era memos on the treatment of terror suspects.


OBAMA: With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws. And I don't want to prejudge that.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry.

Ed, if you listen carefully to what the president said today, it seems to be pretty much of a departure of what the White House was saying yesterday, what his White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said over the weekend as far as prosecuting those Bush administration policymakers that authorized the enhanced interrogation.

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, no doubt, a dramatic reversal. Really the first time in these first 100 days where we've seen a very disciplined White House not really singing from the same song sheet. As you mentioned, on Sunday, Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, very clearly on ABC said that there should not be prosecution of top Bush officials who may have devised this policy.

Monday, when I asked Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, about it, he said the same as Rahm Emanuel, essentially. So today, many reporters were pressing Robert Gibbs, why this reversal? Why this change in policy? And specifically, I asked whether it had anything to do with the fact in the last 24 hours, there's a lot of pressure from liberal goups like saying, look, don't let the Bush administration off the hook.

Robert Gibbs sort of avoided that political question but insisted that -- you know, almost tried to say that there really wasn't much of a change and that everyone should just focus on what the president said, not what his staff has been saying in the last couple of days.

I just got out of a meet with another senior official here to tried to put it this way -- he basically said, look, what the president was trying to do was say that if the attorney general wants to move forward, if Congress wants to move forward as well on some sort of a committee that would look at all of this, and they decide in the end there should be prosecution, let that go forward. But the president wanted to try to tamp down all the controversy, all the inflamed opinions on all sides. However, it appears that his comments today maybe have only added and made this debate even more inflammable.

BLITZER: Ed, stand by for a moment. I want to bring Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, into this conversation.

Gloria, listen to what the Republican leader in the Senate said as a result of this latest statement from the president.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: The president's chief of staff just said on Sunday, on one of the Sunday shows, that we were going to look forward and not backwards. The president's apparent contradiction today is a bit surprising, and we're sort of interested to know, what is the policy or the position of the administration? Because now it seems to be somewhat confusing.


BLITZER: Are you confused, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he has a point there. And I think the administration has given him an opening and other Republicans an opening to say that.

Wolf, I think what happened here is not only was the president and the administration feeling some pressure from the groups that Ed Henry spoke about, but they were also get some direct communication from senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- most notably, the chairman, Dianne Feinstein -- saying, look, we have been doing our own investigation into this for months, and we do not want you to preclude anything in your statements because we haven't finished our own investigation. And we may come to a different conclusion about what needs to be done, particularly as it regards to the lawyers who wrote those Justice Department memos.

I spoke with one senator on that committee who said we are seeing things that we don't like and we want every avenue open to us.

BLITZER: Yes. And I know that another member -- I don't know who you were speaking to, but Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he's simply outraged by all of this. And we're going to be speaking in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour with Senator Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

I want both of you to stand by because this story is clearly not going away.

Jack Cafferty is standing by as well.

The treasury secretary, though, he's been getting a lot of heat today from watchdogs in charge of tracking where the billions in the bailout money is going. Could he account for the billions of taxpayer dollars that have already been spent?

Plus, a Republican who wanted President Obama's job is blasting his foreign policy as "timid." I'll talk about that and more with the former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He's standing by live.

And Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, they are preparing to appear together, these two former presidents, and potentially make a profit along the way. What's going on? I'll ask former Clinton aide Paul Begala and former Bush aide Ari Fleischer what to expect when these two ex-presidents go out on the lecture circuit.


BLITZER: We're going to get to former governor Mitt Romney in a moment, but let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Those hotly debated Bush-era interrogation memos include this little nugget -- CIA officials waterboarded two al Qaeda suspects 266 times. Interrogators waterboarded Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times during August of 2002.

They used the tactic against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self- subscribed planner of the 9/11 attacks, 183 times during the month of March in 2003. That's about six waterboardings a day.

Now, these memos show waterboarding was used more frequently and with a greater volume of water than CIA rules allow. "TIME" magazine suggests the use of the tactic seemed to "occasionally get out of control."

Don't you wonder what they learns from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the 183rd time they waterboarded him that they didn't know after waterboarding him 182 times? I do.

In an about-face today, President Obama opened the door to the possibility of criminal prosecution for former Bush officials who authorized this stuff. He says it will be up to the attorney general to decide whether or not to prosecute.

Until now, the president had insisted there would be no investigation of those who ordered the torture or those who carried it out. The president's reversal comes a day after Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose Intelligence Committee has become a closed-door investigation into all of this, urged him to stop making public promises not to launch criminal probes related to the interrogation program.

There is also pressure coming from the United Nations, which says the U.S. has signed the International Convention Against Torture and is, therefore, required to investigate and prosecute any credible allegations of same.

So here's the question. Does waterboarding two members of al Qaeda 266 times constitute a crime?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

You know, Wolf, earlier they were talking about a possible investigation of the Justice Department lawyers who drew up these memos. They didn't do that on their own. Somebody told them to.

BLITZER: And that's the key question. How high would this investigation go with Bush administration officials? Would it go all the way up to the top, the very top, or just below the very top?

And those are good questions, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, we try.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Let's talk about this and a lot more with the former governor of Massachusetts, the former GOP Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FMR. MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you again.

BLITZER: I read your latest piece in "National Review Online." A very tough critique of the current president of the United States. And let's talk a little bit about some of these very sensitive issues.

I'm going to play a little clip of what he said today about his number one priority.


OBAMA: I wake up every day thinking about how to keep the American people safe. And I go to bed every night worrying about keeping the American people safe.


BLITZER: All right. What do you think? Is he doing a good job keeping the American people safe?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm glad that that's his number one concern, because that ought to be the number one concern of the president. That's exactly the same comment that President Bush indicated when he was leading the country, so that's the right thing to think about.

I'm concerned that over the last several weeks, the president has been in a Summit of the Americas, as well as being in Europe, and in each case he has not risen to defend America or to defend freedom. Instead, he has seemed to join into what Charles Krauthammer called the mea culpa tour, looking at ourselves and criticizing America, particularly when Daniel Ortega takes America to task for trying to overthrow Castro. That was an opportunity for the president to stand up and boldly defend freedom and democracy, and to chastise Cuba for not having provided those kinds of freedoms to its own people.

This is a president who I think is still looking to find his sea legs in this regard to make sure that he can stand to defend the purposes of freedom. He is the leader of the free world, and that has a responsibility which goes beyond just talking about our own mistakes.

BLITZER: But he's basically implementing now the foreign policy campaign pledges he made over many months and even a couple years. He said he would reach out to countries like Iran, he would try to change U.S. policy towards Cuba, he would start withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq.

Isn't he just implementing what he promised he would do and policies that the American people overwhelmingly voiced their support for during the election?

ROMNEY: I don't think overwhelming support for all those policies came through...

BLITZER: But he had a landslide in the electoral college.

ROMNEY: ... in the election. There were a lot of things talked about during the campaign.

But I do believe this -- that when liberal commentators like Gene Robinson of "The Washington Post" take him to task as he did today for not standing up to Chavez and Ortega, you're recognizing the people on both sides of the aisle are a little surprised that when individuals attack America and question America's resolve and its commitment to freedom and democracy, that the president doesn't have anything to say about that. That, I think, is very disappointing.

But the bigger concern on my part is that there have been two momentous events in the last several months of a foreign policy nature. One is the testing of a long-range missile by North Korea, and the other is the announcement by Ahmadinejad of Iran that they have mastered all the steps necessary to enrich uranium. Both of these are game-changing events, and President Obama has not only not taken bold action in this regard, he doesn't indicate he's going to take bold action.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you on these two sensitive issues. North Korea, what would you have done? ROMNEY: Well, with North Korea, I would have made it very clear that we're not taking military options off the table rather than saying there's "nothing we can do about it." I'd make it very darn clear that America intends to defend itself and that North Korea continuing to flaunt its agreements is not something which we're going to find acceptable.

BLITZER: And the unanimously approved statement from the United Nations Security Council warning North Korea of further sanctions, that's not good enough?

ROMNEY: Well, we've had so many warnings from the United Nations about things North Korea is not supposed to do, which it immediately flaunts, that I don't get a lot of comfort in looking to the United Nations to rein in North Korea or, for that matter, Iran. In both case, they proceed regardless of what the United Nations has to say.

BLITZER: So what would you do about Iran?

ROMNEY: Well, with regards to Iran -- and, in both cases, by the way, military options don't have to be exercised, but I think they have to be on the table.

At the same time, we do have economic options. And we and our friends around the world can make it very difficult for them to get commercial credit, to get banking access, to be able to move goods in and out of their ports. There are a lot of things we can do, short of military action, that -- that can have an impact.

But sitting back and just talking is not going to do anything to get North Korea or to get Iran to become reasonable and -- and backing away from this nuclear brinkmanship that they are pursuing.

BLITZER: You agree with him; there are glimmers of hope now, as far as the U.S. economy is concerned?

ROMNEY: You know, there are glimmers of hope and there are glimmers of despair, both. There's good news and bad news.

I think it's very early to read what is going to be happening. I certainly hope we see the economy turn around. I hope the president is -- is successful in that regard. I think the Republican stimulus bill was better than the president's. His has a lot of waste in it. He seems to be unwilling to rein in excessive spending.

His budget is a nightmare, and -- and, as Senator Judd Gregg indicated, could bankrupt America. It's a -- it's a huge mistake, in my view. But -- but, the economy, that's going to turn around, always has, always will. The question is, will Barack Obama's plan have helped it or have hurt it?

BLITZER: All right.

ROMNEY: And I'm afraid, in many cases, he's hurt more than helped.

BLITZER: We're out of time. But are you already running for 2012?

ROMNEY: No, that's way beyond the horizon.

What I'm trying to do is to help Republicans get elected in 2010, so we can bring some balance to the democracy in Washington again.

BLITZER: But you're thinking about it?

ROMNEY: No, I'm thinking about the book I'm working on and thinking about helping some Republicans get elected.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

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

Happening now: America's most advanced fighter aircraft violated by computer hackers. Thousands of confidential files were broken into. Now questions of classified information was actually compromised and worries over how this happened.

Also, a powerful Democratic lawmaker answering questions about wiretaps and strong allegations against her. We're going to hear her side of the story. Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, she is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Queen Rania of Jordan is here as well. She talks about the chance of Middle East peace and gives us her thoughts on if President Obama can help achieve it.

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

BLITZER: Let's get to some tough new questions about the way the Obama administration is handling the $700 billion financial bailout.

The treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, was grilled today by a panel formed to track how the bailout money is being spent.

We turn to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

This was quite a hearing, Dana.


And, you know, the treasury secretary actually announced that a good bit of the $700 billion in bailout funds still exist. In fact, I will put it on the wall. You can see exactly how much -- $109.6 billion are still left in the bailout funds. And, because of that, the treasury secretary said that they aren't going to ask Congress for any more money any time soon.

Now, Wolf, that's all well and good, but the big issue for the treasury secretary right now is growing public anger that they don't really know how the nearly $600 billion the government has already spent has been spent.



BASH (voice-over): This bailout watchdog panel was formed six months ago, but this is the first time anyone from the Treasury Department agreed to appear.

And Timothy Geithner was bluntly told that speaks to a huge problem.

WARREN: People need to understand why you are making the choices that you are making.

BASH: One of the many choices that perplexes taxpayers is why the Treasury Department may say no to banks who want to return government money.

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Why wouldn't you take the money back?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: My basic obligation and our responsibility is to make sure that the system, as a whole, as a whole, has the ability to provide the credit that recovery requires.

BASH: Geithner tried to convince the panel he understands that Americans deserve information about how hundreds of billions in bailout funds are being spent.

GEITHNER: I believe in the importance of transparency, accountability and oversight.

BASH: But, even as he testified, the bailout program's inspector general released a withering report chastising the rescue program for lacking transparency and revealing 20 criminal investigations and six audits.

NEIL BAROFSKY, TROUBLED ASSET RELIEF PROGRAM SPECIAL INSPECTOR GENERAL: Our investigations really run the gamut, from smaller banks to -- to larger financial institutions. Did these banks lie to us when they presented their financial information, lie to Treasury to get this money?

BASH: Neil Barofsky's report also ripped a new Obama initiative to free up credit, a public/private partnership to buy bad assets, saying, it could expose taxpayers to fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't get it, Mr. Secretary, how this represents protecting the taxpayer.

BASH: The congressional watchdog panel also raised concerns that the Obama plan tilted in favor of private industry and exposes taxpayers to too much risk.

DAMON SILVERS, TROUBLED ASSETS RELIEF PROGRAM OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: And, if we eat through the equity in those partnerships, is it not the case that the FDIC and the Fed are on the hook?


BASH: Now, the treasury secretary argued that their new plan to buy up bad assets is really the best option to get the credit markets flowing again.

And that inspector general report today, Wolf, they said that, if that really is what the Obama administration is going to do, that they have to put in some face cards to avoid fraud and abuse that, again, the inspector general really does think is likely with this program.

BLITZER: Wow. All right. Thanks. Thanks very much, Dana.

All right, there's new information coming in about that suspected pirate who is now in New York City.

Let's go to Betty Nguyen. She's working the story for us.

What are we learning, Betty?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have learned that a federal judge has decided that the suspect will be tried as an adult -- this after his father told defense attorneys that he's just 15 years old.

But, again, the judge says he will be tried as an adult. Again, this suspect is accused of hijacking the Maersk Alabama. He's been brought to the United States in New York, and, today, that we have learned that a federal judge says, indeed, despite the fact he's just a teenager, he will be tried as an adult -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're -- we're not exactly sure on his age. Some say 15. Some say 18. Is that right?

NGUYEN: That's correct.

But we are being told his father told defense attorneys that he was born in 1993, which would have made him 15 years old.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Betty. We will get back to you.

A shocking case before the United States Supreme Court right now, a 13-year-old girl strip-searched by school officials -- the justices weighing privacy and classroom safety.

And a shirtless president now on the cover of a magazine -- how the news media are using President Obama to try to make a profit.


BLITZER: Right now, if your children are in school, and teacher think they have drugs, should your children be searched, even made to take off all their clothes and strip-searched? That's what happened to this young woman. Now the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on this issue. Let's go to CNN's Samantha Hayes. She's been hearing those arguments in the Supreme Court behind her.

How did it go, Sam?

SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the decision before the justices is this: Should school administrators be barred from searching students they believe possess drugs or are dealing drugs on campus?


HAYES (voice-over): Savana Redding had never been in trouble before the day she was called to the principal's office six years ago.

SAVANA REDDING, STRIP-SEARCHED IN EIGHTH-GRADE: I was just sitting in class, and the vice principal pulled me out of class, and told me to bring my stuff with me. And, when we got to his office, he asked me some questions about some pills and other contraband.

HAYES: She denied another girl's claim that she had given the other student prescription-strength ibuprofen pain pills. And none were found, even after she removed all of her clothes, down to her bra and underwear, in front of the female school nurse and another female staffer.

REDDING: I just felt like I couldn't trust anybody anymore. And everybody was talking about me. And it was just extremely embarrassing.

HAYES: The Supreme Court heard Redding's side of the story Tuesday from ACLU attorney Adam Wolf.

ADAM WOLF, LEGAL DIRECTOR, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: To think that the school officials could have conceivably just guessed that Savana was possessing ibuprofen underneath her underpants was just unreasonable.

HAYES: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed sympathy for Redding, saying, "This search was quite different from the search of her purse."

But Justice David Souter asked whether "It is better to have the risk of a violent sickness or death from a student's drug overdose than the risk of embarrassment?" -- an issue of whether privacy trumps safety, to which the school district attorney says, no.

MATTHEW WRIGHT, LAWYER FOR SCHOOL DISTRICT: They have that awesome responsibility. They need the flexibility to act immediately and effectively when they reasonably believe that a child's health and -- and risk are at issue.

HAYES: As for Redding, watching her story told before the high court brought mixed feelings.

REDDING: It was pretty overwhelming, kind of -- I don't know, some things made me mad, and, other things, I was really glad to see that the judges (INAUDIBLE)


HAYES: Wolf, this does come a day after the 10th anniversary of Columbine. That tragedy, as you recall, caused school systems all over the country to reassess their safety measures. A decision on this case is expected in a few weeks.

BLITZER: Samantha Hayes, at the U.S. Supreme Court, thank you.

The Supreme Court justices, by the way, will hear arguments in six more cases this term and issue almost 40 rulings by the end of June. Among the big decisions pending, whether federal regulators can clamp down on broadcasters that air indecent language.

We will also be looking for a ruling on whether a conservative group should have been allowed to show a movie critical of Hillary Clinton during last year's presidential campaign.

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

Betty, what else is going on?

NGUYEN: Wolf, Jesse Jackson offers to go to Iran to help free the American journalist convicted of spying. That is according to his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Jackson has, in the past, helped in the release of Americans being held. And Roxana Saberi was recently sentenced to eight years in prison after a closed one-day trial.

President Obama has denounced the sentence. Saberi's attorney says he is going to appeal.

Well, he has been followed around like a celebrity, and likely wishes that he could get out of there. But a federal judge says Rod Blagojevich isn't going to Costa Rica for a reality TV show entitled "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" The judge says the ousted former Illinois governor should stay in the U.S. to help his lawyers fight charges he tried to sell President Obama's old Senate seat.

And, the next time your outside, count the number of honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies you see. In the U.S., Canada and Europe, there are far fewer than before, scientists say. For anyone who can figure out why, well, a British consortium offers up to $14.5 million. These insects play an essential role in pollinating food crops. So, their decline could cause higher food prices and even food shortages -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Huge, huge mystery.


BLITZER: And no one seems to have the real answer, but they are working on it.

Thanks, Betty. NGUYEN: Sure.

BLITZER: Dick Cheney has been very critical of President Obama, as you know. His former boss, though, the former President George W. Bush, has been silent on the current administration. So, what is the better strategy? We will talk about that in our "Strategy Session."

And America's most advanced fighter aircraft violated by computer hackers -- thousands of confidential files were broken into, and now questions if classified information was compromised and worries over how this happened.


BLITZER: Lots going on, a busy news today.

Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Republican strategist Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under President Bush.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Ari, let me start with you. Who has got the right attitude, the right approach, right now, the former President George W. Bush, who says he doesn't want to get involved in criticizing President Obama and the current administration, or his vice president, Dick Cheney, who is not being shy at all about criticizing President Obama?


Wolf, I don't think it's a question of approach or strategy or any of that issue. I think it's much more a matter of personality. George Bush's personality is -- is just let it go. It's President Obama's turn right now. And, as he said, he doesn't need the klieg lights.

For the vice president, he's just of a different nature. And he's speaking on something that is controversial, that is tough. And -- and he's making his voice clear. So, I just think it's personality- driven, and -- and they're both right.

BLITZER: He's trying to defend his record, his -- the administration's record, and his record as vice president. Anything wrong with that?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. Substantively, it's indefensible, OK? But, no, as a matter of -- he does not surrender his First Amendment rights.

He wanted to surrender ours when he was vice president. But now that he is a private citizen, he has a right. And I think Ari is right. You have got to be who you are. And my -- my -- I used to knew -- know George W. Bush a little bit when he was my governor. He's not a bitter person at all. I don't know Dick Cheney, but he has a right to speak out. I think what he said is particularly useful. He said he wants more secret CIA memos about torture released.

BLITZER: That's the vice president.

BEGALA: The vice president says that, former vice president. And he's right.

But what -- what -- what you don't want is a situation where the government only releases that which is favorable to itself, like what happened when Dick Cheney was secretly releasing classified information, and withholding others.

BLITZER: But he says, the former vice president, that, if you release the CIA's assessments of whether the enhanced interrogation actually paid off, those assessments will say, yes, the U.S. learned a great deal from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah and the others, and, as a result, America's security was strengthened.

FLEISCHER: Well, the vice president has raised very important issues here, because the president of the United States has authorized the release of top-secret documents that selectively make a case to benefit the Obama administration now and its views about what should happen, in contradiction, interestingly, to what Bill Clinton's CIA director said should happened, who also was George Bush's CIA director.

George Tenet objected to the release of those doctors. Obama released them anyway. So, Dick Cheney raises some very interesting issues. Should, then, the American people have a right to learn what good did come of these aggressive techniques? The answer should be yes.

BEGALA: Yes. And, so, we need a process. Look, the Bush administration released...

FLEISCHER: And it's a process that has been political so far.

BEGALA: The Bush administration released top-secret information to help build its case for war. It withheld others. So, there's politicization that we had in the system

Here's what we do. Senator Pat Leahy, the Democrat from Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants a truth and reconciliation commission, where we look at all this. That's one option. Or other prefers a war crimes trial. A lot of people...

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein is going through it on the Intelligence Committee right now.


BLITZER: She says it's going to take her eight months...


BLITZER: ... to come up with some answers.

BEGALA: I just think there needs to be sunlight. If -- if Dick Cheney is not a war criminal, he should have the opportunity to clear his name in a court of law. He should have that right.

And, you know, if he is, he should be punished.

BLITZER: Were you in Dallas the other day when a former Bush...



BLITZER: You weren't part of that group -- met with the former president?

FLEISCHER: I think that Barack Obama is going to rue the day that he opened up this Pandora's box, because this is a Pandora's box that could bite lot of people, including people in his administration.

The problem here is, when an administration comes in and says what the people did before us was criminal, despite the fact that the previous Justice Departments said it was perfectly legal, they opened up themselves to have whoever follows them say what you did, too, was criminal. And they're going to regret opening this up.

BEGALA: Yes. And, before we know it, we will have accountability across the board.

FLEISCHER: That's not accountability. It's not accountability.

BEGALA: It will be terrible. It will be democracy again.

FLEISCHER: It's called selective prosecution. The other thing...


BLITZER: How will current administration officials -- why should they be worried about this?

FLEISCHER: But there's one other really bad box he has opened up here.

BLITZER: You said that current officials are going to rue the day, too. Why?

FLEISCHER: Because what happens if America is hit? Can somebody then say, well, then Barack Obama's people should be prosecuted because they didn't stop it?

And I would support it, people going down that road, too. But it opens up the door to the worst type of vindictiveness with hindsight. And the other bad thing going on, it should never be the matter of the president's opinion who should or should not be prosecuted in this country. It's never a White House issue.

BEGALA: That's right. That's right.

FLEISCHER: It's fundamentally a Justice Department issue.

BEGALA: That's right.

FLEISCHER: They opened up a door that they cannot now...




FLEISCHER: They opened up a door they cannot close right now.

Barack Obama started speculating about who should and who should not be prosecuted. The White House has no opinions on that. It is a Justice matter.

BLITZER: Because he said it's up to the attorney general, Eric Holder.

But let me switch gears for a moment, because you worked for Bill Clinton.

You worked for George W. Bush.

And guess who are going -- look at those two guys right behind you. Take a look. Turn around, Ari. You see them.


FLEISCHER: I recognize them.

BLITZER: They are going up to Toronto. They are going up to Toronto. And they are going to be performing together out there on the lecture circuit. If you want a general admission ticket, it costs you $189.

What do you think about the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush show out on the lecture circuit?

FLEISCHER: I think it's a great idea. I think that they're going to have a lot of fun. They are going to tiptoe around a lot of things, but they are also going to get into some interesting things. It would be good being in that audience. It sell a lot of tickets.

BEGALA: Yes, 189 Canadian dollars or U.S.? I don't know.


BLITZER: I think Canadian.

BEGALA: I would even pay U.S. dollars to go and see that.

BLITZER: It's in Toronto.

BEGALA: Yes, these guys...

BLITZER: There will be thousands of people there. I think it's at the convention center in Toronto.

BEGALA: I think it's wonderful.

First off, they each have a -- a remarkable perspective on world events. They have been at a place where no one else -- even guys like Ari and me, who worked for presidents, only get a shadow of what it's really like to have that job.

And it -- these two men are national treasures. And they should -- they should share what they have learned. I think it's wonderful. And it will not be a debate, I predict. Believe me, I know. I have -- I have talked to some of these people.

BLITZER: Well, we already know that the former president, George W. Bush, is not going to criticize the current president.


BLITZER: He says that's not -- and Condoleezza Rice, by the way, takes that position as well.

It's Dick Cheney who, on the other hand, he doesn't.

FLEISCHER: You know, the interesting -- most interesting thing about that speech is, who is the moderator going to be, and how are they going to try to stir the pot to get the two presidents to...


BLITZER: And I wonder how much they are both being paid, because I'm sure they're not going to up to Toronto...


BEGALA: Not -- not enough. Not enough. They served -- both of them served our country for many years.

FLEISCHER: It doesn't matter. Obama will take half of it away.


BLITZER: Thirty-six percent, I believe.

BEGALA: Yes, 39 percent, I think, 39 percent.

BLITZER: It goes up to 39 percent.

FLEISCHER: Well, you're not -- you're not counting all the rest of the cutbacks. We're now close to 50 percent.

BLITZER: We will leave it there, guys.

(CROSSTALK) FLEISCHER: Unbelievable. The only rich -- the only rich person the Republicans like is Bill Clinton. They...

BLITZER: Thanks, guys, very much.

BEGALA: I thought it was the other way around. The only Democrat they like is...


FLEISCHER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.




BLITZER: She took a pass on seeking a Senate seat. Now is Caroline Kennedy interested in being an ambassador?

And he's accused of being the so-called craigslist killer. We are going to have a full report on his court appearance and the evidence against him.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": The Senate Finance Committee voted 15-8 to endorse Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Her nomination now faces a full vote before the entire Senate, nomination to become health and human services secretary.

Caroline Kennedy today is denying rumors she may be tapped to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Speculation came after Kennedy briefly explored replacing Hillary Clinton in the Senate.

Let's check in with Jack once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, does water- boarding two members of al Qaeda 266 times in a one-month period constitute a crime?

Allan writes from California: "If this is not torture, I don't know what is. The people involved and those who allowed it to happen should be tried for war crimes. We certainly can't complain about other countries if we aren't above them."

Chris in New York writes: "What constitutes a crime is our elected officials not doing everything in their power to protect us from those whose life mission is to do us harm. So poor Khalid Sheik Mohammed was water-boarded 183 times, huh? I couldn't care less if it happened 366 times. His life's mission is to see you, me, your children, and my children destroyed. So, call me a right-wing wacko if I don't feel sorry that he had some water poured on his face a bunch of times." Kim in Dodge City, Kansas, says: "Yes, it's criminal behavior by the CIA, at the very least. But so is sending over 4,000 American soldiers to their deaths without a proper and legal declaration of war. As for me, I say we are torturing the wrong guys."

John in Canada writes: "If killing a person with a bomb or bullet during wartime isn't criminal, how can this procedure during the 'war on terror' be considered wrong? Why aren't suspects interrogated using chemical truth serum-style drugs? In the race to be politically correct and abide by the Geneva Conventions, our only options left now are to issue sternly-worded memos and deny whipped cream on their desserts."

Gigi in Oregon: "Sure does. Now what are we going to do about it? I'm for an eye for an eye. Those who ordered the water-boarding ought to feel their pain."

Derek says: "If it saves 266 American lives, then I don't believe it is. All options ought to be on the table when it comes to intelligence-gathering to save American and lives and defend our nation from harm. These men tried to kill Americans. What if, on the 266th time, they told the interrogator where Osama bin Laden was?"

And Paul writes: "Water-boarding two members of al Qaeda 266 times is not a crime. It's 266 crimes."

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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

Happening now: caught up in a wiretapping drama. A key congressional voice on national security is fighting for her political life right now. I will speak with Democratic Representative Jane Harman. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A cyber attack on the nation's next-generation warplane -- who has been stealing America's defense secrets?