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Critical U.S. Ally in Danger of Falling Into Hands of Terrorists; Hillary Clinton: 'Mortal Threat' in Pakistan; Interview With Pakistani Ambassador to U.S.

Aired April 22, 2009 - 15:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. A critical U.S. ally in danger of falling into the hands of terrorists. That warning from the Obama administration as Taliban fighters push closer and closer to the Pakistani capital.

Pakistan's ambassador to the United States is standing by live to give us his government's first response to this huge threat.

Plus, top Republicans warn the president against conducting a torture witch hunt. Mr. Obama's reversal on prosecuting potentially, at least, Bush-era officials unleashes a political firestorm.

And researchers accused of animal cruelty are attacked by arsonists. New protests and threats over what the FBI is calling domestic terrorism.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.


Breaking news this hour. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, warning Pakistan is facing a mortal threat right now.

Taliban fighters are in control of territory dangerously close to the capital, Islamabad. Islamic militants on the move and seizing influence more than seven years after U.S.-led forces ousted them from power in neighboring Afghanistan.

We're standing by to bring you the first response from Pakistan's ambassador to the United States.

But before that, let's go to CNN's Ivan Watson. He's reporting for us from Islamabad -- Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Taliban already control parts of Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, as well as the picturesque Swat Valley, once a popular destination for foreign tourists. Now another domino has fallen. The militants have advanced into Buner district, one step closer to the Pakistani heartland.


WATSON (voice-over): Taliban militants patrol the streets just 60 miles from the Pakistani capital. Hundreds of Taliban fighters moved in to Buner district from the neighboring Swat Valley, which they already control. Their commander says they're here to enforce Islamic Sharia law. Residents say the militants also warned barbers to stop shaving mens' beards and stores to stop selling music and movies.

Last week, the Pakistani government signed a peace deal with this pro-Taliban cleric, Sufi Mohammed, allowing Sharia law to be imposed in Swat. On Sunday, he appeared before a crowd of thousands and denounced democracy, the Pakistani government, and the Pakistani legal system, calling them un-Islamic.

He said he wanted to spread Islamic justice across the rest of Pakistan. The same demand recently made here in Islamabad by hard- line cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz. Fresh out of prison, he told thousands of worshippers praying in the streets of the Pakistani capital that the time had come for Islamic law.

The Taliban's already been carrying out its own form of vigilante justice in territories under its control. In a phone interview, the Taliban spokesman in Swat, Muslim Khan (ph), told me that anyone who disagreed with their rule was a non-Muslim, and he said Osama bin Laden would be welcome in Taliban-controlled territory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Sure, he's a Muslim. He can go anywhere. He can go anywhere in Pakistan.

WATSON: The Taliban have terrified lawyers in is Swat like Aftab Alam.

(on camera): Is it dangerous to criticize the Taliban in Swat Valley right now?




WATSON (voice-over): Pakistan's lawyers have been vocal and successful in challenging two governments in Islamabad to get an independent judge back on Pakistan's Supreme Court. But when it comes to the challenge of the Taliban, they're conspicuously silent.

Aftab Alam says time is running out for Pakistan's ruling elite.

ALAM: In the near future, it can spread and engulf the whole country.


WATSON: Wolf, the Pakistani government has made concessions to try to appease the Taliban. That strategy appears to have failed. The Taliban are emboldened and the militants are creeping closer to the capital of this nuclear-armed country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson, our man in Islamabad. And remember, we're standing by to speak with the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani. He is now here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're going to give you the first official response from your government on what's going on. But before that, Mr. Ambassador, I want to address Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's worst fears about the Taliban's power grab and how it could be threatening this very important U.S. ally which has nuclear weapons.

Let's go to our Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty. She's standing by.

Jill, Secretary Clinton is not mincing any words at all about this dire situation.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's definitely true, Wolf. Hillary Clinton let loose with some very strong criticism of Pakistan, accusing it of surrendering to terrorists.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): A stark warning from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The prospect of a Taliban takeover in Pakistan, she says, poses a mortal threat...

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: ... to the security and safety of our country and the world.

DOUGHERTY: Secretary Clinton slammed the Pakistan government, saying it's abdicating to hard-line Islamic groups by allowing them to rule tribal areas just 60 miles from the capital.

CLINTON: I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances now within hours of Islamabad that are being made to a loosely-confederated groups of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistan state, which is, as we all know, a nuclear-armed state.

DOUGHERTY: The U.S. has poured more than $11 billion in aid into Pakistan, but now the Obama administration is threatening to condition more money on how Pakistan fights terrorism.

And, in an unusual move, Clinton called on Pakistani citizens and Pakistani-Americans to speak out forcefully against ceding territory to the Taliban and al Qaeda.

CLINTON: I don't hear that kind of outrage or concern coming from enough people that would reverberate back within the highest echelons of the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan.


DOUGHERTY: Pakistani leadership thinks this policy can buy them peace, or at least some stability in those tribal areas, but Secretary Clinton wants to convince them they could be digging their own grave -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill, what's the worst-case scenario?

DOUGHERTY: Well, it may never happen, but what they're talking about is, ultimately, the terrorists could overtake the government, the government falls apart, the country falls apart, becomes a failed state. And as we have all been reminded, it's a country with nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: That is a pretty worst-case scenario indeed.

Thanks very much.

Jill Dougherty is our foreign affairs correspondent.

Let's get the Pakistani's government's first response now to this latest crisis.

Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.

Mr. Ambassador welcome back.


BLITZER: I wish it was under different circumstances. I don't remember a time hearing the secretary of state of the United States offer this dire assessment.

What's going on in your country right now?

HAQQANI: Well, I don't think that the dire assessment should be seen as an assessment. I think it's the sentiment more than an assessment. There are factual errors in the way this story has been revealed just now.

For example, yes, Swat is 60 miles from the capital, but it's not 60 miles on the highway. It's 60 miles as the crow flies. So there are mountains that have to be taken over. It's not like Islamabad...


BLITZER: But it sounds like the Taliban is gaining and gaining strength right now.

HAQQANI: I don't think that is a correct assessment, Wolf. The fact of the matter is that Swat is an isolated valley surrounded by mountains. Yes, the Taliban have made an advance there in the sense that the Pakistani government cut a deal with a movement that supports the Taliban, but is not the Taliban itself.

The idea was that the Taliban would lay down their arms as a result. It's sometimes important to have dialogue to prove the point that the government is moving...


BLITZER: There's no sign they have laid down their arms.

HAQQANI: And if they haven't then the government has the means. Pakistan also has one of the largest armies in the world. The army can and will move, as it has done in many other parts of the country.

BLITZER: Because we checked. You have a standing army of at least a half a million troops, and a reserve of another half a million. You have a million-man army right now that could easily go into Swat and end this.

HAQQANI: And the important thing is, what would be the collateral damage? After all, it's much easier talking about what's happening in the Swat Valley sitting in Washington, D.C., than it is sitting in Pakistan. These are Pakistani citizens we are talking about. We have to move -- in all insurgencies, you have to move very methodically.

BLITZER: She says this is an existential threat to the government of Pakistan right now. If they come into Islamabad, who knows what could happen?

HAQQANI: Wolf, first of all, what she's saying is essentially that the threat of terrorism is in existential threat to Pakistan, and that is something that the government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan generally agree with. The only question is, is just the recent development in Swat an existential threat to the government of Pakistan? And my answer to that is that is not.

BLITZER: Here is the criticism that we keep hearing, here in Washington. And you're right, it's easy to criticize...

HAQQANI: And we've been hearing it for seven years, by the way.

BLITZER: ... sitting in Washington, as opposed to Islamabad. You have other issues. But the criticism is the U.S. government has provided your government, Pakistan, with about $11 billion over these years since 9/11. Most of that money, almost all of that money, has been used to ease your concerns about India, it hasn't been used to go after the Taliban and al Qaeda.

HAQQANI: Wolf, any nation determines its own threat perceptions. Are there people in Pakistan who still do not consider the Taliban a threat? Definitely. But an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis recognizes the Taliban as a threat, the government recognizes them as a threat. The Pakistani military and Pakistan intelligence services recognize them.

BLITZER: So why make deals with them even indirectly?

HAQQANI: I think if you go back, for example, in Iraq, how was peace restored to Falluja? There were arrangements, local arrangements with various tribes, with various groups, with various groups that were loosely affiliated with al Qaeda.

The Pakistan government is pursuing this strategy, and we are open to criticism of that strategy. But to think that that strategy somehow represents an abdication of our responsibility towards out people and towards the security of our country and the region is incorrect.

BLITZER: You heard Jill Dougherty outline what the secretary of state and U.S. officials fear is that worst-case scenario, the Taliban taking over Pakistan, as they did years ago of Afghanistan. The big difference though is that there's a nuclear arsenal potentially they could get thir hands on.

HAQQANI: Two important things. Afghanistan, at that time, was in the middle of a civil war. It did not have a central government. If you remember, various warlords controlled various parts of Afghanistan, and the Taliban took advantage there.

In the case of Pakistan, Pakistan has a legitimate elected government. Pakistan has a military and a police force.

Yes, we have capacity issues. Our military needs equipment and training to be able to pursue counterinsurgency operations. But the United States and Pakistan are partners, and in that partnership, I think, together, we can deal with the Taliban.

BLITZER: Are the U.S. drone attacks, these pilotless planes, these attacks against Taliban and al Qaeda targets on Pakistani sovereign soil, are they helping or hurting what's going on?

HAQQANI: I think it's not one of those simple helping or hurting answers. The fact of the matter is that these attacks have eliminated many bad people, including Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. On the other hand, Pakistanis would be far more comfortable if these attacks were undertaken in cooperation with the government of Pakistan, rather than unilaterally.

BLITZER: Well, would you like the United States and NATO, perhaps, to do in Pakistan what they're doing in Afghanistan? In other words, come in and help your military eradicate this Taliban/al Qaeda insurgency?

HAQQANI: Our military is quite capable of dealing with the insurgency.

BLITZER: But you're not doing it yet.

HAQQANI: Well, I think we are not going to do it -- first of all, we are not going to discuss military strategy in great detail on television, Wolf. But at the same time, let me just say we are not going to do anything on demand. This is not something that's going to be done by the pressing of a button anywhere in the world.

Pakistan will fight terrorism. We intend to fight terrorism. We will fight al Qaeda and the Taliban. As far as the question of aid and assistance is concerned, Pakistan was given assistance, as well as reimbursement for expenses undertaken in the war against terror since 9/11. And Pakistan has also borne the brunt of the fighting. More Pakistanis have lost their lives fighting terrorism than any other single nation.

BLITZER: It looks like it's do or die, it's a critical moment right now.

HAQQANI: Wolf, you and I are both going to be here in a few months, and we will probably be on this show again. We will probably be able to look at the clips of this discussion, and hopefully you will play this clip in which I'm saying it's not do or die.

Yes, we have a challenge. But no, we do not have a situation in which the government or the country of Pakistan is about to fall to the Taliban.

BLITZER: As a friend of Pakistan, no one would like to see that happen more than me.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for coming in. And good luck.

HAQQANI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: One week from today will mark Barack Obama's 100th day in office. And whether you agree with him or not, it's fair to say that our president has been one busy guy.

According to one report, a top White House aide says of the 100- day marker, "This isn't biblical, you don't do 100 days and rest." But acknowledges that President Obama's first 100 days have been the most productive since FDR.

Here's just some of what's been on the president's plate. And I guess we can add Pakistan to that now based on the story of the last few minutes.

When it comes to the economy, the passage of that $787 billion economic stimulus bill; the bank bailout plan; housing recovery measures; setting a fixed timetable for a withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq; ordering an additional 21,000 troops into Afghanistan; ordering the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison; ending the use of so- called enhanced interrogation techniques; lifting President Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research; and meeting with leaders around the world, promising a new era of American leadership, and perhaps more importantly, cooperation.

And there's no indication that Mr. Obama plans to slow down anytime soon. The White House often speaks of his top priorities -- reviving the economy, health care, energy, education, immigration reform, tax reform, and on and on and on. But some wonder that if by doing so much, the president could wind up accomplishing not as much in the end.

Here's our question then. As he prepares to mark his first 100 days in office, what has been President Obama's greatest accomplishment?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

I figured we'd get an early start on this, because everybody's going to be doing this in about three or four days.

BLITZER: Yes. We've got exactly a week to go, Jack. Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty will be back.

And CNN will have extensive coverage of President Obama's first 100 days in office. That would be one week from today. Next Wednesday we'll have a special, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be joined by Anderson Cooper, John King, Soledad O'Brien, and the rest of the best political team on television.

A powerful new report is out describing the Bush administration's interrogation tactics as abusive, even abominable. It's adding more fuel to the partisan fight over whether Bush-era officials should be prosecuted.

Plus, Muslim-Americans accuse the FBI of infiltrating mosques. We're going to get the bureau's response to allegations that it's crossing a dangerous line.

And a shocking casualty of the mortgage crisis. We're learning more about the apparent suicide of Freddie Mac's chief financial officer.


BLITZER: And we're continuing our coverage of the breaking news.

The Taliban and its forces now only about 60 miles outside of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. There is deep concern here in Washington. You just heard the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, suggest there's a mortal threat to the government of Pakistan right now unless the Pakistani military and civilian leadership take direct action against the Taliban and its al Qaeda leaders.

Let's get the thoughts now of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair. He's joining us from our Chicago bureau.

Mr. Prime Minister, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: We spoke to the Pakistani ambassador here in Washington, Husain Haqqani, who says, you know what? Step back, it's not as bad as it seems to be right now. But I have to tell you, the highest ranking Obama administration officials are deeply concerned, especially about the fact that Pakistan is not only a strong ally, but a nuclear power in it's own right, potentially could face this kind of threat from the Taliban.

BLAIR: Well, I think the administration is absolutely right to be concerned. I mean, how can you be anything else? Because -- not just of the activities of the Taliban, but the point really is that if you look all over the region, the wider world, at the moment, you have these forces of extremism based on this perverted view of Islam, and they're powerful, and they're fighting hard.

And what is necessary is that we stand up to them and fight back, with the combination of military and diplomatic means that give us a chance for success. But it's true in respect to the Taliban and their threat in Afghanistan, and in respect to Pakistan, but it's true across, I'm afraid, a much broader and wider canvas.

BLITZER: So what does the international community need to do right now to make sure that Pakistan doesn't go down the same road that Afghanistan did years ago when its government was overthrown by the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies? What does the U.S. Britain, what does everyone need to do right now?

BLAIR: We need to stand up for what we believe and fight with the right combination, if you like, of military and diplomatic means of hard and soft power. And what that means is that where we're confronted military, we've got to assemble the force in sufficient numbers in order to take on this threat and defeat it. But it also means that we have got to deal with the reasons why this has grown over a very long period of time.

This isn't something that has suddenly erupted, and it's not something actually that came about simply on the 11th of September 2001. This is something that has been growing for a very, very long period of time.

We need -- in terms of the diplomatic initiative, we need to make sure that we're dealing, for example, with the education systems of countries that encourage this type of extremism. We need to encourage greater dialogue between the religious faiths. We of course need to deal with the Israel/Palestine question, which is not the source of this extremism, but the resolution of that dispute would make a major difference. And we have to be prepared to stand up and fight for what we believe in.

BLITZER: And I know you're the special envoy for the U.S., Russia, the EU and the U.N. when it comes to the Middle East. I want to play for you this little clip of what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today, if there is what some Arabs, including the Saudis, would like to a see, a national unity government formed by the Palestinians, including not only the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah, but also Hamas brought in.

She said this about any U.S. dialogue with such a new Palestinian government that included Hamas. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: We will not deal with, nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and agreed to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority.


BLITZER: A two-part question. First part, will the Palestinians form such a national unity government that includes Hamas? And if they do, will Hamas take the steps that Secretary Clinton is demanding?

BLAIR: I think as we speak, it's difficult to see how these negotiations for a unity government will succeed. But the only basis upon which they will succeed is the basis of genuine unity. And that unity has to been around the concept of a two-state solution.

Now, if we are being asked, as we are at the present moment in time, to say to the Israeli government, look, it is important that you come out clearly for a two-state solution, a state of Israel that can be confident of its security, and a viable Palestinian state, it's hard to see how you bring people into a process to agree to that two- state solution if they're not prepared to renounce violence and accept that indeed there should be two states.

So I think the question for us in the Middle East peace process at the moment is, how do we reinvigorate a credible process of negotiation? How do we get, if you like, the major change on the ground that creates the context within which a Palestinian state is credible and yet Israeli security is protected? Now, I think personally that is the key challenge we face.

BLITZER: One final question on an unrelated matter.

The enhanced U.S. interrogation techniques that were used against al Qaeda suspects here in the United States, indeed around the world, were you aware of all of these things that we all now know with the release of these official U.S. documents? At the time that you were prime minister, did you know what was going on?

BLAIR: No, obviously I wasn't privy to the discussions within the U.S. administration. I don't really want to get involved in debates between the previous administration and this administration.

There is one thing that I would say more broadly, if I might, and I will be addressing this in the speech I'm making in Chicago later today. I do think we have to understand in our part of the world -- that's in the United States and in Europe -- we are facing a fundamental struggle, and it is a struggle that has many, many different dimensions to it all over the world.

We have been talking, you and I, about Afghanistan and Pakistan. We might talk about Iran. We might talk about what's happened in Yemen, in Algeria, never mind what is happening in Iraq.

All over the Middle East and the wider region, there is one battle going on, and it is a battle with many different dimensions. But it will only be a battle that we win if we're prepared to stand up for what we believe both in military terms and with the right process of diplomatic engagement. And I think the events in Pakistan simply remind us of the fact this struggle is continuing, it has got to be waged with a greater determination than the enemy that we face.

BLITZER: Prime Minister, thanks very much for coming in.

BLAIR: Thank you. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck to you.

Let's get some more now on our breaking news.

The Taliban extend their base of power in Afghanistan, and the secretary of state is calling it a mortal threat to the world, prompting fears that a nuclear-armed Pakistan could be overrun with terrorists. So we're going to show you the areas of the greatest worry.

And will the Obama administration prosecute high-ranking Bush administration officials who approve of what some call torture? The White House rushes to clarify its position today as it causes a growing partisan divide in Congress.


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

Happening now, countdown to 100. We're only days away from a milestone, President Obama's 100th day in office. Before and on that day, we're going to be grading the administration's performance on issues you care about.

Also, a former deputy to Condoleezza Rice says the Bush White House tried to suppress his memo that questioned interrogation tactics some now call torture.

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

Controversy intensifying right now over those enhanced interrogation techniques during the Bush administration that some call torture. In a memo to colleagues dated April 16th, President Obama's intelligence director said the harsh interrogations yielded important information about al Qaeda. Republican officials gave the memo to CNN.

Meanwhile, the White House looks to clarify its own statements on possible prosecutions in this matter.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill. We'll go to her in a moment, but let's check in with our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, for the latest -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this certainly isn't the headache that the Obama administration was willing to deal with or even wanted to deal with. We saw President Obama in Iowa. He's trying to highlight his environmental policy on Earth Day. But instead, the news is still about its policy regarding torture.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Will the Obama administration hold the Bush administration accountable for torture? That is the question that has outraged some and put others in the hot seat.

Today, it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's turn. Not surprisingly, she defended President Obama's position not to prosecute those who carried out the torture, but to allow the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute the lawyers who approved it.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: No one will be prosecuted who acted within the four corners of the legal advice that was given following that advice to perform any function that that person believed was legal. However, those who formulated the legal opinions and gave those orders should be reviewed.

MALVEAUX: The controversy stems from the fact that Mr. Obama and his top officials, as recently as 48 hours ago, implied everyone involved would be cleared from legal prosecution.

In a statement released from Mexico City Thursday, Mr. Obama said, "This is a time for reflection, not retribution."

But now the White House is on the defensive. On Air Force One traveling with Mr. Obama, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said reports that the president was opening door or changing his policy were just flat wrong.

He said, besides, it's not the president's call. "If somebody knowingly broke the law, that's a determination that will ultimately be made by a legal official, not by the president."

That legal official, Attorney General Eric Holder, was asked about what he intends to do. He would only say: "We're going to following the evidence, follow the law, and take that where it leads. No one is above the law."


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, the bottom line here is that the Obama administration says it does not want to go backwards.

But, if it does, if it takes a look at some of the people that might be responsible, the legal implications of the people responsible for the torture, then that could go very high up the chain of command. We're talking Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, even perhaps President Bush himself. Obviously, that possibility has a lot of Republicans very worried. And it has us reporters obviously pressing on this issue -- Wolf.


Suzanne, stand by.

Dana Bash, our congressional correspondent, is up on the Hill.

This debate is really intensifying big-time today up on the Hill, Dana.


You know, it's interesting. The idea of prosecuting or even investigating Bush officials for those controversial terror tactics -- or, I should say, those tactics that we were talking about, basically, really, Wolf, had been limited to the left of the Democratic Party.

But, more and more, that is not so, primarily because of the release of those Bush era memos and because of inquiries here on Capitol Hill.


BASH (voice-over): Interrogation tactics at Abu Ghraib prison that stunned the world and controversial methods at Guantanamo Bay all detailed in a fresh report from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: These are 230 pages of facts as to how abusive techniques were used. What I consider to be abominable legal opinions were written to justify those techniques.

BASH: Chairman Carl Levin says those were authorized by high- level Bush officials and wants the Justice Department to investigate.

LEVIN: They're the ones who are, by Constitution, by law, the ones decide what remedies, if any, should be taken or sought against whom.

BASH: But the committee's top Republican, John McCain, a vocal opponent of torture methods, told reporters the mission now should be moving forward.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If we prosecute individuals for providing their best recommendation to president of the United States, it will have a chilling effect from now on.

BASH: That's evidence of a growing partisan divide. Republicans do not want to go after Bush officials for how they handled detainees. Even Arlen Specter, who often sides with Democrats, told CNN in a phone interview: "The idea of rushing to prosecute the prior administration sounds like Latin America. That's what they do in banana republics."

But Democrats like Jerry Nadler disagree.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: It is the duty of the United States under the law to at least have an investigation.

BASH: That's why a committee he chairs in the House and chairmen in the Senate promise public hearings.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I'm not out just to hand a lot of scalps on the wall. I want to know exactly what happened, so that it won't happen again.


BASH: And what Senate Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy really wants to do is create an independent commission to investigate this.

But, Wolf, Senate Democratic leadership sources say, because of pretty strong Republican resistance, that's unlikely right now.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much, as you say, the debate not going away, by any means.

Meanwhile, there's new evidence that the foreclosure crisis is spreading to new areas, and for new reasons. Stand by to find out if you may be at risk.

And a tragic turn in the mortgage mess: a top executive's apparent suicide.


BLITZER: Behind the numbers are stories of people's lives turned upside-down.

Right now, we're seeing some of the worst foreclosure rates, and they're concentrated in a handful of places.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She has more on these very disturbing trends.

What do we know, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a new report out today shows the cities that are hardest-hit by foreclosures. And you might suspect they are in the states that have been hit hardest by the subprime mess, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida.

Now, Las Vegas is number one on the list, one in 22 homes getting a foreclosure notice. Number two, Merced, California, number three, in Florida, Cape Coral-Fort Myers. But also on the list is some cities that haven't been there before. They're not high up, but they're making an appearance, Boise City in Idaho, Provo in Utah, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Charleston, South Carolina.

And it's indicating a new factor.


SNOW (voice-over): It's seen as the next wave of foreclosures, people losing homes in areas that hadn't been problematic. That trend, says RealtyTrac, a country tracking housing activity, says unemployment is now a new factor in foreclosures, a problem spreading beyond losses tied to subprime loans.

RICK SHARGA, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, REALTYTRAC: We're going to see more people with traditional 30-year fixed-rate vanilla mortgages suddenly join the ranks of people in foreclosure, as they, unfortunately, lose their jobs.

SNOW: The unemployment level is 8.5 percent and climbing. And it comes as major lenders are lifting a moratorium on foreclosures.

One big question mark, how much relief will come with President Obama's plan to stem the tide? The president made homeowners one of his priorities in his first 100 days in office.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, through this plan, we will help between seven million and nine million families restructure or refinance their mortgages, so they can afford -- avoid foreclosure.

SNOW: The $75 billion plan was launched last month. Some economists expect it could take a few months to see a real impact. And, while they expect it to help, some housing experts say more action may be needed.

ANTHONY SANDERS, PROFESSOR OF FINANCE AND REAL ESTATE, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY: The RealtyTrac numbers that just came out are really kind of sending a -- a warning signal that it's going to be more difficult than, I think, the Obama administration was expecting.


SNOW: Now, loan modifications are a central part of the housing crisis plan. Some economists question how much help it will help -- provide for people losing their homes because of unemployment and not unaffordable mortgages.

Now, ask for the forecast, RealtyTrac expects three million homes this year alone to be in some state of foreclosure by the end of the year. That's up from 2.4 million last year. And, Wolf, they say there is no signs it's going to slow down any time soon.

BLITZER: Three million homes. You think of three million homes, you think of all the people involved, wow.

All right, thanks, Mary -- Mary Snow reporting.

We're learning of the breaking news out of the FDA on the issue of that so-called Plan B emergency contraceptive pill, the morning- after pill, as it's called. We're going to have the latest for you on that.

Plus, for Republicans, everything old seems to be new again. In our "Strategy Session": Should the GOP turn away from familiar faces?

And, later, how the Obamas are giving media outlets some of what they want, in hopes of protecting the first family's image.


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Fred, what is going on?


Well, right now, a community is in shock, a company is in mourning, and questions are swirling, this after David Kellermann, acting chief financial officer of mortgage giant Freddie Mac, was found hanging in home.

Police think Kellermann killed himself. An investigation is under way. And, of course, this comes as mortgage giant Freddie Mac is mired in controversy and investigations.

And despite civilian deaths and homes destroyed, the recent Israeli military actions in Gaza were not a violation of international law. That's what the Israeli Defense Forces says. In a statement, the IDF adds they were small intelligence or operational errors in the conflict that began in December and ended about three weeks later. Israeli human rights groups call these conclusions problematic.

And a case now which involves Americans and their lawsuit against Iran after they were held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran 30 years ago, the Obama administration asked a federal judge to throw it out. It's part of a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit in district court in Washington, D.C. Fifty-two U.S. diplomats and members of the military were held hostage over 400 days during the Carter administration. They were held by Islamic militant students supporting the Iranian revolution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.

We're counting down to the end of the president's first 100 days in office next week. In our "Strategy Session": an early report card on Mr. Obama's performance on the economy.

Also ahead, the U.S. military's take on the Taliban's push closer and closer toward the Pakistani capital.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Important breaking news story just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, a controversial decision just out by the Food and Drug Administration.

Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's got the details.

Elizabeth, what is going on?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the controversy is over something called Plan B. It's also called the morning-after pill.

Right now, women 18 and older can get this morning-after pill if they fear that they have had unprotected sex and might be pregnant. However, women 18 and under are not able to get it. But, today, the FDA says that they will comply with the -- with the guidelines of a court order, and they will let 17-year-olds buy Plan B over the counter.

Now, the controversy is that some people say the morning-after bill is really abortion. The folks who make Plan B say that is not true, that it actually just prevents a pregnancy from taking place.

Now, this is an interesting footnote, Wolf, is that lawsuit -- the order that was made by the court last month, they want the FDA to look into whether even women younger than 17 ought to be able to get this pill over the counter -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elizabeth, thanks very much for that. We will continue to watch the story.

Meanwhile, do you know what day it is? It's actually day 93, a week from President Obama's 100th day in office. Today, and leading up to that day, CNN will be looking at what the administration has accomplished and where they have fallen short.

Here for our "Strategy Session" today, the Democratic strategist Karen Finney, a former communications director for the DNC, and Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

I want to talk about all that in a moment. But this new decision by the FDA today, 17-year-olds can now take this pill, assuming it goes forward, without any prescription, it's a reversal from the Bush administration. It's another example of -- that elections really do matter.


And, of course, we see a pattern here on these kinds of issues of there being a big change. And it's going to be interesting to see how the voting public reacts to it.

BLITZER: Because he's right.


BLITZER: There's a lot of changes that have come. Embryonic stem cell research comes to mind right away as well.

FINNEY: But, again, these are all the things that President Obama campaigned on. So, if anything, over the last 93 days, what you have seen is, very consistently, the president doing exactly what he said he was going to do when he campaigned. So, we shouldn't be surprised by this decision.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about it, because, a week from today, 100 days in office, sort of an artificial deadline, but it's a good time to step back, take a look, see how he's going.

You're an economist. On the economic issues, which are our issue number one, as we like to say, how is he doing?

ARMEY: Well, it's hard to tell. It's really quite early.

And one of the things, presidents can get lucky, and perhaps President Obama will. My guess is that this is not going to -- this economic policy he's pursuing is not going to work out for him. And I believe that the face of opposition really presented itself in the TEA Parties last week.

And I think, quite frankly, the president, on the economic front, is probably in trouble.

BLITZER: Because, on this issue of the economics, there's going to be a way for the American people to grade him. If the unemployment numbers come down, if they feel more secure, if they think the country is moving in the right direction, the foreclosure rate goes on...

FINNEY: Right.

BLITZER: Those will be very tangible economic indicators that either will reassure or distress.

FINNEY: Well, and the other very tangible thing is that, under President Obama, 95 percent of Americans got a tax cut. It's the largest tax cut we have seen in the history of our country in terms of the number of people who will receive a tax cut. So, that's another way they will feel a tangible benefit.

I think we have seen mixed results so far. I think you heard Treasury Secretary Geithner say so yesterday. I think the president is cautiously optimistic. We know we're not out of the woods. But I think we're starting to make progress, both in short-term and long- term...


BLITZER: Because the president talks about glimmers of hope, that he begins to see some indicators.

Give us a grade right now. If you're a professor -- and you used to be a professor...


BLITZER: ... what would you give him on the economy right now?

ARMEY: Well, I would give him the same grade that believe Lord John Maynard Keynes would give him, a glaring F.

BLITZER: Really?

ARMEY: And I have been giving this speech and making this point.

John Maynard Keynes himself would be appalled by this stimulus package under these economic circumstances. It's something that most people don't grasp, but I think it's a very real thing.

And I'm afraid that -- and I'm -- trust me on this -- I am afraid that what we're likely to see is the stagflation of the '70s. And if that happens, then I believe the public at large will give the president a big glaring F.

FINNEY: Yes, it's so interesting to hear Republicans try to talk about the '70s and evoke President Carter's tenure as president, both when they're talking about foreign policy and economic policy.

I think, obviously, so far, the president's doing quite well. He's had the courage to do both short-term and long-term things. We are seeing things start to turn around, glimmers of hope.

BLITZER: All right. All right.

There's a new DNC ad.


BLITZER: And I want you to take a look at it. If you turn around, you will be able to see it up in the monitor right behind you. There we are, introducing the new faces of the GOP. There they are. That doesn't look like a very new face that the DNC is highlighting.

But there's more faces, if you take a look at some of these new faces that come up there. Karl Rove is a face they show...


BLITZER: ... in -- in these ads.

What do you think, Mr. -- Mr. Leader, about this kind of ad going after the Republicans -- going after the Republicans?


ARMEY: You may have had something to do with this one.



ARMEY: It's a classic case of changing the subject away from that which you fear.


ARMEY: And the new face of the Republican Party was the hundreds of thousands, millions of American citizens on the streets protesting bad economic policy.

And the new face is the young office-holders that will take up this small-government program that the people want. And -- and the Democrat Party is scared to death that the nation will see that face, so they're dragging....

BLITZER: All right, go ahead.

FINNEY: Well, you know...

ARMEY: ... faces from the past.

FINNEY: Well, I was just going say, all due respect to Mr. Armey, ironically, when I was in my 20s, in the Clinton administration, it was folks like Mr. Armey and Mr. Gingrich, who we saw in that ad, talking about the Republican revolution.

And here you are kind of still talking about the same ideas, whereas, you know, the American -- the country has moved. We have moved on to new leadership. And you see the Republicans kind of using the same old playbook.

I think one of the best and the brightest of young Republicans has been Meghan McCain. And rather than listening to her and embracing her, she was kind of vilified.

BLITZER: We will leave it on that note, guys.


ARMEY: ... leave it on that one.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: By the way, CNN is going have extensive coverage of President Obama's first 100 days.

Next Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, I will be joined by Anderson Cooper, John King, Soledad O'Brien, and the rest of the best political team on television.

A former aid to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice now says the Bush administration tried to suppress memos he wrote against those harsh interrogation tactics.

And, later, scientists attacked by animal rights activists -- new protests today over what the FBI is now calling domestic terrorism.





BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: As he prepares to mark his first 100 days in office, what has been President Obama's greatest accomplish, do you think?

Michael says: "President Obama's greatest accomplishment -- as a result of the actions you have listed -- has been restoring hope to the American people. There is a sense of optimism, even in these troubled economic times."

Albert in Los Angeles: "January 20 of this year, President Obama escorted George Bush out of town, and, therefore, made the world a safer place to live. Any other good deeds will only come second to that on a list of great accomplishments."

Kelby in Houston: "His greatest accomplishment so far has got to be the stimulus package. Getting that thing through Congress, that was a pretty big deal."

Matt writes: "His greatest accomplishments: one, creating the biggest deficits in the history of this country; two, ensuring the next two or three generations will have a reduced standard of living; three, doing nothing to ensure the safety of our borders; and, four, creating the legacy of even bigger government."

Casey writes: "I think his greatest accomplishment has been to not allow himself to be bogged down by all of the conservative attacks. He's been the thoughtful, insightful and rational leader we needed years ago. By keeping his head on straight and his agenda clear ahead of him, picking off projects one at a time, he's done well to keep us calm and collected when all seems to be falling apart."

Danny in Sydney, Australia, writes: "Jack, take it from an Australian. President Obama's greatest accomplishment so far, restoring American leadership around the globe. You now have an American president the rest of us are proud to call the leader of the free world."

And Roshad writes, "Finally selecting a dog for his daughters."

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

You know, it took him a lot longer to get that dog than it did to get that stimulus package through Congress.

BLITZER: It took him about six months to get that dog, but it's an adorable dog.

CAFFERTY: Well, and it's an adorable stimulus package.

(LAUGHTER) BLITZER: Jack, thank you.



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