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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari; Texas Resident Dies of Swine Flu
Aired May 5, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Pakistan's president tells me his troops will definitely move in to try to crush the Taliban and the al Qaeda elements in his country. But fears that extremists will seize control of his country are very real within the Obama administration right now.
Stand by for my exclusive interview with the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari. He's here in Washington getting ready to meet with the president.
But let's go to our CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, first.
Jill, President Obama's strategy in holding meetings jointly and separately with the he visiting presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan, that strategy is going forward this week.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right.
And, Wolf, you know, it's notable that just a few weeks ago, the administration was critical of the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but now they're toning that down, hoping that these high- profile meetings will yield some results.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Under severe strains at home, the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan brace for make-or-break talks with President Barack Obama in Washington, on the offensive to prove they can stand up to the Taliban.
HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan is the closest neighbor of Pakistan, the closest brotherly/sisterly relationship with Pakistan. We are like conjoined twins. We are not separable.
We are one. We are together. We were living together. We will die together.
But we will not die. We'll continue living together.
DOUGHERTY: But on Capitol Hill, questions are growing.
REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK: Let me be blunt. Pakistan's pants are on fire.
DOUGHERTY: Some lawmakers fear Pakistan could collapse, leaving its nuclear weapons in terrorists' hands. The top diplomat to the region says it's not that bad yet.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE, U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN: And we should not allow comments about how serious the issue is to be confused with predictions of a collapse. We do not think Pakistan is a failed state.
DOUGHERTY: The administration is pushing for emergency money for the region, including $500 million for the Pakistani military to fight an advancing Taliban. And it wants to triple civilian aid to Pakistan, $1. 5 billion a year for the next five years. But Congress wants accountability, regular reports from the White House on how Pakistan is fighting terrorists.
Pakistan's president tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer he's done a lot already.
ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: I'm not here to, you know, point fingers at anybody. I'm here to get more support for democracy, get more support for the war effort, and show them my record.
DOUGHERTY: So, no one here or over at the State Department is predicting what exactly might come out of these meetings, but just getting everybody in the same place at one time, Wolf, is an accomplishment, according to these officials.
BLITZER: All right, it would be. Thanks very much. Let's see what happens.
The Taliban threat, by the way, in Pakistan is on the agenda of the defense secretary, Robert Gates. He is on a trip to the Middle East right now.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is traveling with the secretary -- Chris.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the secretary of defense has gone from Egypt to Saudi Arabia looking for help with two bigger problems in Iran and Pakistan.
(voice-over): In Egypt, Defense Secretary Robert Gates reassured allies that there is no agreement on the table with the Iranians, no deal to end Iran's nuclear weapons program that would compromise the U.S. relationship with its Middle East allies.
In fact, Gates said Iran's initial response to President Obama's open hand has been discouraging. ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We're not willing to pull the hand yet -- back yet, because we think there's still some opportunity. But I think concerns out here of some kind of a grand bargain developed in secret are completely unrealistic.
LAWRENCE: Gates is in Saudi Arabia for another reason. The Saudis have given millions of dollars to Pakistan to build madrassas and mosques.
GATES: They have a longstanding, close relationship with Pakistan.
LAWRENCE: Middle East analysts say, that money buys influence.
DAVID AARON, RAND CORPORATION: How responsive they will be remains to be seen. But it is another lever that we shouldn't ignore.
LAWRENCE: Gates is not attending President Obama's talks with the Pakistani president, but has a clear goal for the meeting.
GATES: My hope is that, during the talks in Washington, there will be a common agreement on the nature of the -- of the threat.
LAWRENCE (on camera): Pakistan still sees India as the greater threat. There's hope that the Saudis can convince Pakistan that its Eastern border with India is secure enough, that it can move more troops west to challenge the Taliban there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, traveling with the defense secretary right now.
And this important note: Stand by for my exclusive interview with the president of Pakistan on the Taliban threat to his country, whether the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan could fall into the hands of terrorists, and a lot more. That's coming up momentarily.
Let's get to the flu outbreak, though, right now. Just a short while ago, officials confirmed the death of a Texas resident, the second death from the virus here in the United States.
The U.S. Navy says it's canceling the deployment of one of its ships because dozens of crew members may have the flu. At the same time, federal health officials are now reversing themselves here in the United States in the advice they're giving to schools across the country about responding to the flu emergency.
Let's bring in CNN's Elaine Quijano -- Elaine.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with this new flu relatively mild still and after getting an earful from state and local officials, the government has dropped its earlier recommendation.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) QUIJANO (voice-over): With more than 700 schools closed, affecting nearly 500,000 students and their families, government health officials now say schools no longer need to shut their doors for up to two weeks. And instead, can reopen immediately.
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: This virus does not seem to be as severe as we once thought it could be.
QUIJANO: School districts nationwide have grappled with the decision to close or not to close.
JEFF ENGEL, NORTH CAROLINA STATE HEALTH DIRECTOR: We don't take it lightly. We realize that it's extremely disruptive to parents, to community.
QUIJANO: Acting CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser says along with the science, the government considered how it was disrupting people's lives.
DR. RICHARD BESSER, ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL: When we hear of the difficulty involved, of children who are dropped at libraries because there's nowhere for home care, people who could lose their jobs because they don't have sick leave, these factors are really real.
QUIJANO: The flu had threatened to keep this high school track team in Tampa, Florida, from competing in the state championships.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Been working so hard for this, so hard.
QUIJANO: But the school's athletic director now says students will be tested, and, if clear, allowed to complete.
QUIJANO: Now, the CDC says it's still up to local officials to decide exactly when their schools will reopen, and it's still recommending keeping students home for seven days if they're sick -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Elaine Quijano, thanks very much.
The Obama administration is now proposing to spend $63 billion to fight a range of diseases in poor countries. The program would expand on a Bush administration effort that focused more narrowly on AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The administration says fighting disease is a way to head off future conflicts in poor nations.
Let's go back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, President Bush got a rap for a lot of stuff, and deserved a good portion of it, but he was the guy who -- who kind of led the effort to stockpile all this flu vaccine, wasn't he, in this country?
BLITZER: Yes, he was. Yes, he was.
CAFFERTY: So, that was a good deal.
CAFFERTY: All right, as the Republican Party continues to struggle, some of them are beginning now to sound silly.
Rush Limbaugh suggesting that Sarah Palin is -- quote -- "the most prominent and articulate voice for good old-fashioned American conservatism."
Recalling those disastrous interviews Ms. Palin did with Katie Couric on "The CBS Evening News" during the campaign, articulate is not the word that immediately pops into my mind.
But the leader of the Republican Party -- that would be Rush Limbaugh -- he thinks differently. Limbaugh also insists that some Republican leaders hate, despise and fear Sarah Palin, along with finding her embarrassing. The embarrassing part, I understand.
He's referring to that new group formed by old Republicans called the National Council for a New America. It's made up of folks like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney and Bobby Jindal and John McCain, all working to rebrand the GOP. Limbaugh says it's nothing more than an early campaign event being held by a bunch of Republicans who have what Limbaugh calls presidential perspirations.
While some members of this Council for a New America are calling for doing away with the Reagan era and finding a more forward-looking message, Limbaugh says a lot of that talk is code meant as a knock on Sarah Palin, who is conspicuously absent from the National Council for a New America.
How can this be? Well, don't you know, once again, Limbaugh speaks, the Republicans snap to attention and salute. No sooner had he said all this stuff, then Congressman Eric Cantor announced that Sarah Palin has finally accepted an offer to join the National Council for a New America. Go figure.
Here's the question. Rush Limbaugh says Sarah Palin's the most prominent, articulate voice for conservatism. Is he right?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack. Thank you.
Pakistan's president insists the Taliban won't take over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZARDARI: It doesn't work like that. They can't take over.
BLITZER: Why can't they take over?
ZARDARI: They have a 700,000 army. How can they take over? (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Does he have complete control of his military? He answers that question, addresses fears over Pakistan's nuclear weapons. My exclusive interview here in THE SITUATION ROOM with the president of Pakistan, that's next.
And it sparked 9/11 memories, all for a photo-op. Will you see the photos of that presidential plane flying over New York City?
And add one more city to the list of those supporting gay marriage.
BLITZER: Extremist threats, the possibility of a government coup and keeping nuclear weapons secure, all of those are very serious concerns regarding Pakistan.
Tomorrow, Pakistan's president meets with President Obama. Today, he spoke exclusively with me.
BLITZER: And joining us now, the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.
Mr. President, welcome to Washington.
ZARDARI: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, a subject of great concern not only in your country but around the world. This is what the "New York Times" reported this week.
"The United States does not know where all of Pakistan's nuclear sites are located and its concerns have intensified in the last two weeks since the Taliban entered Buner, a district 60 miles from the capital. The spread of the insurgency has left American officials less willing to accept blanket assurances from Pakistan that the weapons are safe."
Are your nuclear weapons safe?
ZARDARI: Definitely safe.
First of all, they are in safe hands. B, there is a command and control system under the president of Pakistan. And Buner, like you say, as the crow flies, these mountains are 60, 70 miles from Islamabad. They have always been there. And there has been fighting there before. There will be fighting there again. And there has always been an issue of people in those mountains who we've been taking on.
BLITZER: Because the world is worried if the Taliban or associated groups were to take over.
ZARDARI: It doesn't work like that. They can't take over.
BLITZER: Why can't they take over?
ZARDARI: We have a 700,000 Army. How can they take over?
BLITZER: But aren't there elements within the Army who are sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda?
ZARDARI: I deny that. There aren't any, sir, sympathizers for them. There is a mind-set in the local area maybe who feel they are akin to the same religion, God, et cetera, et cetera. But nothing that should concern anybody as far as the nuclear arsenal or other instruments of such sort.
BLITZER: Because there has been deep concern as you know that the Pakistani intelligence service has links, direct links with Taliban and maybe even al Qaeda supporters.
ZARDARI: All intelligence links have their sources in all -- in all such organizations. Does that mean CIA has direct links with al Qaeda? No, they have their sources. We have our sources. Everybody has sources.
BLITZER: Do you feel you, as the president of Pakistan, have complete control over the Pakistani military?
ZARDARI: Yes, I do, sir.
BLITZER: You have no doubt about that? If you give an order, that order will be obeyed?
ZARDARI: It does, yes.
BLITZER: You're very confident of that?
ZARDARI: Very confident of that.
BLITZER: The security, getting back to the security of the nuclear arsenal, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, a man you've met with on a few occasions. He said he doesn't even know, and he is the top U.S. military officer, where Pakistan's various military, nuclear components are spread around. Is that information you're willing to share with the United States?
ZARDARI: I don't think so. I think it's on a need-to-know basis information.
BLITZER: But don't you think the United States should need to know something as critical as that?
ZARDARI: If comes up we might and I might not share it with them, it depends.
BLITZER: Has the U.S. asked you for that kind of information that they would be reassured that the nuclear arsenal is safe?
ZARDARI: They have not asked me directly, no.
BLITZER: But what I hear you saying is that, if Admiral Mullen or some other high-ranking U.S. official, maybe the president of the United States, were to say, you know what, let's work together, let's learn about your arsenal so that maybe we can help you. You'd be open to that?
ZARDARI: I think it's already been shared before.
BLITZER: What has been shared before?
ZARDARI: The information of the concerns have been shared before. Let's put it this way. Every official of any knowledge in your administration has shown -- they have given the same statement, that they have confidence in the fact that they are safe.
BLITZER: They have said that, that they are confident that they are safe but Admiral Mullen the other day said he's not sure, he's not sure where everything is located, he doesn't have that kind of information and he said he respected Pakistani sovereignty.
ZARDARI: So that answers the question.
BLITZER: He doesn't know where everything is.
ZARDARI: That answers the question.
BLITZER: All right.
let's -- let's talk a little bit about the president of the United States. He's very worried about your government. I'm going to play a little clip of what he said at his news conference the other night on his 100th day as president.
BLITZER: Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan. Not because I think that they're immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan. More concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You heard he says the civilian government, which is you, is very fragile and he's very concerned about that.
ZARDARI: If you play that tape and then you play another tape by my point person, Ambassador Holbrooke, you'll realize what he meant. He meant the institutions are comparatively weak. Like our Parliament, like our social services, are comparatively weak compared to, say, compared to your systems, et cetera, et cetera, not that the government itself was weak.
BLITZER: How worried are you -- this is a blunt question, but there is a history in Pakistan -- of a coup d'etat, a military coup, taking over, removing you as the president of Pakistan?
ZARDARI: I don't think there is any such chance at the moment. Whenever we had a coup d'etat, whenever we have had a dictator, he's always been supported by you, as in the United States.
BLITZER: When you say the United States...
ZARDARI: The United States. And I don't think the...
BLITZER: So, when President Musharraf took over, you say the U.S. supported that?
ZARDARI: I think that is our position. Yes, they did.
And I feel that, at the moment, the world does not have the appetite to support another coup d'etat in Pakistan.
BLITZER: But what I hear you saying, if there were a coup in Pakistan, you would blame the United States for that?
ZARDARI: I would blame all the democratic forces in the world. And we always have.
And then we worked with them in order to get our country back. We've fought three dictators already. People's Party has a history of fighting three dictators and winning over them.
BLITZER: Are you concerned about U.S. support for Pakistan right now?
ZARDARI: I am concerned to the fact that I want more support. I am thankful for the support that I got and thankful to the people of America to give their tax dollars to us and - but I need more support.
BLITZER: What do you want specifically?
ZARDARI: I want to make a case with the world and the United States and the Congress and the president of America that, look at us, see what our weaknesses are, and decide for yourself what do we need?
We have been in a fight against the world, against the Soviet world for the last 40 years. That has automatically brought a sort of a weakness in our whole system. And that system needs to be helped in order to be strong enough to take this threat of the Taliban's.
BLITZER: President Zardari will be meeting with President Obama tomorrow. He was caught on camera with a marijuana pipe. Now his three- month suspension is up. Is Olympic champion Michael Phelps ready to start swimming competitively again?
And doctors, they are now ready to reveal the new face of a patient who underwent a face transplant. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by.
And talk about a power lunch. The president and the vice president, they take a break and go off to a burger joint.
BLITZER: President Obama is doing his short list of Supreme Court prospects. Will he look outside America's courtroom to replace the Supreme Court Justice David Souter? The best political team on television is standing by.
And is Vice President Biden's new message on Israel the right message?
And why the pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson River may now be a hero over at his local library.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke today, caution, with a tinge of hope. He says an economic turnaround is just around the corner, but he warned, too, that jobs and credit will remain scarce for some time.
The Obama administration is signaling support for a so-called clash-for-clunkers bill. The legislation would award vouchers to consumers who dump their gas guzzlers to buy new cars that get better mileage.
And the three-month suspension of the swimming champion Michael Phelps is now over. The winner of eight 2008 Olympic gold medals was banned from competition after a photo was published showing him smoking from a marijuana pipe -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
An exceptionally difficult and rare surgery, and now doctors reveal the new face of a face transplant patient.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. FRANK PAPAY, CLEVELAND CLINIC: Connie's progression over the last few months has proved to all of us, to all of the surgical team, that even, though the face transplant was the surgical procedure of the last resort, it does work. And it successfully restored to her much of her function, and we are continuing to see further function improve in the next couple months to a year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about this, and more, with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
This is really an amazing procedure. Sanjay, you're a surgeon. Talk a little bit about this procedure.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is one of the most remarkable things that I have seen, even as a doctor, Wolf, to sort of walk through this whole thing.
You heard the doctor talking about Connie Culp, a 46-year-old woman. She's a mother of two from Ohio. She was shot in the face five years ago. That is what started this whole thing.
Let me see if I can just show you a couple of images that I think are illustrative. These are CAT scans, basically trying to show just how significant the damage was to her face. You could see how much of her mid-face was gone, how much of the bone was shattered.
If you come over here to this CAT scan, you can see where there should have been bone, where there should have been tissue. It is just simply gone. And that's what surgeons first had to work with five years ago.
What they were able to achieve after nearly 30 operations was something that looked like this, Wolf. You can see significant scarring across the front of her face. Her nose is not even open there. She was unable to breathe well on her own. She was unable to eat or drink from a cup. She did not have a very good result even after all these operations.
So surgeons decided to perform an 80 percent, essentially, facial transplant -- considered a full facial transplant. And, Wolf, here is the reveal -- remarkable images here.
Take a look first at the front and then the side, again, after this very rare operation -- trying to fix so much of that damage that was done.
The thing that really struck me the most, Wolf, is you look at this image, hardly any scarring at all, despite all the operations that she had and despite this transplant that we're talking about today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's an amazing procedure, an amazing change, Sanjay.
How dangerous is this operation?
GUPTA: Well, you know, it can be dangerous. Whenever you're talking about operations like this, you're talking about long operations, lots surgeons. Twenty-two hours they operated on her, as well.
Let me just show you quickly, Wolf, what they did.
First of all, you had the donor -- in this case, a cadaver donor. And you see how they removed so much of the face here. They have to take not only the skin, but also the arteries, the veins, the nerves -- you flip that around -- the nasal cavity, as well. That's what they had to work with.
Come over here. This is a 3-D animation of what Connie looked like before this facial transplant. Again, you see the scarring. It's really just socked in there. And they go ahead and bring that out, take out a lot of the results of the previous operations -- the bones and the screws -- and bring this in specifically.
Now, some of the hardest part is actually re-attaching some of these arteries and veins. As you can see here, the artery being attached there -- the veins and the nerves, as well. It's a major operation. And she's going to need to be on powerful drugs so that she doesn't reject this face, either, just like any other transplant. And so it's a risky operation and it's a risky post-operative course, as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: So let's talk a little bit about the future of this woman, Connie Culp.
What does it hold for her?
What's she going to be expecting in the years to come?
GUPTA: Well, you know, it's interesting, because there's not a lot of data on face transplants. And we've been talking about this over the past couple of years, because that's how long they've been going on. So it's a little bit hard to predict.
But doctors do tend to make some guesses, first of all, as to what she might look like. So take a look there. Compare that to the image from before. And you see that image there and then you see what she might look like in two years, as the swelling starts to go down, as she starts to recover from this. They think that that's -- she's going to have a significant recovery.
But more to the point Wolf, the ability to breathe well on her own through her own nose, to eat, to drink, to have a full life that -- that uses all the functions of the face, of which there are so many, that's what they predict. A major operation, but that's a pretty good result, Wolf, if they get there in a couple of years.
BLITZER: Yes. It's pretty -- it's amazing. You know, it's really fabulous, a face transplant.
Really, really important stuff.
GUPTA: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: Sanjay, by the way, is going to have more on this coming up later tonight on "A.C. 360," 10:00 p.m. Eastern. (ph)
And, also, if you want to see a different side of Sanjay, he's going to be on Dave Letterman's show later tonight, as well. I know I will be watching "A.C. 360" and "David Letterman" later tonight.
We have a follow-up now on a story that scared many New Yorkers more than seven years after the 9/11 attacks. You probably remember when a spare presidential plane flew over Manhattan last month, sparking panic and then controversy.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is watching the fallout from what's going on.
And there is a new twist in all of this -- Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You're right, Wolf.
More than $328,000 taxpayer dollars were spent last week on a Manhattan flyover by a plane used as Air Force One. The Pentagon said it was a training mission, but it was also a photo-op. And now, we may not even get to see the pictures.
MESERVE (voice-over): It looked like Air Force One flying low over Manhattan with F-16s in pursuit. And it sent some New Yorkers into the streets and into a panic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the problem, sir?
You've got to tell me.
What is going on, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a (INAUDIBLE) following an aircraft -- a big aircraft, kind of like the 9/11.
MESERVE: It turned out to be a photo-op.
But where are the photos, the White House press secretary was asked.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't know where those are.
MESERVE: The White House press office says there are no plans to make the photographs public. There is nothing wrong with the previous photos, so we're going to use them.
Remember that declaration of a new era of openness? BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over.
MESERVE: So why exactly doesn't that apply to the photos?
An advocate for government disclosure said it should, saying it is silly and absurd to withhold them.
PATRICE MCDERMOTT, OPENTHEGOVERNMENT.ORG: These are public records. These photographs, videos or whatever they have, are public records because they were done on government time, using government resources and government personnel.
MESERVE: And back in New York, the news reignited public outrage over the incident.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't seem right. If we spent the money to have these photos taken, they should be available for the public to see.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're so worried about their image and they don't want to be seen in a bad light.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MESERVE: White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said today he would take another look at releasing the photos. But it hasn't happened yet.
Meanwhile, a White House inquiry into the flyover should be done within a few days. But there's no word on whether the report, unlike the photos, will be made public -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope they are.
All right. Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that.
So who would make a good pick for the United States Supreme Court?
Does the next justice even have to be a lawyer?
What about a former governor or a senator?
And Joe Biden has a rather tough message for the Israelis on what's needed for a Middle East peace deal. The best political team on television is standing by to assess.
BLITZER: All right. This is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
The Justice Department has completed its review of Bush administration lawyers who wrote those secret memos giving the nod to use those harsh interrogation techniques.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is getting some new information.
What are we learning, Jeanne?
MESERVE: Well, Wolf, government sources familiar with the preliminary report by the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility say it does not call for criminal prosecutions relating to the writing of the so-called torture memos, but it does raise the possibility of sanctions by state bar associations.
The memos, as you said, laid it out the legal justification for harsh interrogation of detainees, including tactics like waterboarding and slamming prisoners against walls.
The report focuses heavily on communications by three former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers -- John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury. According to sources, it is critical of Yoo and Bybee in particular. They had until yesterday to respond to investigators.
Senators Richard Durbin and Sheldon White House received an update on the report last night and this evening issued a statement expressing disappointment that Bradbury's role may not be more strongly criticized.
The report, which now goes to Attorney General Eric Holder for approval or revisions, is expected to be finalized in the coming days and is likely to be made public -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jeanne.
Let's talk about this and more with the best political team on television.
Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our political analyst, David Gergen; and our CNN political analyst, Roland Martin.
Some are going to be disappointed, Gloria, among the Democrats, that this report is not recommending formal criminal prosecution of these three Bush administration lawyers.
GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, some Democrats on the left are going to be disappointed. But I think this kind of slices the salami quite nicely for the president, who himself got in some trouble for waffling on how he feels about prosecution. Because if Eric Holder does sign this, it says no criminal prosecution. But it may even recommend disbarment or tell states that they should feel free to pursue things like disbarment. And whether or not this leaves the door open for Congressional impeachment of Judge Bybee, for example, remains to be seen.
BLITZER: David, how do you view it?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, there are, as Gloria says, some people on the left, who would like to see prosecutions. As far as I can tell, within the political community, that's a minority view. I think most Americans want to move on.
The headline here, to me, is that they appear not to be pursuing prosecutions. Going back to the state bars and raising that issue seems gratuitous to me, because that's something the state bar associations could do on their own.
But, you know, Wolf, the fact is the state bar associations won't have access to a lot of classified material. I don't know how they can conduct hearings. So it's sort of gratuitous to throw that out there, when that's not likely to happen, either.
BLITZER: What's going to happen, Roland?
ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, frankly, clearly, the folks on the left are going to go nuts. I mean they are going to continue to pursue the president -- pushing him, prodding him, in order to seek prosecution, because this is what got them ramped up for the last two years.
It is a smart move on the president's part and the Justice Department's part, because I think he made a mistake to say that they were not going to prosecute then all of a sudden backtrack for two consecutive days. It threw up -- it threw open this thing wide open. It was absolutely unnecessary.
The president -- the last thing he wants, also, is for the people who are in office right now to be second-guessed by the next administration. It sets a bad precedent.
BLITZER: Gloria, when you and I interviewed the vice president, Joe Biden, about a month ago, he was pretty blunt with the Israelis. He said they would be ill-advised to launch any military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.
And today he spoke at the AIPAC conference -- the pro-Israeli conference here in Washington. He was blunt on another issue.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're not going to like my saying this, but not build more settlements. Dismantle existing outposts and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement based on their first actions, access to economic opportunity and increased security and responsibility. This is a show me deal -- not based on faith, show me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I've heard other administration officials describe their strategy...
BLITZER: ...toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Israelis right now, especially with the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu, as a -- as a tough love approach. Maybe Joe Biden is sort of underscoring that.
BORGER: Yes, he may be a little tougher. But -- but I think, you know, you've heard this line about a two-state solution from the secretary of State, as well. Hillary Clinton said to -- in some testimony that -- and said, look, if Israel wants help from Arab nations on combating the threat of Iran, they've got to -- they've got to cooperate when it comes to a negotiated settlement.
And so I think that, for once, at least, Joe line is not out of line here. This is what the administration's talking about.
BLITZER: This is about as sensitive an issue for any administration and for Congress as -- as it comes in Washington, David, isn't it?
GERGEN: Absolutely, Wolf. And, of course, there's a long history here.
The vice president was taking a view or expressing views that have been shared on both sides of the aisle for a while, shared by the Bush -- the preceding Bush administration, the idea of a two-state solution and the idea that, you know, the Israelis ought to cease on the settlements and be very cautious on that. That goes way back to the Democratic and past Republican administrations.
But what I think the larger point here is, Wolf -- and you know this so well -- with a new, very conservative government of Netanyahu -- a hard-line government coming in in Israel and the new Obama administration, there are going to be some very delicate conversations in the next few weeks about not only the -- Israel and the Palestinians, but, very importantly, with Netanyahu thinking that Iran is actually emerging as the number one issue, what he wants to focus on.
And it's not clear the United States is going to be in sync with him on that, too.
So we've got a lot of tough, tough days ahead in trying to work through this relationship and making sure it stays on the right track.
MARTIN: Wolf, also, I think it's a question of credibility in terms of both sides. The United States cannot sit here and present itself solely as being in the back pocket, if you will, of Israel, because you have to have credibility on the other side.
I remember when President George H.W. Bush, in his last remaining days, when he withheld funds to Israel because of the building of settlements and a lot of, you know, Jewish leaders in America were very upset by that. But he was trying to make a point, as well.
So the administration has to take this stance. It is a two-way street. This is not Burger King. You cannot have it your way. This has to be a two-way street in order for there to be peace there in the Middle East.
BLITZER: All right, guys. We'll continue this conversation in the coming days.
Thanks very much.
Here's a question for you -- what kind of a person should President Obama pick to replace the Supreme Court justice, David Souter?
Submit your video comments to ireport.com/situationroom. We'll try to get some of them on the air tomorrow.
Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour.
How are you doing -- Lou?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Good, Wolf.
Coming up at the top of the hour tonight, we're reporting on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's most optimistic remarks on the economy since this recession began. Bernanke says our economy will begin to recover and recover this year. We'll have that special report.
Also, health officials in Texas are reporting the first death of a U.S. citizen with swine flu. We'll tell you what happened. We'll have the very latest for you on this outbreak.
And dramatic video tonight of a pirate attack on an American cargo ship off the coast of East Africa. The Somali pirates firing rocket-propelled grenades at the America ship, The Liberty Sun.
And we'll tell you about another astonishing report from the Department of Homeland Security -- the very same department that linked returning war veterans with extremist groups.
And I'll have a few thoughts to share with you about the Extremism and the Radicalization Branch of the Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division. Believe it or not, that's only part of their name.
Join us for all of that, all of the day's news and more, coming up right at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou.
See you soon.
Here's a question for you -- stand or sit?
Did they stay seated for one president and jump up for another?
Jeanne Moos jumps all over this one.
And the pilot behind the miracle landing on the Hudson may or may not be a hero at his local library.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHESLEY SULLENBERGER: You've misplaced your library book. Perhaps you've just forgotten to return it until it's late and you owe fines. Or maybe you're just trying to think of a really, really good excuse, like it got lost in the Hudson River.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Step in Chesley Sullenberger a library spokesman?
After his heroic landing, his library books got waterlogged in the Hudson River and now he's delivering a message for the San Francisco Public Library.
Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, what's he saying?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, you'll remember this scene on January 15th. Well, somewhere in that sinking plane were Captain Sullenberger's four library books. The library was good enough to waive the late fees. And now "Sully" has become something of a spokesman for the San Francisco Public Library's amnesty program -- telling people in this video, now's a good time to come clean.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SULLENBERGER: I know what sometimes happens. You've misplaced your library book. Perhaps you've just forgotten to return it until it's late and you owe fines. Or maybe you're just trying to think of a really, really good excuse, like it got lost in the Hudson River.
Well, don't let fear of fines keep you from using one of our community's most precious resources.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TATTON: San Francisco Public Library patrons now have two weeks to return books that they have with no questions asked, no fines, or fess up to lost books. "Sully," meanwhile, says that he's trying to salvage those four books that he had. He's taken them off to a facility to be freeze-dried. The subject of them, reportedly, professional ethics -- Wolf.
All right, Abbi.
Thanks very much.
We love "Sully."
Let's go back to Jack Cafferty.
He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The police department in New York City used to do that with illegal handguns. They offered an amnesty period for a couple of weeks. And all the hoodlums and punks in the city would show up and turn in their guns, no questions asked. And then they'd go out next Saturday night, probably, and get another one.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Rush Limbaugh says Sarah Palin is the most prominent, articulate voice for conservatism in the country.
Is he right?
Jamal in St. Petersburg: "Of course he's right. He's Rush Limbaugh. He knows everything. I mean can anyone tell me how a mere radio talk show host can control the Republican Party and wield more power than the chairman, Michael Steele? And if he says the mavericky, beautiful, wolf assassin whose foreign policy experience is comprised of seeing Russia from Alaska is the best hope for conservatism, well, then she must be."
K. writes: "Palin makes Bush look like a genius. Need I say more? Except that Limbaugh is an arrogant jerk who ought to just zipper his ugly, hate-mongering lips."
Steve in New York says: "Jack, why do you keep bringing up Palin? Do you know how many thousands of e-mails we get when I mention her name? You sure like to rub it in, don't you? Don't you have somebody else to pick on? You should pick on some Democrats once in a while. I get sick of hearing about Palin and I'm sure there are others in the same boat. This is like torture."
Kevin in Alabama: "The Republican Party has strayed from true conservatism for some time now. I think Mike Huckabee is a more viable candidate in 2012 than Sarah Palin. I seriously wish there was a conservative party for those of us who are sick of the GOP."
Branden writes: "Sarah Palin is definitely prominent, if only because the TV networks choose to cover every language mangling appearance she makes. With regards to articulate, please see my first sentence."
Maggie writes: "Rush is likely right and will remain so until the Republicans can get that fourth grader who interviewed Condoleezza Rice to join their party, which will finally let the world see they're trying to raise their party's intellectual level." And Barry writes: "Jack, of course Limbaugh is correct. Alaska has the highest registration of Republican caribou, bear, elk and moose in the country and they're the only ones who understand Sarah Palin when she talks."
If you didn't -- that was cruel.
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my situation -- CNN.com, the blog...
CAFFERTY: Well, I'm -- yes, whatever. Go there and find your e- mail and have a nice night.
BLITZER: They always do, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Yes. All right.
BLITZER: Thank you.
"Hail to the Chief" or keep your seat -- when it comes to how to greet the president, it's a bit confusing, even for White House reporters.
BLITZER: Some members of the White House press corps are sitting down on the job -- that is until they're taking a stand.
CNN's Jeanne Moos explains.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To stand or not to stand -- it was more than some of the right could stand to watch.
White House reporters staying seated for President Bush...
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Laura and I...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm sorry, Gibbs is screwing this thing up.
MOOS: Yet jumping to their feet for President Obama. The video, put together by a writer for the Web site, Politico, is ricocheting around the Web...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm tired of Gibbs screwing this thing up. MOOS: ...leading to comments like: "What a bunch of boot lickers," "I'm surprised they didn't kneel and kiss his feet."
The press corps jumped to their feet like contestants whose names are called on "The Price is Right."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE PRICE IS RIGHT," COURTESY CBS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And come down. Pat Noon (ph) from the back row (INAUDIBLE). Here he comes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: But wait a minute, reporters automatically stand...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.
MOOS: ...when the president is introduced at big East Room press conferences.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.
MOOS: But at smaller, briefing room pressers, the norm is to stay put because the setting is less formal. And if reporters stand, they block the cameras in back from shooting the president walking in.
But what happened the other day...
MOOS: ...is that President Obama showed up out of the blue for the first time in the Briefing Room, interrupting his press secretary.
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So I think people in the room naturally had this impulse to say whoa, wait a second, they weren't expecting this.
MOOS: Watch the surprise on the Fox News correspondent's face when in mid-question he sees the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first time, I believe...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
OBAMA: I'm tired of Gibbs screwing this thing up.
MOOS: And pops up like all the rest of those -- what did they call them, boot lickers?
President Bush's arrival, on the other hand, was expected. (on camera): No, no, no, no. Don't get up. Just stay put on the couch. Don't stand up just because I've made an entrance.
(voice-over): Some on the right say the fact that reporters impulsively jumped to their feet proves they love President Obama. But they risen for President Bush in the Briefing Room.
BUSH: Thank you.
MOOS: For instance, at his final press conference.
But in general, this is not the place to...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Stand by your man.
OBAMA: Please, everybody, have a seat.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...
OBAMA: And please, everybody, have a seat.
MOOS: ...New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.