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War & Terror Reality Check; Risky Repair Job in Space; One-On- One with Sir Richard Branson; Pelosi: CIA Misled Me

Aired May 14, 2009 - 17:00   ET


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

Happening now, from handling detainees to photos of detainees and management of the war in Afghanistan, when it comes to national security, the Obama administration is getting quite a reality check.

Installing a piano-sized camera in a telescope the size of a bus while looking out for space debris -- shuttle astronauts check off one of their to-do -- items on their to-do list.

And tourists in space -- billionaire Sir Richard Branson wants to put you there if you can afford it. I go one-on-one with the activist and adventurer.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


From prosecuting terror suspects to prosecuting a war, from handling detainees to photos of detainees -- is the Obama administration starting -- starting to resemble aspects of the Bush administration?

We asked our Brian Todd to take a closer look -- all right, Brian, there's a charge out there, especially for some of the liberals in the Democratic Party and they're not happy with what they see.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're not happy. And that is where it's coming from, Wolf.

Some Democrats in Congress, others on the left, are looking with some real unease at what the president is doing on those fronts that Wolf just mentioned. Indeed, on national security, Mr. Obama is walking a tightrope between the reality he has to face now and what he talked about during the campaign.


TODD (voice-over): August 2007 -- then candidate Obama unveils his plan for terror suspects in U.S. custody.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As president, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, President Obama is moving toward closing Guantanamo. But senior administration officials tell CNN the White House is leaning toward reinstating the military commissions that Mr. Obama suspended when he took office.

Is the Obama team adopting the same posture on commissions as its predecessor?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Military Commissions Act will also allow us to prosecute captured terrorists for war crimes through a full and fair trial.

TODD: White House officials tell us President Obama is not mirroring the Bush policy. They say any new commissions would have enhanced rights for detainees and that as a senator, Mr. Obama voted against President Bush's Military Commissions Act because he believed it didn't have enough due processes for suspects.

But a White House source and a Republican Congressional source tell CNN the administration is considering plans to hold some suspects indefinitely. And there are other highly charged issues of security where the Obama and Bush teams sound very similar.

Here's Donald Rumsfeld in May 2004 on the potential release of more photographs.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: If these are -- are released to the public, obviously, it's going to make matters worse.


TODD: President Obama on Wednesday, on releasing additional detainee abuse pictures.


OBAMA: The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.


TODD: On that and on his war management, the president got blistering criticism from the left. Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nader says: "What is our policy in Afghanistan? Is it an open-ended commitment to remake the country? I don't know. That would worry me."

CNN analyst David Gergen, who's advised Republican and Democratic presidents, says Mr. Obama is fulfilling his campaign pledge to put more troops in Afghanistan, but like his predecessors, is learning some tough lessons on all these security issues early on. DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: And as commander-in-chief, when he suddenly faces harsh realities that are reflected in classified documents and in personal briefings from commanders in the field that he didn't have to face as a candidate. And as with most presidents, he's tending more back to the center on national security.


TODD: Gergen says of all these issues, Afghanistan is where the president faces the most pressure for results. Gergen says, this is: "going to become Obama's war" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you getting a sense, Brian, that people at the White House are getting frustrated with some of the criticism coming from these fellow Democrats?

TODD: Outwardly, they say they are not frustrated. One White House official told today, he said, look, we're the ones who have laid out the groundwork to get out of Iraq. We're the ones who have put together a strategy to win in Afghanistan. We are focusing on those things and not on the political commentary.

Now, behind the scenes, it could be a very different story. And David Gergen himself said, look, on some of these national security issues, Democrats have got to cut the president a little slack while he gets his sea legs here. It's still very early on.

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to talk to Paul and Ari Fleischer. They're standing by this hour. We'll talk to them about that and more.

All right, thanks very much.

Brian Todd.

The mission -- replace a camera the size of a baby grand piano and a telescope the size of a school bus. In a high orbit littered with space junk, spacewalking astronauts took on a very, very risky repair job -- and it was not easy, by any account.

Let's go to CNN's John Zarrella.

He's got details for us -- John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, somewhere orbiting 350 miles up, there are high fives all around by the astronauts. The first of five very ambitious spacewalks is done -- and it was done well.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Attached by foot restraints to the end of the shuttle's robotic arm, Astronaut Drew Feustel removes a piano- sized camera from the Hubble telescope as they flew over Africa.


There's a huge river down there.

ZARRELLA: Replacing the old camera with an updated version was priority one. This is the camera that has provided so many breathtaking images of the heavens.

It didn't quite go as planned. The two space walkers, Feustel and John Grunsfeld, struggled to get out a stuck bolt.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I got it.

ANDREW FEUSTEL, MISSION SPECIALIST: It turned. It definitely turned.


FEUSTEL: It turned. And it's turning easily now.


FEUSTEL: Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

ZARRELLA: This Hubbell curve ball anticipated by Grunsfeld.

JOHN GRUNSFELD, MISSION SPECIALIST: The one thing we've learned from every single Hubbell mission is, ultimately, Hubbell will decide how well things go.

ZARRELLA: With the new camera installed, Grunsfeld and Feustel began work to replace a computer that allows Hubbell's science instruments to be controlled from the ground. Feustel removed a series of tiny screws. Each one had to be turned an exact number of times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen.

ZARRELLA: During their six-and-a-half hours in space, they managed a few moments of levity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And boys, we're flying over Houston.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, great. Wave, Drew. Hey, look at that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The kids are still in school, but they may still see us.

ZARRELLA: For shuttle commander Scott Altman, the spacewalks simply don't last long enough.

SCOTT ALTMAN, SHUTTLE COMMANDER: The thing I noticed last time is that when the two guys are outside, it feels a lot more spacious inside. And at the end of the day, you're not really ready for them to come back in. You've been enjoying the room. ZARRELLA: Altman can have his space -- literally -- for several more days. There are four space walks to go.


ZARRELLA: Tomorrow Mike Massimino and Mike Good -- it's their turn up to bat. They'll be the two spacewalkers. And when all five space walks are done, Wolf, the astronauts will have spent more than 31 hours repairing Hubbell -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We wish them only -- only the best.

ZARRELLA: Yes, indeed.

BLITZER: I know you do, as well. All of our viewers do. Remarkable stuff up in space.

All right. Thanks very much, John Zarrella.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File.

It's amazing what these men and women can do up there -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes. You want to get some perspective on how important the stuff we do is, just watch that piece again.

BLITZER: Right. Right.

CAFFERTY: I mean it's just incredible.

Anyway, this is what we do is -- here we go.

President Obama says he doesn't want to release the alleged prison abuse photos because it could affect the safety of U.S. troops overseas and: "inflame anti-American opinion."

And it wouldn't exactly be the best timing for the president himself, what with his announcement that he plans to go to Egypt soon and address the Muslim world.

Nevertheless, the decision is a reversal for this White House, which last month said it had no problem with the Pentagon releasing hundreds of pictures of detainees in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

But after hearing concerns from military commanders, the president says releasing these images could have a chilling effect on further investigations of detainee abuses without adding to the understanding of past abuses.

The president, who has seen the pictures, says that they're not particularly sensational when compared to the images from Abu Ghraib, for example, and he repeated that any future abuse is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Needless to say, this decision is not sitting well with many of his liberal supporters. Some of these groups are accusing the president of violating his promises of openness and transparency and of sounding just like the Bush administration when it comes to claims of secrecy.

Democrats are split. Some back the president's decision. Others think he ought to release the photos. But top Republicans are applauding President Obama.

It is unclear at this point what's going to happen. The matter could wind up in the Supreme Court, since two lower federal courts have ordered these pictures be released.

But here's our question for this hour -- should the alleged detainee abuse photos be released so that we can all see them?

Go to, where you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a lot harder being a commander-in-chief than a candidate, as you know, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Indeed, it is.


CAFFERTY: I mean I wouldn't...

BLITZER: And I think this president...

CAFFERTY: I wouldn't know about either one, but I assume that what you say is true.

BLITZER: Yes, I assume so, too.

All right, Jack.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

A three hour trip for $200,000 -- Sir Richard Branson is launching his Virgin brand into space.

So when will the first space tourists be lifting off?

Sir Richard is here in THE SITUATION ROOM and I'll ask him.

Also, former President George W. Bush quietly collecting money for his future presidential library. And now word has leaked about some eye-popping sums he's raised so far.

And marijuana in the United States more potent than ever -- three times stronger than just a generation ago -- the reason why and the potential danger. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He's one of the richest and most business savvy men in the world and you've likely used one of his products or his services, whether it's music or cell phones or travel, the company named Virgin is closely identified with Sir Richard Branson -- entrepreneur, activist, adventurist.


Sir Richard, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: You know this global economy. You deal with it every single day.

Are you seeing some light right now at the end of this tunnel?

BRANSON: In some of our businesses. And in some of our businesses, not particularly. For instance, Virgin Atlantic, across the Atlantic, is suffering and we haven't seen many green shoots yet. Full planes, but tremendous bargains for people who want to travel.

Other -- some of our other businesses, we are beginning to see a slight upturn.

BLITZER: Which businesses?

BRANSON: Let's say, health clubs. People, even if they're out of -- out of work, seem to be happy to go into health clubs and try to, you know, to keep fit and healthy. Our mobile phone business -- people seem to be spending a lot of time on mobile phones.

So some businesses seem to be beginning to see a bit of an upturn.

BLITZER: When you think of Virgin -- Virgin Atlantic and now Virgin America -- I recently flew Virgin America from Los Angeles to here in Washington, D.C. It was relatively cheap compared to some of the other airlines. There were TV -- live TV. I could watch CNN while I was flying across the country. And can do that on JetBlue, as well, and some of the other airlines. You have Internet -- ability to log on and see what's going on. You have comfortable seats.

How do you deal with the price factor and yet, at the same time, provide some of these perks that are so essential in a competitive aviation industry?

BRANSON: Well, I think the reason our airline has survived 25 years is that we've gone for quality. So we've tried to make sure that in every single area, we are the best.

So, you know, Virgin Atlantic introduced -- we were the first airline in the world to introduce seatback videos in all our economy class seats; and, you know, stand up bars; and just trying to get -- you know, the first airline industry's premium economy for people who wanted a bit more leg room in economy.

And -- and I think if you can be the best in any field -- be it the best hotel or the best club or the best airline you will survive and you will do well. And you will, also, get high load factors so you can be competitive on fares.

BLITZER: And right now, we're focusing in here on this horrible plane crash in Buffalo, New York. Fifty people were killed and now suggestions that the pilots may not necessarily have been well-trained for that kind of weather situation or may have been exhausted because they were commuting across the country to catch up to their flight.

How do you deal with this issue of security and safety to make sure your pilots are really up to any contingency that could develop?

BRANSON: Well, nothing else matters more than safety. We've had 25 years at Virgin of never having an incident. And we make sure that -- you know, we have pilots who've got long track records before we take them on.

And, you know, I think if -- if you run your airline properly, the chances -- the chance of an instance is extremely, extremely slim.

BLITZER: So you're not looking for a bargain in terms of paying a pilot -- or flight attendants, for that matter -- a little less in exchange for maybe reducing the quality?

BRANSON: No. Quite the reverse.

BLITZER: You want to pay to make sure that...

BRANSON: No, I mean...

BLITZER: As you say, there's nothing more important than safety.

BRANSON: There's nothing worse than waking one day to get -- get a call to say that you've had an accident. And -- and it's something which I never want to have to experience.

BLITZER: All right. You've -- you've also pioneered this notion of space travel for regular folks. And you made a prediction a few years ago that it was going to happen sooner rather than later.

Where does that stand right now?

BRANSON: Well, it's very exciting. I mean Virgin Galactic is the first commercial space ship company ever. Our mother ship, which I think there's a picture of behind me -- which will take the space ship up to 60,000 feet and drop it off is complete and it's flying.

The space ship will start its test in December and will go -- and those tests will carry on over the next 18 months. And then we'll start taking people into space. And it's the start, I think, of a whole new space era.

BLITZER: So you expect -- how much is this going to cost somebody who wants to get -- go for a ride, let's say, in two or three or four years in space?

BRANSON: Well, initially...

BLITZER: Any idea?

BRANSON: Initially, it will be $200,000.

BLITZER: For how long of a ride will that be?

BRANSON: The whole experience is a three hour -- a three hour experience. So it's a suborbital space trip.

BLITZER: Is there a market for folks who can afford $200,000 for a three hour ride into space?

BRANSON: Yes. I mean we -- we have already got 300 people who've, you know, paid up their $200,000.

BLITZER: They paid in advance?

BRANSON: Yes. They're the initial pioneers. But in time, I think we'll be able to get the price down. New Mexico are building a beautiful space board. And -- and I think in -- in time, we'll go from suborbital to orbital flights and...

BLITZER: So these flights will take off from New Mexico, is that what you're saying?

BRANSON: They'll -- they'll take off from New Mexico.

BLITZER: And that will be the hub, if you will, for space travel on your new -- on your new airline?

BRANSON: Yes. That will be -- that will be the hub, I think, for space travel in -- in the future, period, because they're the only people who are building a space board in America. We may build another one in the Middle East and we may build another one in Austral-Asia (ph).

But that -- we'll only have about three space ports in the world.

BLITZER: It sounds very exciting and we'll look forward to that.

On a very, very different subject, Darfur. What's going on is awful, as we all know.

You recently did, what, a three day hunger strike?

BRANSON: I took over for Mia Farrow, who was beginning to get quite weak and ill from her hunger strike. And I did a three day hunger strike. And basically what we're trying to do is to say to President Bashir...

BLITZER: The president of Sudan...

BRANSON: ...of Sudan, yes, you've been indicted by the International Criminal Court, but it does not help your citizens to then kick out all the aide workers from Darfur and -- with the result of a million people will be suffering.

Let those aide workers back in again. And we're just trying to keep -- keep Darfur and keep the crisis there in -- in the news.

BLITZER: So for three days you just drank water, is that right?

BRANSON: I just drank water. I'm sure it was -- it was good for me. Mia Farrow did 12 days, which was -- which was very brave. And she's just asked a number of other people if they could continue it with three day -- three days each.

BLITZER: And Peter Gabriel took over for you, is that right?

BRANSON: And Peter Gabriel is in -- in the process of doing it at the moment.

BLITZER: How did you feel during those three days?

BRANSON: Well, you don't feel great when you don't eat for three days. I think somebody cruelly brought out the sausage rolls on the last day but -- and -- and left them in front of me.

But -- but if you're -- if you're just hungry, as a lot of people in Darfur are -- and going without food completely, then obviously, you're going to feel a hell of a lot worse.

BLITZER: Sir Richard Branson, thanks for coming to THE SITUATION ROOM.

BRANSON: Thanks for having us.

Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

BRANSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: An Olympic champion dives back into competition after a long suspension and Michael Phelps is speaking out about the photo that nearly drowned his career.

Plus, a child star living a shantytown despite his fame -- now his family suffers a devastating setback -- their home destroyed.


BLITZER: This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- more jobs going away.

Let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield.

What are we learning -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: Well, Wolf, taking a step toward some tough times, we understand that Nike now has decided that it will cut 1,750 jobs worldwide. That's 5 percent of its global workforce. And we understand that the world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, that translates to now 500 or so jobs. It's unclear exactly what departments the cuts will actually be taking place in.

Meantime, one day after visiting the West Bank and calling for an independent Palestinian state, Pope Benedict XVI met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu says that he urged the pope to publicly condemn anti-Israel comments made by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And, also, you just saw a video just a moment ago of a familiar child -- star of the Oscar winning film, "Slumdog Millionaire." Well, he is homeless after Mumbai city workers bulldozed the shantytown where he and his family live. Ten-year-old Azhar Ismail says he was asleep when a police officer woke him up and told him that he had to leave his family's home. The producers of "Slumdog" say a trust has been established to help the film's impoverished young stars.

And out of jail but still in Iran, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi returned to her apartment in Tehran today after recovering her U.S. and Iranian passports from Iranian authorities. Saberi spent four months in prison on a spy conviction. She was released and reunited with her parents on Monday, after an Iranian appeals court reduced her sentence to a two year suspended sentence.

And Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Michael Phelps is back in the pool and trying to put a scandal behind him. Phelps returned to competitive swimming today for the first time since the Beijing Games Olympic Games and said he has learned some valuable lessons.


MICHAEL PHELPS, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL SWIMMER: And I think the biggest thing is, is it's -- you know, you really always have to be aware of who your real friends are. And that's one thing I've -- I've been able to see firsthand -- you know, really see, you know, who is -- who's around you for who you are and not for what you've done. And, you know, it's -- you know, it just shows you, your guard always has to be up.


WHITFIELD: Phelps was suspended from swim competition for three months after a photograph of him holding a marijuana bong surfaced in February. Some pretty tough lessons learned there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Good. Let's hope everyone learns lessons from mistakes. That's the smart thing to do.

WHITFIELD: Right. That's the idea.


Marijuana is far more potent now than it was only a generation ago -- why researchers say it poses more of a danger to young users. We're behind the scenes with the scientists.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she was misled by the CIA about waterboarding.

As both sides rush to set the record straight who's got it right?

And an Arizona pastor is tasered at a border checkpoint -- we've got the shocking video for you.


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

Happening now, Chrysler tells hundreds of its dealerships to shut down.

What will it mean for the troubled automaker and for the U.S. economy?

What will it mean for you?

Request denied -- the former vice president, Dick Cheney, asked the CIA to declassify interrogation records, but the spy agency says no.

And after the three day plunge, stocks rally on Wall Street -- the Dow gaining 46 points, the NASDAQ jumping 25.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the CIA over odds right now about what she knew involving waterboarding.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

She -- she showed up, as we showed our reporters earlier. She was very passionate in insisting she had repeatedly been misled by the CIA.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And there's -- there's a lot of politics going on here.

First of all, if Nancy Pelosi or any other Democratic leader is shown to have known about the waterboarding or any other enhanced interrogation techniques, it certainly does water down any of the complaints about the Bush administration and what it did.

But on a purely political level, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a powerful speaker. She was key in the first 100 days for the Barack Obama agenda. Anything that undermines that power certainly is something that's going to hurt her and perhaps hurt the Obama agenda.

So that's why we see Nancy Pelosi pushing very hard to make this go away and Republicans pushing very hard to keep it going. And I suspect it's not going to go away.

So where does the story go from here?

CROWLEY: Well the story from here goes -- It's about whether or not it has legs. We heard John Boehner this morning, just give you a brief clip of him trying to keep this moving.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) MINORITY LEADER: I think the speaker's comments continue to raise more questions than provide answers. And I've dealt with our intelligence professionals for the last three and a half years on an almost daily basis and it's hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence area would ever mislead a member of Congress.


CROWLEY: Bottom line, if those sorts of questions still have resonance, the story keeps going.

BLITZER: This whole notion of a Truth Commission that Nancy Pelosi today said she would like to see a Truth Commission so all of this can come out once and for all. Is that happening?

CROWLEY: No. What's interesting is when I did the interview with Nancy Pelosi, I said to her ...

BLITZER: This is about the month ago.

CROWLEY: Yeah. It was at the 100-day mark. I said have you, are you going to get this Truth Commission. She said the president's made it very clear that he doesn't want one and neither does Senator Reid, the Democratic leader in the House.

BLITZER: In the Senate.

CROWLEY: I'm sorry, in the Senate. And it seemed like that was it. But today, she brought it up again. The problem is, she has two very powerful Democrats in Reid and President Obama, that really don't want this to happen. Interesting though that Congressman Boehner said today that he thinks it's a terrible idea, but maybe all the facts should come out on the table. That gives you a little indication on how Republicans feel they're doing on this issue.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks very much for that.

Let's talk about this and more, we'll bring in our Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Paul Begala and Republican strategist, the former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer. Guys, thanks to both of you for coming in. How big of a deal is this uproar, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Fundamentally, it's a diversion. The question is - and it's not a certainty whether Nancy Pelosi before she was speaker had knowledge of the alleged use of torture. Not whether she approved or condoned or conducted torture. I think it's kind of a small thing to tell you the truth. There's more information coming out that suggests perhaps Pelosi has the better of the argument. Senator Jay Rockefeller, a leading Democratic senator on the Intelligence Committee has to date said he wasn't briefed the same way people are saying he was. It doesn't look like we have all the facts right now, but I think that the speaker has the best of the argument when she says let's put it all out, let's have a truth commission. Then Candy points out the Republicans are a little hazy on that.

Why don't we put all the information out to the extent we can and not compromise national security and let the chips fall where they may politically?

BLITZER: Well, the president says he wants a look ahead. He doesn't want to look back, Ari. He's anxious to move on, but a lot of folks aren't.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH PRESS SECRETARY: That's Washington for you and I think that's the problem here, Wolf. The other part of Washington is when things were tough in 2001, 2002, 2003, Democrats were briefed, that's what the contemporaneous evidence shows and they were content to go along with the briefings. Whether or not she was told indeed that waterboarding took place or that was legal, if she objected, she should have objected on principle, made it known and try to do something about it. You know why she didn't? Because she was content the way the war was going.

Now the political winds have turned, she is trying to turn with them. And she has turned with them where she wants a truth commission, she's saying things shouldn't happen. This is what makes it so hard to fight a war in this country. People are with you when it's going well, as soon as it starts to go bad, they attack the CIA and they blame the CIA and say they're the ones doing the misleading.

BEGALA: The relevant Democrat, Jane Harman, it's been reported, she did raise objections. She was the leading Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, raised objections and the Bush administration, at least according to published accounts, did nothing in response to her concerns about this.

So it's kind of small beans. When Nancy Pelosi had the power to do something about it, she helped pass legislation that would have required that the CIA abide by the Army Field Manual which does not allow torture, does not allow waterboarding. President Bush vetoed that bill. So Nancy Pelosi did all she could to try to stop this and it was the president who was hell bent on committing waterboarding which I think most sensible people believe was torture.

BLITZER: I think the debate - go ahead, quickly, Ari.

FLEISCHER: I was going to say, I think Nancy Pelosi sat on her hands when it was politically convenient and she used her hands to point fingers when that became politically convenient. That's not leadership and that's particularly not what the CIA and the DoD, the Defense Department needs as our country is still in the middle of war.

BLITZER: Are you surprised, Ari, that Dick Cheney, the former vice president of the United States, who was very, I think by all accounts, secretive while he was in office, is now actually going forward and filing this freedom of information request to declassify some very sensitive information and the CIA turned him down today?

FLEISCHER: No, I'm not surprised. It helps him make his case so that's why he's asking for it. I think it tells you something, he knows what the results of those interrogation results. So no, Wolf, that's not a surprise. The fact that it was turned down, I don't know the reasons the CIA has for that. You have to assume they're valid, good reasons. And I think it's going to make it harder for him to write his book, frankly.

BLITZER: I think you're surprised, aren't you, maybe you're not, Paul?

BEGALA: I think it's wonderful. When on the rare occasions, when Al Gore, the former vice president, spoke out criticizing the Bush administration, he was pounded by the right, and some in the media, too, oh, this is so bad, it's a breach of protocol. Baloney. Dick Cheney doesn't surrender his First Amendment rights. He has a perfect right to speak out.

Now the fact that he's one of the most disliked public figures in America, now apparently the spokesman for the Republican Party, I thought we couldn't do better than Limbaugh, but I think Cheney may be even more detested than Mr. Limbaugh.

But this again goes to this point of getting everything out. Dick Cheney has a record of cherry picking intelligence and that's what he was doing here. I want this memo, but not that one and this but not that. And again, I defer to the CIA's judgment here but Nancy Pelosi is right, let's have a Truth Commission. Put everything out. I want to see Dick Cheney support Nancy Pelosi's Truth Commission.

BLITZER: You think that's a good idea, Ari?

FLEISCHER: Wolf, I think this has been a horrible, terrible distraction from winning wars. And it doesn't serve any better common good for the country. Waterboarding was done three times and it was stopped five years ago.

BEGALA: A hundred eighty three times.

FLEISCHER: President Obama says he's not going to do it. I don't know why anybody thinks that we serve the nation's defense purposes by trying to release photos, release memos. Should we start to release all the transcripts of National Security Council meetings that President Obama is now having? Should we start to release films of drones that fly over Afghanistan? The government is not well served, the country is not well-served when we want to look back with recrimination and vindication in the name of amorphous transparency.

BLITZER: Waterboarding was used against three terror suspects, the CIA says, but it was used hundreds of times against those three.

FLEISCHER: It was used against three people and hundreds of pours were made. Correct.

BLITZER: What do you anticipate will happen on Monday when the president of the United States receives the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

FLEISCHER: I think we're heading into some divisive times with our Israeli allies. I don't think frankly that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama are going to get along too well particular when it comes to policy.

I think President Obama's probably going to start to pressure Israel. And what Prime Minister Netanyahu wants more than anything is get the United States focused on the threat of Iran. I don't think that's something President Obama wants to focus on.

BLITZER: All right. Paul, what do you think's going to happen?

BEGALA: I think Prime Minister Netanyahu was kind of a difficult and tough negotiator the last time he was prime minister and I'm sure he will be again, but America's interests and Israel's are aligned. They are perhaps our most important ally in the world, certainly in the region, the only democracy in the Middle East. President Obama's a strong supporter of Israel. Yes, there will be friction, but this happens between friends all the time. It happened the last time Mr. Netanyahu was the prime minister. But I think you're looking at the very productive Israeli-American relationship.

BLITZER: We'll have extensive coverage on Monday of that meeting. A lot of anticipation building for the first get-together of the new prime minister of Israel and the new president of the United States. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A caution to young people. The chemical in marijuana that creates a high is now at an all-time high. Will kids heed the warning?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Telling them it's 10 percent, it's three times more potent than what their parents smoke, is not an argument they're likely to buy into or to even utilize in any constructive sort of way.


BLITZER: We go inside the federal government's only marijuana farm to find out why pot is so much stronger these days. Some say even much more dangerous.

And George W. Bush raising lots of money for his presidential library. We're now finding out just how much he has collected. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Former President George W. Bush has been hitting up donors so that scholars may one day hit the books in his presidential library. He is proving to be a very, very successful fundraisers. But those efforts are shrouded in some secrecy, at least for now. CNN's Ed Lavandera has the details from Dallas. Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the future site of President George W. Bush's presidential library on the SMU campus. The former president has kept a low profile since leaving office. But we're told behind the scenes he's deeply involved in fund raising.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): This is what the future side of the George W. Bush Presidential Center looks like today. Groundbreaking on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas is still a year and a half away, but the fund raising foundation is quietly being laid right now. A source familiar with the Bush library finances says since leaving office, President Bush has already raised more than $100 million. The library has already seen its share of controversy because of its policy institute.

BENJAMIN HUFBAUER, AUTHOR, "PRESIDENTIAL TEMPLES": It's going to be more idealistically charged. It's going to be a center that looks more at how to promote the Bush legacy directly.

LAVANDERA: President Bush insists it will be a place for healthy debate.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: A library, an institute would enhance education, be a place for interesting discussion. It'd be a place for people to be able to express their views and write and think.

I do remember a speech or two ...

LAVANDERA: Our source says President Bush has been deeply involved in the fund raising, making phone calls and hosting small lunches and dinners with potential donors. But all donors' names are being kept secret. The goal is to raise $300 million for the library, museum and institute.

WAYNE SLATER, "DALLAS MORNING NEWS": I have to think that George Bush could probably raise that much money within 200 yards of his house. That's a really nice neighborhood up there that he lives in.


LAVANDERA (on camera): Our source familiar with the fundraising effort says that no money has come from overseas sources or from corporations, that it's all been individual donors. Undoubtedly, those people are writing big checks. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera, thanks very much. Minorities in the majority? Not so fast, there are significant changes in the changing face of America. Let's go to CNN's Ted Rowlands. He's looking into the new data coming in from the Census Bureau. All right, Ted, what are you seeing?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, bottom line, Wolf, Asians and Latinos are still leading the way in terms of increasing numbers in the United States, but they have slowed in terms of growth over years past.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): Four year old twins Sidney and Albany Lansang are part of the changing face of America. According to the latest numbers from the Census Bureau, when it comes to children under five, 47 percent are minorities, defined as everyone but Caucasian. Good news for the twins' father, Mark, who says he wants his children growing up in diverse areas so they're not singled out.

MARK LANSANG, PARENT: You want to go to places where there will be a good mix of people so the kids can grow up in balance.

ROWLANDS: But the new census data also shows a slowdown in the rate that minority populations that are growing. Hispanics and Asians are still the fastest growing groups but analysts say because of the economy and changes in immigration policy growth for both groups has slowed. The previously estimated 2023 tipping point when minorities represent more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, now, may take another ten years. Nationally, four states are already there. Hawaii, with a 75 percent minority population, New Mexico with 58 percent, California is also at 58 and Texas with 53.

The District of Columbia has a 67 percent minority population. No other state has more than 43 percent.

The political ramifications of the changing population center mainly on Latinos. Professor Harry Pachon who runs the Tomas Rivera Institute at USC says that despite the slowdown in growth, Latinos will continue to gain political power in the coming years as more and more Latinos who were born in the U.S. turn 18.

DR. HARRY PACHON, TOMAS RIVERA POLICY INSTITUTE: Seven out of 10 Latinos are Democrat, but just a small segment that switches back and forth. The classic swing voter. And the Latino population has gotten so big, that those Latino swing voters can make a big difference in an election.


ROWLANDS (on camera): A couple of other interesting things, Wolf, that came out of this. African-American population, pretty much flat and the age disparity between Whites and Latinos, very different, 41 for the average white in America, 27 for Latinos. Of course the reason for the census is to reapportion U.S. House Representative seats. That will happen after the final numbers come in in 2010.

BLITZER: Political fallout from that will be very significant. Thanks very much, Ted. Ted Rowlands reporting.

He's a pastor, but police call him a combative motorist. You're going to see what happened when they zapped him with a taser.

And President Obama hears from consumers about complaints involving credit cards. Now he wants Congress to do something about it and to do it quickly. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: And Arizona pastor tasered at a border checkpoint after refusing to step out of his vehicle, had his camcorder rolling. The incident is now under investigation. The video posted on YouTube. Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. All right, what does the video show?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Arizona Department of Public Safety called Pastor Steven Anderson a combative motorist. But Anderson says he was just a citizen asking for an explanation of why he was being searched.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a police officer, I'm ordering you out of the car.

PASTOR STEVEN ANDERSON, TASERED: Will you answer my question, police officer? What are you placing me under arrest for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For failure to obey me right now.



TATTON: Anderson doesn't know how many times he was tased. The camera died soon after. But this surveillance video shows him dragged from the car and 11 stitches later, he was arrested for resisting a lawful order. An investigation by the Arizona Department of Public Safety is under way. In a statement they say, Anderson refused to cooperate, and they raise the question of why he posted a YouTube video rather than filing a complaint. Anderson says he started carrying a camcorder after previous stops and after this incident he says that he didn't trust a complaint would go anywhere, Wolf?

BLITZER: He's a pastor, too.

TATTON: Yeah, of a small, independent Baptist Church in the Phoenix area.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. Pretty disturbing stuff.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty, he's got THE CAFFERTY FILE, Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, should the alleged detainee abuse photos be released. The ongoing switch of positions a by the Obama White House on this.

Sean in California says, "President Obama is doing the right thing. By not releasing the photos he's putting the decision into the hands of the court. The court can then order the photos released and President Obama can be clear of having to take yet another hit from the likes of McConnell and Boehner."

Ray in Colorado writes, "As a security expert in the I.T. arena, we follow like gospel the fundamental idea that security through obscurity never works. Examples abound of people trying to protect the masses by hiding information and examples abound of why it almost always fails to meet that goal. The way to get problems solved is to publicize them, not hide them."

Deb in Arizona says, "As long as they also show the photos of the people who had to jump from the World Trade Center, of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and of the people who were on all the flights that crashed, then I don't have a problem with the release of the torture photos. I'm sure most people would say to you, these people weren't tortured enough."

Jay writes, "Yes, otherwise we'll die the death of a thousand cuts as the situation simply drags on. Exposing this to the light of day will allow us to put it behind us."

Wanda in Mississippi, "Lou Dobbs poll last night said 87 percent of the audience was against these photos being displayed. I have no problem with that but the notion that only a small group of people are to blame is simply not true. We know Cheney's not shooting his mouth off for fun. He's afraid of going to jail."

And Judy writes, "No, why are we always second guessing the president. Give him a break on this. And while I'm ranting, I wish we'd stop taking those ideologue positions of liberal and conservative views on everything. P.S., I'm a radical liberal Democrat myself, but I pledge to give that up right now."

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

BLITZER: You get a sense, Jack, of how your e-mail was running on this question?

CAFFERTY: Most of the people that I heard from tend to support the president's decision not to release them, and they support the opinion based on the advice he got apparently from these military commanders, that it would put increasing danger on our troops overseas if these things started to further inflame the Muslim World, so most people are siding with the president.

BLITZER: All right. Good -- good to know that, Jack. Thanks very much.

A potent pot, why researchers say marijuana has become far more dangerous for today's users. And hundreds of Chrysler dealerships will soon be out of business. What are the repercussions for their employees and the troubled carmaker? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Marijuana's far more potent now than it was a generation ago, and researchers say it poses much more of a danger to young users. Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, goes behind the scenes with the scientists. Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a Mississippi marijuana grow room, and it is all absolutely legal.


MESERVE (voice-over): In a vault, barrel upon barrel of high- grade marijuana. What would the street value of this be?


MESERVE: This facility at the University of Mississippi is the only one in the country licensed by the federal government to grow large quantities of marijuana for research.

ELSOHLY: These are the female flowering buds.

MESERVE: But that isn't all scientists do here. Marijuana samples from seizures all across the country, thousands of them, are sent here every year. The dope is put through a sieve to remove seeds and stems. It's weighed. Put in solution, and chemically analyzed. The result?

Today, the government is announcing that for the first time ever, the average level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, now exceeds 10 percent. The lab has found some samples higher than 30 percent. That means it takes less dope to get high. Experienced users may adjust their intake and smoke less, but inexperienced users may not.

ELSOHLY: They will get paranoid. They will be irritable and it's just the opposite of what they were looking for.

MESERVE: The government says high potency marijuana is sending more people into the emergency room and into drug treatment. But will kids listen?

DR. LAWRENCE BRAIN, CHILD PSYCHIATRIST: Telling them, you know, it's 10 percent, it's three times more potent than what their parents smoked, is not an argument that they're likely to buy into or to even utilize in any constructive sort of way.

MESERVE: In fact, researchers say, after years of decline, there's been a recent uptick in marijuana use.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MESERVE (on camera): The scientists here don't take a position on the legalization of marijuana, but the research they are doing will certainly have an impact on that debate. Wolf? Back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now -- a new shot through the heart of the U.S. economy, Chrysler tells many of its dealerships to close and to close quickly. This hour, the shock, the anger, and the jobs lost.

The house speaker declares the CIA misled her about alleged torture. Nancy Pelosi lashing out about the practice of waterboarding. What she knew, and when she knew it.

And President Obama wants to make sure consumers and credit cards are fully protected.

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