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House Speaker Under Fire; President Obama's Military Tribunals

Aired May 15, 2009 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: The debate over alleged torture during the Bush administration has turned into a firestorm over what Pelosi knew and when.

She is now responding to an apparent jab from the CIA director, her former colleague in Congress.

I want to go straight to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, tell us, what did Leon Panetta say and how is Nancy Pelosi responding to this? Lay this our for us, if you will.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Well, let's start with that first issue, which is, what did Leon Panetta say? Well, he wrote a memo that was for CIA employees, but it definitely took a clear shot at Speaker Pelosi for saying yesterday that the CIA lied to her.

Well, Panetta insisted that CIA officials did, in fact, tell her the truth. Let me read you part of his statement.

He said: "Let me be clear. It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values."

And, again, he was speaking to his employees here. He said: "My advice, indeed, my direction to you is straightforward. Ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission."

And I can tell you that we did just get a statement from the House speaker, as you mentioned, and she did respond to the CIA director. And I will read you that, Suzanne.

She said, "My criticism in the manner in which the Bush administration did not appropriately inform Congress is separate from my respect for those in the intelligence community who work to keep our country safe."

She went on to say: "What is important now is to be united in our commitment to ensuring the security of our country. That, and how Congress exercises its oversight and responsibilities, will continue to be my focus as we move forward."

Now, getting into a public spat, Suzanne, with the CIA is sometimes a dangerous thing. And she's very clearly here -- clearly now trying to turn down the volume, as Leon Panetta suggested, the volume she raised yesterday by accusing the CIA of lying to her and lying to Congress all the time -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Dana, Panetta, his message, though, was meant to turn down the volume, but obviously that doesn't seem to be happening on the Hill. You're getting a lot of back and forth here.

BASH: Absolutely. The volume is still cranked on Capitol Hill, Suzanne.

And the very different recollections from Republicans and Democrats in the very same briefings is mind-boggling.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): CNN has learned that in this secure Capitol location sit newly-delivered, highly-classified notes from Nancy Pelosi's September, 2002 CIA briefing. The speaker wants the notes declassified because she says they prove she was not told that harsh techniques like waterboarding were used.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The only mention of waterboarding at that meeting was that it was not being employed.

BASH: But the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee has now read the classified notes from that briefing and insists to CNN she's wrong.

"The record shows Speaker Pelosi was briefed that the techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah," Senator Kit Bond said in a statement. That appears to back up CIA records declassified last week which say on September 4, 2002, Pelosi and Republican Porter Goss were briefed on so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, or EITs, including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background authorities, and a description of the particular EITS that had been employed."

Zubaydah had been water-boarded 83 times a month earlier.

Amid the confusion and contradiction about what Congress was really told, what has emerged is a remarkably partisan divide among lawmakers who were briefed. In the Senate, Republican Richard Shelby and Democrat Bob Graham also attended a September, 2002 CIA briefing. They were together, but have very different accounts. Through a spokesman, Shelby says CIA officials gave them a full account of harsh techniques, and "... they also described the need for these techniques and the value of the information being obtained from terrorists during questioning."

But Graham insists they were told nothing about waterboarding or other harsh tactics.

BOB GRAHAM (D), FMR. SENATE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: The briefing was done at a relatively low level of classification and did not get into these more sensitive areas of torture, or the application of techniques to specific detainees.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: Now, there are apparently no verbatim transcripts of these 2002 classified briefings and some sources familiar with the notes that were taken say they're ambiguous.

So, Suzanne, even if they are declassified, it may not clear up these stark differences between what Democrats and Republicans recall being told about tactics like water-boarding -- Suzanne.

MESERVE: Dana, thank you very much, obviously, excellent reporting.

Let's talk about it with the best political team on television, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, and CNN political analyst Roland Martin.

I want to start off first, David, obviously taking a look at this exchange between our own Dana Bash and Speaker Pelosi, which really pushed this issue about what she knew and when. Let's just take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: In that press conference, we were all clearly trying to get at the broader question of whether -- whether you knew about water-boarding at all. And the -- the idea that we got from you was that you were never told that water-boarding was being used.

But now we know that, later, in February, you were told.

PELOSI: No.

BASH: It wasn't in that briefing, but you were told. So...

PELOSI: No. By the time we were told, we are finding out that it's been used before. You know, in other words, that was beyond the point.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: But why didn't you tell us at that original press conference...

PELOSI: But I told you what my briefing was. And our briefing was...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: ... press conference, that you had been told, just not at that particular briefing.

PELOSI: No.

BASH: You seemed very adamant that you didn't know that water- boarding was used.

PELOSI: No, that is right. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: David, how much of this is a problem now for the speaker now?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I cannot recall very easily a dispute like this between two heavyweights in Washington from the same party over something fairly fundamental.

And that is whether the CIA lied to the woman who was the minority leader at the time, is now speaker of the House. She's accused them of lying. Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA and a former House member and a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, is insisting that the CIA, that its own contemporaneous records show that the briefing did say that these harsh techniques had been employed, emphasis upon had been employed.

So, we have this. I think it's a he said/she said kind of situation that I don't see how they're going to resolve. There doesn't seem -- and she clearly, in the statement that Dana Bash just released, or talked about, she clearly wants to put this whole thing behind her as quickly as possible.

I don't -- A, I think this controversy will continue, but the bottom line here is, I don't know how the Democrats can conduct investigations of the Bush administration on interrogation and those issues. If they continue to push for investigations, I don't see how they cannot bring this into that process.

So, it may well be that, in trying to put this behind them, they're also going to start shutting down efforts to -- to investigate the Bush administration.

MALVEAUX: Candy, in your read on the Hill there, do you think that we're going to see, is it likely that we're going to see hearings, investigations? How is -- is the Obama administration going to be mired down in all of this, not being able to push for the agenda?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the greater danger politically for the Obama White House is that Nancy Pelosi is a point person for that agenda. In so far as she is damaged, it's hard to push that through and it's a distraction.

But I think that David is exactly right. The problem is, if they continue to push forward, and certainly Speaker Pelosi talks like that -- and there is a behind-closed-doors investigation going on -- the more they push forward and the more this goes on, the more they dilute the accusations that the Bush administration was torturing these prisoners, if, indeed, it has been show that Nancy Pelosi knew, but didn't say anything, not in private, not in a letter to the president.

So, I think they do dilute whatever it is they do moving forward.

(CROSSTALK) MALVEAUX: Roland, I want you to take a quick listen to this. This is from Newt Gingrich from ABC News Radio. I want you to respond on the other end.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, ABC RADIO)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowest of purposes. And she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.

And the fact is, she either she didn't do her job, or she did do her job, and she is now afraid to tell the truth. Speaker Pelosi is the big loser, because she either comes across as incompetent or dishonest. Those are the only two defenses she's got.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MARTIN: Roland, the big loser or the big winner, who is the winner, who is the losers in this scenario?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, considering how he was run out of Congress, I think he can probably speak from experience on this particular issue.

Here's the fundamental problem that she faces. And also the Obama administration, they have to accept some blame here. And that is, when they said, we're going to move forward and not look back, a few days later, they said, well, we might prosecute some Bush officials. Then they said, well, the door's going to be open.

I said then this was going to be a problem. Now all of a sudden the door's wide open. Now, if you're a Republican, you have the speaker of the House ensnared in this controversy. You're probably saying, go right ahead with your investigations. And the taunting is going to go on.

Not only that -- the people on the left, they staked their claim on this issue and also the war. And, so, Pelosi is in power, the president is in the White House because they appealed to the hard-core members of their own constituency on this very issue.

So, not only are they getting push from the right. Even their own supporters are saying, you have to go forward.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: What do you recommend they do?

MARTIN: Look, they -- bottom line is, they have to go forward now. They are going to have to come clean and say what did she know, when did she know it, as they can dance around it. They are going to have to go forward with the investigation. If they try to shut it down, the right, they have the absolutely possibility of hammering them left and right.

But even the left doesn't want them to shut it down. They are stuck now in the middle. They have to move it to its conclusion.

MALVEAUX: Candy, you're shaking your head there. Do you want to jump in?

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: I think that Capitol Hill has a way of burying things that are backfiring or not working.

I think that there is a way they can get out of this and let -- the Obama administration never wanted this particular investigation to go on, not in a truth commission that Nancy Pelosi has wanted or in any other way. Remember, they're behind closed doors right now. They know full well what's going on here. I think they will find a way to bury it.

MALVEAUX: And, David, finally here, I'm not going to -- we're not going to go through the whole quote here from Leon Panetta. We have seen it before. But obviously his statement was meant to really kind of lower the temperature, the volume. That has not happened.

This is a firestorm now on the Hill. What do they do actually to lower the temperature here? Do they just shut up and not say anything anymore?

GERGEN: No, I don't think that was Leon Panetta's intention. I think his intention was to defend his agency...

MARTIN: That's right.

GERGEN: ... and rally to -- and rally people in his agency, so they didn't just sort of become a whipping boy for Nancy Pelosi. He stood up to her.

And, now, I must say I agree with Candy. I think it's the Democrats are going to find it very -- they're going to want to shut this down. They don't want to continue this. I think they will gradually, you know, try to bury this. But I do think it handicaps them in going after the Bush administration. You cannot say we're going to go have to a great big investigation of everything that happened in the Bush administration and not deal with this issue.

I think Roland is right on that point. If you are going to investigate the Republicans, you have got to investigate the Democrats, too, here on this. So, I think it's in the Democrats' interests now to shut this down. I think Candy is ultimately going to be right on this.

But I think the price of that will be there is going to be a continuing cloud over Nancy Pelosi, from her point of view, unfortunately. She is a point person. And, secondly, I do think it really does diminish their efforts to try to put the Bush administration on trial.

MARTIN: But the left will not let her shut it down. They have got to contend with them. They have got to contend with them. (CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Sorry, I have got to shut this down, OK, I'm being told.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Thank you once again. Thanks, everybody.

Jack Cafferty joining us now this hour with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, what are you following?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's a surprise, a little one. More Americans say that they are thriving than are struggling for the first time since February 2008.

Gallup poll found, in April, 50 percent of Americans say they're thriving -- 47 percent say they're struggling. Ever since last spring, the opposite has been the case, more people struggling and that trend only got worse as the financial crisis got worse.

The percentage of Americans thriving hit a low of 37 percent last November. Gallup says the percentage of Americans who are thriving seems to increase in relation to those who say their standard of living is getting better. That makes sense. April was also the first month since last summer that the percentage of Americans who thought their standard of living was improving topped those who thought it was getting worse.

If people's attitudes about the economy and their personal financial situation continue to improve, these things could be a leading indicator that Americans are mentally bouncing back from the shock of a horrible recession.

And, if that happens, it could possibly lead to a turnaround in consumer spending, something business owners across the country are praying for and something that is absolutely vital in order for this economy to finally turn around.

So, here's the question: What does it mean if more Americans are thriving than struggling for the first time in more than a year? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.

Are you thriving or struggling, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Oh, I hope to continue to strive, Jack. That's my goal.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: All right.

MALVEAUX: You too, huh?

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. MALVEAUX: All right, thanks, Jack.

A reversal of fortune -- President Obama infuriates some liberal groups and is praised by some Republicans. The president is now for something that he was against during the Bush administration.

One person says Latinos are running out of patience. There is growing frustration that no Latino has ever been on the Supreme Court and growing pressure on President Obama to use his theme of change to change that.

And, in Afghanistan, some civilians are shot and injured. Are American contractors who might have been drinking to blame?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A new reversal today by President Obama. He now says that the best way to protect our country is to bring back a Bush administration policy that he once blasted.

He's reviving military commissions to try a small number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. But he says he is changing the rules to give terror suspects new legal protection.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

And, Ed, what is the president saying about this today?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, some of the president's supporters are furious, as you noted. They remember that, on Wednesday, he shifted on the release of those prison abuse photos. Then today he's basically reviving a Bush system that back in the campaign he said he was going to reject. And I think today he's finding that, as president, sometimes, it's tougher to be commander in chief than some of the rhetoric out there on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): The president found time to go in front of the cameras to pat a baseball team on the back.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congratulations to the world champion Philadelphia Phillies.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HENRY: But he did not face the cameras to explain a controversial move, restarting the Bush administration's military commissions to bring Guantanamo suspects to trial.

Instead, Mr. Obama released a written statement, a sharp contrast to his first week on the job, when he publicly signed executive orders to suspend the commissions, close down Guantanamo, and ban alleged torture.

OBAMA: We are not, as I said in the inauguration, going to continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals.

HENRY: Liberal groups like the ACLU got the impression Mr. Obama was going to turn the page on the Bush years. So they blasted the decision, as did a military attorney for one of the detainees.

MAJOR JON JACKSON, DETAINEE ATTORNEY: I'm shocked and disappointed. I think this is an opportunity that the administration, the new administration, has missed to show the world that we really do stand for the rule of law.

HENRY: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs rejected the criticism, noting the president's approach will give new rights to detainees, including, statements obtained through enhanced interrogation techniques will not be allowed at trial, use of hearsay will be limited, and the accused will have greater latitude in choosing counsel.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, first and foremost, the president of the United States is going to do what he believes is in the best security interests of the people of the United States.

HENRY: The president's former Republican rival, John McCain, praised him for finding a good balance: "Today's announcement is a step, but only a step, toward a comprehensive detainee policy that will deal with the detainees held at Guantanamo and elsewhere in a fashion that both accords with our values and protects our national security."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now, the fact that some top Republicans are supporting this only makes some Democrats more suspicious. But top White House aides insist the president is trying to find some common ground here on an issue where there's really no easy choice.

And they point out that, while he didn't face the cameras today, he's going to be giving a major speech next Thursday. He will -- he will fill in some of the details that people are still looking for and also explain his decision -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK, thank you, Ed.

Some Hispanics say that they have just about had it. They are frustrated that there's never been a Hispanic on the Supreme Court, and they are turning up the pressure on President Obama.

CNN's Kate Bolduan has more on that.

And obviously there is a lot of pressure on the president right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of pressure on the president right now, Suzanne.

We hear a lot about the desire for diversity on the high court. Well, the Hispanic community says it's long past time that diversity includes one of their own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: Si, se puede. Yes, we can.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): The Hispanic vote played a key role in Barack Obama's presidential victory, and Hispanics are looking for recognition of that support. Seeing a golden opportunity in the Supreme Court vacancy, they're not holding back.

ESTUARDO RODRIGUEZ, HISPANICS FOR A FAIR JUDICIARY: It's beyond symbolism. For us, it's sitting on that bench and hearing a case that may deal with voting rights or employment, labor concerns.

BOLDUAN: Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group, nearly one in six U.S. residents. And advocacy groups are now pressuring President Obama to name the first Latino or Latina justice.

CNN contributor and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette says their time is overdue.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: I have heard this debate for a long, long time on both sides, and Latinos are running out of patience.

BOLDUAN: Leading Hispanic candidates include Federal Appeals Court Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Kim Wardlaw; California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno; and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. All come with well respected judicial resumes, but not without controversy.

Sotomayor has faced stinging criticism from the left and right over perceived concerns about her temperament and intellect. She was even parodied on "The Late Show With David Letterman."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": (SPEAKING SPANISH).

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Wow.

BOLDUAN: But fighting stereotypes isn't the only hurdle facing an Hispanic nominee. Political timing is another.

THOMAS GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT LEGAL ANALYST: The only factor that's really essential for this nominee is that she be a woman. Beyond that, ethnic diversity, racial diversity, that the candidate would be Hispanic, is certainly a plus, but it's not going to be determinative.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Now, sources tell CNN the message during private meetings at the White House with liberal groups was a little bit of chill-outs. The White House seems to be trying to kind of calm the lobbying effort as the president's getting near and very close to his final decision.

MALVEAUX: Sure. Well, Kate, you bring the first -- you will be the first one to bring us the news, who gets it.

BOLDUAN: Sure.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thanks, Kate.

GM cuts ties with more than 1,000 dealers. The move is expected to impact tens of thousands of jobs for an already severely crippled car industry.

A boy's battle with cancer winds up in court. Can a judge force him to undergo chemotherapy, against his parents' wishes?

And a murder mystery in Mexico, four Americans killed in a border town -- the connections which U.S. authorities say may have cost them their lives.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: A Guantanamo Bay prisoner whose court case made it possible for other inmates to fight their own detention is now free and in France. The Justice Department thanked France for taking him in, saying such help is critical to efforts to close the Guantanamo facility.

Prosecutors questioned former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove today about why several U.S. attorneys were fired back in 2006. The Justice Department has said that some of those dismissals may have been politically motivated.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This is proving to be one of the worst weeks for people who sell cars in this country. General Motors today told more than 1,000 dealers it's ending their contracts and putting many of them out of business, this a day after Chrysler axed more than 700 dealerships.

Here's Poppy Harlow of CNN's CNNMoney.com -- Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY. COM CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Suzanne.

Well, as GM faces the very real possibility of bankruptcy, the company came out today and said it is cutting down its dealerships in a significant way. Right now, General Motors has about 6,000 dealerships across America. They are not going to renew their contracts with about 1,100 of those dealerships come October, 2010, when those contracts are up.

This is all part of General Motors' plan to cut its dealerships by 40 percent, its viability plan. It has told the Obama administration that it wants to cut down those 6,000 dealers to about 3,600. That means there will have to be additional dealership closings on top of the ones that we heard about today. That's represented right there in yellow, between 900 and 1,300 more dealership closings ahead.

The CEO of General Motors, Fritz Henderson coming out and saying today, listen, GM's viability plan calls for fewer stronger brands and fewer stronger dealerships. There's the dealership portion.

Let's look at the brands, because General Motors has said it is either going to close down or try to sell these four brands, these very well-known brands: Hummer, Saturn, Saab and Pontiac.

And the big question that a lot of Americans have right now is, what about my job? What does this mean for the future jobs at the dealers, at the factors, at the suppliers?

All of that coming out today to sum this up from the National Automobile Dealers of America, saying that the cuts that we heard about from Chrysler on the dealership side on Thursday and from General Motors today could result in an impact on about 140,000 American jobs.

Full coverage of this story, of course, on CNNMoney.com -- Suzanne, back to you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Poppy.

Right now a 13-year-old boy's life hangs in the balance. He's afflicted with a potentially deadly disease. His parents refuse a common medical treatment, so a court has decided then on medical treatment for the boy. It's a matter of life and death that no parent ever wants to face.

Well, here's CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, this is a classic example of a dispute between the rights of parents and the obligations of the courts to protect children.

(voice-over): If it were up to Daniel Hauser's parents, the cancer spreading through his body would not be treated with chemotherapy or radiation.

Thirteen-year-old Daniel did get one round of chemo, which doctors say was working well against his Hodgkin's lymphoma, but his parents said they wanted no more.

Colleen and Anthony Hauser want alternative treatments for their son -- treatments recommended by this organization, called the Nemenhah Band -- a self-described Native American group advocating what they call natural healing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KARE) COLLEEN HAUSER, MOTHER: We're a simple, honest family. We're not out to harm anybody. We never -- this is just our way of life and why people want to infringe on it, I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Friday, a Minnesota judge ordered Daniel Hauser to get care from an oncologist, saying that Daniel had been medically neglected. Oncologists typically have a 90 percent success race against Daniel's type of canner.

In a statement, an attorney for Daniel's parents said they disagreed with the ruling: "The Hausers believe that the injection of chemotherapy into Danny Hauser amounts to an assault upon his body and torture when it occurs over a long period of time."

The Hausers said they prefer to treat their son with a natural diet, sweat lodges and other alternative remedies.

But prosecutors in Minnesota argue that without chemo and radiation, Daniel would almost certainly die.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KARE)

JAMES OLSON, ATTORNEY: The compelling interest here is the protection and welfare of children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Medical ethicists say parents generally do have a legal right to make decisions for their children, but there's a limit.

DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA CENTER FOR BIOETHICS: Well, the presumption is that parents do have a right to control the medical care of their children, but they don't have that right -- or it can be, if you will, curtailed, if they are doing that really puts the life of their child at risk.

COHEN: The family's attorney said Daniel Hauser is abiding by the court order.

(on camera): The Hausers have four days to select an oncologist for their son -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Elizabeth.

President Obama is gearing up to give his graduation speech at Notre Dame.

But will the campus be packed with anti-abortion protesters or will the controversy ease up once the president's arrived -- we're talking to students.

In Afghanistan, a disturbing concern about security -- the alleged threat not coming from the Taliban, but from hired hands for the U.S. military. And a battle of the sexes on the racetrack -- is the Kentucky Derby winning horse scared to compete with a flashy filly?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: The furor is building ahead of what is shaping up to be President Obama's most controversial public appearance since taking office. Sunday, he's going to deliver the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, where his pro-choice abortion stance is prompting some students to boycott their own graduation ceremony.

CNN national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is there -- and, Susan, obviously, you know, we'll see how this unfolds on Sunday. I'll also be there covering this with Obama.

But give us a sense of the mood on campus today.

What is it like?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's fair to say that every senior here agrees on one thing -- they're thrilled to be graduating after four years of hard work. But that's where they part company.

The majority of the students here -- about 1,800 of them -- say they're excited that the president is coming, despite his views on when life begins. They say that doesn't amount to an endorsement -- that the University of Notre Dame here is endorsing his policies.

But others, who believe they're in the minority, say that this is a matter -- it's a black and white issue, that this is very important to them -- Catholic values as they see them -- and they think it's simply wrong for the university to be inviting him here and to give him an honorary law degree.

You'll hear from two students.

First, a protester.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELE SAGALA, STUDENT BOYCOTTING CEREMONY: The thing that consoles me in all this is that I'm taking a stand for those who are often forgotten.

MICHAEL ANGULO, STUDENT ATTENDING CEREMONY: Don't think less of the University of Notre Dame. Don't think that our mission is being corrupted by a president who might have thoughts on this issue that's different than Catholic thought. Be willing to -- to engage in that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now, no shows plan to attend a prayer vigil. Some protesters will be in the audience, but they say they're going to put on top of their mortar little white crosses and cutouts of baby feet as a sign of protest. MALVEAUX: OK, Susan.

Thank you very much.

We'll see you there on Sunday.

Thanks, Susan.

The Notre Dame controversy plays out this Sunday. Watch the president's address live on CNN. That is Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

Well, a new military contractor controversy -- this time in Afghanistan. New details of the investigation into the shooting of two Afghan civilians and the role alcohol may have played.

Plus, four young Americans found dead in a pool of blood in Mexico -- why officials now suspect a connection to drugs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: New questions about security in Afghanistan and the behavior of contractors hired by the U.S. military. An investigation into a shooting incident is now underway.

Here's our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence -- Chris, what do we know about this?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, these private contractors have been ordered to stay in Afghanistan while the military investigates what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Guns, ammo and alcohol -- it's all part of a U.S. military investigation into why private security contractors shot two Afghan civilians.

The night of May 5th, the contractors got into an accident in Kabul. The military says while they were stopped with their vehicle, another car drove up and the contractors felt threatened. They opened fire on the car and wounded two Afghans inside.

Now, a source to the contracting industry tells CNN the contractors were off-duty and allegedly drinking before the crash.

CNN has learned the contractors worked for a company called Paravant, owned by the same man that founded Blackwater, a security company banned by the Iraqi government. It's the latest in a string of incidents with contractors, which has made some senators criticize their use in war.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: It's like the wild wild West the way these contractors have been operating during our conflict in Iraq.

LAWRENCE: If the U.S. sends more troops to Afghanistan, it's under increasing pressure to improve relations with the Afghan people. The Army recently contracted armed guards to protect some of its forward bases in Southern Afghanistan.

But in December, Senator Carl Levin warned against it, saying their use in Iraq led to widespread abuses. He asked the Pentagon to, "Direct the Army to suspend its efforts to enter the proposed contract until it could be reviewed."

The Pentagon said no.

BROWNING ROCKWELL, PRESIDENT, HORIZON TRADEWINDS: There is a security problem in Kabul. But I think we also, you know, sometimes we overreact.

LAWRENCE: Brownie Rockwell's been a contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says there are good people working in dangerous conditions and others who aren't properly trained.

ROCKWELL: There are people working out there that probably shouldn't be working in that business.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: So the military is investigating. The company is also investigating, although they have already terminated the contracts of these four.

Now, we're told all four of them are former U.S. military veterans. They've been in Afghanistan about six months supporting a training mission -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Chris.

They were beaten, strangled and then dumped in a van -- four young Americans, their blood spilled in the streets of Mexico. Now their discarded bodies is inflaming a huge mystery.

Let's go straight to our Brian Todd -- Brian, what do we know about this?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we, of course, know that millions of Americans go to Tijuana every year, the majority of them tourists. Now, authorities there are trying to reassure potential visitors because of the murders of four young Americans -- two of them from nearby Chula Vista, California -- murders that have provoked more questions at this point than answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): An official at the attorney general's office in Tijuana tells CNN authorities there are investigating possible drug trafficking connections in the killings of four Americans. Their bodies were found inside a van on this street in Tijuana last Saturday.

The attorney general's office tells us the four were beaten, strangled with traces of tape on their wrists and ankles. A CNN affiliate reports a pool of blood spilled from the van.

The victims, identified as 19-year-old Brianna Hernandez and 21- year-old Carmen Ramos of Chula Vista, California; 23-year-old Oscar Garcia of Nestor, California; and 21-year-old Luis Games.

One reason authorities suspect a drug connection...

ROMMEL MORENO MANJARREZ, ATTORNEY GENERAL, BAJA, CALIFORNIA, MEXICO: We are right for the conclusion that one of the tests was positive in one of those murders.

TODD: An official in Tijuana tells us traces of cocaine were found in Brianna Hernandez's body. But the official also says they're investigating whether the killings could be connected to the possible relationship of one of the victims with someone serving jail time in the U.S. on drug charges. That official did not say which victim that was.

Asked about reports of a threatening note found with the bodies, a police official says that's also part of the investigation.

Tijuana is one of the most violent cities in this border region savaged by drug violence. But authorities say criminal activity has dropped in recent months, after a spike last year and they're trying to reassure potential visitors.

MORENO MANJARREZ: It's safe. But sometimes it's difficult because if you are related with drugs, it's unsafe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, authorities tell us they are still actively pursuing this case. But nearly one week after the bodies were discovered, one official tells us, they still have no suspects -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brian.

Now to Lou Dobbs for "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou, good to see you.

What are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: It's good to see you, Suzanne.

Thank you.

At the top of the hour, we'll have complete coverage of the president's decision to change his position on another major national security issue. President Obama deciding to revive Bush era military tribunals for terrorist trials at Guantanamo Bay.

And President Obama's CIA director, Leon Panetta, hammering House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's account on what she knew and when about waterboarding and the integrity of the CIA just one day after the speaker accused the CIA of lying. We'll have the report.

And chaos and outrage in California, as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger struggles to tackle the state's massive budget deficits -- again. The governor may even sell some of California's most famous landmarks, including one that it doesn't even own. We'll have that special report.

And four of the country's best political analysts join us here to discuss all of the dominating issues of this week and more.

Please join us for all of that at the top of the hour -- Suzanne, back to you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Lou.

We look forward to seeing all of that.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he may have to sell a notorious prison to make ends meet. One late night comedian says he knows a top politician interested in buying it.

Plus, a gender war hits one of horse racing's premier events -- an unusual story of boy meets girl.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty joining us once again -- Jack, what are people telling you?

CAFFERTY: Well, some things that I couldn't repeat on this program.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: However, here's some stuff I can.

MALVEAUX: OK.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What does it mean if more Americans are thriving than struggling for the first time in more than a year?

A Gallup poll indicates things might be looking up a little.

W. writes: "Everybody I know, though, is struggling. As I see it, there's no end in sight. The government is looking for ways to keep taxing us. Just yesterday, the Senate shot down a bill to cap credit card rates. So basically, the middle class is still being sucked dry."

B. writes: "I don't know about anybody else, but here we're struggling. Unless that $250 check I got was supposed to put me in the thriving class. If that's the case, then I guess I'm thriving. I have a feeling more people will be saying struggling when the car companies are done closing all these dealerships."

Karl in San Francisco: "It means we're getting past the Bush depression and the Obama plan is working. This is as much a mental attitude adjustment as it is a financial one. We're now full of hope and the reality of it is coming true. It can only get better."

Dick in Mississippi writes: "It means the Obama spin machine has made silk purses out of sow's ears. The liberals won, but they had to destroy the economy to do it. MoveOn.org, George Soros, the unions and ACORN will now put their massive propaganda machinery to work, telling us we've never had it so good. If you need the map, look at Hugo Chavez."

Art writes: "Well, it's just a number and today we're searching for numbers that make us happy, it's a number that may make us want to spend money again. We need confidence now, nothing more."

Mark in Oklahoma City: "It means the post office is delivering the stimulus checks on time."

And Roman in Pennsylvania writes: "I'm not exactly thriving. I'd say more like struggling. I want to know who is being asked these questions, because they're not talking to me."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

Have a nice weekend, Suzanne, and drop in again sometime.

MALVEAUX: I will, Jack.

Thank you.

You, too.

Tomorrow is the running of the Preakness Stakes -- the second leg of horse race's Triple Crown. But this year, the contest is all shaping up to be a battle of the sexes.

CNN's Richard Roth has the story.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, I'm standing in the real corridor of power in the Washington/Baltimore area -- Stakes Row at the Preakness. It's Girl Power. She is the female flash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROTH (voice-over): She is the female flash.

UNIDENTIFIED RACE ANNOUNCER: And now Rachel Alexandra is opening up. Five legs on the field! Six! Oh, a tour de force by the super filly.

ROTH: But he won the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 odds.

UNIDENTIFIED RACE ANNOUNCER: A brilliant ride by Calvin Borel. Mine That Bird is going clear in the Derby! Mine That Bird wins the Derby!

ROTH: And now, it's boy meets girl in the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel at America's famed Triple Crown series of horse racing.

JOE TESSITORE, ESPN CORRESPONDENT: So you have two great hooks that the American public has always loved -- the upset and the battle of the sexes.

ROTH: That battle started a week before the race. The owner of the male, Mine That Bird, hatched a scheme.

MIKE WATCHMAKER, DAILY RACING FORM: The owners of Mine That Bird and Pioneer of the Nile were talking about entering a bunch of hopelessly overmatched bums in the race just to try and exclude her from the race.

ROTH: Howls of protest from the racing industry, sensing a publicity bonanza at the Preakness, prompted the owner of Mine That Bird to come down to Earth.

BENNIE WOOLLEY, TRAINER, "MINE THAT BIRD": I'm glad they made a decision not to do that, I think, for the good of the sport.

ROTH: The filly flip-flop just fuels female fan fury.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People try to gain advantage where they can. I think they're scared of her. So I say leave them in the dust.

ROTH: To add more hay to the plot...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rachel Alexandra, Calvin Borel is moving up farther!

ROTH: The jockey of the Derby winner, Calvin Borel, is switching saddles to ride the filly in the Preakness.

WATCHMAKER: It is historic. It's never happened before.

ROTH: Big Brown even showed up at the track, but last year's winner has retired, though Big Drama is a contender. Miss Preakness is going for the bird.

HEATHER RADFORD, MISS PREAKNESS: I'm, you know, kind of the underdog supporter. And I'd really like Mine That Bird to go on to win the Preakness.

ROTH (on camera): What makes her so speak?

SCOTT BLASI, ASSISTANT TRAINER, RACHEL ALEXANDRA: She's faster than they are, I think.

ROTH (voice-over): The unbeaten filly is the favorite over the colt.

(on camera): So it's speed over sex for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, absolutely! Yes. Right.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROTH: No filly has won the Preakness in over 80 years. The racing world hopes fate is kinder to this filly. Last year, Eight Bells broke down in the Kentucky Derby -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Richard.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney made for some late night joke material. A sample in our Friday Laughs.

And Pope Benedict's solemn moment in Jerusalem -- just one of our Hot Shots.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Here's a look at today's Hot Shots -- pictures likely to be in your hometown newspaper.

In Jerusalem, Pope Benedict kneels to kiss the place believed to be where the body of Jesus was washed after it was taken down from the cross.

In India, a police officer aims his sling to throw stones at protesters. In Pakistan, children displaced from fighting wait for food.

And in Germany, Knut the polar bear plays with an old soccer ball.

That's this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

News out of Washington this week is giving comedians a lot of material to work with And there's a common theme -- people in custody.

Listen to Jay Leno ribbing Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO," COURTESY NBC)

JAY LENO, HOST: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now says the CIA and President Bush misled her on waterboarding. Yes.

Apparently, she was misled by the Bush administration, huh?

So she spent eight years telling everybody how dumb President Bush is and the minute they're in trouble, he fooled me.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: I had no idea. He tricked me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: From interrogations to detainee photos, Jimmy Fallon couldn't resist going after the former vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON," COURTESY NBC)

JIMMY FALLON, HOST: Barack Obama said that his administration will not release the photographs of detainee abuse, not because they don't want to, just because they haven't gotten the password to Dick Cheney's camera phone.

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL: They're working on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Craig Ferguson piled on.

Here's how he managed to work Dick Cheney into a prison joke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE LATE SHOW," COURTESY CBS)

CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST: To raise money for California, the governor, Schwarzenegger, said he's willing to sell some of the state's aging landmarks. Like San Quentin Prison is up for sale. I know.

(LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: So far, the only bid has come from Dick Cheney, who...

(LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: ...apparently he wants to use it as a vacation home in the summer.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Be sure to tune into Saturday's SITUATION ROOM. Wolf's featured guests, Senator Dianne Feinstein, entrepreneur Richard Branson and former British prime minister Tony Blair. That airs tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

President Obama changing his position on another major national security issue, angering some liberals and left-wing groups for a second time this week. President Obama today deciding to bring back Bush-era military tribunals for trials of suspects terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

Also, President Obama's CIA director, Leon Panetta, criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's account of what she knew and when about waterboarding. Panetta declaring the CIA does not mislead Congress. That's one day after the speaker accused the CIA of lying.