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Swine Flu Unstoppable?; Inside Holocaust Museum Crime Scene; From Prison to Island Paradise; No Clear Leader for Republicans; Letterman Reacts to Palin Complaint

Aired June 11, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: murder charges for a white supremacist. After the Holocaust Museum shooting, we're learning the security guard who was killed actually tried to help his killer. We will tell you what happened.

The first flu pandemic of the 21st century -- the World Health Organization raises the H1N1 alert to its highest level, and the director is now warning the world that swine flu is not stoppable.

And you might say David Letterman's joke makes the top 10 list of bombs. What he said about Sarah Palin's daughter, even Letterman says was in poor taste. And Palin calls the whole situation her burden.

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

But, first, let's get the latest on what's going on at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum right here in Washington, D.C. For the first time, we got an exclusive look inside the crime scene.

Let's go to CNN's Barbara Starr. Barbara, you were over there today. What do you see?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have just come back from being inside the Holocaust Museum. The staff there took us in because they had a very specific reason. They wanted the world to see what happened at the Holocaust Museum and hear about the heroism of Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns.

What you're looking at, Wolf, is the actual front door, where you see the bullet holes in the glass. As we were there, that door, that glass is being replaced. What they want people to understand is, Officer Johns saw an elderly man walk up. He moved to open the door to help him come in, obviously not seeing any weapon, and that is when the assailant shot him.

Officer Johns, in fact, walked several feet when he was shot to an area inside the museum where immediate emergency medical assistance was rendered to him. This is a case of a man really stepping in with extraordinary heroism, stopping this assailant, of course saving countless lives, before a disaster really struck.

BLITZER: It's a tragedy, tragedy.

Now, take a look at this picture over here. This is the hat, I believe, the hat of this security guard. Is that right?

STARR: We believe it is. It is in a place of reverence today at the front door. As you know, the museum is closed today in honor of his memory. No one is allowed in.

But the security team is there in full force, manning the doors. They are determined to be there. They are also very determined to be at the officer's memorial.

BLITZER: Were there Holocaust survivors at the museum during this incident yesterday?

STARR: Wolf, this is what is so extraordinary. As you know, there are about two dozen Holocaust survivors who work at the museum, telling their stories of surviving the Nazi regime in Germany.

And, in fact, one of them, an elderly woman from Lithuania named Nessie (ph), who is a Holocaust survivor, was there. She was manning a desk. The shots rang out. And Nessie, an 80-year-old woman, had to leap under the desk for safety.

We had anticipated being able to talk to Nessie today, but we are told she is so upset, as many of the survivors are, Wolf. These are very elderly people. They just weren't ready to come back. The staff really hopes they all come back tomorrow. They want the story to be told.

But these elderly people never expected, 65 years later, to face such violence once again.

BLITZER: Wow. A lot of these Holocaust survivors, they are very, very old, in their 80s and 90s right now. And there are fewer and fewer of them every year. and we know a lot of them come to the museum to volunteer and tell their personal stories. What a heartbreaking story that is.

Barbara, I know you're going to have a lot more on this coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go over to the Holocaust Museum right now. CNN's Kate Bolduan is just outside the museum.

There was a news conference today, Kate, and authorities, law enforcement authorities, spelled out what they have.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They sure did. They sure did, Wolf.

Law enforcement are now working to create a detailed timeline of Von Brunn's whereabouts in the 36 hours leading up to the shooting. But, already, we're learning startling new details of the tragic incident.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Police have started to piece together what happened during Wednesday's shooting, and have officially charged self-proclaimed white supremacist James Von Brunn with murder. CATHY LANIER, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE CHIEF: As he approached the 14th Street entrance, as was said earlier, Special Police Officer Johns was kind enough to open the door to allow him to enter. As he entered, he raised the rifle, opened fire, striking Special Police Officer Johns.

BOLDUAN: Other security guards returned fire, critically wounding Von Brunn.

According to the affidavit, 11 bullet casings were recovered at the scene. The entire incident was captured on museum security cameras. The affidavit also reveals new details of the accused shooter's frame of mind.

When searching Von Brunn's car, investigators found a notebook with handwritten notations saying: "You want my weapons, this is how you will get them. The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do."

Federal prosecutors are now exploring hate crimes charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will do everything possible, not only to stop Mr. Von Brunn, but the other Mr. Von Brunns that are around here in this nation today.

BOLDUAN: Authorities remained convinced Von Brunn acted alone. FBI officials say they have been aware of his hate speech, but were not actively investigating Von Brunn, despite a 1983 conviction for attempted kidnapping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No matter how offensive to some, we are keenly aware that expressing views is not a crime, and the protections afforded under the Constitution cannot be compromised.


BOLDUAN: Now, a federal charge of murder, which Von Brunn faces, carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, with no possibility of parole.

Von Brunn right now remains in critical condition from a gunshot wound to the face -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Gunshot wounds, you said, to the face. Are they giving more information about the extent of his injuries?

BOLDUAN: The extent of his injuries right now, Wolf, is -- all that we were hearing from the press conference earlier today is that he remains in critical condition. And that is the same status. He has not been upgraded since the -- since we were first notified of the situation yesterday afternoon.

What we do hear is that he remains at George Washington University Hospital. We do know, Wolf, he is 88 years old, an elderly man. So, right now, he remains in critical condition, and, of course, we're looking for updates on that status. BLITZER: And you're hearing what Barbara's hearing, that the museum will open to the public tomorrow?

BOLDUAN: As far as we know, the plans are to open.

You know, I would want to -- I do want to check again with the museum in terms of that, Wolf, because the -- the calls to close it today, to keep it closed today, that came late in the day after the -- after the shooting Wednesday. But, as far as we know, and what we heard at the press conference is that they plan to open it again. And I -- and we will see what -- we will see if that happens.

BLITZER: All right, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We hope it does.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Kate's going to be over there at the museum. We will get back to her when there's more information coming in.

The officer, Stephen Tyrone Johns, was shot in the left upper-chest area. Might a protective vest have saved his life? That issue is now being called into question. The Washington district director of Security and Police and Fire Professionals of America, the union, spoke to Kyra Phillips today.

He says there were negotiations with the guards' employer, Wackenhut Security, about vests for officers. Kyra asked if the company was open to that idea.


ASSANE FAYE, SECURITY POLICE AND FIRE PROFESSIONALS OF AMERICA: Yes, they're open-minded. They already took serious consideration about the issue. But, at the conclusion of the negotiations, we did not have that approved.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now, OK, the conclusion of the negotiations, it wasn't approved. So -- so, was it -- was that the -- the end of the discussion, then?

FAYE: It was the end of the discussion, yes.


FAYE: But they could, at any point in time, come back and supply these vests, if they -- if they -- if they decided to.


BLITZER: The company says in a statement -- and let me read it to you -- that all of their guards at the museum were in their prescribed uniforms, arms and equipment, as per contractual specifications.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Some are calling it the Cairo effect. They're referring to indications that President Obama's speech last week has already resonated in the Muslim world.

In the speech, the president made clear that countries who don't back extremists are more likely to win the favor of the West and avoid isolation. The first test came last weekend during Lebanon's elections, stunning upset. An American-backed coalition defeated Hezbollah.

Most analysts had predicted the Hezbollah-led coalition would prevail, but "The New York Times" reports that, while there are many domestic reasons why the pro-West coalition won in Lebanon, many also point to Mr. Obama's campaign of outreach to the Muslim world.

According to "The Times" here, "For the first time in a long time, being aligned with the United States did not lead to defeat in the Middle East" -- unquote.

Analysts highlight steps the new administration's already taken to ease tensions with Muslims. For example, they're proposing talks with Iran and Syria, rather than confrontation. What a novel idea. It makes it harder for Hezbollah and other extremists to demonize the U.S.

The next test comes tomorrow, when Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is up for reelection against a moderate challenger. Although Ahmadinejad is unpopular at home for a lot of reasons, including their economy, some think that Obama's speech could help lead to his defeat.

The last time moderates had a real chance of winning in Iran was in 2002, right after former President Bush included Iran in the axis of evil. And we all know how that turned out.

Anyway, here's the question: Do you think President Obama's speech to the Muslim world from Cairo might help defeat Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in tomorrow's election?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack, very good question, indeed. Thanks very much.

Up ahead: President Obama takes his campaign for health care reform on the road. He warns, changes to the nation's health care system can't wait any longer.

And from imprisonment to island paradise -- some men once called enemy combatants are now in a Caribbean nation very close to the United States.

And David Letterman admits his joke about Sarah Palin's daughter was in poor taste. The governor herself calls it -- and I'm quoting now -- "perverted."


BLITZER: President Obama took his push to reform the nation's health care system on the road today.

His bottom line to a Wisconsin town hall audience: It's now or never for health care reform.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is traveling with the president -- Dan.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with some 46 million uninsured Americans and a health care system that the president believes is in critical condition, the White House has started a big push on the road. Aides say the administration is trying to convey a sense of urgency, while giving the public a chance to help shape the health care debate.

(voice-over): Vowing to fix what is broken and build on what works, President Obama said inaction is not an acceptable option in the health care debate.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The status quo is unsustainable. I'm not doing this because I don't have enough to do.


OBAMA: We need health care reform because it's central to our economic future. It's central to our long-term prosperity as a nation.

LOTHIAN: The president took his message to a town hall meeting in Green Bay, a city that health care researchers have given high marks for controlling medical spending, while maintaining quality care.

But, even here, a 35-year-old mother of two struggling with breast cancer says her family is drowning in medical bills.

LAURA KLITZKA, TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: We have thousands of dollars that we owe to medical clinics and hospitals. We have to sacrifice a lot as a family in order to pay the monthly bills that we have.

LOTHIAN: Finding a bipartisan solution on Capitol Hill won't be easy. The president is pushing a public health insurance option that he says will keep costs down.

But not everyone is buying it.

PAULETTE GUERIN, TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: My concern is that we will end up in a situation like we have with Medicare, where Medicare is basically a subsidy of private insurance companies.

LOTHIAN: And more doubts on the motorcade route -- protesters holding signs. One read, "No Socialism," a charge the president dismissed.

OBAMA: Nobody is talking about doing that.

LOTHIAN: One early proposal gaining bipartisan traction is a privately operated health insurance co-op, run and paid for by its members, with some federal money up front.

At the town hall, Mr. Obama said, he's all ears.

OBAMA: I'm very open-minded. I'm happy to steal people's ideas.

LOTHIAN (on camera): Continuing the health care road show, on Monday, the president heads to Chicago. There, he will address the American Medical Association. It is a group that objects to a government option.

An aide says the president looks forward to having a good dialogue with the AMA, and coming up with the best comprehensive plan -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Dan.

Dan Lothian is traveling with the president.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

You watched that...


BLITZER: ... town hall meeting. The president opened with a statement. Then he answered folks' questions.

What do you -- what stood out?

BORGER: Well, what really stood out to me, Wolf, was his discussion of this public insurance system, which is really at the heart of the partisan divide on Capitol Hill. He reiterated -- reiterated his support for it, but he didn't tell us whether he would require people who don't have insurance to buy into it.

That was a -- a source of some controversy during the campaign. He was against those mandates. Now he may be for them.

BLITZER: Because there's -- on one side on Capitol Hill, they want greater competition among the private insurance companies, sure...


BLITZER: ... whether, you know, Blue Cross & Blue Shield, or UnitedHealthcare or -- or whatever. And they only want private insurance companies.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: On the other side, you have the single-payer, which is basically a nationalized insurance company -- country, if you will. He's trying to get some sort of middle ground there.

BORGER: He is. And there's also a compromise that's being floated on Capitol Hill that -- that Dan just talked about, which is somewhere in the middle, these nonprofit cooperatives that would essentially be run by the states that you could buy into that may get some seed money from the federal government.

It's -- it's -- it's what moderate Democrats and some Republicans are talking about now as an alternative to this public insurance, all- government-run program.

BLITZER: All-government-run, but a lot of conservatives, they're very nervous if there's any...

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... any public insurance companies competing with the private companies out there; they will drive them out of business; you can't compete with Uncle Sam.

BORGER: Right. And -- and the folks who support these cooperatives say, this would inject competition into the marketplace; this would be -- this would be good for the marketplace.

BLITZER: We will leave it on that note.


BLITZER: But there's a lot more to talk about.

There was -- there was one light moment over there at the town hall meeting in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I want to play it to you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is John Corpus (ph).

I am fortunate enough to be here with my 10-year-old daughter, who is missing her last day of school for this. I hope she doesn't get in trouble.

OBAMA: Oh, no.



OBAMA: Did -- do you need me to write a note?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will take you up on that, actually, Mr. President.



OBAMA: All right. Go -- go ahead. I will -- I will start writing it now.

What's her name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Corpus (ph).

OBAMA: No, her.



Well, considering I have some people here from work that are very interested in...


OBAMA: No, no, I'm serious. What's your daughter's name?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her name is Kennedy.

OBAMA: Kennedy. All right. That's a cool name.


BLITZER: Leave it to the commander in chief writing notes to keep the kid out of school.

What do you think, Gloria?



BLITZER: That was a nice moment.

BORGER: It was a very nice moment. I think the guy was a little nervous, don't you think?

BLITZER: I think he was a little nervous, but his daughter is going to get a handwritten note from the president. He writes with his left hand. He has excellent, by the way, penmanship, if you have ever seen him write something.

BORGER: It's a good excuse for...


BORGER: ... missing school.

BLITZER: I'm sure the teacher will look at that note and say, maybe not.

BORGER: Yes. Well, or maybe.



BLITZER: ... the president of the United States wrote a note. That's pretty cool.


BLITZER: All right. Don't go away. We're going to get back to you.

Searching for clues in the Air France crash -- evidence emerging about what might have happened during the ill-fated -- ill-fated flight. And the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cancels Coca- Cola Zero, says the soft drink is dangerous.



BLITZER: Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, talking about race in America -- he explains how something helped an African-American becoming the first president of the United States -- the first African-American president of the United States. And you are going to hear directly from the former president in his own words.

An island paradise isn't just home to friendly locals and beautiful settings. It's now home to some men once called enemy combatants. And it's very close to the United States.



Happening now: our exclusive look inside the Holocaust Memorial Museum only one day after it was the scene of a deadly attack, apparently fueled by bigotry.

Iran holds its highly anticipated presidential election tomorrow. Will the country's female voters determine the outcome? Christiane Amanpour is on the scene for us.

And California in a sea of red ink -- the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, says he's prepared to make some painful and unpopular budget cuts.

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

BLITZER: With the search under way off the coast of Brazil for more bodies and the flight data recorders, the voice recorder from Air France Flight 447, evidence is now emerging to support the theory that the jet may have broken up in flight. "The New York Times" reports, the Brazilian air force has information showing bodies were recovered from locations more than 50 miles apart. Much of the focus remains on the plane's airspeed indicator. Air France received replacement speed sensors for its Airbus 330 jets three days before the crash.

Let's talk about this with CNN's Richard Quest. He's been investigating. He's joining us from London.

It seems, at least, if you -- if you see where these bodies are spread over this wide area, this plane probably broke up at 38,000 or 39,000 feet. But what are you hearing, Richard?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, this is when it all starts to get a little gruesome, Wolf, as they start to look at the minutia of the bodies, and they start to actually see the state of the bodies, right down to things like, was there water in the lungs, were they mutilated, were they -- did they have any clothes on, all the sort of things that forensic scientists will basically tell you, this is how they died and this is what happened.

Now, they can judge from the fact that there's a large distance between where the bodies have been found that, probably, the plane did break up in the sky. If you add into the fact that, also, the tail, the rudder, the big fin that was found, the major piece of it, but still nothing else, no other sizable pieces have been found, the totality so far is still telling them it broke up at altitude.

Of course, it isn't telling them why.

BLITZER: Because the -- there's been a lot of focus on these speed sensors, if you will.


BLITZER: Was the plane going too fast? Was the plane going too slow? Did the pilots actually know, accurately, how fast the plane was going in this kind of turbulent situation?

QUEST: There have been developments on that today that I need to bring to your attention, Air France's chief basically speaking, saying that he doesn't believe that the sensors were the cause of the accident. I'm paraphrasing what he actually said.

But the gist of it is, whatever role they played, it doesn't seem like, as far as he was concerned, that they were the cause, if you like, of the crash.

One other thing that seems to be happening tonight, it's now getting more detailed. Air France has sequenced the various messages that came from the plane. And we now are getting more information about when that crucial discrepancy of speed was reported. Again, what was the effect of that.

Did it happen before? Did it happen after? Was it the cause, or was it the result? Unfortunately, Wolf, the most depressing perhaps news to tell you about tonight on the developments, Air France also, some perhaps saying they don't perhaps believe that the flight data recorders will ever be recovered from the bottom of the ocean.

BLITZER: They only have, what, about 15 or so days left before those batteries die out.


BLITZER: They're searching, and they're hoping they can hear the pings, so they could get some sense where they are.

QUEST: Indeed. And to help in that search, there's a French nuclear sub that's also there. And the U.S. has sent various assets, as they're called. They will drag sonar behind them and they will aim to pick up the pings that might be being sent out.

But remember, they don't even know if the locator beacons are still attached to the boxes, let alone what shape the boxes are in, and the area is vast. You're talking something like the size of Britain or Romania. It is a very sizable area to be covered.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. And if they don't find those two so-called black boxes, we might never know what happened.

QUEST: Now, that's an interesting development, because a lot of speculation, particularly in the blogosphere, particularly from those who know about it. What is the chance of finding out what happened if they don't get the boxes?

The reality is, because of those messages, one plus one plus one. But will they ever be able to get it to the right total? That's the big unknown. You've got to put it down, though -- the end shot of this might actually be basically saying best-case scenario, best-case guess.

BLITZER: Richard Quest is in London watching the story for us.

Richard, thanks very much.

In another story we're following right now, the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is a long way from the island nation of Palau, but Gitmo is much closer to an island near the United States, and that's where some men, once considered very dangerous, have gone.

Our Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty is standing by. She's over at the State Department -- Jill.


You know, today, the State Department spokesman said that diplomacy isn't always pretty to watch in action, and he's right, because by solving one problem in where to send some of the Uighurs, the Obama administration may have created another problem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DOUGHERTY (voice-over): They've been held at Guantanamo for almost eight years. Now four Chinese Muslim Uighurs are in Bermuda, a British territory, just a 2.5 hour flight from U.S. shores.

Twenty-two Uighurs were arrested in Afghanistan. Some admitted to being part of a separatist group the U.S. says is linked to al Qaeda. But they were cleared of being enemy combatants.

The U.S. asked dozens of countries to take them in. Albania took five.

The U.S. ruled out sending them to China, worried they might be tortured. And northern Virginia, where there's a Uighur community.

Critics like Newt Gingrich called them "... trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001. They have no place in American communities."

But putting them in Bermuda is causing a rift with Washington's closest ally, Britain. The U.K. is responsible for Bermuda's defense and foreign policy, but London was consulted just moments before the ink on the deal was dry. Now it's scrambling to conduct a security assessment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We understand that there are some concerns about some of the details of the resettlement, and we're confident that we can work these things through with the government of the U.K..

DOUGHERTY: The remaining 13 Uighurs could end up in another island paradise, 8,000 miles away, Palau, setting for a season of the CBS show "Survivor." Officials from this former U.S. territory, which still relies on the U.S. for security and aid, say details are being finalized with Washington.


DOUGHERTY: And what if the Uighurs try to get into the United States? Well, administration officials say that with watch lists and passenger screening systems, the U.S. can prevent that from happening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jill. Thank you.

David Letterman versus Sarah Palin. The Alaska governor takes on the popular late-night TV host over a joke he made about her daughter, a joke the governor now calls perverted.

And former president Bill Clinton speaking out on the issue of race. He says serious issues remain despite the election of the first African-American president.

And what role will women play in tomorrow's presidential election in Iran? Christiane Amanpour is on the scene for us. We'll go there.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Certainly a lot of faces out there, but who the ahead as the Republican Party is trying to recover from several political losses? Many people are wondering who will lead them to victory.

Let's bring in our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider, who is watching the story for us.

The question is, who is the leader of the Republican Party right now, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Good question. But no good answer.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Quick -- who's the leader of the Republican Party? Don't know? You are correct, or at least you're in the majority.

Most Americans can't name anyone who speaks for the Republican Party. Among those who would give an answer, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney are at the top of the list, followed by Newt Gingrich and John McCain, all older, conservative white men. Not exactly the new America.

The party does have an official chairman.

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: I'm here and they're not.

SCHNEIDER: But only two percent of Republicans see Michael Steele as their spokesman.

The Democratic Party's still riding high, 53 percent favorable. The Republican Party? Almost 20 points lower. The lowest opinion of the Republican Party in a Gallup poll since 1998, when President Clinton was impeached. And get this -- a third of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of their own party.

Here's one now.

COLIN POWELL, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: But what we have to do is debate and define who we are and what we are, and not just listen to dictates that come down from the right wing of the party.

SCHNEIDER: Asked what the Republican Party should do to reverse its fortunes, most people say change its position to make it more appealing to moderates. Thirty-seven percent say no, do a better job of selling the party's conservative views without changing them.

How do Republicans feel? Just the opposite.

RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, if I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I would go with Rush Limbaugh.

SCHNEIDER: What about the one-third of Republicans who are unhappy with their party? The same. They want the party to stay conservative. They just want a new face.


SCHNEIDER: In 2001, six months after George W. Bush took office, the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll asked who speaks for the Democratic Party. Fifty-one percent said they didn't know, another 10 percent said nobody. A political consultant from Chicago told "USA Today," "It's the nature of being the party out of power." And that was David axelrod.

He's now a senior adviser to President Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And was one of his chief strategists during the campaign, so he knows a lot about politics, as does Bill Schneider.

Thank you, Bill, very much.

We're following another political story involving a popular comedian versus a popular governor. David Letterman said something about Sarah Palin's daughter that got him into a lot of trouble with a lot of people.

Let's go to CNN's National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin. She's out in Los Angeles working the story for us.

It's causing a lot of buzz out there and all over the country, Jessica.


These days, you know, David Letterman is looking to make some headlines. He's in a fierce race for ratings at his hour. But you've got to believe these are not exactly the kind of headlines he wants. He's in some political hot water with Sarah Palin.


YELLIN (voice-over): This is the David Letterman joke that started the firestorm.

DAVID LETTERMAN, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game. During the 7th inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.


YELLIN: Governor Sarah Palin and her husband, who attended a New York Yankees game this weekend as part of a visit to New York, immediately blasted the late-night talk show host. The government called his comments "disgusting," saying "... acceptance of inappropriate sexual comments about an underage girl, who could be anyone's daughter, contributes to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of minors by older men..."

On Wednesday night, the talk show host acknowledged he went too far. LETTERMAN: Were the jokes in questionable taste? Of course they were.


LETTERMAN: Do I regret having told them? Well, I think probably I do.

YELLIN: The governor's husband, Todd Palin, also ripped into Letterman, saying, "... jokes about raping my 14 year old are despicable." But the comedian insists he wasn't joking about underage Willow, who accompanied her parents on their trip to Yankee Stadium. Instead, Letterman says the joke was about the Palin's oldest daughter, Bristol, who had a baby out of wedlock last year.

LETTERMAN: I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl. I mean, look at my record. It has never happened. I don't think it's funny.

YELLIN: In a radio interview with conservative host John Ziegler, Palin also sarcastically went after Letterman for another joke he made about her own shopping trip to Bloomingdales to update her "slutty look."

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: That's pretty pathetic. Good ole David Letterman.


YELLIN: And Wolf, the Letterman show has invited the Palins to come on the show. A spokesman for the governor's office says the Palins will not try to boost his ratings. They are declining that offer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

All right. Thanks very much, Jessica.

Jessica's out in L.A.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings are set to begin in only a few weeks. Coming up, the tapes that show the judge's personal side. We have the videotapes.

Plus, voters in Iran head to the polls tomorrow in that country's presidential election. Our Christiane Amanpour is standing by. She'll join us with a preview.


BLITZER: We're getting right now a more personal side of the Supreme Court justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Let's talk about it in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, the Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri and the Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Alex Castellanos.

We've put together some of these clips, speeches, comments she's made over the years that were submitted by the White House to the Judiciary Committee. "The New York Times" got a hold of some of this video. Let's listen to some of these excerpts.


JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I don't have the ability to avoid.

I have found it difficult to maintain a relationship while I've pursued my career.

Since I have difficulty finding merit and what merit alone means -- and in any context, whether it's judicial or otherwise, I accept that different experiences in and of itself bring merit to the system.

I think it brings to the system more of a sense of fairness when these litigants see people like myself on the bench.

I do think it's critical that we promote diversity.


BLITZER: Interesting stuff.

Alex, what do you think?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that seeing a more human side of someone like that and certainly someone I think, frankly, who's very introspective, gives you more perspective on it and makes it a little harder to oppose them.

You know, one of the things that's happening here now is that President Obama has embarked upon such radical changes in spending and the size of government, that I think a lot of Americans and Republicans are concerned that Judge Sotomayor not being part of that radical experiment with America. And so that's why they want to quiz her so greatly. I think Republicans are looking for more information like this to find out who is this person and how would they conduct themselves for life on the bench?

BLITZER: But when all the dust settles, they're going to have an opportunity to see her for hours and hours and hours of Q&A before the Judiciary Committee. The American public, as well as those senators, they'll have a pretty good understanding who she is.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: They will. They probably won't get to see her express anything like what we saw when President Obama talked about wanting somebody who is empathetic. I think that's, you know, what she was -- that's what she was demonstrating there. And we might not see that in the hearings, so it's interesting.

BLITZER: Although there will be a lot of questions... PALMIERI: A lot of questions.

BLITZER: ... that will ask about empathy, what role that should play on these judicial decisions.

CASTELLANOS: And I think you can count on one Republican senator, if not more, asking her, "If you were in my shoes and someone appeared before you and said they would be a better judge and make better decisions because they were white and male, would you vote for them?"

BLITZER: I want to move on and read to you what Eric Cantor -- he's the whip, the number two Republican in the House of Representatives, a Republican congressman from Virginia -- told ABC about the 2010 elections for the House of Representatives. All 435 districts are up for grabs.

"I really believe we've got a shot at taking back this House because you see what's gone on here with the unfettered ability of this administration and Nancy Pelosi to run this Congress. The American people see that this agenda is way far out of the mainstream. They want a check and a balance on this power, and I think at the end of the day that's what rules come November 2010."

Is he on to something?

PALMIERI: The president's agenda is -- absolutely is the mainstream. It's just not -- I mean, I think it's bad politics but it's also just not true what he's saying. It's certainly true that in midterms usually the party in power usually loses seats. Clinton lost 54 seats.

BLITZER: And he also lost the majority in the House and the Senate.

PALMIERI: Right. But it's different than '93.

First of all, Obama's at 60 percent right now approval rating. Your own poll said that today. I looked. Clinton was at 37 percent in June of '93 just to compare.

And the other thing I think is interesting is that Chris Van Hollen, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, they are very methodical and thoughtful about protecting their seats and making sure that their candidates are ready to defend themselves. They're really aggressive about that.

BLITZER: Is Eric Cantor engaged in wishful thinking, or is he right?

CASTELLANOS: I think he's on to something, Wolf, and obviously a Republican would disagree. But on the mares of the case, you know, Clinton was personally unpopular, but there was no Clinton agenda. Barack Obama is the opposite. He is personally popular, 60 percent approval. But his agenda...

PALMIERI: His agenda is also popular.

CASTELLANOS: No. Actually, if you look at the numbers today, for example, less than half the American people think he's doing a good job on the deficit or on spending.

A lot of Americans think that Washington is on fire with spending thanks to the Democrats, and so they don't want to send anybody up here with more kerosene. They want to send a fireman with some water. This is going to be a...


BLITZER: You know, Jennifer. You were there in the Clinton White House in '94.


BLITZER: Clinton was elected in '92. He beat the first George H.W. Bush, the first Bush president. He came in '93 really hard on health care reform, Hillary Care, as it was called. There were gun issues that a lot of moderate Democrats couldn't get reelected...


BLITZER: ... on because they were forced to support.

The economic, the budget proposals he rammed through without any Republican support.


BLITZER: And what did it result in? A disaster in '94.

PALMIERI: A disaster, which is why Rahm Emanuel learned lessons from that.


BLITZER: Right. So what Alex is saying is that that could happen this time.

PALMIERI: Sure. That is -- you do -- it is a danger, and when you are in power, usually you lose seats. And they have to protect against that.

I think it's very different than '93. President Obama is very popular. President Obama's agenda, his health care agenda, his economic agenda is popular. And I think the White House is being smarter politically about how they're going about dealing with the Congress.

BLITZER: They've learned lessons, she says, from the past.

CASTELLANOS: It may be the case. But usually you could expect Republicans to pick up about 20 seats. I think this will be over 30.

And again, the only -- Barack Obama will not be on the ballot. The only way you can send him a message, say slow down, Mr. President, you're going a little too fast, is to vote for the other party. I think this could be... BLITZER: I already hear the commercials coming up.

All right, guys. Thanks very much.

The last Democratic president explains what may have helped the current one win. Bill Clinton talking about what President Obama may have benefited from.

And there was rage and hate, but were there any clear warning signs that foretold the attack on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum? Wait until you hear what we've learned by digging into the suspect's past.

And in the search for clues to that Air France plane crash, we have a tour of the company that makes those unique location devices.


BLITZER: Former president Bill Clinton was back in the spotlight today. He was at Duke University to honor the life of the late preeminent African-American scholar and historian John Hope Franklin. He also offered some thoughts about what helped President Obama become the nation's first African-American president.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He patiently dealt with the fact that once former speaker Newt Gingrich and Ward Connerly attacked the commission on race because I had not appointed anybody who was against affirmative action to it, therefore everything he said about everything would be by definition illicit since they had determined that was the only important issue in the entire world. At the very moment that America had moved from being a biracial to a multiracial country and we had a zillion things to try to come to grips with, John Hope Franklin soldiered on being either misrepresented in the press or utterly ignored.

But he did what he always did. He did the job at hand. And he did a beautiful job.

And that's the second thing I want to say. They really were good. They touched millions of people.

They involved people in an understanding that we had moved from a biracial country to a multiracial, multireligious, multicultural country, a whole different country. I would argue that actually empowered and permitted the election of the first African-American president. But we hadn't finished our old business either.

And he found a way to write the report that said finish our unfinished business and deal with the new color line issues of America. Move. Keep moving toward the more perfect union.

And I want all of you to know that on the last day I was in office, I sent the last message I sent to Congress, and it was a plea to deal with the issues in John Hope Franklin's report that we have still not resolved -- the racial discrimination in law enforcement, in incarceration, in imprisonment, in education, in health care, in health research, every single issue. That was the last message. That was his lasting legacy to you.


BLITZER: Passion by the former president.

Let's go back to Jack. He has "The Cafferty File."

I don't know if you studied or read his books, John Hope Franklin. He was a really great historian.

CAFFERTY: No, I can't say as I have, Wolf.

The question this hour: Can President Obama's speech to the Muslim world help defeat Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in tomorrow's elections in Iran?

J.W. in Atlanta, "I believe this Mahmoud dude's goose is smoked already and Obama's speech only spins it a little. The Iranians seem to be plugged in a bit better than what this creep represents. And with the population of Iran both young and somewhat aware, I think Iran's on the cusp of coming to its collective senses."

Henri writes, "The speech may help. After all, it was a rehashing of ideas that Arabs and Muslims love so much. They do not seem to want much substance. That may explain why the more Muslim a society is, the more it stagnates. No new ideas enter the Muslim world."

"What will defeat Iran's crazy president is the realization by Iranians that they're getting poorer and poorer every year this crazy man is in charge. President Obama's speech will do little."

Ben in Iowa writes, "It can't hurt, but we in the U.S. and the media have to be careful. Islamic countries resent any notion the U.S. has interfered in their domestic politics, especially in Iran in light of the history of the Shah. If Ahmadinejad is unseated, we can breathe easier but must still deal with the true power in Iran, the ayatollahs."

Mohammed writes, "As an Iranian student, when I cast my vote tomorrow I certainly will have Obama's speech in mind about the possibility of having better relations between the two countries. However, I think the most prominent reason for many Iranians to be against Ahmadinejad is his mismanagement of the economy. Just like in the U.S., it will be all about the economy."

Don in Florida writes, "It can't hurt. Look what happened in the recent elections in Lebanon. You can't hope to change attitudes unless you talk with people, try to find some common ground. I think President Obama has shown great courage in reaching out to nations that have not been friendly to us in recent decades."

And Melissa offers this: "It's a start. Nothing more. The rest is up to the Iranian public."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog,, and look for it there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.