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Ominous Crackdown in Iran; Twitter, Facebook Tell Iran Story; Hard-Line Clerics to Review Vote

Aired June 16, 2009 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A real show of defiance in Tehran today -- thousands of pro- reform demonstrators were back on the streets despite the arrest of some of their leaders. At the same time, a state-run rally drew thousands in support of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declaring the -- declared the winner of Iran's disputed election.

Sharp restrictions on all foreign journalists are limiting coverage of what's going on, especially these marches.

The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for Iranians to unite behind the Islamic ruling system today but there may be ominous new similarities to the protests and crackdowns in China almost exactly two decades ago.

We asked CNN's Brian Todd to take a closer look into that -- Brian, it's sort of ominous, what's going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And a lot of people using that very word, Wolf.

When you look at the confrontations in the streets and now the crackdown on international media, some say there is a clear pattern here and it lines up eerily with Tiananmen Square.


TODD (voice-over): A government seemingly intent on diffusing anger in the streets -- first confronting protesters, now banning international media from covering rallies and arresting three reformist politicians.

One observer sees some similarities between Tehran's Azadi Square and Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

SALAMEH NEMATT, INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, DAILYBEAST.COM: These regimes don't like transparency and they don't like the media unless it is serving their own propaganda purposes. So whether it's China or Iran or anywhere else in -- in the world, it's the same principle.

TODD: June 1st, 1989 -- three days before a massive crackdown by Red Army troops, the Chinese government cuts off live American newscasts in Beijing and bans journalists from videotaping demonstrations. An Obama administration official tells CNN it would be alarming if the government's response in Iran goes much further, but he quickly adds, we're not there. And he echoes the caution of his boss.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not productive given the history of U.S./Iranian relations to be seen as meddling -- the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections.

TODD: An Iranian official we spoke with says he won't enter into comparisons with Tiananmen Square. He says international reporters were banned for being what he calls unfair and misleading in their coverage and says we shouldn't connect the media restrictions to speculation about a tighter crackdown.

One analyst sees significant differences between Tiananmen and Tehran.

PROF. RICHARD BULLIET, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Remember that the Chinese government was a deeply entrenched dictatorship with a more or less secret, you know, leadership that dealt only with itself, determined to hold onto power. The Iranian central government is far less unified.


TODD: Professor Richard Bulliet says even within the senior Iranian leadership, there are moderate clerics, as well as hard- liners. He says even the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is the subject of criticism and possible removal from office by senior clerics.

He predicts the government will try to diffuse things with this limited recount that's going on now and will try to ride this whole thing out without a tougher crackdown, hoping these demonstrators, Wolf, will simply tire of all this and go away.

BLITZER: Now, the previous Iranian regime -- that's a while back...

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: ...they had their own version of a Tiananmen Square.

TODD: That's right. In the Shah's final months, September 1978, there were huge demonstrations in what they call Jalai Square (ph) in Tehran. The military came in and used deadly force. At least dozens were killed.

Some analysts say this current regime is very cognizant of all that and will tread much more carefully here.

BLITZER: We'll see, if we can...

TODD: Yes, we will.

BLITZER: ...although they've totally restricted... TODD: We may not see. Right.

BLITZER: ...our ability to see what's going on.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Iranian authorities have banned Western journalists from covering political rallies and they've shut down Web sites and newspapers. U.S. officials say social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are becoming the main source of information about what's actually going on.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has been looking closely at all of this.

It's amazing what's coming out.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: In the last 48 hours or so, information about the protests being spread online, reports coming back from these protests on Twitter.

But that information isn't getting out there right at this moment because Twitter is down for a scheduled maintenance.

This is something that was talked about a lot yesterday. As all the posts were spreading on Twitter, people recognized that there was a scheduled time that Twitter was going to be down and started posting on Twitter -- please don't cut off this lifeline right now. Even senior officials in the State Department say that the State Department asked Twitter not to go down for the scheduled maintenance at this critical time. And that's what Twitter said, we'll keep it up, we'll keep it going.

But they have said that this is a critical maintenance they need to do. So currently, right now, and for the next 50 minutes or so, we have a little break in the updates from what we're getting from Iran.

But as Twitter has said, this is something that must happen and they did postpone it for as long as they can.

BLITZER: Let's hope it comes back in Iran, with all the volume that...

TATTON: Right.

BLITZER: ...that it's been showing...

TATTON: Just one hour.

BLITZER: ...these past few days.

TATTON: They're just saying it's just going to be for one hour.

BLITZER: Let's hope. All right. Thanks very much.

Iran's disputed election results are now in the hands of a hard- line panel of powerful clerics.

CNN's Ivan Watson has been looking closely into the role of what's called the Guardian Council -- Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the top government institution in Iran in charge of elections has said it is willing to do a partial recount of Friday's contentious presidential vote.


WATSON (voice-over): Street protests and riots have forced Iran's supreme leader to make a startling U-turn. Forty-eight hours after he welcomed the results of Friday's presidential election, calling it a divine assessment, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iran's Guardian Council to examine allegations of cheating.

So what is the Guardian Council?

It's one of the most powerful institutions in Iran's byzantine system of government -- a group of 12 clerics and legal experts charged with overseeing elections and approving new laws. Council members all also happen to be either directly appointed by the supreme leader or by his deputies, says Iran expert, Karim Sadjadpour.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Historically, the Guardian Council is supposed to have been an objective political entity in Iran. The problem is, is that in the last decade or so, under the reign of Ayatollah Khamenei, they've become much more an arm for president -- for Supreme Leader Khamenei to assert his power.

WATSON: Over the past two decades, the Council has disqualified thousands of candidates from competing in presidential and parliamentary elections. In 2004, more than 80 reformist lawmakers staged a three week protest in Iran's parliament against a Council decision to disqualify more than 2,000 candidates from running in the 2004 parliamentary elections.

In the end, more than 120 lawmakers resigned in protest.


WATSON: And, Wolf, because the Guardian Council is so closely allied with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, many Iran experts predict that they're not expecting to see much come out of this partial recount at all. If anything, they argue that this is a strategy to buy time and to try to demoralize the opposition that's been out in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ivan.

Thank you. So who really runs Iran right now?

The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had served two terms as president, when he became Iran's supreme leader in 1989. He was chosen by the Assembly of Experts -- that's what they're called -- to succeed the late Islamic revolutionary, the icon, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Under Iran's constitution, the supreme leader may override the government and the parliament and even has the power to dismiss a sitting president. The Revolutionary Guard answers to him.

A mild-mannered hard-liner, one of Khamenei's rulings as supreme leader was a ban on music lessons, even though he had once played a musical instrument himself.

Let's go back to Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Do you have any idea why they don't want somebody to take music lessons?


CAFFERTY: I mean what could be the possible harm in that?

BLITZER: I don't get it, unless maybe women aren't allowed to get music lessons but men are. I don't know.

CAFFERTY: It's very strange. I -- President Obama walking a fine line when it comes to Iran and the controversy over their election. After several days of a cautious response from the White House, the president came out yesterday and said he was deeply troubled by the violence he was seeing on TV and that free speech and the democratic process need to be respected.

Nonetheless, he said he wants to respect Iran's sovereignty and that it's up to the Iranian people to decide who their leaders are. Mr. Obama said he's not trying to dictate Iran's internal politics.

Critics are calling on our president to be stronger in his support of the Iranian protesters. House Republican whip Eric Cantor says the administration's silence in the face of Iran's brutal suppression of democratic rights represents a step backward for homegrown democracy in the Middle East. That's a quote.

Senator John McCain called the election in Iran corrupt and he says President Obama should speak out, that this is a fraud election.

Also, other foreign leaders more forceful in their condemnation.

But experts acknowledge that President Obama is in a no-win situation. Strong criticism could backfire. A muted response gives an impress of weakness.

Also, while the president's message of change matches up almost perfectly with that of the Iranian protesters -- a young and tech friendly bunch, much like his own campaign -- the president doesn't want the U.S. to become the story in the Iranian elections.

Adding to the pressure on Washington, the move today by Iran to severely restrict journalists' access to the protest rallies. That has raised speculation the government plans a violent crackdown on the order of what happened in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago.

So here's the question -- how should Washington proceed when it comes to Iran's election controversy?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

A tough question.

BLITZER: A tough question. A great question. No easy answers, to be sure.


BLITZER: But I'm sure a lot of people are thinking about it.

CAFFERTY: I'm sure.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.


BLITZER: Just ahead, a new video posted online from Iran.

Plus, President Obama sending a direct warning to North Korea, calling its missile program a grave threat and vowing to break the country's belligerent pattern of behavior.

But how?

Also, new developments in the very public feud between Sarah Palin and David Letterman. He's now apologizing for the joke she calls perverted.

But will the Alaska governor accept?

Plus, strong words from former President Jimmy Carter about Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My opinion is that he raised many new obstacles to peace that had not existed under previous prime ministers.


BLITZER: Also, what does Jimmy Carter see that says -- that he says almost moved him to tears?

We're going to talk about all of that and a lot more with James Carville and Kevin Madden. They're standing by live. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The pictures are very, very dramatic -- what's happening on the streets of Tehran and elsewhere in Iran right now.

We want to alert you -- some of the images you're about to see are very graphic, perhaps not suitable for children. Just a warning right now.

Abbi Tatton has been going through what's coming in over the Internet. It's not pretty at all.

TATTON: Not at all, Wolf. A lot of the reports we've seen coming in online have been based in Tehran.

The video that we've got now is -- is from Isfahan. We're talking about south of Tehran here. It's a place where we've seen reports on Twitter about an attack on students.

We've also now got this video that's come in on YouTube, saying that the attack took place yesterday. More than that, we know very little. But as you can see, it's a disturbing scene -- young people bleeding, possibly attacked.

This is the kind of thing that's being passed around by people through social networking sites -- sites that have also been blocked and are very difficult to get on right now.

As you can see, it's disturbing video. We've got people bleeding, people recovering from what looks like an attack. This is information and video that we're getting -- apparently happening yesterday -- that we've got on YouTube.

I'm also going to show you one more video that we got from today -- a very different scene. This is a far more peaceful scene. This is Tehran. This is also a video that's coming in from YouTube today.

We've seen posts on Twitter of people describing this protest as a silent protest -- people just walking en masse, arms in the air, not chanting, not looking for trouble. This is something that was described as a peaceful -- as a silent protest. People holding up the signs we've seen in protests worldwide, saying, "Where's My Vote?"

BLITZER: And if you see them wearing those green scarves, those are scarves...

TATTON: They're campaign colors, yes, of Mousavi.

BLITZER: Of Mousavi. That's right. So that's just a symbol of what's going on.

Continue going through these images, these pictures. We're going to bring more of them to our viewers here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's another crisis that's unfolding right now -- a major crisis involving North Korea and its nuclear threat -- the subject of an urgent huddle over at the White House today between President Obama and his South Korean counterpart. It follows a United Nations' call for an international crackdown.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

He's looking at the story.

Some more tough talk from the president toward North Korea, that regime -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Tough talk from the president -- President Obama saying that North Korea's nuclear and missiles programs really pose a grave threat, not only to the region, but also all around the world. And the president making it very clear that this kind of defiance won't be tolerated.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Meeting the press in the Rose Garden, President Obama and South Korean President Lee sent a clear warning to the North -- drawing a line in the sand.

OBAMA: There has been a pattern in the past where North Korea behaves in a belligerent fashion and if it waits long enough is then rewarded, with foodstuffs and fuel and concessionary loans. We are going to break that pattern.

LOTHIAN: The U.N. Security Council recently imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea -- squeezing its financial lifeline by clamping down on the shipment of arms -- part of an effort to force the communist regime to halt its development of nuclear weapons.

OBAMA: I don't think there's any question that that would be a destabilizing situation that would be a profound threat to not only the United States' security, but to world security.

LOTHIAN: A danger to the world and its neighbors, although President Lee suggested his country isn't rattled by the threat of an attack because the U.S. is in its corner.

PRES. LEE MYUNG-BAK, SOUTH KOREA: And this very firm alliance that we have between the United States and Korea is going to prevent anything from happening. And, of course, North Korea may have may wish to do so, but, of course, they will not be able to do so.

LOTHIAN: Myung Ohkim (ph), a Washington, D.C. restaurant manager, is watching the tensions closely. With two brothers still living in South Korea, she does worry about what the North may be able to do.

MYUNG OHKIM: I'm so scared of this, because it's the -- it's a civil war and it's a game. This is no good. (END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Dan, is the president still winning -- willing to negotiate with North Korea?

LOTHIAN: He is, Wolf, today saying that he's more than willing to have negotiations -- engage in negotiations with North Korea to get them on a peaceful path. And the administration is hopeful that these U.N. sanctions will be the teeth to get the North's attention.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian over at the White House.

Thank you.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King, the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," which airs Sunday mornings.

This is a tough one for President Obama, North Korea. He certainly has its hands full on a lot of issues. But North Korea and its nuclear program is about as sensitive as it gets.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As sensitive as it gets. The regime is as unpredictable as it gets. And he is now learning what President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and others before them have learned -- this is a regime that, he is right, often has negotiated in the past and then broken deals; often has been defiant in the past and then hoping to get something down the road, some sort of a carrot in exchange for its standoff.

The question here is, will these sanctions do anything, because in the past, sanctions haven't worked; and what will the United States do to enforce the sanctions, including will U.S. Navy ships do anything?

Because while China has supported the sanctions -- very tough new sanctions -- China, in the past, has been very reluctant to any aggressive U.S. presence in that part of the world.

So if the U.S. Navy starts to get more aggressive, watch China to see if this current international support -- pretty unified international support against the North Korean position -- whether that would hold.

BLITZER: Because the North Koreans could clearly say intercepting these ships -- certainly boarding these ships -- that would be an act of war from the North Korean perspective. And you don't know how they would respond.

There's a complicating factor, these the two American journalists who are in North Korea, being held now for 12 years of hard labor, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

How much of a distraction -- how much of a problem is this for the Obama White House?

KING: Well, the administration wants to say they are two separate things. The nuclear program and the current standoff is issue one; trying to free these two U.S. journalists is issue two. They are not connected.

But, Wolf, you know this very well, in the past, North Korea has treated things like this as a bargaining chip. They believe this gives them leverage in any discussions with the United States, that if you want these two freed, what do we get in exchange?

There's no question North Korea used the linkage there. And the question for the administration is can you make progress in this bigger, long-term standoff over the nuclear program and North Korea's role in the world, its belligerent rhetoric, and resolve this other issue separately, if you will, or if there is linkage, not in a way that then undermines what the president just said.

That was -- those were very strong words in the Rose Garden. In the past, the North Koreans have been defiant and they've always won. Someone has always given them something.

He said he was going to break the cycle. This will be a big test.

BLITZER: A huge test right now.

All right, John.

Thanks very much.

And this programming note for our viewers. Tonight, on "A.C. 360," Laura Ling's sister, Lisa Ling, will be Anderson Cooper's guest. Also appearing, Laura Ling's brother-in-law and the husband of Euna Lee, the other than the journalist sentenced to 12 years hard labor in North Korea. That's tonight, "A.C. 360," 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

A very public apology -- is it the final world in a high profile feud between Sarah Palin and David Letterman?

Plus, it's a summer harvest over at the White House with Michelle Obama and some young friends. We're going to hear from the first lady in her own words.


BLITZER: Alina Cho is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Alina, what's going on?

CHO: Hi, Wolf.

Prosecutors in the case of slain Arkansas news anchorwoman Anne Pressly now say the suspect has confessed to the killing on three separate occasions. They made the revelation after defendant Curtis Lavelle demanded access to DNA evidence. Lavelle isn't denying the confessions, but he says police put a gun to his face and that he was under extreme pressure.

A warning about Zicam nasal spray. The Food and Drug Administration says stop using it because Zicam can cause a permanent loss of your sense of smell. The FDA says zinc is the problem in the over the counter cold remedy and that 130 cases have been reported so far. The company insists Zicam is safe.

And police in Akron, Ohio are looking for a very busy bank robber. They say this woman held up three banks in just over 30 minutes yesterday. She's also suspected in a fourth bank heist last Friday. The woman is described as African-American, in her 20s or 30s and just five feet tall -- or less. The FBI is offering a $1,500 reward -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Alina, thank you.

Jimmy Carter is speaking out again, this time in Gaza.


CARTER: I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wreaked against your people.


BLITZER: Has the former president become a thorn in the side of the current president?

James Carville and Kevin Madden -- they're standing by live to discuss.

And racist e-mail mocking President Obama -- why a lawmaker's aide is now in very hot water.

And the late night comic, David Letterman, apologizing to Sarah Palin for a joke that she called perverted. We're going to tell you how the governor is now responding.


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

Happening now, shocking new images of a bloody crackdown in Iran, as the government there tries to close the curtain on days of political upheaval. It's severely restricting foreign journalists from being able to cover the massive demonstrations. We're following ominous new developments in Tehran. Stand by.

Also, a prominent Obama supporter becomes one of the president's harshest critics.

Why is Bill Maher lashing out at the president, even going so far as to say he needs to be more like George W. Bush?

I'll ask Bill Maher. He'll be joining us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And a new surcharge on text messages is catching many consumers by surprise. Their monthly bills are suddenly jumping up by double digits.

What's going on?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The last night comedian, David Letterman, is hoping to put a growing week long controversy to rest. He's apologizing to the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, and her daughters for a joke that Palin called "perverted."

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

He's taking a closer look at the back and forth.

What is it really all about -- Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's about crossing the line -- in fact, two lines.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): David Letterman clearly crossed the line last week with this joke.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game. During the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.


SCHNEIDER: Letterman later said he thought he was making a joke about Governor Palin's 18-year-old daughter, Bristol. But it was her 14-year-old sister who went to the ball game with her mother.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: Regardless of which daughter it was, inappropriate.

WEDEMAN: On Monday night, Letterman apologized.


LETTERMAN: I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I'm sorry about it and I'll try to do better in the future.

SCHNEIDER: Palin has accepted the apology, saying in a statement, "Of course it's accepted on behalf of young women like my daughters who hope men who, quote 'joke' about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve." End of story? Maybe not, because the story may be crossing another line, from an incident to an issue.

PALIN: For the American public to not by given the full context of what that joke was all about, I think it's unfortunate, and a sad commentary on what Americans are fed in terms of full news.

SCHNEIDER: One way to rally conservative support is to target the news media, but it's a risky political strategy.

MARK HALPERIN, TIME.COM: I don't think going after a comic, even if he's crossed the line as Letterman did in this case, is a good strategy.

SCHNEIDER: The risk is what it could keep what is essentially a tabloid story alive.


SCHNEIDER: Governor Palin does not need more stories about her family. She needs more stories about her policies. Wolf?

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you.

Let's talk with this with our democratic strategist, the CNN political contributor James Carville and Republican strategist Kevin Madden. What are your thoughts on the politics of this battle between Sarah Palin and David Letterman?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, at the core of her supporters, they say this is an outrage, to the public, I mean, he's a guy, he told a tasteless joke and one should never tell jokes about people's children, Rush Limbaugh found that out with Chelsea Clinton, but this horse is dead and we need to stop beating a dead horse and move on to something else.

BLITZER: She clearly sees some potential benefits to keeping this going.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think she might, but I wouldn't agree with that and I don't think many would. The problem is there's no news in the news that Sarah Palin makes. If she's going to build a profile as a serious political leader, she'll have to do so on issues and ideas, something that aligns her not only with the base, which this does, but indeed the political battlefield in this country right now is the middle. Right now Sarah Palin is a divisive figure to many of those in the middle. I think she has to build a profile on the big issues that the American people cares about.

BLITZER: The politicians love going on the late-night shows, as you know. Would it be smart at this point for her to be a guest on David Letterman's show?

MADDEN: Well, you know, I think it would be a way to chill the thaw between them, or, you know, to thaw the chill between them, but I think it would probably look like hypocrisy to many of her supporters. If she could do so in a way that confronted what is an obstacle, then there's some -- BLITZER: I'm sure, James, he would be very nice to her, it would have huge ratings, millions of people would watch. It could be a win- win for both?

CARVILLE: What I would do is put Todd Palin on, and say I want to start something out right now, you fool with my 14-year-old daughter, you fool with me. Apologize to my face and let's get on with the interview. That would be something. You know what I mean? I'm not afraid of you, and you make jokes about 14-year-old children, you ought to pay the consequence Letterman could --

MADDEN: Again, that's making news that has no news in it. It's tabloid fodder, confrontational.

CARVILLE: But why no?

BLITZER: If she wants to talk about the new gas pipeline going through Canada into the United States.

All right. Let's talk about the Middle East, and the former President Jimmy Carter has been visiting the region. Listen to some of his comments.


FMR. PRES. JIMMY CARTER: I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been raked against your people.

My opinion is that he raised many new obstacles to peace that had not existed under previous prime ministers he still apparently insists on expansion of settlements. He demands that Israel is recognized, although there are 20% of the citizens who are not Jews.


BLITZER: Being very critical of the Israelis of what they've gone in Gaza to the Palestinians, also saying the new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is creating new obstacles to peace.

CARVILLE: Well, I guess to some extent what's the news here? Jimmy Carter is over attacking Israelis on the settlements. Look a lot of people in Israel don't like the settlements. I'm not the greatest Netanyahu fan in the world, but his opening round is that he's willing to accept the fact the Palestinian state of some nature.

BLITZER: Demilitarized.

CARVILLE: So that's an advancement in where they are. I think President Obama deserves some credit for moving that point, but that's the starting point. If you ever got to the end point of an negotiation --

BLITZER: Is Jimmy Carter helping or hurting?

MADDEN: I think hurting. Jimmy Carter's comments are obviously always he has a thumb on the scale for the Palestinians, at a time when this president's instinct is to play to the middle. I think that every time the white house now has to answer questions about the Israel statement, they're going to go prefaced with, well, former President Jimmy Carter said this about the Palestinians. That puts him in an awkward position.

BLITZER: Is he hurting the president?

CARVILLE: I don't know. I probably slightly disagree to the extent that this is old news that Jimmy Carter has obviously --

BLITZER: He's been critical.

CARVILLE: And he was being more critical of Netanyahu than he was of President Obama. I'll concede the point just about that much.

BLITZER: Quickly on Iran, how is the president, in your opinion, handling his crisis in the streets of Tehran, the U.S. reaction?

MADDEN: This is one of these things where -- I don't think we're criticizing them yet. I think the president is being invited to come out and say more. This is a big difference between capitol hill who don't have the intelligence reports, don't know what's going on inside Iran, and what we're seeing just on television. So I think his measured response right now is one that is true to his political nature.

BLITZER: It's about as sensitive an issue as you can get.

CARVILLE: It's sensitive and you can tell the regime doesn't much like us, CNN, the media, being over there and covering this. You see this sea of people in Tehran who knows who really won the election?

MADDEN: What is interesting is a president whose words mean so much to large political audiences is being so economical with his words. I think that's quite telling.

BLITZER: Because his experts have told him you have to be careful, you don't want anything to help Ahmadinejad gather momentum or gather legitimacy.

CARVILLE: Or, you know, we don't -- it's a dispute -- it's not exactly clear that maybe he won the election. We don't know -- I don't suppose to know that.

MADDEN: That's a very good point. Right now they don't have an advanced level of evidence --

BLITZER: But you've been around elections to know, can you counsel 40 million hand ballots in two hours?

CARVILLE: I don't know. You probably can of the -- I'm saying this is certainly embarrassing to the regime, and it's not President Obama so much, but that's not 400,000 Americans in the streets of Tehran, I guarantee that. Those are Iranians out there.

BLITZER: All right guys. Thank you very much. We'll continue this tomorrow.

President Obama is expected, by the way, tomorrow to deliver remarks on the economic regulation. What's the state of the economy where you live right now? Are things getting better for you? Submit your video comments to We'll try to get some of them on the air tomorrow.

A racist e-mail mocking President Obama and calling -- growing calls for a legislative aide to lose her job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to see her fired. Simply put, I would like to see her fired, this kind of action.

BLITZER: All right, this is the shocking image at the heart of the controversy. We'll get the other side of the story from the boss of the woman who sent it. All the presidents on that poster. Look what they show for the current president of the United States, only those eyes.

Plus, potential confrontation between the United States and North Korea, new details emerging right now of plans for potential intercepting North Korean ships that might be carrying nuclear technology.


BLITZER: In Tennessee, growing call for a legislative aide to be fire for sending out an e-mail containing this poster. It shows all the presidents of the United States in order, but in the spot for President Obama, only a pair of cartoon white eyes on a black background.

JOHNNY SHAW (D), TENNESSEE STATE HOUSE: I am appalled, it's despicable, it should not have happened, but it does.

BLITZER: The aide says that -- the aide says only that she sent the poster to the wrong list of people. Her boss, Republican State Senator Diane Black, says the aide has been reprimanded, but she has a good record and doesn't deserve to be fired.

SEN. DIANE BLACK (R), TENNESSEE STATE SENATE: First, I want to be sure that everyone understands the communication was sent without my knowledge, and it absolutely does not represent the beliefs or opinions of my office, so I want to be very clear about that.

BLITZER: By the way, there's no comment on this controversy from the white house, at least not yet.

Laws aimed at terror financing may be leaving some minute Muslims too afraid to give to religion outs charities. That's a report from a leading civil liberties organization. CNN's Mary Snow has been taking a closer look.

Mary, what's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this report is based on findings from the ACLU and it's based on 120 interviews with charities and donors saying some Muslims expressed fear of even losing citizenship or their businesses if they donate to Muslim charities. It's had a chilling effect on some lawful charities.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have there been any other issues going on?

SNOW: Malika Rushdan is struggling to keep this women's shelter open. It's run by a Muslim charity and she says donations are hard to come back.

MALIKA RUSHDAN, ICNA RELIEF USA: We have heard from former donors who have -- used to write a check or make a donation online who know prefer to put money into the collection box as opposed to giving us a check for a larger donation.

SNOW: The American Civil Liberties Union reports that donors are reluctant, blaming the climate of fear created by terror finance laws after 9/11.

JENNIFER TURNER, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: We found that nine Muslim charities have closed because of the government's actions. Only one has ever been convicted of terrorism, HLF.

SNOW: HLF stands for Holy Land Foundation. Five leaders in Texas were convicted of providing millions to the militant group Hamas. Defendants saying they were feeding needy Palestinians. A spokesman says, "In conducting terror finance investigations, the justice department and the FBI simply follow the money and evidence where they lead, without regards to race, religion or ethnicity," but the ACLU says legitimate charities have suffered and donors fear persecution. In Cairo, President Obama talked about this.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: In the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligations.

SNOW: A treasury department spokeswoman says it's working with charities to help them protect against terrorist abuse of charity and to refine the guidance around charitable giving." They have been working with the I.R.S. to convince the government they're not terrorists.

FARHANA KHERA, MUSLIM ADVOCATES: The perception by the general public and perception by the government that American-Muslims and American Muslim organizations are up to no good.


SNOW: While the group Muslim Advocates says it was glad to hear the president address the issue, there's a lot of work to be done. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Mary. Michelle Obama and her junior gardening crew, they're ready to reap what they sowed. And why, I'll ask Bill Maher, he's standing by live to join us.


BLITZER: Surprise inspections are revealing horrifying dangers in veterans' medical centers that expose patients, veterans to diseases including HIV. Now lawmakers are demanding answers, but the once they're getting aren't putting HIV. Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is on the story for us.


ELIZABETH COHEN, SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They want to know why so many problems?


COHEN: The V.A. conducted surprise inspections at 42 of their clinics and hospitals last month and found that fewer than half of them followed proper standards for colonoscopies and similar procedures. At a Capitol Hill hearing, lawmakers question the competency levels of the veteran's administration and those responsible for handling colonoscopy equipment.

REP. DAVID ROE (R), TENNESSEE: It is one, two, three, four. It isn't hard. It is not rocket science.

COHEN: The VA inspections were part of a follow up after revelations earlier this year that improperly handled equipment during routine colonoscopies possibly exposed thousands of vets to infectious diseases. Of the more than 10,000 vets called in for screening, so far six have tested positive for HIV, 34 for hepatitis c and 13 for hepatitis b. They were not a result of the colonoscopy procedures. The vets might have become sick some other way. When lawmakers questioned whether vets undergoing the same procedures today are safe, there were no guarantees.

DR. WILLIAM E. DUNCAN, DEPT. OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: I cannot guarantee to any veteran, they will not have an adverse event occur in our facility. I can guarantee that we are dedicated and committed to reducing those adverse events to the lowest possible level.

COHEN: For congress, that's not enough.

REP. TIMOTHY WALZ (D), MINNESOTA: Going in for a routine colonoscopy and being contacted later that you are HIV positive or have hepatitis c is not just an adverse event. That is catastrophic.


COHEN: The VA is being commended by some for having the done.

BLITZER: All right Elizabeth. Thanks very much. Let's hope they fix this problem quickly. Let's go to Jack for the Cafferty File. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour is how should Washington proceed when it comes to Iran's election controversy?

Adam writes, I think Washington should remain quiet for the time being. The entire world is watching and knows what Ahmadinejad is up to and that the elections were rigged. Eventually, the truth will surface. If the violence continues, then Washington together with the U.N. should make a clear statement to Iran."

Niousha in San Diego, "Mr. Cafferty, I'm a proud Iranian American. What I think many people fail to see is that the supreme leader and his council and Ahmadinejad are not people to have a dialogue with. The fact that they are blocking the news media and sending the militia to attack the protestors shows that freedom will never be a right in Iran under this government. We must learn from history and the past. We can't sit idly by and wait and see innocent young men and women being massacred. Please, Mr. Obama, help my people."

Ali in Vancouver writes, "Hi Jack. Being an Iranian who is in touch with the protestors in Iran, I can tell you the last thing they want is the United States taking sides. Ahmadinejad would love the U.S. to call fraud on the elections so he can convey his argument that the west is trying to weaken Iran and take advantage of its resources. That argument has been successful for 30 years. It would rally all the clerics who are undecided."

Vincent says, "Democratic dissidents now risking their lives to oppose Iran's sham democracy get no support from the Obama administration. What happened? Where is America's grand quest of liberating the world from its evil autocracies? I smell similarities with the man who messed it all up in the first place. Don't you? Is Obama the new Jimmy Carter? History in repeat."

Mitch in Minneapolis writes, "The administration should respond as they are doing, announcing their concern but not interfering. If there is truly to be another Iranian revolution, it must be done by the Iranian people."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog Check it out. You might find yours there. Wolf?

BLITZER: A lot of people do Jack. Thank you.

Millions of Americans are getting an unwelcome double digit surprise in their cell phone bills right now. Why is the cost of text messaging suddenly soaring?

And the first lady leads a white house harvest. We will hear from Michelle Obama in her own words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A busy day for the first lady Michelle Obama and local students harvested some of the fruits and vegetables they planted a few months ago in the white house gardens.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Look at this. What is this? Does this not look amazing? Do you see what you did? Do you remember what it looked like when you were here the last time? Could you have ever imagined that all this was over here? No. Me either. Every time I come over, it looks like more has grown. So it's harvest day. We have been through the whole process, right? You guys came and helped pull up the soil. You remember how hard that was? Glad y'all were here to help. Then we planted. Do you guys remember your patches, what things you planted? Who helped me do the herbs over here? That's right. You guys helped me with some of the herbs and we've got some onions and the lettuce and all that good stuff. So, now, today, is the fun part. We get to pick some stuff, clean it, cook it, and eat it with Sam.


BLITZER: Afterward, the first lady and her guest cooked up some of the harvest in her white house kitchen. Her second public event of the day. Earlier she spoke at a philanthropy summit praising volunteers.


OBAMA: Now is the time that we have to connect with one another and share good ideas and hold each other up and give each other that private counsel when the dollars are running short and hope is harder to find. That's why times like this, opportunities to gather and celebrate are important to just get us back on track. Right now, we are going to be channeling, hopefully, thousands of volunteers in your direction. America is looking to engage. As you know with volunteers, if they are not connected to something meaningful, their experience isn't organized and makes sense, then we lose them forever. So we hope to be able to provide some of the resources that you need. We also need you to prepare for the challenge. If we do that and continue to harness this energy, cannot only change the way this nation feels about service but we can change the way the world sees us. So many people will need a plays to funnel their talents and energies. Volunteerism is one of those win/win situations that makes absolute sense in this point in our nation's history.