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THE SITUATION ROOM
Iran Downplays Unrest; President Obama's Letter to Iran; South Carolina Governor Reveals Shocking Secret
Aired June 24, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a lot of breaking news we're following. Protesters in Iran beaten and bloodied for defying a government crackdown. This hour, brand-new video just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. It gives us a fuller account of a potential revolution in the works and Iran's terrifying response.
And Iran keeps trying to pin the blame on the West. Alleged confessions of protesters who say they will say anything once they're influenced by what's going on and the fear of their families. The government says they're influenced by the foreign media.
And the shocker from South Carolina. The governor, Mark Sanford, revealing the reason he disappeared for several days to Argentina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The bottom line is this: I've been unfaithful to my wife. I developed a relationship with a -- what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's commands center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But first, the breaking news this hour. Anti-government protesters beaten, "beaten like animals." That's a direct quote from one of them. And it's just one ugly account we're getting today of the latest unrest in Iran.
This is not stopping by any means. Witnesses, sources and online messages all describe a new explosion of violence in the Iranian capital.
Security forces reportedly used clubs to break arms and legs and weapons to shoot people dead. Listen to one woman's call to CNN about the situation at a Tehran square where she says there was a massacre.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then, all of a sudden, some 500 people with clubs and wood, they came out of Hedaed (ph) Mosque and they poured into the streets and they started beating everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're told when the demonstrators arrived at the square, security forces were waiting like a mousetrap. One source says troops and police are beating women madly. Opposition party leaders saying women are playing a big role in protesting Iran's disputed presidential election.
And Iranian authorities now say the woman who become an icon of this upheaval, Neda, may have been confused with the sister of a terrorist and killed by mistake. That's what the regime is now saying.
CNN is monitoring all the latest online images and accounts of what's going on inside Iran right now. Some of this may be difficult to watch, but it's critically important that you see this historic event unfold.
Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is over at the Iran desk at CNN's global headquarters in Atlanta.
What's the latest that we're getting, abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it was late afternoon Tehran time, morning here, when we started getting these reports in, reports from eyewitnesses, reports from social media about violence at the Baharestan Square. This is in central Tehran, it's the site of the parliament building there.
And then at the same time, we got an amateur video from the scene. It looks like adjacent streets, people, protesters, heading to this area, protesters who were chanting "Death to the dictator!" walking through the streets.
The eyewitnesses that CNN has talked to describe people being chased by security forces some distance away from the square, where they were headed, people being clubbed, security forces firing weapons at the demonstrators who were attempting to congregate in the square. Quite a wild and violent scene that we were told about here at CNN late this afternoon Tehran time, early this morning here Eastern Time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: How is this being reported, if at all, by the state-run media in Iran?
TATTON: Differently, Wolf. We can bring you the report, actually, the account by Press TV. This is the government-funded English-language channel there in Iran, where they described a number of protesters at the square, at the scene, who were dispersed by security forces. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some 200 protesters gathered in small groups at a nearby subway station in the Baharestan Square. Another group of about 50 people converged on another square to the north of that neighborhood. The gathering was planned in advance. A heavy presence of police prevented violence in the area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TATTON: Wolf, you just heard that, a heavy police presence prevented violence in that area. Quite a different account there from Press TV in Iran. One thing that everyone agrees on right now is that there is heavy police presence there in the streets.
BLITZER: Yes, and lots of Basij, those militiamen, as well.
Abbi, stand by.
We're also just getting in this video, and I want to show it to our viewers. We don't know when this event actually took place, but take a look at these pictures. They are very disturbing, showing what's going on inside Iran, at least if not today, over the last couple days. We're going to get the video and put it up right now.
Just coming in right now, you can hear the screaming, and you can clearly hear the gunshots in the air, as well. Very disturbing video coming in.
We don't know when it occurred, but we're just getting it in right now. We wanted to share it with you and our viewers. We'll get more information on the specifics. That's coming up.
Only weeks before Iran's disputed election, President Obama reached out directly to the country's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian sources tell our Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour that Mr. Obama sent Khamenei a letter requesting dialogue and engagement between the two nations.
Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by with more on this story.
What are they saying at the White House, Dan, about this letter?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House is stopping just short of confirming that President Obama sent this letter to Iran's supreme leader. What an official did say, though, and admit is that since those disputed elections, any overtures are essentially on ice.
Now, administration officials are essentially trying to answer questions by giving sort of broad themes, that this administration has a willingness to engage Iran. But take a listen to what Robert Gibbs had to say when I asked him if he could provide any additional details about what was in that letter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think as each of you know, the administration has indicated a willingness to talk with the leadership in Iran and have sought to communicate with the Iranian people in a variety of ways. But I am not going to -- not going to get into anything other than the notion that you all understand the president has spoken throughout the campaign about being engaged.
LOTHIAN: And is that communication continuing at this time?
GIBBS: There has been no communication with Iranian officials since the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: So, they're not talking now, but the administration is saying that when it comes to the overall policy of having a dialogue with Iran over its nuclear program, that hasn't changed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian, very quickly, these invitations that went out from U.S. embassies to Iranian diplomats in foreign countries, whether in London or Paris or Tokyo, to join in the festivities, the July 4th festivities, the Independence Day celebrations at U.S. missions around the world, what's the latest on that front?
LOTHIAN: Well, Robert Gibbs saying at the briefing today that that invitation has been rescinded. He said given the events of the last few days, what has happened on the ground there in Iran, he said the invitations were sent out, there were no RSVPs, but he said that's essentially moot now because that invitation has been rescinded.
BLITZER: All right, formally rescinded. Thanks very much for that. We'll get back to you.
Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, ordinary women are playing an extraordinary role in the events unfolding in Iran following those disputed elections. The most powerful example is this woman, a 26- year-old woman named Neda, who seemed to only be watching a demonstration when she was shot down like a dog in the streets of Tehran with a single bullet to the chest. A crudely-shot video of her final moments has been all over the Internet, and Neda instantly became a martyr.
She is a symbol for all women who have become involved in this movement, an image of both the brutality of the regime and the significant role that women are playing in fighting against it. There are many more women like Neda. We're going to show you a few of them.
As the protests and clashes with military forces continue, we keep seeing images of women in the streets. They wear their scarves and traditional clothing. Some chant, some march, some collect rocks for ammunition against security forces who have clubs and guns and motorcycles.
Riot police have even been seen clubbing women dressed in black robes. Real macho stuff, beating women with clubs.
One 19-year-old woman told CNN she's not scared of the security forces no matter how many times she gets beaten. Quoting now, "When they want to hit me, I say, 'Hit.' I've been hit so many times, and this time it doesn't matter. I just want to help my brothers and sisters." She says women have been out in the streets in larger numbers than men.
One analyst says in the 1979 revolution, the iconic images were those of bearded men. This time it's young women who are the vanguards of Iran.
Here's the question: When it comes to Iran, can women ultimately make the difference in that country?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
Historic stuff we're watching.
BLITZER: Yes, those women are amazing, I've got to admit. They're really on the forefront...
CAFFERTY: Yes, they are.
BLITZER: ... of this battle.
All right, Jack. Thank you.
Another breaking news story we're following. It happened right now in South Carolina. It began as the story of an AWOL governor, but now the governor, Mark Sanford, says there's no mystery about it at all. What price, though, will he pay for cheating on his wife?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANFORD: I hurt her. I hurt you all. I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys. I hurt friends like Tom David.
I hurt a lot of different folks. And all I can say is that I apologize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to have extensive coverage of the breaking news from South Carolina.
Also ahead, confessions or propaganda? Iranian TV airs some provocative statements by protesters.
An extraordinary night vision video coming in to us from Afghanistan. We're going to tell you what the Pentagon may be trying to prove.
BLITZER: A mystery has been solved, a secret has been revealed, and now South Carolina is in shock. We're following the breaking news from that state.
Only moments ago, South Carolina's governor came out and admitted he cheated on his wife, lied to his staff, and essentially left the state in a lurch. Choked up, fighting back tears, the Republican begged for his wife, his family, and the citizens of South Carolina to forgive him.
Let's go to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
You watched that statement, that news conference, like all of us did, and it was obviously very riveting.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Riveting, Wolf, and talk about burying the lead. It could have been the slowest public Band-Aid rip in recent history.
Governor Sanford talked about his love of the Appalachian Trail, he apologized to his wife, his kids, and the media, before he finally got to confessing that he had gone AWOL because he was having an affair.
YELLIN (voice-over): After triggering a national guessing game over his disappearance, Governor Mark Sanford admitted, yes, he skipped town to be in the arms of a mistress.
SANFORD: The bottom line is this: I've been unfaithful to my wife. I developed a relationship with a -- what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina.
YELLIN: From the governor, who repeatedly called himself a man of faith, there were recriminations.
SANFORD: I hurt her. I hurt you all. I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys.
YELLIN: Tears and quite a few details about how his eight-year e-mail relationship with a female friend in Argentina recently ignited.
SANFORD: About a year ago, it sparked into something more than that. I have seen her three times since then during that whole sparking thing.
YELLIN: The jaunt to Argentina was doubly confusing since just yesterday Sanford's staff announced they made contact with him and he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, which does not stretch to Argentina.
The governor admits he misled his staff.
SANFORD: I would also apologize to my staff, because as much as I did talk about going to the Appalachian Trail, that was one of the original scenarios that I'd thrown out to Mary Neil (ph), that isn't where I ended up. And so I let them down by creating a fiction with regard to where I was going.
YELLIN: His only justification, human fraility and exhaustion after fighting over the stimulus package.
SANFORD: What I have found in this job is that one desperately needs a break from the bubble. YELLIN: This episode has been none too pleasing to the Republican lieutenant governor, who is no fan of Sanford.
LT. GOV. ANDRE BAUER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So, I think there's a real disconnect here with his staff misleading people.
YELLIN: The governor says he is not resigning his seat. He's focused on working this through with his wife, Jenny.
YELLIN: And Wolf, Governor Sanford has resigned his seat as chair of the Republican Governors Association. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour will replace him in that post, but, again, he's keeping his job as governor of South Carolina, at least for now. This would put a serious crimp in any plans he might have to run for future office, but then again, Wolf, you know, America loves a good redemption story.
BLITZER: Well, it certainly does. We'll see how that unfolds, Jessica. Thank you.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.
I guess the question is, in a state like South Carolina, a conservative state, can he keep his job?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think his fundamental honesty and his judgment was certainly called into question. And I've talked with Republicans in Washington who say, look, you know, there is a question of whether he can survive.
He doesn't have a cozy relationship with the state legislature, which is Republican, but they did have those issues over the stimulus package, they did override 10 of his vetoes during this last session. But if he were to resign as governor, he would be handing the job to his political opponent. His lieutenant governor is a sharp critic of Governor Sanford, and I don't think he wants to do that.
But he is term limited. His term ends in 2010. So, he can remain, maybe, for another year, but I think folks in the state legislature are stepping back now, letting him have his family time. And then they're going to come out and you're going to hear some people talking about whether he can still be effective.
BLITZER: In terms of the big picture for the GOP, it comes, what, only a couple weeks after Senator John Ensign of Nevada acknowledged that he had an affair? He's not resigning as the senator from Nevada, but both of these guys were considered potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates.
BORGER: Stars of the Republican Party. Not good.
I spoke with one Republican strategist who said to me today, "It's not exactly good for growing our coalition, is it?" I think that's an understatement. But you have to also understand that the Republicans don't have a corner on this kind of a story. We did have Eliot Spitzer. We did have John Edwards in the Democratic Party. So, folks may say a pox on all your houses.
BLITZER: Yes. And people can't forget Bill Clinton when he was president of the United States, as well.
BLITZER: So this is bipartisan, or nonpartisan, or whatever it is. It's a problem.
BORGER: Bipartisan, absolutely.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Some Iranian street protesters are said to be confessing, but are they being forced to blame their actions on foreign media?
And a very popular high school football coach shot dead at his school. The suspect, one of his former football players.
BLITZER: A U.S. military helicopter opens fire on Afghan insurgents. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gun and fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shoot again. One more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Pentagon releases the extraordinary video. We're going to take a closer look at the images and why they're coming out right now.
And later, see it for the first time, a track side view of the D.C. Metro crash shot by CNN just moments after the trains collide.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news. South Carolina's governor reveals shocking details of marital infidelity. He joins a growing list of potential Republican presidential contenders who have gone off course.
Are you riding on trains like those in the deadly Washington, D.C., crash? Wait until you hear what we've learned about how old and how poor many commuter trains are across the country. And fallout after scandalous photos allegedly at a home owned by Italy's prime minister. Now Silvio Berlusconi is asked if he pays for prostitutes. You might be shocked at how he responds.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get back to the breaking news, our top story from Iran. This appears to be one of the bloodier days in the government crackdown on protesters. Witnesses, sources and online postings describe how hundreds of demonstrators were beaten or worse by perhaps thousands of security forces. Severe restrictions on reporters have made it very difficult to independently verify reports on demonstrations, clashes and casualties.
BLITZER: And joining us now on the phone from Tehran, "The New York Times" correspondent Nazila Fathi.
Nazila, thanks very much for joining us.
You had a chance to speak with eyewitnesses in Tehran, eyewitness who saw these latest protests, these demonstrations. What did they tell you?
NAZILA FATHI, "NEW YORK TIMES" FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they saw many different groups who came down there, maybe in total 1,000 people. They were in scattered groups, like each group was about 100 people, 200 people.
They never managed to become a large crowd. Before even they got down there, there were lots of forces. One eyewitness told me that there were about four people for every single person there, whether they were a protester or not.
So, as soon as people got down there, the forces were ready to disperse them, to beat them. They used tear gas to disperse people. Some of them managed to even chant slogans like "Death to dictator!"
But it was not such a massive protest. It was very easily crushed. It didn't take that long like the first group of them. It just lasted from 4:00 to 4:30, according to my eyewitness.
BLITZER: Some have suggested, Nazila, that this was the worst violence though on the streets since the mass demonstration and violence on Saturday.
Would that be accurate?
FATHI: I don't think so, because as far as I heard, they did not open fire on people. There were rumors, but none of my eyewitnesses saw that. They just used tear gas and they beat people with batons to disperse them.
It's very hard to compare these clashes and say which one was more violent. We don't know how many casualties there were, so I cannot really be a judge of that.
BLITZER: We're going to have more of my interview with Nazila. That's coming up. But let's get a glimpse now of how the Iranian official media loyal to the Iranian regime is portraying the unrest.
Let's go to our senior editor for Mideast affairs, Octavia Nasr. She is picking up this part of the story.
All right, what are they seeing on official state-run media, Octavia?
OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SENIOR EDITOR FOR ARAB AFFAIRS: Wolf, while many of us have been seeing pictures of anti-government demonstrations on social networking sites, Iranian state TV channels have been showing a different view of the events in Tehran, and now a new development, where one channel has aired what has been described as confessions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My son and I were carrying grenades in our bags. My son was very keen to show his power, to tell the world that he was against his country and his countrymen.
NASR (voice-over): According to Iran's government-funded Press TV, this is a confession of an Iranian woman who was allegedly arrested during street protests. She says her actions were -- quote -- "influenced by foreign media."
This is another so-called confession.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I was influenced by Voice of America, Persian TV, and BBC. They used to blame the government forces for the violence. So, I was very interested to see what was going on. And, when I attended the rallies, I realized that it was the protesters who attacked public property, soldiers, and even other people.
NASR: That is just a sampling of the alleged confessions being aired on state TV, which has, all along, insisted that the situation has been under control and that the protests are illegal and will be dealt with as such.
Iranian TV also reports on what it calls a conspiracy, linking foreign countries to the ongoing anti-government demonstrations across Iran. According to this anchorwoman, it was all planned in this building.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The documents found at the building reportedly prove that certain countries and media fanned the flames of the recent riots.
NASR: Within newscasts, a constant reminder that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered that -- quote -- "All must obey the law."
State TV also reporting that Iran's judiciary has formed a tribunal to look at the files of those arrested.
As for the punishment:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iran's first deputy judiciary chief says the proceedings aim to teach the rioters a lesson.
NASR: And, Wolf, what that lesson will be is anybody's guess. And, of course, there are many questions surrounding these so-called confessions and what prompted them.
BLITZER: Octavia Nasr reporting for us -- thank you, Octavia.
Many of the anti-government are young people. They're savvy about using the Internet to share their stories with the world. In fact, most Iranians were born after the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago.
And that hard-line regime is all they have ever known. The median age of the Iranian population is 27, compared to 37 here in the United States. Most of Iran's government and religious leaders are far older. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who heads the powerful Assembly of Experts, is 75 years old. The supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is 69. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is 52 years old.
Let's assess what's going on today with a leading expert on Iran. Karim Sadjadpour is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace right here in Washington.
What we're seeing today shows that a lot of folks are simply being scared, intimidated to even go out, because, once they go out, the security forces, the Basij and others, they crack heads.
KARIM SADJADPOUR, ASSOCIATE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: That's right, Wolf.
These are really incredibly intimidating circumstances. When I was based in Iran, I used to attend these rallies, just as an observer. And I can tell you that these Basij militiamen are -- are thirsty for blood. And they use violence indiscriminately, against the elderly, against women, against even young people.
BLITZER: And they -- a lot of these guys are very young themselves, but they're, you know, well-indoctrinated.
SADJADPOUR: That's right.
They're really the religious zealots of the regime. The regime has a small cadre of these militants it can count on. And there's even a lot of rumors now that they haven't been able to rely only on Iranians, that they are importing people like Hezbollah fighters from the outside to do their dirty work.
BLITZER: To help them.
Well, will it work? That's the question. Will this so scare, so intimidate the opposition, that they will just stop going out on the streets?
SADJADPOUR: Well, I think, Wolf, the opposition is entering a new phase. They don't want to continue to wage street battles against the regime, because the regime has a monopoly of arms. And, again, they're willing to use these very violent practices.
What the opposition is now thinking about is some of the tactics which were employed in the late 1970s, when people revolted against the shah. And that is to target the main arteries of the Iranian economy, namely, the oil industry, the -- the labor and -- laborers, the bazaar, the merchant classes, and try to bring a stop to the Iranian economy that way.
BLITZER: These so-called confessions that we're seeing on state- run television, a lot of people I have spoken to say, these people are basically told, if you don't say what we want you to say, your -- your children, your family, you are never going to see these people again.
SADJADPOUR: Well, that's absolutely right.
And this is really par for the course for the Iranian regime. They have been -- been employing these tactics for 30 years. And, you know, the fact is, is that there are many Iranian who rely on official state television as their sole source of information. And they may be swayed by this.
But, certainly, the majority of people in Tehran who have been protesting against the injustice of this election are not going to be swayed.
BLITZER: Karim, thanks for coming in.
SADJADPOUR: Thank you.
BLITZER: The U.S. military battles armed insurgents. It's a violent scene, and it's all caught on night-vision video.
And now that South Carolina's governor admits shocking details of a marital affair, does he still have a future in politics? Our political strategists standing by to weigh in.
And already mired in scandal, the prime minister of Italy is asked if he pays for prostitutes. You might be shocked at how he responds.
BLITZER: The Pentagon has released extraordinary night-vision video from Afghanistan showing a U.S. Apache helicopter mowing down armed insurgents after an attack on a U.S. base. The helicopter pilot repeatedly checks to make sure the insurgents are far enough from Afghan homes, so that civilians will not be endangered. Even when the go-ahead is finally given, there's one last check.
Watch and listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are cleared to engage. Over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow that road inbound to reduce collateral damage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand by. We're going to get (INAUDIBLE) inbound roads to completely eliminate any collateral damage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cleared to fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Gun, and fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shoot again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven guys, two guys running (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Night-vision video always dramatic.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
There's a backstory. Why is the Pentagon releasing this dramatic video right now?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Graphic stuff we just saw, Wolf, the Apache using its guns to mow down insurgents, but taking a lot of care to talk about civilian casualties.
Very interesting that the Pentagon decided to put this video out that showed the troops doing what they're supposed to do, is to watch and make sure they're not accidentally hitting Afghan civilians or Afghan homes. This comes, however, just days after the Pentagon has now refused to put out another piece of video of an airstrike down in the south that did kill about two dozen civilians. They have decided it's just too highly classified. They can't possibly put it out.
But they're putting out the one that shows how things are supposed -- supposed to work. And this is the new strategy from General McChrystal: Make sure there's no civilians. And, if you even suspect there is civilian populations, civilian homes in the area, you have to withdraw from the firefight.
BLITZER: We wish General McChrystal all the best of luck in a difficult, dangerous assignment.
Thanks very much, Barbara.
Let's get to Capitol Hill right now, where lawmakers held more than a dozen hearings today on health care reform. There's been so much talk about this contentious and complex issue. And, sometimes, it's hard to fully understand what various proposals would really mean for your health care.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is digging deeper on that today.
Dana, what are you finding out?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, one of the central questions, Wolf, and really one of the most contentious issues is whether or not there ought to be a government- run health care option to compete with private insurers, Democrats, including the president.
They say that is the best way to drive health care costs down. But, as you know, Republicans adamantly oppose that. And, in warning against it, they're repeating a certain statistic. Well, we took a closer look.
BASH (voice-over): In the roaring health care debate, this is a Republican mantra.
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), MINORITY WHIP: The government-run insurance company would displace 119 million happily insured Americans.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: But 119 million Americans could lose the private coverage they have.
BASH: From the Senate floor to this conservative TV ad:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CONSERVATIVES FOR PATIENTS RIGHTS' AD)
NARRATOR: One hundred and nineteen million off their current insurance coverage, leaving no choices in health insurance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: That's the rhetoric, but what's the reality?
To try to get the answer, we went to the source. John Shiels of the Lewin Group authored the study Republicans are touting.
(on camera): When you hear 119 million people will lose their private insurance, is that accurate?
JOHN SHIELS, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, THE LEWIN GROUP: Well, I don't think you should think of that it way. No one's going to lose their private insurance. We think that 119 million people will voluntarily move to the public plan.
BASH (voice-over): So, his findings show that Republicans are only telling half the story.
Republicans are right that, if a government-run insurance plan could charge consumers less by paying hospitals and doctors lower Medicare rates, private insurers would lose 119 million people.
But what Republicans are not saying is that 132 million people would get government-sponsored insurance, including 28 million currently uninsured.
SHIELS: The public plan is going to have very low premiums, premiums so low that 119 people will make the choice to go to the public plan.
BASH: But another reality check: A public plan with hard-to- compete with low rates is the most extreme possibility.
House Democrats are considering something close, but a leading Senate public insurance option would result in just 10 million to 12 million people leaving private insurance, according to Shiels' data. Shiels knows both sides use his study to make political arguments, but does agree with one central Republican point: Government competition could crush some private insurers.
SHIELS: If you give the government such a strong price advantage in a competitive situation, very few people are going to stay with the private coverage.
BASH: Now, Shiels also says, Democrats have a point when they say that the private insurers with the best prices and the best quality should stay in business, that they should survive.
Now, Wolf, we should point out that The Lewin Group, which conducted this study, they are owned now by UnitedHealthcare, which, of course, is a private insurance company. But Shiels insists that he has total editorial control and autonomy over his health insurance study.
BLITZER: Excellent report, Dana. Thanks very much. We're going to be doing a lot of reporting on this debate. It's going to be a huge debate coming up over the next several weeks and months.
South Carolina's governor explains how his initial contact with a woman grew to marital infidelity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANFORD: About a year ago, it sparked into something more than that. I have seen her three times since then during that whole sparking thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Some considered him, the governor, Governor Mark Sanford, a possible -- possible -- presidential contender. Does this scandal change that?
And new and disturbing stories and images out of Iran. We're hearing of clashes between government forces and protesters and people said to be beaten like animals. You will see the pictures that we're just getting right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANFORD: I have been unfaithful to my wife.
I developed a relationship with a -- what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina. It began very innocently, as I suspect many of these things do, in just a casual e-mail back and forth, in advice on one's life there and advice here.
But, here, recently, over this last year, it developed into something much more than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The bombshell word from the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, just a little while ago in Columbia, South Carolina.
Let's talk about this and more in our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.
Alex, I will start with you.
Can he -- can he survive? He didn't resign as governor of South Carolina. He did resign as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, he can't survive.
Republicans down there weren't particularly fond of Mark Sanford anyway, much less Democrats. But what happens in these kinds of situations often is that, for his own good, voters decide that he just does not need to serve.
Americans are good people. And, when you see a family in turmoil like this -- it's not just about him -- there are kids involved here, a wife -- voters will say, you know, you have got other things to deal with. We're not going to impose the priority of public service on you at this point.
So, I think you're going to see a movement here that we have -- we have got other ways to handle the state's problems. Besides, you're not really here sometimes anyway.
BLITZER: You know something about these affairs because of your former boss Bill Clinton. A lot of people thought there was no way he was going to survive the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Not only did he survive. He may have been impeached. He wasn't convicted. But he -- but he thrived.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He not only thrived. He -- when he left office, he had more people approving of the job he did than any president leaving office in the history of polling. He did a very good job as president, not such a good job as husband. So, I -- I think voters can separate those two things.
But I think here's the problem with -- with Governor Sanford. I don't care, you know, who he's sparking, to use his phrase. I care a lot, though, about the hypocrisy.
For -- for about 20 years now, maybe more, since Jerry Falwell started the Moral Majority, Republicans have persisted in this lie, this myth of moral superiority. And I hope, if we learn anything from the party of Sanford and Ensign and -- and Larry Craig and Mark Foley, it is, no party has a monopoly on virtue.
The Democrats are certainly...
BLITZER: Plenty of Democrats.
BLITZER: Eliot Spitzer...
BLITZER: ... got caught. He was a Democrat.
BLITZER: McGreevey got caught...
BLITZER: ... the governor of -- of New Jersey.
BEGALA: But they don't pretend to be morally superior.
I am sick of getting lectures from Republicans that I'm not a good husband, I'm not a good Christian, I'm not a good patriot. They ought to cut that crap and do their real job, and stop lecturing...
BEGALA: ... the rest of us about gay rights and sex and sex and sex.
CASTELLANOS: I don't think the Republicans...
BEGALA: That's all they care about.
BLITZER: But was -- you know Mark Sanford. Was he one of those conservatives who was very active on this social -- social side of the issues?
CASTELLANOS: I think there are some Republicans that lecture, when they shouldn't, and who use government to impose their own values on people, when they shouldn't. And that's not the right thing to do.
However, let's -- let's remember that just because you aspire to a good moral life doesn't mean you're perfect, doesn't mean you're not entitled to fail, as we all do. So, no, I think -- don't hold it against Republicans for saying that these things do have a place in your life.
That's not what we're talking about.
BEGALA: But the...
BLITZER: Go ahead. Make your point.
BEGALA: Mark Sanford was -- he voted to impeach Bill Clinton for having an affair. He was the...
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: He was then a member of the House of Representatives.
BEGALA: Member of the House of Representatives. He was in Congress. He was the first congressman, at least that I could find on a Google search, the first, to call on Bob Livingston to resign. He was a Republican leader, about to become speaker. Livingston admitted an affair.
Sanford was the first Republican to step forward and say Livingston has to go. He has voted against -- not only is he against gay marriage. He's against gay civil unions. He's against gay adoption. He's against any kind of equal rights for gay Americans.
So, he has been incredibly judgmental about other people's sex lives. I think maybe we should teach him a lesson and not be judgmental about his. How about we forgive him and let him go back to being governor?
CASTELLANOS: Again -- again, having a set of moral beliefs, trying to live up to them, there's nothing wrong with that.
You're certainly not saying, Paul, that, so, therefore, we should have a value-free society and anything goes, because someday...
BEGALA: ... hypocrisy...
BLITZER: Let me show you. The other issue -- the other issue -- forget about the hypocrisy issue -- is, you know, he's the governor of a state.
And look at this timeline. And the newspaper "The State" in Columbia, South Carolina, put it together. On Thursday, Governor Sanford leaves the governor's mansion. On Friday, there's no response from Sanford to phone and text messages.
On Saturday, the governor's office reports no reason for concern. On Monday, the governor's office says Sanford is hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Today, he arrives at Atlanta Airport. A photographer is there, takes a picture, acknowledges he was in Argentina.
And, so, that's the bigger issue. Does the governor of a state simply disappear for five days?
CASTELLANOS: Again, the -- the emergency powers of the state, the power to deal with law enforcement flow through the governor's pen.
No, that's -- he needs to be there to do that job. That's why he was elected.
BEGALA: And the South Carolina constitution is really hazy about this. It's -- it's -- other states are much more clear. When the governor leads the state, the lieutenant governor has all the power.
South Carolina very unclear. There could have been a terrorist attack. There could have been a prison riot. There could have been a tornado or a hurricane. That's what I think could be an impeachable offense, even if he were just hiking and not sparking in Argentina. If he had just been disappearing, you can't that, if you're a governor.
CASTELLANOS: Of course, the other issue here is taxpayers' dollars. There's -- Governor Sanford is one of the most traveled governors. And we're going to -- he's been to China. He's been to Argentina. Who paid for that?
BLITZER: Guys, stand by, because we're going to continue this conversation down the road. Thanks very much. We're not going to leave this story for very long.
He's considered the face of the Iranian opposition, but Hossein Mousavi hasn't actually been seen in public for several days. We're looking into rumors of his arrest and the harassment of other high- profile Iranians.
And being a former vice president can be lucrative -- how Dick Cheney plans to earn millions of dollars.
And the Italian prime minister responds to a new dose of scandal, talking about prostitutes and -- quote -- "the pleasure of a conquest."
BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": a story to take your head over.
Check out these Barack Obama bobbleheads. Brooklyn's minor league baseball team, the Cyclones, gave them out yesterday. We're told the line to get the souvenirs stretched for two blocks nearly an hour before the game started. And, for that night only, the Brooklyn Cyclones renamed themselves the Baracklyn Cyclones, in tribute to the president.
The former Vice President Dick Cheney is set to put his life story on paper. He struck a deal to write his memoirs covering more than 40 years in government. Media reports have suggested Cheney will be paid in excess of $2 million. The book will be published by Simon & Schuster's Threshold Editions, where former Cheney aide and former CNN contributor Mary Matalin serves as editor in chief.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out CNNPolitics.com.
Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is: When it comes to Iran, can women ultimately make the difference in that country? Lindsay writes: "Yes, women absolutely can. I have heard there are more women out protesting in the streets than men. It makes me happy as a woman to hear that they're taking a stand for what they believe in, regardless of the misogynistic rules of the country they have been cursed to live in."
Jennifer in Winnipeg says: "I wish they could make a difference. But the way women are seen and treated by the men in that part of the world, it doesn't look too promising. Neda was shot down and died in the street. Has anyone been charged with her murder? I doubt it, because she was very probably shot by their so-called law enforcement. Women have no rights or worth there, probably never will, I'm very sorry to say."
Sylvia in California says: "My best friend, who is originally from Iran and has family there, says yes. She also tells me she is hearing from her friends and family back in Iran that the government of Iran has brought in Hamas and Hezbollah thugs to beat up the demonstrators, because Persian men will not hit women."
Cindie in Key West, Florida: "Ultimately, yes. As history will record, they are making a difference -- by being there, by protesting there, by defying the authorities, writing, texting, calling out their plight to the world. By being beaten there, and by dying there, the women are getting their messages out one way or the other. God bless them all."
Sharon in Chicago writes: "Absolutely. Ultimately, women have all the power, especially when physical strength differences are not at issue. Too often, we just don't understand exactly how much power we wield."
And Elly in Texas writes: "Yes, Jack, they already have. It is what we call in Iran 'shir zan,' which translates to 'lioness.' I am so proud of my fellow Iranian women. Once the government killed children, the women will never sleep until there is justice. Thanks for your coverage, CNN, because, without you, I wouldn't know what is going on in Iran."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there. There are among hundreds of them posted -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news: The Iranian security forces are sweeping down on demonstrators in a new and brutal, bloody confrontation. We're getting graphic eyewitness reports of a scene one source says is like a war zone.
And breaking news in this country: A missing governor returns with a stunning explanation for his absence and a tearful apology. Where has -- where has Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina been, and what has he been doing? And transportation experts sound the alarm after Washington's deadly Metro crash. They say aging systems are putting the lives of millions of Americans in danger right now.