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President Obama Meets With Russian Leader; Jackson Estate Power Grab?

Aired July 6, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also this hour, the touchy question President Obama ducked -- who's really the boss in Russia? The best political team on television is standing by.

And gone fishing -- rumors fly about Sarah Palin's reasons for stepping down as Alaska's governor. And the FBI offers a rare response.

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

President Obama's caught in the middle of Kremlin intrigue right now. He's trying to sort out exactly who's running Russia, even as he tries to mend U.S. ties with Moscow. It's all part of his first summit with the former superpower that includes a new nuclear arms agreement.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president.

He's joining us from Moscow -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is not a ratified treaty yet. But White House officials hope that today sets the stage for an historic arms agreement by the end of the year.


HENRY (voice-over): From Russia with love. President Obama and Medvedev expressing warm feelings as they inked a preliminary deal to cut each country's nuclear stockpile, warheads reduced to about 1,500 on each side from the limit of 2,200 already planned.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the world's two leading nuclear powers, the United States and Russia must lead by example. And that's what we're doing here today. HENRY: They also sealed the deal that lets the American military fly troops and weapons over Russian territory to the war in Afghanistan. And both men expressed admiration for each other even as they could not complete work on other issues, like the U.S. missile defense shield in Eastern Europe that bitterly divided the nations in the Bush years.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Now our American partners, unlike what was happening in recent years, have taken a pose and now are studying this situation. OBAMA: I trust President Medvedev to not only listen and to negotiate constructively, but also to follow through on the agreements that are contained here today.

HENRY: But there are still touchy subjects. Mr. Obama largely ducking a question about who is really in charge, Mr. Medvedev or Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

OBAMA: My interest is in dealing with my counterpart, the president, but also to reach out to Prime Minister Putin and all other influential sectors in Russian society.

HENRY: And he indicated the two leaders argued in private about Russia's incursion into the former Soviet Republic of Georgia last year.

OBAMA: We had a frank discussion on Russia -- on Georgia, and I reiterated my firm belief that Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.


HENRY: Also interesting that U.S. officials revealed the topic dominating the private talks was Iran, and, yet, in public, only Mr. Obama mentioned it. That's because dealing with Iran's nuclear program is still a major area where they're not quite on the same page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, joining us from Moscow, thank you.

The Obamas' daughters, Malia and Sasha, traveled with the president to Russia, as did the first lady. They're not only seeing the sights. They got to meet their father's counterpart in Moscow, the Russian president, Medvedev.

Here's something you don't hear every day, the FBI revealing who's not under investigation. That would be the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin. It's a rare response by the agency to rampant rumors out there about why Palin is stepping down as governor with still 18 months left in her term.

Let's go to Anchorage, Alaska, right now. CNN's Sean Callebs is joining us with more.

Sean, what's the latest?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, CNN just spoke with Sarah Palin's attorney. We have some pretty significant new information. A lot has been made about the fact that she made this announcement, this bombshell, if you will, on July 3, just before the July Fourth holiday.

Well, her attorney says that was not by accident, that she chose this day as her declaration of independence from politics as usual.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CALLEBS (voice-over): It's a shocker that upset the summer serenity of the last frontier.

NANCY HAYES, ALASKA RESIDENT: And I heard Sarah Palin resigned and I was like, "What?"

CALLEBS: It's all people here are talking about, what's next for her and why?

At diners and on the street, I found it's easy to weigh in on Sarah Palin. And some believe if she has aspirations of putting Alaska in the rearview mirror for a shot at Pennsylvania Avenue, why not walk away now?

BRIAN ARNOLD, ALASKA RESIDENT: She's had a lot of people here file ethics complaints. And if she's getting set up for 2012, I believe that she's probably going ahead and cutting her losses down to make her less of a liability in the future. CALLEBS: The FBI is making the unusual declaration that Palin is not under investigation following accusations on the Internet that she was stepping down because she may be facing charges. Palin is fishing with her family far from Anchorage, but getting her side of the story out on Twitter and on Facebook, saying, "How sad that Washington and the media will never understand it's about country. And though it's honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling, and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies to decisions I make."

But it's not just Washington and political commentators criticizing her for walking out on the job. Some of the loudest voices are her constituents.

RON CLARK, ALASKA RESIDENT: My personal opinion, that there will be some consequences to pay for that because people in general, they don't like quitters. And they look at this as being a quitter.

BRIAN MANGOLD, ALASKA RESIDENT: She has a commitment to the people of Alaska that she made a contract with. And I was kind of surprised that she took that avenue.


CALLEBS: We also talked with a source close to Palin who is familiar with her state of mind right now and says that she feels beat up, pummeled was the term used, beat up by the media, by Washington insiders, and by the legislature, and by the host, Wolf, of ethics violations allegations that have been brought against her.

She has spent about half a million dollars on those allegations herself, and the state has spent probably close to a couple of million -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sean Callebs in Anchorage for us, thank you. We will check back with you tomorrow.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Way back in 2003, former President George W. Bush announced plans to phase out the space shuttle program by next year and instead shift the focus and funding to what was named the Constellation program, a plan to send man back to the moon by 2020. And it's all part of a bigger plan to eventually send a manned space mission to Mars.

Well, none of that is going to happen any time soon. This country is broke, in a nasty recession. And, as a result, the Constellation program is being reconsidered because of budgetary constraints. The projected cost just for the Constellation capsule that would go to the moon, $150 billion and climbing.

Keep in mind, in 2009, just $6 billion was allotted for space exploration. Florida Senator John Nelson, who is a former astronaut, said the 2020 goal simply cannot be met, and NASA can't do its job.

President Obama's Commission on human spaceflight has looked into a proposal created by NASA engineers who have criticized the Constellation project. Their project is called Jupiter and would have the same objectives as Constellation, go to the moon, eventually to Mars, but is believed to cost only about half as much. Nevertheless, we're talking tens and tens of billions of billions of billions of dollars.

So, here's the question: In light of the ballooning national debt, what priority should the U.S. space program have?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you -- Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

There will be pomp, praise and a parade of celebrities, an absolute A list from sports, music and movies, slated to attend Michael Jackson's memorial service in L.A. tomorrow. And now we're hearing this.

The Jackson family will gather at a nearby cemetery only a few hours earlier in the morning.

Jackson's mother loses control of her son's estate. We are going to talk to CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin about what essentially has happened. Is it a power grab?

And a congressman calls Michael Jackson, and I'm quoting here, a "pervert." And he's not backing down.


BLITZER: We're learning new details about plans to remember Michael Jackson tomorrow.

Let's go to CNN's Susan Roesgen. She's joining us from the Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills cemetery. What are you learning, Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: What we're learning, Wolf, is that we can only call this a gathering. There is supposed to be a Jackson family gathering tomorrow morning about two hours before the actual public memorial at the Staples Center arena here in Los Angeles.

And yet this gathering is at a cemetery. And as far as final resting places go, Wolf, if Michael Jackson, if he is buried here, this is one of the finest final resting places in the country. It's beautiful. There are fountains and statues and rolling green hills.

And this is the celebrity cemetery in Los Angeles. Bette Davis is buried here, Lucille Ball, Ed McMahon just last week, Wolf. So, if Michael Jackson is actually buried here, it would make sense, because this is, again, a celebrity cemetery.

But all we can say at this point is that the Jackson family is planning a gathering here tomorrow morning at about 8:00 local time, two hours before the big public memorial here in Los Angeles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, 8:00 a.m. Pacific time, and then the public memorial service at the Staples Center starts at 10:00 a.m. Pacific time, 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

All right, Susie, thank you.

After the family gathering over at that cemetery, the massive public service will begin. And we're now learning of a sizable celebrity lineup. Among those slated to take part, Kobe Bryant, Mariah Carey, Magic Johnson, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Usher, and Stevie Wonder, among many others.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is over at the Staples Center in L.A.

What else are you picking up about what we can expect tomorrow, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, one other note, Wolf, is that the producer of this event is also the producer of the live Grammy Awards. So, one would expect that there will be a lot of music and a lot of high production going into what the folks lucky enough to get a ticket will be seeing here at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Right now, at the Staples Center, you can see that the enthusiasm is starting to build. A lot of people have come down here. And many of them will be cleared out tomorrow. Starting at midnight tonight, this area is going to be sealed off.

Nobody without credentials, a ticket or a wristband allowing them access will be allowed into about a one-block area. And the reason for that is they're really discouraging people from around the country to come down here and center outside the Staples Center. Police say they will be out in force. Also out in force, the media, which is obvious. Worldwide attention will be given to this. Obviously tomorrow this will be simulcast around the world, so a lot of television networks from around the world have come out here and set up camp and are preparing to broadcast.

So, you can see that this is -- this is going to be quite an event, obviously, here at Staples Center. They are getting ready for tomorrow. It's very evident here today.

BLITZER: All right. We will have, of course, live coverage here on CNN.

Ted, thank you.

Let's get a little bit more now on where tomorrow's big memorial service will take place. The Staples Center in L.A. opened back in October 1999. It's home to two NBA basketball teams, the Lakers and the Clippers, as well as the NHL's L.A. Kings.

It's also played host to performances by musical legends, including Madonna, Prince, the Rolling Stones. The center was the site back in 2000 for the Democratic National Convention, where this memorable kiss took place -- a lot of you will remember -- with then Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore and his wife, Tipper.

Meanwhile, a judge has turned over control of Michael Jackson's assets from his mother to the executors of his will.

Let's bring in our CNN senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.

All right, explain to our viewers what this means for the family.


Well, just to recall what happened, right after Michael Jackson died, it was not clear whether he had a will. At that time, a judge temporarily awarded financial control of his estate to his mother, because someone had to have signing power.

Well, then, last week, Michael Jackson's will surfaced. And it is, by all accounts, a legitimate will. And, today, the executors of the will, led by John Branca, a well-known Los Angeles lawyer, came into court and said, look, I'm the executor. I want to take charge.

Katherine Jackson, her lawyers said, no, we want to share power. But the judge said the will controls, so John Branca is now in charge of Michael Jackson's financial affairs. He's the executor of the will.

BLITZER: And, so, specifically, there's a lot of money at stake here, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. So at least until now, until early August, when there's another hearing on this matter, he can decide how this money is allocated, or whatever?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. He has close to absolute control of how the money is spent, how it's invested, what they choose to sponsor, what they choose not to sponsor, how money gets distributed to beneficiaries, to the trust, which is the major beneficiary of the will.

It's an enormously powerful position. And you can see why there was controversy about it. But this is why people write wills. Michael Jackson's will couldn't be clearer that the executors have all the power.

BLITZER: So, is this a big or a modest setback to the Jackson family, specifically the mother?

TOOBIN: Well, it's a big setback, I would say, but it's an obvious one, because the will was so clear on this subject.

Now, she remains a beneficiary, it appears, of the trust. So, she will certainly get money from Michael Jackson's estate eventually. But in terms of controlling how that money is invested, this is a major setback. She at this moment has absolutely no control at all. It's all with the executor.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Jeff Toobin, with some analysis.

The hottest ticket in Hollywood is for a mass memorial. These are live pictures of people getting their tickets to the service for Michael Jackson. For such a solemn occasion, why do some people feel like they hit the jackpot?

And what would James Bond do? A British spy sees his cover blown after being outed on Facebook. Wait until you hear who's to blame.

And Vice President Joe Biden says Israel can go it alone regarding Iran, if it wants to. Is this the Obama administration's official policy, or is the vice president off-message?

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



BLITZER: What were personal details and photographs of the incoming chief of Britain's international spy agency doing on Facebook? Guess what? You have to ask his wife.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is here. She's got some revealing photos of the new head of MI6.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, yes. This is MI6. This is the British spy agency that was at one point so secretive that the British government didn't even admit that it existed.

Well, now take a look. This is the incoming chief of MI6, in his shorts, playing on the beach, posted on Facebook thanks to his wife. This is Sir John Sawers. His wife, Lady Shelley, had posted this online. Britain's "Mail on Sunday" yesterday posted them in the newspaper, all the stuff that had been shared on the site, family fun, personal details as well, according to the newspaper, like the location of the couple's London flat.

Well, it's now all been taken offline, but some members of parliament, Wolf, want answers about what it was doing up there.

BLITZER: And here's a key question. Are any of those photos, any of the information a real danger to Britain's national security?

TATTON: Well, not according to the British government. You had the U.K.'s foreign secretary, David Miliband, saying it's not a state secret that he wears Speedo swimming trunks. Well, that may be a fair point, but it's still pretty embarrassing for the government to have to go on the defensive about Speedos on the BBC because headlines like this were traveling round the globe.

BLITZER: Yes. It could be damaging to know where he lives, if he's the chief of British intelligence.

TATTON: Absolutely, but not according to the government.

BLITZER: You don't want to put his address out there. That's for sure. All right, thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Michael Jackson fans have just a few more hours to claim the ticket of a lifetime.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are very excited. We loved Michael Jackson. He was an amazing talent. And he will be forever loved and missed by everyone. So, yes! We are going, baby.


BLITZER: We're going to hear from some of the winners of the random drawing to attend Michael Jackson's memorial service tomorrow.

Plus, a congressman blasts the news media's coverage of Jackson's death. Did Republican Congressman Peter King of New York cross the line, though, in his remarks about Jackson?


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

Happening now: Many people remember him as a musical genius, but a New York congressman says he should be remembered as -- quote -- "a pervert." Congressman Peter King wants the news media to stop glorifying Michael Jackson, and the congressman is not backing down today. Stand by.

How should Israel handle Iran's nuclear program? The vice president, Joe Biden, says Israel can go it alone. Is he right on, or off-message from the administration's official policy? We will discuss.

And what's so funny? A man formerly known for telling jokes is ready to tackle will some very serious problems facing the country. Will Al Franken be a reliable Democratic vote when he's sworn in as senator? All of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

A New York congressman has some harsh words, very harsh words, about the coverage of Michael Jackson's death. He says the news media is glorifying -- glorifying -- a lowlife, his words. Representative Peter King of New York says Jackson was a pedophile and doesn't deserve all the attention he's getting.

Let's go to New York. CNN's Mary Snow is following the story for us -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Congressman Peter King says he understands Jackson's impact on pop culture, but he's slamming the media, saying, 10 days of coverage is going too far.


REP. PETE KING (R), NEW YORK: This is crazy. This is insanity.

SNOW (voice-over): Congressman Peter King says the media has disgraced itself with its extensive coverage of Michael Jackson's death. And the New York Republican says he felt it was his public duty to post this message on YouTube.

KING: Let's knock out the psychobabble. This guy was a pervert. He was a child molester. He was a pedophile. And to be giving this much coverage to him day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country?

SNOW: Jackson was acquitted in 2005 of child molestation charges, but reportedly paid $20 million to settle another case.

We asked King about that and he stood by his comments.

KING: Whether or not he was convicted of a precise crime by his own admission, and also by cases he settled, lawsuits he settled against him, there's an admission that he acted very, very inappropriately with young kids.

SNOW: King says he felt compelled to speak out after attending Fourth of July parades and questioned why more attention isn't given to members of the armed forces and public servants such as teachers and police officers.

But Bryan Monroe, the former editorial director of "Ebony" and "Jet" magazines, and CNN contributor, says King went too far by bringing up charges Jackson was acquitted of.

BRYAN MONROE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Once you are proven innocent, and not guilty, that's it. That's it. That's the case closed. And, so, for him to put those charges out there, whether or not he likes the -- the performer or not, whether or not he even has a sense that the coverage has been over the top, I think he crossed the line.


SNOW: And, Wolf, separately, King isn't the only Congressman criticizing all the attention given to Michael Jackson. Kentucky Democrat John Yarmouth said last week on a Los Angeles radio station that he was "close to nauseated" by the moment of silence on the House floor for Jackson. He said he got up and walked away because he thought it was over the top -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Wow! Mary Snow.

Thanks very much.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, by the way, had this to say in response to Congressman King's comments. Let me quote Al Sharpton: "Mr. King raises allegations that were found to be baseless in the courts. Thank God millions of people openly disagree with Mr. King and his comments."

Sharpton goes on to say: "We will continue to celebrate Michael Jackson -- an iconic and historic figure."

One of the most sought after tickets in the world right now -- a ticket to get into Michael Jackson's public memorial service tomorrow. Hundreds of thousands of people trying to get their hands on these tickets.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez caught up with a woman who did -- Thelma?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm standing at the entrance to Dodger Stadium. And this long line of cars that you see behind me are people who are waiting to actually pick up their tickets.

We talked to one woman who told us she felt like she just won the lottery.




GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Veronica Lee could barely contain herself. She just learned this morning she won the golden ticket.

VERONICA LEE, JACKSON MEMORIAL TICKET WINNER: I checked it this morning and it was there. And like I had the e-mail saying that, you know, that I had got it. And I was like...

GUTIERREZ (on camera): What did you do?

All weekend long you were excited and...

LEE: I screamed. I screamed. I jumped up and down. I woke up all the kids in the house.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pick any (INAUDIBLE). They all are open to her. Get your tickets and you out of here, baby.

LEE: Oh, OK.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): The single mother of three from Burbank, California told me her win is bittersweet. She was looking forward to seeing Michael Jackson in concert.

LEE: It's sad that he's not there, but I'm just happy to like be here -- to be able to finally get the ticket.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): You're -- you're so emotional right now.

LEE: Yes.

GUTIERREZ: Tell me what's going through your mind.

LEE: He was like the greatest, you know, musician, I think, that ever will be on this Earth.

GUTIERREZ: How long have you been a fan of Michael Jackson's?

LEE: Since I was a baby, like dancing in my crib to his music.

GUTIERREZ: Was there a particular song that you loved?

LEE: "I'll Be There."


LEE: I love hearing that song.

GUTIERREZ: What does it say to you?

LEE: Well, now it's kind of like -- like since his passing it just -- you know, it's just like this -- to me, it kind of like seems like it's speaking to him. Like, you know, like he'll always be there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I actually have some more good news for you. You did make the Staples Center show (INAUDIBLE).

LEE: Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang onto that.

LEE: Thank you. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're all set.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Tomorrow, she says, she will say good- bye and mourn the greatest entertainer who ever lived -- and in some ways, she says, part of her youth.


GUTIERREZ: Organizers say the entire area around Staples arena will be so tightly controlled that unless you have your tickets and your gold wrist band, you're better off watching the memorial service at home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll, of course, have live coverage here on CNN.

This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- noticeably absent from the roster of stars taking part in Jackson's memorial tomorrow is close and long time friend, Elizabeth Taylor. And now she's explaining why. She's explaining it online.

Let's go back to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

What is Liz Taylor saying -- Abbi.

TATTON: Wolf, she's saying that she's not going to be there tomorrow at the Staples Center because she believes that her close friend, Michael, wouldn't want her to go. And she's explaining why just in the last hour, on her Twitter account, where 75,000 people follow her.

She says she was asked to speak at the Staples Center, but she can't be part of the public hoopla. She on goes on to say that she couldn't guarantee that she'd be coherent to say a word anyway and then explains: "I just don't believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others."

Elizabeth Taylor has used this site over the last few days to share her grief with her followers, posting last Friday about how sad she was. But she did go online over the weekend to say that the rumors online that had said that she was on some kind of suicide watch were just not true -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Remember, we'll have live coverage tomorrow here on CNN of the memorial service.

Putting trust in Russia -- could President Obama's words come back to haunt him, like President Bush's words did?

David Gergen, Candy Crowley and David Frum -- they're all standing by. We'll talk about that and a lot more.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story -- the president of the United States meets with the president of Russia today in Moscow. Lots to discuss.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley; David Frum, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush; and CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen.

All right, guys, all of you will remember what President Bush said about Vladimir Putin -- the then president of Russia -- back on June 16th, 2001, during his first year in office.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I looked the man in the eye and I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. And we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.


BLITZER: All right. And today, President Obama was standing right next to President Medvedev and he said this.


OBAMA: I trust President Medvedev to not only listen and to negotiate constructively, but also to follow up -- follow through on the agreements that are contained here today.


BLITZER: David Gergen, are those words potentially likely to embarrass President Obama, as President Bush's words about Putin certainly embarrassed him?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think so, Wolf. I think they -- I think where he may come to regret those words. We'll have to wait and see. You know, the standard position of most new presidents over the last years has been the one that President Reagan famously took with regard to the Russians -- trust but verify.

And I'm surprised that President Obama didn't embrace that notion here because, of course, he's -- President Obama is under some attack. And often the attack line on him is that he's too weak in standing up to authoritarians and authoritarian regimes and he needs to be a little tougher and a little less trusting.

BLITZER: What do you think, David Frum?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: President Obama always chooses his words carefully. He chose them, I thought, quite carefully today -- that is, much less than a ringing endorsement. He didn't say he trusted President Medvedev, he said he trusted him to do certain things. And trusting him to honor his signed commitment is, I think, an expression of hope.

The real problem with this president, as always, is not what he says, but what he does. He has gone to Russia with fundamentally the wrong goal. He thinks that we can somehow inspire other countries to reduce their nuclear arms by reducing the American nuclear stockpile.

And, meanwhile, he is giving up a very important American right, which is to continue testing nuclear weapons so that we can replace aging weapons with a new generation of smaller and more accurate weapons.

BLITZER: You know, the words that were exchanged at that news conference, Candy, today between these two presidents were very, very positive.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were. And that's because there is something in it for both the United States and for Russia. People tend to get very chummy in their language when they're both trying to get something out of each other. And they are.

And I agree with the second David, because I do think that President Obama's words were much narrower in scope than President Bush's were. I mean he was talking specifically about the agreement that they were agreeing to on this day, as opposed to, in general, I trust this man. So I think it's -- it's a narrower focus here.

But as far as their cordiality toward one another, it is their first sort of full length session over there. And I think it's the kind of thing you can expect, certainly from the Obama administration.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the vice president for a moment.

David Gergen, I'll start with you.

This is what Vice President Joe Biden told Gloria Borger and me when we interviewed him back on April 6th. The question involved Israel and Iran.


BLITZER: How worried are you that the new government of Israel, under Prime Minister Netanyahu, will launch a strike to take out Iran's nuclear facilities?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I -- I don't believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that. I think it would be ill-advised to do that.


BLITZER: All right. Now, this is what he told George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.


BIDEN: Israel can determine for itself, as a sovereign nation, what's in their interests in what they decide to do relative to Iran or anyone else.


BLITZER: All right. It sounded to me like, obviously, a difference, although the White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, says: "The vice president refused to engage in hypotheticals. He made clear that our policy has not changed. Our friends and allies, including Israel, know that the president believes that now is the time to explore direct diplomatic options."

David Gergen, what do you think?

GERGEN: I think he misspoke. And he clearly went off the party line out of the White House, which had been pretty consistently that that's something we will discuss down the road, but we clearly don't want the Israelis to strike.

And it has been a matter of great concern in foreign policy circles now for some time that the -- Israel and the United States have a somewhat different view. The Israelis see this as an existential threat to them if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. And, you know, there are people who worry, inside the administration, that Israel will strike.

But there has been a clear sense within the administration that they would try to put a great deal of pressure on the Israelis not to do that. And that's why there is such pressure on Obama -- President Obama -- to come up with some sort of breakthrough on the negotiations in the next few months, because Israel -- you know, Iran's too close. And the window is starting to get very narrow.

So that's why the Obama administration is moving the way it is.

I think the vice president, in retrospect, would have expressed it the way he did to you and Gloria if he had a second chance yesterday.

BLITZER: Because, David, from -- sources close to the vice president said to me: "There's no contradiction there. Yes, Israel is a sovereign, independent nation. They can make up their own mind. But at the same time, the U.S. clearly does not believe Israel should go ahead and launch any sort of preemptive strike.


It's like Vice President Biden has offended the political gods and they've put this horrific curse on him, where he is condemned to blurt out the truth at regular intervals and to say what he really thinks, which is very damaging to him.

Israel is a sovereign country and it can do what it wants. And the United States can pressure it, the country -- you can never pressure another country into committing suicide.

What is most tragic about all of this is, from the American point of view, the possibility that Israel might strike is a good thing. And the idea that you're going to shame Iran somehow into giving up nuclear weapons, by the United States building down, rather than muscle them into giving up weapons through this kind of pressure, that's completely wrong. The vice president's answer was a better answer than the president's answer.

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, guys, we've got to leave it right there -- right there, because there's a developing story happening right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go to CNN's David Mattingly.

He's joining us from Gaffney, South Carolina.

What's going on -- David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Gaffney, South Carolina, the scene of a string of serial murders -- five people dead in recent days. Now, authorities say they believe they have their man.

It happened at a shootout in North Carolina this morning. A suspect was killed and now, hours later, they're finding out that the ballistics have come back. The gun -- the bullets in that man's gun who was killed this morning in North Carolina match the murders here in South Carolina.

So, needless to say, people here in South Carolina are breathing a huge sigh of relief, knowing that a serial killer is now off the streets -- in fact, dead; not able to hurt anyone else at all.

And here with me is the top cop for South Carolina, Reggie Lloyd, the head of SLED, the State Law Enforcement Division.

How long was it before you actually knew this was your man?

REGGIE LLOYD, SOUTH CAROLINA LAW ENFORCEMENT DIVISION: It sort of played out as the day went on. They -- we -- we got a call from North Carolina authorities very early this morning, right after the shootout. They recognized certain descriptions of a vehicle.

MATTINGLY: He sort of matched the description that you had and his vehicle?

LLOYD: He sort of matched the description, as well as the vehicle, as well as the firearm that he was using. And we sent agents up there. They worked with North Carolina agents. And we began to send evidence back to South Carolina for processing.

MATTINGLY: And it was the bullets -- the bullets from his gun?

LLOYD: Right. Right now, there's ballistic evidence that we feel really good about that links him here. And there's some other evidence that we're trying to confirm right now, that we believe put him in the vicinity of each of these murders here in South Carolina. So we're -- we're just confirming that evidence. But right now, we feel really good that this is the individual.

MATTINGLY: Case not closed, but a killer is off the streets.

LLOYD: We believe a killer is off the street. And, you know, at this point, we're working backwards to make sure we collect all the evidence and nail this case down. We're also trying to confirm his prior record in not only South Carolina or North Carolina, but we believe he has an extensive record in some other states.

MATTINGLY: OK. Thank you very much.

And now working backward, Wolf, there's going to be a lot of work to do with that. There's going to be a news conference a little bit later today and we're going to find out more about this suspect, his I.D. and his past history with the law. So this story essentially just beginning on who this man is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's check back with you.

Thanks very much, David Mattingly, for the breaking news out of South Carolina.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?


Tonight, at the top of the hour, we'll have the latest on the -- the killing of that alleged murderer in North Carolina.

And Michael Jackson's mother losing control of her son's assets, at least temporarily. A judge has given Jackson's attorney and a friend control of the estate. The courtroom drama unfolding as Los Angeles and the world preparing for tomorrow's spectacle of the Jackson memorial.

Also tonight, Governor Sarah Palin giving a hint of her political ambitions after her stunning resignation. She also has fired a warning shot at the liberal media establishment.

And chaos in Honduras -- the ousted president trying to return to power, but his plane is blocked from landing. Tonight, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez blames the United States for his ouster.

Please join us for all of that, all of the day's news and more, at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Lou.

We'll see you in a few moments.

It's the most talked about resignation speech in recent memory, with everyone trying to read between the lines.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look at what people are saying about Sarah Palin's surprise announcement. That's coming up.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: ...the ball and pass the ball when it's time.



BLITZER: Al Franken says he's ready to go to work as the new U.S. senator from Minnesota. And he's potentially the Democrats' new filibuster breaker. The former "Saturday Night Live" funny man is taking the job he begins tomorrow very, very seriously.

Let's go to Capitol Hill.

CNN's Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us. He was pretty serious today. Not a whole lot of laughs.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Actually, yes, Wolf, he was pretty serious. He certainly left the jokes at the door. He showed up in a power suit, took a tour of the Senate floor, where he's going to be sworn in tomorrow as the second senator from Minnesota.

And he stressed over and over -- it was really the refrain of the day -- I'm here to work hard. I am here to do the work of Minnesotans. And he really talked about the issues -- health care and energy.

And there really was not a whole lot of humor about. It was also a bit of a move in day for him. We were camped out outside of his office which, oddly, Wolf, is the old office of Senator Norm Coleman, who he narrowly defeated. And you just saw every -- all the new furniture going in, all of the office supplies going in. So he's really just getting started here on Capitol Hill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to cover him and his new assignment.

Thanks very much, Brianna, for that.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, in light of the ballooning national debt, what priority should the U.S. space program have?

Mike in New Orleans says: "The trillions of dollars spent on our space program over the years have resulted in the invention of Tang and microwave ovens and fat, cushy contracts for friends of politicians. Let's cool our jets until the economy improves." Dennis in Michigan says: "The space program fuels research and innovation and usually winds up producing new products for the American economy. We'd be dumb to cancel funding for it. If any budget needs to be trimmed, it's the Defense Department budget. A lot of pork there -- stuff that doesn't help the men and women in uniform."

Tom in Michigan writes: "We need a space program right now like we need another bailout of AIG. Both are a total waste of tax money. Never, never will this world benefit from space travel to justify what we've spent on its exploration."

Mari in Utah disagrees: "Tough question, Jack. My husband, who loves science, would say that space exploration is right up there with the military. Who knows what we'll discover if we continue to invest in the space program? Perhaps a new form of clean energy, another planet that could sustain human life in case we continue to destroy this one. Sadly, too many Americans are not informed about the value of the space program."

Debi in Florida says: "There are few programs more important than our space program. Advances in science, medicine and consumer products are the least of these -- creating jobs both in existing and new fields. We must be in space to help solve our current crisis of global warming. The space program has always paid us back much more than what it's cost."

And Heather in Beaumont, Texas says: "Between the bleeding out of jobs left and right, 47 million Americans without health insurance and the crumbling infrastructure, NASA is just going to have to sit down and shut up for a while."

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

BLITZER: It's good to have you back, Jack.

Thanks very much for that.

What was Sarah Palin really trying to say?

It depends on who you ask -- the resignation speech that even pundits are having a hard time translating.


BLITZER: CNN's Jeanne Moos has a Moost Unusual look at the resignation speech that's a pundit's dream come true.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Now that everyone has had a few days...


PALIN: God bless you, Alaska.


MOOS: digest Governor Sarah Palin's backyard press conference


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Sarah, how could you?


MOOS: It's all become crystal clear, right?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trying to read between the rambling lines.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has the political world scratching its head, if the world can scratch its head.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe she wants to make some money.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST: Maybe she's just tired of all the (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).


MOOS: Folks seem just as confused now as they were when the news broke.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Almost nonsensical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, could she be pregnant again?

CROWLEY: Well, I -- I certainly don't know the answer to that last thought.

MOOS: But everyone had a thought.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah Palin's thin skin did her in.


MOOS: You'd have thin skin, too, if you heard comments like this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She just begs for adjectives like flakey and wacky.


MOOS: She couldn't even breathe without being made fun of -- and she took a lot of deep breaths.


PALIN: It's pretty insane.


MOOS: Some supplied...


PALIN: I'm determined to take the right path for Alaska.


MOOS: ...what they called English translation.


PALIN: We're not retreating, we are advancing in another direction.


MOOS: And even as reporters advanced to Russia to follow President Obama, the Palin story went along.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, first of all, you know, can I see Alaska from Russia.


MOOS: It was Governor Palin's basketball analogy...


PALIN: We need to keep our eye on the basket.


MOOS: ...that really left foreheads furrowed.


PALIN: Keeping our eye on the ball.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Now, I don't know...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's why...

GOLDBERG: You're not Kobe Bryant.


COOPER: I don't know who the hoop is. I don't know who the ball is.

MOOS: The ball is what the press is having. Watch one pundit roll his eyes at another's comments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, she's depending on her own arms here and she -- she is she's going to take it on.


MOOS (on camera): You know a news story is weird when it starts to intersect with other weird news stories. For instance, Governor Palin meets Michael Jackson.


PALIN: We're fisherman. We know that only dead fish go with the flow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was probably the most incoherent eight minutes of video since Michael Jackson tried to explain his sleepovers.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Jackson, move over.


MOOS: Just call her the thrilla from Wasilla.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going on vacation.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos...


MOOS: ...CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And please be sure to tune in tomorrow. We're going to have complete coverage of the Michael Jackson memorial service. Our coverage begins at 12:00 noon Eastern. The service actually begins at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll have complete coverage right here on CNN.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.