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THE SITUATION ROOM

Michael Jackson's Final Resting Place?; Second Stimulus Package?

Aired July 9, 2009 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This hour, top secret briefings, accusations of torture and a defense of the House speaker. He can't always get what he wants -- what the global recession is costing President Obama at his first G8 Summit.

And Michael Jackson, a huge mystery right now -- will he be buried at Neverland? New inquiries also about the pop store's final resting place.

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

Up first this hour: President Obama tests his limits. He may be the superstar over at the G8 Summit in Italy, but that's not stopping other leaders from throwing cold water on a lot of his agenda. Take, for instance, what happened today to his goal of trying to reduce global warming.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president -- Suzanne.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Obama is a popular figure here at the G8 Summit. But the larger these meetings get, the harder it is to find consensus, as the president acknowledged and discovered today when he held a meeting on climate change.

(voice-over): Among world leaders here at the G8 Economic Summit in Italy, President Obama is the rookie, but also the star.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MALVEAUX: Playful applause for Mr. Obama, who showed up late for the class photo. The president's newbie status didn't stop him from acting like the class president, arranging this photo op. But the gathered leaders did not move far from their entrenched positions.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've made a good start, but I'm the first one to acknowledge that progress on this issue will not be easy.

MALVEAUX: After chairing a forum on climate change, a dose of reality. OBAMA: It is no small task for 17 leaders to bridge their differences on an issue like climate change. MALVEAUX: The world leaders watered down the group statement committed to tackling global warming. Just the day before, the U.S. and other G8 leaders signed on to the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. But today, joined by leaders from rapidly developing countries who are also big polluters, like China, India and Brazil, they had to scrap the commitment.

Instead, adding language that said they'd figure it out later at another summit in December. Poorer nations believe the burden of cutting greenhouse gas emissions will unfairly fall on them.

PHIL RADFORD, GREENPEACE USA: I think that India and China won't come on board and help us solve global warming unless they see that the people responsible for most of the pollution, the U. S. , which has emitted 30 percent of the world's pollution in the atmosphere to date, are actually taking a leadership role and getting serious about the problem.

MALVEAUX: President Obama says he gets it.

OBAMA: We have the much larger carbon footprint per capita. And I know that in the past, the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibility. So let me be clear. Those days are over.

MALVEAUX (on camera): Mr. Obama points to his administration's efforts to promote fuel-efficiency standards, develop clean energy, and also to get a climate bill before Congress, all of these points that he will bring up before these world leaders when they meet the next time in Pittsburgh in September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux reporting for us from the G8 Summit in Italy.

Check out, by the way, this close encounter between President Obama and the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, a leader the world once shunned. That would be Moammar Gadhafi. They shook hands today before a dinner over at the G8 Summit. Libya, as you know, emerged from its internationally-known pariah status after renouncing nuclear weapons and paying for the 1998 Pan Am 103 bombing, that airliner, killed a lock of people over Lockerbie, Scotland, back in 1998.

But now the United States and Libya have full diplomatic relations. And the two leaders met in Italy today.

Let's get to an explosive allegation being leveled once again at the CIA. Some top Democrats accuse the spy agency of misleading or outright lying to Congress. And they say the CIA chief, Leon Panetta, has admitted it.

But Republicans say this is a purely political case of Democrats trying to protect one of their leaders.

Our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is up on Capitol Hill with more on this story.

It's taking some dramatic twists and turns, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the House is set to take up a big intelligence agency bill, and Republicans seeing this as an opportunity to attack House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for some comments that she has made about the CIA.

Knowing that, Democrats have staged a preemptive strike.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): To hear Democrats tell it, the CIA has been keeping Congress in the dark for the last eight years.

(on camera): What does this mean?

REP. ANNA ESHOO (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It means that something very serious broke down.

KEILAR (voice-over): Anna Eshoo and six other Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee say Leon Panetta himself revealed in a closed-door briefing last month that the CIA misled members of Congress. In a letter to Panetta, they say, "Recently, you testified that you have determined that top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all members of Congress and misled members for a number of years."

ESHOO: He informed us that there was an operation that was in place from 2001 until the day before he came to notify us.

KEILAR: But Pete Hoekstra, the committee's top Republican, downplayed the significance of Panetta's briefing.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I heard about a concept and a plan and some preparation on a program, a program that was never implemented. So, basically, we were briefed on a program that never happened.

KEILAR: Democrats and Republicans wouldn't give specifics because they say the information is classified.

The partisan sniping reignites another controversy -- Nancy Pelosi's accusation that the CIA essentially lied to her in a 2002 briefing about so-called harsh interrogation tactics such as waterboarding used on terror suspects. After facing weeks of scathing criticism from Republicans, Pelosi was less than eager to reopen the debate.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The Intelligence Committee has the oversight responsibility for intelligence in the House, and an equivalent committee in the Senate. I'm sure they will be pursuing this in their regular committee process, and that's the way that it will go.

KEILAR: House Republican Leader John Boehner said the new information does not vindicate Pelosi. REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: I do not believe that the CIA lied to Congress. I'm still waiting for Speaker Pelosi to either put up the facts or retract her statement and apologize.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: The truth is, on a story like this dealing with classified briefings, Wolf, it is really hard to sort out all of what's going on here.

Not only are we not getting specifics from folks up here on the Hill, but the CIA doesn't comment on these classified matters, saying only that is not the policy or practice of the agency to mislead Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brianna. We will get more on this story.

Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No doubt about it, the tough economic times call for tough decisions and some thinking outside the box.

So, in an effort to relieve budget woes, the governor of Illinois, not Rod Blagojevich, the new guy, is proposing the early release of up to 10,000 prisoners. The move would reportedly save Illinois taxpayers $125 million a year and result in the layoffs of about 1,000 corrections department employees.

It would also put thousands of convicts on the streets. Ah, but have no fear. Officials hasten to assure all of us that these would only be released those deemed by the state as nonthreatening and who have less than a year left to serve.

Critics say it is just a scheme by the governor to frighten people in Illinois into supporting an income tax increase. But Illinois isn't the only state to consider such a move. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made a similar proposal in California a while back, said it would save $180 million by releasing undocumented inmates, among other things.

In the past, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Kentucky have considered such plans, too. And Mississippi is actually doing it. Critics argue public safety isn't the place to cut the budget. And then there's also the issue of whether or not a governor has the authority to release thousands of inmates whose sentences were imposed by a judge after they were convicted in a court of law.

Here's the question. Is releasing prisoners early a good way for the states to save money? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog.

That suspected serial killer down in -- was it North or South Carolina last week?

BLITZER: South Carolina. CAFFERTY: Killed five people.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: He was let out of jail.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

a reporter calls it a rare public glimpse into the secret war between the United States and Iran in Iraq. Michael Ware is in Baghdad. He's about to explain what's going on, as the U.S. military sets free five Iranians arrested more than two years ago in Iraq. What's going on?

And do you think the economy is being stimulated fast enough, or does it need another multibillion-dollar boost. There is Democratic talk of yet another stimulus package and Republican talk of that being a huge mistake.

And one expert wants to show you how easy it is to rip off your identity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALESSANDRO ACQUISTI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND PUBLIC POLICY, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY: Social Security numbers are very bad passwords. They were not designed to be used the way we are using them now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Iraq today, at least 35 people were killed in a double suicide bombing in the northern city of Tal Afar -- 65 others were wounded. Separately, another person was killed in a bombing, this one apparently targeting a police patrol in Kirkuk. And seven were killed, more than 30 wounded, in a pair of bombings right in Baghdad.

All of this is happening amid important new developments that could have a major impact on the relationship between Washington and Tehran.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Baghdad, our correspondent Michael Ware.

Michael some significant news potentially today. After, what, two years, the U.S. military is now releasing some Iranians that were arrested in Iraq. What's going on? MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is truly an extraordinary story.

This is a rare public glimpse at the murky world of the covert conflict being waged here in battlefield Iraq between Iran and America. Now, these five Iranians who were detained two-and-a-half years ago and have been held by the Americans ever since, Tehran says that they are diplomats. From the beginning, the U.S. military has said, no, they are elite operatives from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who were supporting Shia militias.

Now, this fits into a much broader picture about this secret war being essentially by the spies and covert ops. These Iranians were arrested in January 2007, five of them. Nine days later, an Iranian- back Shia militia attempted to kidnap five American soldiers. Now, that went awry. And the soldiers were killed or executed.

A few months later, five British nationals were snatched right from within the bowels of the ministry of finance here in the capital, Baghdad. Now, those five British hostages have remained -- spent (INAUDIBLE) or marked their second anniversary in captivity back in May.

Now, just recently, the Americans released two very senior Shia militia leaders backed by Iran. What happened next? The bodies of two of the five British hostages were -- were given to the Brits. Now, with the release of these five Iranians, we wait to see what happens next in this covert war being fought here in the shadows in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What is the official explanation the U.S. is giving for releasing these five Iranians?

WARE: It was a request from the Iraqi government, no more, no less.

However, I will tell you that, in a briefing with a senior U.S. official not so long ago, when I asked about the release of one of the key militia leaders, I was told to take my question up with the British.

BLITZER: Interesting.

WARE: You make of that what you will, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, this shadow war is obviously continuing.

Michael Ware in Baghdad, thanks very much.

WARE: Thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: From national security to economic security.

Many of you want and need more jobs and prosperity right now. But could one idea create jobs more quickly or simply become a huge waste of money?

Let's go to Kate Bolduan. She has got more on this story.

Kate, what's going on?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Wolf.

Well, there is no dispute how painful the massive job losses have been. But there is plenty of disagreement over whether there is a need for another stimulus. It is a tough call, risky politically, but some say it is also risky not to consider or plan for if the economy doesn't recover.

Well, the administration seems to think it is too soon to tell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: Our great vice president, Joe Biden.

(APPLAUSE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): The man President Obama calls the sheriff, pounding the pavement from New York to high who Ohio, crisscrossing the country defending the stimulus package.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Remember, we are only 140 days into this deal. This is supposed to take 18 months.

BOLDUAN: But now, five months since the Recovery Act took effect, some Democrats and economists are talking about possible stimulus round two for the Obama administration, quickly fueling partisan fire. Republicans say that would be repeating a huge mistake.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The bottom line is this. The stimulus isn't creating enough jobs.

BOLDUAN: Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for patience and predicting results.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't think it has been given all the time to work. This third quarter is a big quarter for the stimulus. And I think that people will begin to see more of the results.

BOLDUAN: So, where do things stand? According to the White House Budget Office, $158 billion of the $787 billion is committed. But Washington has so far distributed about $57 billion, numbers and a timeline that some economists say mean it is still too early to tell if yet another stimulus jolt is needed.

Economist Mark Zandi has advised Congress and the administration on the stimulus plan.

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODYSECONOMY.COM: I really do think it will be October, November, December before we have a clearer sense of how well this is working. The maximum benefit to the economy really won't occur until later this fall.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: And jobs, Zandi says we may have to wait until early next year to gauge success there. If the economy is still struggling then, he suggests a new stimulus could include more money to state governments, as he predicts budget problems to only get worse, and also more help for taxpayers, like a temporary payroll tax holiday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A huge debate going to happen here.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Kate, very much.

They are things you likely never really worry about sharing, when you were born, where you were born, but what if those innocent things about you could be used to victimize you in an entirely new and wicked way?

Let's bring in our Brian Todd. He has got more on this story.

What's going on, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a 36-year-old professor from Italy has opened a new battlefront against identity theft by exposing the predictability of how we currently get assigned our Social Security numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University says all he needs to get started in finding your Social Security number is your date of birth and the state where you were born, information that millions of Americans freely give out by registering to vote or putting it on their Facebook or MySpace pages.

(on camera): We're going to try to at least get in the ballpark of my Social Security number. I was born in Virginia. And, OK, guys, leave out the date here, October (AUDIO GAP) 19 (AUDIO GAP). So, OK, how would you kind of at least come up the couple of digits, first maybe three, four, or five digits?

ALESSANDRO ACQUISTI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND PUBLIC POLICY, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY: So, we would know from publicly available information that your SSN should be likely between 22 -- the first few digits 223 and 231.

TODD: That's right.

ACQUISTI: Is that the case?

TODD: That's right. (voice-over): Those are the area numbers, assigned based on the state where you were born. The last six numbers are given in chronological order.

To find them, Acquisti and his team of researchers used statistical techniques, and they mined publicly available data from the Social Security Administration's death master file. That shows the patterns in which people who are deceased got their numbers.

Acquisti says it's much easier to narrow down numbers for people born after 1988, when most Americans started getting assigned Social Security numbers at birth.

ACQUISTI: If you consider the entire nine digits, we can predict with fewer than 1,000 attempts 8.5 percent of all the SSN issued after 1988.

TODD: And it's even easier to track people born in less populated states.

His point in all this?

ACQUISTI: The bottom line is that Social Security numbers are very bad passwords. They were not designed to be used the way we are using them now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: So, Acquisti and the Social Security Administration have been cautioning people to stop using these Social Security numbers as passwords at the bank and at other places.

Now, officials from the Social Security Administration did not respond to our requests for an on-camera interview, but, in a statement, a statement said -- quote -- "The suggestion that Mr. Acquisti has cracked a code for predicting an SSN is a dramatic exaggeration."

But that spokesman says, for reasons unrelated to the professor's report, they will start randomly assigning Social Security numbers next year, Wolf. And the professor says not a moment too soon. You have got to do it.

BLITZER: It's a good idea, given the fact that identity theft is exploding out there.

TODD: That's right. We have got some numbers here. This is a firm called Javelin Strategy and Research. They issued a report recently about identity fraud in the United States last year, the numbers staggering, 9.9 million victims of identity fraud in the United States last year, representing about 4.3 percent of the American population.

How much does it cost? -- $48 billion in losses for you and me, almost $5,000 per person. Wolf, you have got to protect your Social Security number, and they have got to start issuing random numbers. They are going to start doing that next year.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian Todd reporting.

We are getting some new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM on Michael Jackson. Stand by for that. Jim Moret will be joining us.

Also, passengers on the Washington, D.C., subway system, they are on the lookout right now for safety violations after a deadly train crash last month. And they are going online with what they find.

Plus, can the ugly fallout from a coup in Honduras be solved simply by talking?

And how zookeepers are pandering to a 4-year-old panda.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It looks like another U.S. senator is not going to seek reelection next year.

Let's go to Deb Feyerick. She is monitoring this story for us just coming in.

What's going on, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this just in from Illinois. Senator Roland Burris has decided not to run for the seat he was appointed to amid tremendous controversy.

A well-placed Democratic source confirms Burris' plan not to run in 2010. Burris was appointed by disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich to replace President Obama in the U.S. Senate. Burris fought to keep the seat, despite calls for his ouster. But the Democrat reportedly has had trouble raising funds for an election campaign and will announce tomorrow that he will not seek election.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Two days after Michael Jackson's memorial, there is mystery surrounding his final resting place. We have some information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about whether a burial at Neverland is still possible.

Plus, how the Jackson family is coping with grief right now. Are they able to put their past differences behind them?

And from "Borat" to "Bruno" -- Sacha Baron Cohen may be topping himself with his most bizarre encounter ever on film. The comedian and the alleged terrorist and a lot more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: new indications Michael Jackson's family may be considering burying him at the Neverland Ranch. How difficult would it be to get that kind of permission? We're looking at the process they would have to go through.

Is the family all in agreement? They came together for the memorial. What about infighting that is apparently still going on? "Inside Edition" chief correspondent Jim Moret is here to share what he is learning.

Plus, President Obama slipping in some key poll categories. His ratings on leadership, strength and planning all down.

How significant is it?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Fans mourning the death of Michael Jackson are wondering where the king of pop will finally rest in peace. We all saw his rose- covered casket at the memorial on Tuesday, but his burial site -- if, indeed, he's buried -- remains a mystery. Lots of speculation centering around Jackson's former home, Neverland.

Let's go to CNN's Ted Rowlands.

He's out in California taking a closer look into this mystery.

What are you learning -- Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one thing we know is that Michael Jackson didn't leave any death instructions in the working will -- that 2002 will. So it's up to the family to decide what to do.

They are being very close-lipped about it. We do know, however, that a representative from the family has contacted the State of California about a possible burial at Neverland.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): According to the state, an attorney for the Jackson family has inquired about burying Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch -- something Jermaine Jackson told CNN's Larry King last week he'd like to see happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE")

JERMAINE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S BROTHER: I would love to see him here.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Do you have a place for him here?

JACKSON: Yes. There's a special place right over near the train station, right over there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: To bury someone on private land in California, there are two steps. First, you need what's called a certificate of authority from the State Cemetery and Funeral Bureau. That's no big deal. Just fill out this two-page application and shell out $400.

The other thing you need is approval from the county, which in this case is Santa Barbara.

At this point, nobody from the Jackson family has contacted the county. If someone does, they say it's possible they'll give the OK.

WILLIAM BOYER, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We have had no formal application either from the Jackson family or from the property owner. And at that point in time, we would review the application and make a determination.

ROWLANDS: What's unclear is if everyone in the family wants Neverland to be Jackson's final resting place. Joe Jackson seemed to shoot it down when asked about it in the days after Jackson's death.

JOE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S FATHER: That's not true. That's not true.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: The bottom line here, Wolf, is that this has never happened before in Santa Barbara County. So they say they're just kind of going along with it. They are prepared to deal with it if they do get a formal application from the Jackson's family.

From the state's point of view, they say they are prepared to expedite it if they -- if and when they get the $400 and the application.

BLITZER: Ted Rowlands working the story for us.

Thanks.

Let's get some more on what's going on now from Jim Moret. He's the "INSIDE EDITION" chief correspondent.

Jim, the family came together very beautifully after his death two weeks ago.

Do you think it's likely to stay that way or is there going to be some infighting going on?

JIM MORET, "INSIDE EDITION" CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Well, you still have some issues to be settled, Wolf. You have the estate and control of the estate and I think that if the will that will be presented to court is deemed to be valid -- that will that names two executors -- I think those executors will be in charge of the estate.

Katherine Jackson is a beneficiary under that will and trust. The big question is whether she will be given custody of the two children. We still have yet to hear from Debbie Rowe in an official capacity.

There's a court hearing on Monday. And at that time, we may hear that there's an agreement and that the children can stay with Katherine Jackson.

But when Ted was reporting about Neverland, you know, Michael Jackson left Neverland Ranch in 2005 and he never wanted to go back. So there's a big question about whether he would actually want to be buried there. And there's also some word that Katherine Jackson may be opposed to that idea.

BLITZER: Katherine Jackson being his mother. So, they did go to a cemetery before the memorial on Tuesday.

What was that all about, because it sounded as if they were setting the stage for having him buried there?

But, obviously, that hasn't happened yet.

MORET: There may have actually been a ceremony of sorts. "INSIDE EDITION" did speak with one expert today. And he suggested one thing which was rather surprising -- that the casket that was brought to the Staples Center may not have, in fact, had Michael Jackson in it at all, but that Michael Jackson may, in fact -- and in this person's view, is, in fact, at Forest Lawn -- either on ice for storage, waiting for a permanent resting place, or actually in Berry Gordy's crypt, because there is some room there. And, obviously, Michael Jackson and Berry Gordy have a long history together.

So there's some question. And there are several reasons why he may not be in his final resting place. The coroner is looking at the brain -- Michael Jackson's brain, which was taken out for further examination. That takes time. Perhaps you want to rejoin that with the body for a final resting place. And, also, the decision as to where that resting place will be may not have been made yet.

BLITZER: I know you're going to be filling in for Larry King later tonight. Tell us about the show, what you're planning on doing.

MORET: Well, we're going to be talking about the new allegations of how Michael Jackson's body was found -- its condition, his -- his potential drug use. And we'll also talk about what Arnie Klein, the dermatologist, said last night on "LARRY KING." He made some rather startling revelations last night that we need to explore in further detail.

BLITZER: We'll be watching.

Thanks very much, Jim Moret, joining us. "LARRY KING LIVE" airs, of course, 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight. You'll want to tune in.

The House of Representatives will not take up a resolution honoring Michael Jackson. Democratic Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee, who spoke at the king of pop's memorial service, had introduced a resolution honoring him as an American legend. But the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, says a formal resolution might open up Congress to criticism.

Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, for example, has blasted the extent of the news media coverage of Jackson's death.

The speaker, Nancy Pelosi, says Jackson was a great performer -- lawmakers still can express their sympathies on the House floor, if they choose.

A Republican Senator causes an uproar comparing the U.S. now to Germany before World War II.

But what exactly did he mean?

Plus, train operators texting, even asleep at the controls. Now outraged passengers are exposing them online.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's bring in the White House correspondent for Politico.com, Nia-Malika Henderson; David Frum, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush; and our senior political analyst, David Gergen -- David Gergen, let me start with you.

Our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll numbers shows a sort of disturbing trend for the president right now. We asked, is he a strong leader back in February. Eighty percent said yes. Now it's down to 70 percent.

Is he tough enough?

Seventy-three percent in February; now, 64 percent.

Does he have a clear plan for the nation?

Sixty-four percent back in February; only 53 percent now.

Not necessarily good numbers for the president.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: They are not. Wolf, I think what we're seeing is that the honeymoon effect is starting to wear off. He had a long honeymoon, an intense honeymoon. He's starting to look more like other presidents.

It's still important to notice that with -- when -- regarded as a strong leader, he's still about 13 points ahead of where George W. Bush was at this time. And asked whether he inspires confidence, he's still about 17 points ahead of where George W. Bush was at this time.

But from the point of view of what the White House is doing, its enormously ambitious agenda, these numbers, with some slippage now among Independents, could be threatening in the fall, when the -- when really tough decisions have to be made.

If you see steady erosion over the next few weeks lead into those big fall decisions, it could make it a lot tougher for him to get his big legislative initiatives like health care through the Congress. BLITZER: The American people, David Frum, still love him individually, personally. As a person, 79 percent approve of the president of the United States. That's capital he needs to use right now if he wants health care reform and energy reform to go through.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Yes. He might like it better, though, if it were the other way around. I mean he offered the American public a deal -- you accept more debt, I'll deliver more jobs.

Well, the debt is coming on a cataclysmic scale, but the jobs are not showing up. There's a little bit of good job news today, a slowdown in the rate of loss of jobs.

But this is a very tough economy. The debt is a fact and the president's recovery plans are all theories.

BLITZER: Because, Nia-Malika, if he goes up -- unemployment nationally goes beyond 10 percent -- and in some states, like California and Michigan, it's already well beyond 10 percent -- people are going to say, you know, what happened?

It wasn't -- it was supposed to go in the other direction.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean -- I mean I think there's a real sense that, you know, maybe that he didn't break this economy, but he certainly bought it and the price tag was essentially $787 billion. And what people are looking for now is jobs.

So far, he's created about 150,000 jobs. I think the promise was, by now 600,000 jobs. And the job loss has been about $2 million.

So people are looking in their neighborhoods and they're -- they're seeing their friends and family without jobs and then looking for some trickle-down effect from this $787 billion stimulus plan.

GERGEN: Well, in fairness to the president, I must say, Wolf, that, you know, he said he was going to save or create. And there are a lot of state jobs -- the state government jobs in California and elsewhere, which the losses would have been far more dramatic had it not been for the stimulus.

But the truth also is the stimulus money has gone out too slowly. I think David Frum makes an important point here. They need a strong person in there -- a Jack Welch type person -- to oversee this stimulus spending and get the first stimulus spending right and make it fast and effective before they start putting a second stimulus on the table.

BLITZER: Here's a disturbing comment that was made by Jim DeMint. His spokesman later clarified it. But I'll -- I'll read it to you, David Frum. And tell me what you think, if it's a good analogy: "We're about where Germany was before World War II, where they became a social democracy. You still had votes, but the votes were just power grabs like you see in Iran and in other places in South America -- like Chavez is running down in Venezuela. People become more dependant on the government so that they are easy to manipulate."

Is that a fair analogy?

FRUM: Well, I've been very concerned. It was the beginning of the week there was, I guess last week. Gallup had a poll that offered the promise of good news to Republicans. It showed that the country seemed to be becoming more conservative.

When you asked people, were you becoming more conservative, they said yes.

But when you broke it apart, what you found was almost all of that was concentrated among conservatives -- people who are already conservative describing themselves as more conservative. About 60 percent said they were becoming more conservative.

So there's a risk of a disconnect between the conservative minority -- it's a big minority within the country that is becoming sometimes more extreme -- and the rest of the country, that is staying about where it is.

BLITZER: Because Nia-Malika, let me just read the clarification from the spokesman for Senator DeMint: "The senator made a simple economic comparison to the Weimar Germany's inflation and high spending. It is absolutely absurd for anyone to claim he ever made a comparison to Nazi Germany's despicable acts. He would never do that."

I guess, politically, you're always in trouble when you have to issue a clarification like that.

HENDERSON: Yes. No. And I mean, in truth, there are a lot of these comparisons that are -- that are floating around the Internet and a lot of fringe groups comparing Barack Obama to Hitler.

And I think one of the things it kind of speaks to is that Republicans are kind of searching for a narrative -- searching for a way to kind of talk about Barack Obama, to talk about his plans. I mean we see now that they are kind of passing him as -- as a job killer.

Bit one of the dangers is for this -- some of this fringe rhetoric to kind of seep into some of the -- some of the more mainstream rhetoric.

BLITZER: David Gergen, it's always a mistake to make any analogies with Nazi Germany, isn't it?

GERGEN: Absolutely. The first time I heard that, I kept -- I kept thinking, has he been drinking out of the same glass of water as Mark Sanford in South Carolina?

I mean, you know, some of the things these folks are saying are just sort of off the wall. The clarification helped. But to go again to David Frum's point, Republicans now have a chance to begin to get back into the game and -- but -- but they have to do it by bringing content -- not these sort of off the wall comments -- back into it.

It has to be about ideas, challenging the administration on some of its ideas and offering alternatives. If they do that, they will be taken seriously again as a party.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there, guys.

We'll see you back here, though, tomorrow.

Thank you.

FRUM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Thank you, Wolf.

Tonight, we'll have more on the Congressional Democrats who now say CIA Director Leon Panetta told them the agency has been lying to Congress for years. Republicans say the Democrats are playing partisan politics, trying to protect the speaker of the House.

Also, a new push for another federal stimulus package, although unemployment is still rising and only 10 percent of the first stimulus package has been spent. A panel of top economists and members of Congress come together and join us here.

And the Obama administration moving ahead on comprehensive immigration reform. The White House also promising to tighten border security.

But how much?

And two opposing Congressmen will be here for our face-off debate tonight -- did the CIA lie to Congress?

Join us for that and a great deal more, as well, of course, all the day's news at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou.

See you then.

Unusual even by his standards -- Sacha Baron Cohen Bruno interviews an alleged terrorist. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.

Plus, a deadly accident sparks new concerns about the safety of the nation's trains and subways.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's been two weeks since the Washington Metro rail collision killed nine people right here in the nation's capital. Now, passengers are using cell phones and digital cameras to highlight other safety concerns -- images that appear to show train operators texting or even dozing off at the controls.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, show us some of these images.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, for a city that's still shaken by that deadly June 22nd crash, these videos are not helping.

The first one that I'm going to show you appears to show a driver texting. Take a look at this. In the Alexandria, Virginia area here, this video taken in the beginning of June, posted to YouTube. It's pretty hard to see. But the YouTube poster wrote the comment that it appears that the driver is sleeping. He's actually holding a BlackBerry.

A Metro spokeswoman said today that this driver was identified, suspended for five days.

Now, let me show you another video. We're going further to the north now, into Maryland. This video also shot before the June 22nd crash by a teen who tells a local station here, WTTG, that this driver appeared to be asleep at the controls.

Metro says that's pretty hard to see from this video, it's pretty shaky. But he does appear to not be paying attention. And now they are following up on this one, also.

BLITZER: And we need to be clear, though. No one is suggesting that the Metro operator of the June 22nd collision was personally responsible.

TATTON: No. No one is suggesting that. She's actually been hailed a hero. She lost her life in that crash and that is still under investigation -- trying to find the root cause of that accident.

But because of these videos, because, also, of other fatal incidents elsewhere in the country, Metro here in D.C. Is now instituting a zero tolerance policy for texting drivers. And I think this city would say, Wolf, not a moment too soon.

BLITZER: Don't text when you drive anything -- any vehicle.

TATTON: Anything at all.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour -- is releasing prisoners early a good way for the states to save money?

Illinois is flirting with the idea of turning 10,000 convicts loose early.

Tom in Iowa writes: "It may be a good way to save money short- term. But long-term, it's not a good idea. If they're thinking about the nonviolent offender, then fine, ask the people in North and South Carolina given the events of last week. Five people are dead because a career criminal was released before he should have been. How's that for saving money?"

Ryan in Connecticut: "Absolutely not. They already have it too good. Some may argue they have it better than other Americans -- three meals a day prepared for them every day, great health care, cable TV, Internet, state-of-the-art gyms and free education. You want to save money, take all that stuff away. I mean, it is prison."

David in California writes: "There are low risk, nonviolent prisoners who should have never been in prison in the first place. If it takes a financial crisis to reduce the unfairness in drug offense sentencing, etc. then it hasn't been all that bad."

C. in Alabama writes: "No. Releasing convicted felons will cost the states money when they commit crimes again, must be put through the system again, tried again. The rate of recidivism is far too high to even entertain this idea."

Jay writes: "Is this the same Illinois state government that had dozens of innocent people on death row, was too incompetent to figure out they weren't guilty and looked dumb when some students did some research and exonerated these men and saved their lives? These are the same folks that we are to trust to determine which prisoners are safe to release to save a few dollars. I wonder how many rapists and child molesters will slip through the cracks, as the spin doctors will inevitably say, when some guy goes out and kills somebody." And Mack in Michigan writes: "No, it's not a good way for the states to save money, but it's a great way for the states to justify stuffing another tax hike down our throats. What better public relations could there be for hiking taxes than turning felons loose on the street or cutting off medical care for poor children? This is government arm-twisting at its worst."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there. It may not be there, either. And then I don't know what to tell you.

BLITZER: We'll look for it anyway.

Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: Sure. BLITZER: Can you imagine traveling to the West Bank to meet with a self-proclaimed terrorist and telling him to lose the beard and asking him to kidnap you?

Well, the comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen can. Jeanne Moos, just ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

SACHA BARON COHEN, COMEDIAN: Anti-Hamas. I mean...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to CNN's Jeanne Moos with a Moost Unusual look at an encounter involving the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and his new film.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As gay fashionista Bruno, we've seen him dressed in silver, in leopard, in wings, in hot pants...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...in nothing at all. So to see him walk out on "Letterman" as himself...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...was a shock -- almost more shocking than to see him make Matt Lauer kiss his hand, strip...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...and end up in the lap of Conan O'Brien.

But in trying to come up with the oddest couple of all for his movie, Sacha Baron Cohen hit on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

COHEN: You seem to be a comedian interviewing a terrorist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Even if his character doesn't know the difference between humus and Hamas.

(on camera): It's one thing for Bruno to make a fool out of, say, a talent contest judge or a politician. But to use an alleged terrorist as a comedic foil -- that's dicey. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

COHEN: It's not that easy to find an actual terrorist.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: In fact -- in fact, your government has been looking for one for about nine years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (voice-over): Cohen says arm-twisting looked for a few months before finding someone in the occupied West Bank who said...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

COHEN: There is a terrorist who lives in my town.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): And then what Bruno needed was to find someone to protect him -- a job nobody wanted.

(voice-over): So Cohen says he settled for a guy who once did security for Enrique Iglesias.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

COHEN: His main job had been protecting Enrique from flying underwear. You know, I knew if it came to it, this guy would take a bra for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Cohen's cup runneth over when he finally shot down with a man associated with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

COHEN: I want to be famous. And I want the best guys in the business to kidnap me. Al Qaeda are so 2001.

AYMAN ABU AITA, TERRORIST GROUP LEADER: I don't like you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bruno!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But that wasn't the most awkward part.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.) COHEN: Can I give you guys a word of advice?

Lose the beards because your King Osama looks like a kind of dirty wizard or a homeless Santa.

(TRANSLATING INTO ARABIC)

ABU AITA: Get out. Get out now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Who's terrorizing who in that interview?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

COHEN: It had a happy ending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

COHEN: Al Qaeda are so 2001.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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