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THE SITUATION ROOM
Florida Couple Murdered; Bombers Strike Marriott & Ritz Hotels; Caught in Swine Flu Fears
Aired July 17, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SHERIFF DAVID MORGAN, ESCAMBIA COUNTY: After consultation with the attorney's office this morning and this afternoon, we determined that it would be appropriate for to us release the following information to the press as a confirmation.
As you may have heard this morning from one of the civil attorneys involved with the Billings family, it was released that the contents of the safe that has been taken into evidence by the Escambia County Sheriff's Office in preparation of our case. The contents of the safe, which we will verify, are personal items -- items such as passports, birth certificates, adoption papers, some heirloom jewelry and some prescription medication assigned to this family.
I will also share with you at this time that we have known -- we have known of the contents of this safe since the inception -- since the inception of this investigation.
Now, we're striking a very delicate balance with our community and with the press and with the state attorney's office, and most assuredly, with the family that is currently grieving over their loss. And this is a delicate balance that we must maintain.
I'm also coming to you today out of respect for you, for the press. Your assistance in this case has been invaluable and we want to ensure that that continuing relationship stays on a level playing field.
So you're probably asking yourself why -- why did you not release this information?
So I will explain to you today a little bit about the thought process that we go through. And before I forget, I will also confirm that, yes, this safe was buried in the backyard of a home owned by Pamela Long Wiggins.
Now, having said that, our investigators knew the contents of this safe since the inception. Understanding that information is critical -- critical for the use of our investigators in their interrogations and interviews.
And you may say why?
Because now we know, having attained this safe at that location, that these individuals that were involved with the removal and the transport and the burial of this safe are exactly what we believed them to be. And that is a part of this investigation; that they are culpable in some nature in this crime that was committed.
Now, I will speak to you from purely a law enforcement perspective, because there was a lot of hoopla and a lot of speculation about the contents of this safe -- some speculation that could have been hurtful to certain individuals.
I can tell you, as a law enforcement officer, I don't care if that safe contained Beanie Babies and bubble gum, because it was the object itself that was the issue here -- an object that we knew was in the home where the crime was committed that had been moved, because now it becomes material to this case.
So, therefore, we must always -- always hold back certain pieces of information. That's why you have found throughout this investigation that so many times both myself and the state attorney have had to answer to you that we will not release that information at this time.
Let me tell you that it would serve no purpose for the Escambia County Sheriff's Office or the state attorney's office to not release information that is releasable, because we have a very liberal and workable public records law in Florida. Because once evidence is taken in or any object that is now oc -- or sent through the clerk of the court and certified as a part of public record -- it is releasable. It must be released. And so I want to assure you that we would never go there with the public or members of the press, to willfully withhold any information that you rightfully should have.
When we do those things, it becomes a matter of successfully completing this investigation, because my responsibility to the citizens of Escambia County and to the citizens of this nation is the successful prosecution of those individuals that committed this crime. And I can assure you that I will complete that task.
BLITZER: Sheriff David Morgan explaining why he didn't tell us yesterday or the day before what was in that safe that was found over at the site where the couple was murdered. But now, the attorney -- the prosecutor in the case releasing that information.
Let's get some perspective from CNN's Ed Lavandera.
He's still on the scene for us.
Help us explain, the president -- the sheriff, excuse me -- he was very sensitive to this notion that perhaps he was holding appropriate things back from the news media.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, there's also a back story here that is rather interesting. There has been a great deal of frustration and anger, really, on behalf of several family members close to the Billings family that's been channeled to us through their -- their attorney rather intensely over the last few days. And that has to do with the fact that the news media reports of the DEA involvement -- federal agency involvement into this case. They have been very worried and very sensitive to the fact that perhaps people would draw the conclusion that since the DEA was involved, that would cast a bad light on the Billings family themselves. That caused a lot of consternation on their part.
So we -- they have voiced that anger to us. And that's why you saw the sheriff come out yesterday and acknowledge that the DEA was involved, but that they were looking at information and details that had come out through interviews with the suspects.
So a lot of this is perhaps being driven by the attorney representing this family, who have been very upset by and concerned that the way this investigation has played out and people looking for this motive in the sense that there's something bigger going on here, that that was casting a bad light on the Billings family right now.
BLITZER: Interesting stuff, because there's been all sorts of rumors out there.
Ed, stand by.
Kendall Coffey is joining us.
He's a former U.S. attorney in Florida.
He's in private practice right now, a trial attorney.
What do you think, Kendall?
How is the sheriff handling this so far?
KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I wouldn't give him high marks. He sounded defensive and has perhaps not been as sensitive as he could be to the reputation of these wonderful two people.
Home invasion robberies inherently raise a cloud of suspicion about the victims. And the contents of that safe really, effectively, dispel it. Those were the contents that completely good, innocent people would have in a safe.
And between the safe mystery and the DEA allegations, tragically, as horrible as the loss of these people's lives were, their reputations and all the good they were doing was starting to be tainted.
Hopefully, that that -- the air is cleared now. Hopefully, the law enforcement objectives are also being met. But I would not give the sheriff's office's high marks for how -- how, certainly, the public communication part of this has been handled.
BLITZER: They've got a whole bunch of suspects -- I believe seven people, including a 16-year-old who's been charged in these murders.
Kendall, walk us through legally what happens next. COFFEY: Well, they've talked about convening a grand jury. You've got to do that to -- to proceed with capital crimes. And there's no doubt that this case is going to end up in death penalty prosecutions.
What the sheriff and the state attorney are trying to do now is assess the lineup and identify who are going to be the cooperators that will get extreme prison sentences, but not actually be facing the death penalty and who are going to be the real targets for the most severe crimes here.
So, for example, logically, you'd look at the 16-year-old as somebody who's -- who's going to be, perhaps, someone you try to get to be a cooperator. You're trying to separate out the people who are less culpable but still have enough knowledge and an ability to give credible testimony so that you can present a very strong case and assure a high likelihood of conviction and a maximum sentence against the individuals who are most culpable for a truly horrible crime.
BLITZER: Yes, seven men have so far been charged, including that 16-year-old, and one woman, Pamela Long Wiggins. She's charged as an accessory after the fact of felony murder.
Kendall Coffey, thanks very much, as usual, for helping us.
COFFEY: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: A Marriott and a Ritz Carlton attacked by terrorist. Suicide bombers kill at least six people and injure dozens more, including some Americans.
But who's behind it?
And U.S. commanders said to be increasingly concerned about the war in Afghanistan. The award-winning journalist, Bob Woodward, has just returned from the country. He says that this is now President Obama's war.
And one of our CNN correspondents gets swept up in the growing fear over swine flu. Why he was singled out and put in quarantine.
It could happen to you, as well.
BLITZER: Two suicide bomb blasts minutes apart shattering a four year lull in terror attacks on Western targets in the world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia. Coordinated attacks on the J.W. Marriott and the Ritz Carlton Hotels in the capital of Jakarta killed at least six people, injured more than 50, including at least eight Americans. So far, no claim of responsibility.
This is what it looked like in the Indonesian capital this morning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY EK SKLUSIF ANTV)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Ritz Carlton and Marriott. Yes. Two bombs. Two bombs. Ritz Carlton and Marriott.
PETER TUOMEY, WITNESS: What we know, of course, is that this is coordinated. The first bomb took place at 7:45 in the Marriott and the other bomb took place just minutes after, just across the street in Ritz Carlton.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get some footage there.
DINO PATTI DJALAL, INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: I just heard a huge explosion -- a huge blast and the building shook. And. So I went to the window and looked out. And on the left hand side as I was looking out in the coroner of the -- of the building down on the ground floor, there was a big plume of black smoke rising.
The -- the shocking part was entering the lobby, where the glass of the front of the lobby was all blown out and blood was spattered across the floor. But the -- most people were -- were leaving calmly and the staff were shoving people out.
TUOMEY: I could see people running out the front of the hotel. Some people were fairly injured at that stage. So I went down onto the street level and the hotel was in the process of being evacuated at that stage.
GREG WOOLSTENCROFT, WITNESS: The bomb has actually blown out -- on two sides of the building, it's actually gone both directions and totally devastated the Erlanger Restaurant (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was quite an eerie situation. Glasses were broken. The chairs and the place really doesn't look -- look like the lounge that I usually frequent in this hotel. There were -- the bodies (INAUDIBLE) that I saw, still, some were being collected already, but some were still on the floor yet.
TUOMEY: There was just glass all over the floor. The ceilings were all blown out. There was just all -- all the furniture was blown around everywhere. There were just pieces hanging down from the ceiling. It was -- it was basically unrecognizable. It was just a massive destruction of the actual building of the area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Indonesia has been successfully combating terror with U.S. help until now.
Let's go to our foreign affairs
correspondent, Jill Dougherty.
They've been making some good progress in democracy as well -- Jill.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they definitely have, Wolf.
And, you know, leaders around the world have been condemning these attacks. But when you talk to U.S. officials and terrorism experts, they do not see this as a major blow to stability in Indonesia or as a broader threat to the United States.
DOUGHERTY: (voice-over): The bombings at two American hotels in Jakarta were the first there in four years and some U.S. diplomats said they were surprised by the news. Once the target of a wave of deadly attacks, including the Bali bombings in 2002, Indonesia had become an anti-terrorism success story, boosted by counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY UNTV)
MARTY NATALEGAWA, INDONESIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: We haven't heard that much from Indonesia over the past five or six years because we have been (INAUDIBLE) successful in foiling terrorism attacks -- in disrupting the terrorist network.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY: Reacting to the bombings, President Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a boy, praised the country for successfully curbing terrorist activity. But he said: "These attacks make it clear that extremists remain committed to murdering innocent men, women and children of any faith in all countries."
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, on her way to India, said the attacks: "Remind us that the threat of terrorism remains very real."
Five months ago, on her first international trip as secretary of State, Clinton visited Indonesia, praising it as a vibrant democracy where Islam and the West peacefully coexist. In a program arranged before the bombings, the secretary plans to visit The Taj Mahal Hotel -- site of India's own Mumbai terrorist attacks of last year.
But CNN's terrorism expert discounts any broader threat, saying in spite of the attacks, Indonesia's terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah, is damaged.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Top leaders, bomb makers, have been arrested, captured or killed. And so, you know, this -- this attack demonstrates that they're still able to mount attacks. But, you know, they don't -- they don't have any popular base of support at all.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DOUGHERTY: So the U.S. has offered Indonesia any help that it needs, including forensics or the services of FBI agents. But so far, the Indonesian government says that it does not need that, but it is launching its own investigation into these attacks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jill, thank you.
Imagine being quarantined because of the H1N1 flu even when you don't have the virus. It happened to our own John Vause in China. He's going to join us to tell us his story.
And President Obama is going prime time to push for his health care reform agenda. Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican strategist Kevin Madden -- they're here to weigh in.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Tens of thousands of Iranians turned out today for a sermon of one of the top clerics in Iran who's been very critical of the government crackdown on protesters.
Reza Sayah is joining us from CNN's Iran Desk right now -- Reza, tell us what happened with this speech, the significance.
REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, if you like a high stakes political drama, today was your kind of day in Iran. A huge crowd turning up to Friday prayers in Tehran to listen to Ayatollah Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, the former president -- many call him a game changer. He's a key figure for the opposition and, of course, political nemesis to current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
What would he do?
Would he side with the regime or would he side with the opposition?
What he did was kind of walk a tightrope. On one hand, he said the nation should move forward in accordance with the law.
On the other hand, he really delivered some criticism against Iran's leadership and gave some support to the opposition.
He said Iran is facing a crisis, the aftermath of the elections has left a bitter taste in the nation's mouth. And he also called for all the detainees in the protests to be freed. He also said the media should be free, as well.
A lot of buzz today that making an appearance would be opposition leader, Mir Hossein Moussavi. And according to this picture on Moussavi's Web site, he did show up.
Also showing up was Mehdi Karroubi, another opposition leader, with didn't fare too well. A lot of reports that he was attacked by members of the Iran's Basij. And there you see him in his picture. He looks disoriented and his turban is off.
So a dramatic day in Tehran today. Meserve really leaving the -- excuse me. Rafsanjani really leaving the door for the opposition to continue its movement forward -- Wolf.
BLITZER: How was all of this, Reza, received out on the streets of Tehran?
SAYAH: A huge crowd. This was one of the largest crowds we've seen since the few days after the elections. We're estimating tens of thousands. But based on some of the pictures and some of the reports we're getting out of there, these crowds could have been easily in the hundreds of thousands -- many of them wearing green wrist bands and armbands.
And there you see the members of the security forces in those motorcycles coming through.
And I'm going to show you a remarkable example of the defiance that appeared today during Friday prayers. Now, let's go ahead and set the scene here. This is an audio from Friday prayers. During Friday prayers, there's a man who always urges people to yell and chant, "Death To America!," "Death to Israel!"
But every time he tried to do that in Friday prayers today, the gathering responded with "Death to Russia!"
Russia, of course, is one country that has supported Iran's elections and its results. But in this case, you had, at Friday prayers, the man urging people to yell "Death To America!." But every time they defied his order, yelling "Death to Russia!."
Here was an example of a government official saying do one thing and you had the opposition supporters doing another -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Reza, thanks for that comprehensive report.
We're going to stay on top of this story involving Iran here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're not going to leave it, because the consequences -- what's at stake right now very, very significant, not only for that part of the world, but for the entire world.
. He's just back government is taking no chances when it comes to the H1N1 virus.
Our own senior international correspondent, John Vause, tells us of his experience being briefly quarantined, even though he didn't have the flu.
Let's go to John -- John.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when it comes to the H1N1 virus, authorities here in China continue to take a hard line, enforcing some of the toughest measures in the world. All international travelers have their temperatures taken on arrival while still on the plane. And anyone with the slightest fever, like I had after recently returning from Thailand, is taken away to quarantine.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) VAUSE: (voice-over): My temperature was only slightly above normal, but enough to bring out the HAZMAT team. After an hour on the ground, I was taken off the plane. After a few more tests inside the terminal building, they put me in an ambulance, with a security escort in back and front.
(on camera): Now, we're leaving the airport. And I'm being told that we're -- or I'm heading to a hospital for further tests. My temperature, they say, was around 38 degrees. And that, apparently, is just -- just way too high, although I have no other symptoms -- no headache, no sore throat. My blood pressure is perfect.
So they're going to do some more tests. And, hopefully, in a few hours, I'll be out of here. But I'm not too hopeful.
(voice-over): At this hospital in downtown Beijing...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.
VAUSE: -- they tested me for flu and said the results would take six hours. If negative, I would be allowed to go home. But in the meantime, I had to stay here in a small room with a bed and desk and that was about it.
(on camera): When the results came back negative -- no flu, no H1N1 virus -- I was discharged, about eight hours after touching down here in Beijing.
But that's not always the case. Others have been quarantined for up to a week, even though they've shown no flu-like symptoms -- Wolf.
BLITZER: John Vause, thanks very much.
By the way, 38 degrees Celsius is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That was a slight temperature that he had.
President Obama putting on the full court press for health care reform. He's expressing confidence that it will get done this year. Why some in his own party, though, are calling for the process to slow down.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is back in the spotlight with some important diplomatic missions abroad. And she's pushing back against questions about whether she's been sidelined by the White House. James Carville and Kevin Madden -- they're standing by.
And U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are deeply concerned about how things are going there right now. We'll talk with the award-winning journalist, Bob Woodward, of "The Washington Post." He's just back from Afghanistan.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, disturbing claims of racism in the Philadelphia Police Department. Some officers accused of posting bigoted rants on a Web site and a lawsuit alleges the department allows it to happen.
The House Intelligence Committee is now set to investigate whether the CIA broke the law in the fight against al Qaeda. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has an in depth report on counterterrorism and how far the U.S. is willing to go.
And patients with incurable diseases getting better after traveling abroad for some highly controversial stem cell therapy -- some doctors say it's all a scam. Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations Unit digs deeper.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama is vowing that health care reform will be passed this year, despite some increasing obstacles and fractious Democrats.
Let's go to our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
She's working this story for us -- lots of drama unfolding, Dana, right now.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And, in fact, I'm told by a Democratic source that there was so much concern here about losing momentum on health care, that Democratic leaders actually called the White House and asked for presidential help in pushing back -- and they got it.
BASH: (voice-over): Damage control in the form of a pep talk.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wanted everybody to just step back for a moment and look at the unprecedented progress that we've already made on reform.
BASH: The president trying to change a rapidly spreading story line that his health care plan is in trouble.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I have to say, now is not the time to slow down. Now is certainly not the time to lose heart.
BASH: Why the scramble?
Just listen to Congressman Mike Ross, one of the president's fellow Democrats.
(on camera): Do any of the Democratic leadership's measures going through the House right now have the votes to pass?
REP. MIKE ROSS, (D) ARKANSAS: No, not at all.
There's 40 of us that are conservative Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition that signed a letter about a week ago to the leadership saying that we cannot support the current bill.
BASH: Ross and other conservative Democrats oppose their own party's health care reform plans, because they do not do enough to reduce skyrocketing medical costs. Exactly what the head of the Congressional Budget Office said, in devastating testimony Thursday.
DOUGLAS ELEMDORF, CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE: In the legislation that has been reported, we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount.
ROSS: That was a huge bombshell, but quite frankly, it validates what those of us, the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, have been saying for the last three months.
BASH: The White House felt the impact of that bombshell immediately. A bipartisan group of six senators wrote a letter defying the president's call for quick action, instead, urging Congress to slow its rush for a reform bill.
"We believe taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result is critical," said the senators. White House officials know the best chance for a bipartisan health plan that can pass Congress lies in the Senate, but negotiators there, who hoped for a deal this week, couldn't get one, which added to the sense of trouble.
BASH: Now, what caused most of the trouble for those bipartisan senators, who have been trying to get that deal, is the fact that they had been planning to impose a tax on employer benefits in order to expand health care coverage for most Americans, and in order to control those medical costs. But because of resistance from the president and from some Democrats, they had to drop that. And that is what has caused some problems and delays in that committee.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: There's been a lot of resistance, as you know, Dana, from labor unions as well. They hate that, don't they?
BASH: They sure do. They sure do and you can be sure Democratic leaders and probably over at the White House, they're hearing that loud and clear.
BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you.
Unexpected news today from one of the nation's most troubled financial institutions. Citigroup is reporting, get this, a $4.3 billion profit for the second quarter of this year. The latest big bank to report strong quarterly results. The government owns a $45 billion stake in Citigroup, but the company is part of a powerful lobby that's fighting President Obama's efforts to try to implement some tighter regulations on the financial industry. Our National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin is here, looking at this story.
Lots of tension here, Jessica. JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of tension, a big fight ahead, Wolf.
We all know that Wall Street took billions in taxpayer bailout dollars and President Obama vowed that in exchange, the industry would have to abide by tough new rules to make sure the worst abuses would not happen again. Well, now Wall Street has organized to stop one of the centerpieces of that new regulation plan.
YELLIN: If you hold a credit card, a mortgage, or a student loan, Congress is considering a new agency designed to give you a lot more protection. But guess who's fighting it? The financial services industry and that has consumer groups outraged.
ED MIERZWINSKI, U.S. PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP: This is the biggest financial fight I've seen in the 20 years I've been in Washington. The people gearing up to kill the agency are the companies whose irresponsible practices and abuses led to the collapse of the world economy.
YELLIN: Last year alone, the financial services industry spent $373 million lobbying. One of its top lobbyists says stopping the consumer protection agency is their number one priority.
CHRIS STINEBERT, CEO, AMERICAN FINANCIAL SVCS. ASSOC.: We need to move slowly. We need to answer some of these tough questions about cost, about consequences, about will it stifle innovation?
YELLIN: The agency is a centerpiece of President Obama's proposed new financial regulations.
OBAMA: This agency will have the power to set standards.
YELLIN: It was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, she's Congress' watchdog for the Wall Street bailout. She says this agency would demand simplified contracts, no more fine print, no more tricks and traps.
ELIZABETH WARREN, CHMN., CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT PANEL: Let's switch over and have plain vanilla products; page-and-a-half-long credit card agreements. There's the interest rates, there's what causes a penalty, and how much you'll get charged.
YELLIN: But opponents warn any changes in the industry could have a devastating impact on the economy.
STINEBERT: If credit goes up and costs more, therefore some people that are eligible for credit today will not be eligible in the future.
YELLIN: And it is a fierce fight happening right now. The House of Representatives have been holding hearings about the agency, and will hold more next week. The House Financial Services Committee, they're set to vote on it in two weeks. But the bottom line, Wolf, is there is significant opposition to this agency in Congress. No clear picture that this would pass.
BLITZER: All right. They're fighting and those lobbyists are working really, really hard. Jessica, thank you.
A growing obstacle to health care reform, but President Obama is vowing it will happen this year. He, in fact, is guaranteeing it. James Carville and Kevin Madden, they're here.
Plus, hunting down Al Qaeda leaders in some of the most top- secret work the U.S. military and the CIA do. What do we know about how the U.S. tracks terrorists in hopes of killing them?
BLITZER: You saw the president of the United States, live here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the last hour, guaranteeing that health care reform will be passed this year. We are going to get this done this year, he said.
Willy, let's discuss with our Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, James Carville and Republican strategist, Kevin Madden.
If you had to bet, right now, Kevin, will he get it done this year?
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, I think that he will get something. I think the willingness for the president to guarantee that a bill will get out and he'll sign it, means that he's willing to cut a deal. Now what he's waiting for is the specifics from Congress.
That's why I think over these last few months, he really has hedged a little bit on what he would guarantee would be in or not be in the bill. Because he's trying to give himself as much leeway because in the end, he may not be able to sign a bill that he promised, but he will be able to sign something because he defined a win on this by getting a signature on a bill that says health care reform. The specifics, he'll leave those up to Congress.
BLITZER: You saw some of those moderate Democrats in the Senate today, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, James Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat, as he likes to be called, from Connecticut, saying, you know what, slow down, Mr. President. This is too big a deal to rush this through.
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I think here just from our standpoint is, the president has ratcheted this thing up. I actually agree with the Senator DeMint, of South Carolina, who says, if we can beat this bill, we'll defeat Obama. It will be his Waterloo, effectively. He said, that if they can hold this bill up (ph) they can end his presidency in terms of him being effective. It's interesting. And the president seems to say, OK. And whether they slow down if they do it, if they get legislation at the end of September, or the end of November, I don't think it's going to matter a great deal. Kevin has a very good point there.
But the stakes in this are enormous and everybody is jockeying and moving into position to garner some kind of influence and the president's got a lot of work to do between now and the time that they get to the goal line, if they get there. He has a lot going on here.
BLITZER: But James, the most work he needs to do is with his fellow Democrats, because they've got, what, 60 votes in the Senate, lopsided majority, and he could get it passed, but he needs all those Democrats on board.
CARVILLE: He does. There are other ways that they could do it and it's going to be -- it's difficult. They're not there yet. I think they know that. And I think he is -- he's ratcheting it up. This is an enormously important debate. People should watch this very closely and I don't think that -- look, there may get some kind of bill - but if it doesn't do very much, it's going to be a colossal disappointment to people.
So we've got to stay tuned. People should watch CNN the whole time. This is a very, very big event in American politics.
BLITZER: Good idea to watch CNN the whole time, especially Wednesday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. He'll have another prime-time news conference, Kevin, the president of the United States. And he wants to go out there and sell his health care reform.
Do all these public events by the president, do they really help, though?
MADDEN: Well, look, I think the president is betting on the fact that his personal charm and his connection with the American public is what's going to help this bill. He's going to continue to try and draw this debate in very broad terms. He's going to continue to talk about health care, I think, as a value. That's where he's at his best.
The biggest problem, again, for the president is that members of his own party are starting to fall away from him, because they're pushed away by the specifics. James talked about that this bill may not do enough. Well, I think a lot of people are worried that this bill is doing too much. There's plenty of health care in there, $1 trillion worth, but there's not a whole lot of reform.
So I think that the president right now is on the defensive. He feels like he's losing this debate a little bit. And Wednesday night is going to be an attempt, again, like today, to try to reset the narrative.
BLITZER: Let me pick your brain for a second, James, on Hillary Clinton, the secretary of State. Our own Jill Dougherty, our foreign affairs correspondent, asked her about these reports that are out there. You've seen them, that she's been sidelined by the White House. Her role has been diminished. Listen to what the secretary said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't really pay a lot of attention to what is said. I really stay focused on the work that I do. I broke my elbow, not my larynx.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Referring to her fractured elbow. What do you make of these reports that she's been sort of muzzled and that she's been restrained?
CARVILLE: Well, this is -- this goes back to when Henry Kissinger was in the White House, I think William Rogers was secretary of State. There's always been a great deal of tension. The White House has generally won these fights in terms of primacy in foreign policy. I don't think that the secretary of State thinks that we should follow that model. Journalists say that people in the White House have been, you know, kind of saying that. I think they might have picked up the wrong fight here. I think that she's pretty determined that the secretary of State and the State Department is going to have a pretty big say so in foreign policy. And she seems to be -- I think she's going to execute on that.
BLITZER: You never should count Hillary Clinton out, Kevin, right?
MADDEN: No, I think that right. But look, anytime anybody says they're not paying attention, they're paying attention. I do think that folks over there are very sensitive to this.
But, look, James is right. There's always been a natural tension between Foggy Bottom and the White House. That's always going to exist. There are power structures in there that are going to be there no matter who's president, and who's secretary of State. And they're always going to make more about that tension then they should. But I think that Secretary of State Clinton has been an effective voice. I think she's been front and center. I don't see her going away anytime soon.
BLITZER: All right, guys, we'll leave it right there. Thanks for coming in. Have a great weekend.
CARVILLE: Thank you.
MADDEN: You, too.
U.S. patients traveling abroad for controversial stem cell therapy treatments, but are they victims of a scam? CNN's Drew Griffin investigates.
And Pope Benedict XVI injures himself in a fall. We'll tell you how he's doing. All that and more here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Fred, what's going on?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWS ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Hello, again, Wolf.
Pope Benedict XVI is recovering at his summer home in the Italian Alps after surgery on a fractured wrist earlier today. The pope broke his wrist in a fall at his home last night. He waited until morning and until after his daily private mass to go to the hospital for treatment. The spokesman described his surgery as minor.
And Sarah Palin is promising her fans and supporters she'll stay in touch, even after she resigns as Alaska governor nine days from now. Palin posted a message on Twitter today, vowing to use a personal account to keep communicating on the social networking site. And once she's a private citizen again, Palin says, her Tweets will be less politically correct.
And a convicted murder is now in federal custody for allegedly providing the gun used to kill ex-NFL quarterback Steve McNair. Authorities say the suspect admitted to ATF agents that he sold a gun to McNair's 20-year-old mistress two days before the murder.
As a convicted felon, he is barred from possessing a firearm. McNair was shot to death by his mistress on the Fourth of July. She then killed herself.
And adoption advocates are urging a boycott of a new horror film named "Orphan". They say it fuels negative attitudes about children without parents. The film tells the fictional story of an adoption that goes terribly wrong with an adopted orphan as the main villain. Warner Brothers says that it is considering adding a pro-adoption message at the end of the film when it comes out on DVD, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. We'll get back to you.
Black police officers fighting to shut down what they say is a racist web site. Now they've filed a civil rights website against their own department.
And tracking down the world's most wanted terrorists? What are the rules for the U.S. military and the CIA? How far are they willing to go? Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, says that more U.S. troops could be sent to Afghanistan if the new American commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, says he needs them. But Gates adds, he isn't expecting a significant increase in American forces.
Bob Woodward is the award-winning veteran author and journalist for "The Washington Post". He is just back from Afghanistan. Bob, thanks for coming in.
BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.
BLITZER: I am deeply worried, and I am sure you are, about what's happening in Afghanistan right now. The U.S. is pouring in more troops. And even more troops, thousands more, might be needed. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
WOODWARD: Look, they haven't fixed it and the war continues. I think it is something that Obama, and the White House, and the Pentagon, and everyone else involved in this are deeply concerned. Because as everyone says, Afghanistan is not Iraq. It is not something where you can surge X number of troops and kind of fix the problem. The big difference in walking around there, it is a primitive country.
BLITZER: You went with General Jim Jones, the retired commandant of the Marine Corps, who is now President Obama's national security adviser. He studied this closely. Did you get the sense from your conversations with him, hearing him brief U.S. military personnel, he was coming back to Washington more upbeat?
WOODWARD: No. I think they are worried. They want to make sure the strategy they have got is implemented. Now, of course, the strategy is not just military. They want to improve the economy and they want to improve governance in Afghanistan.
As I say, it's not a modern state. It's not like Iraq, where they have vast oil wells. So they can spend the money to increase their own military and police force, which everyone agrees. So this is now Obama's war. There is not light at the end of the tunnel in the near future.
BLITZER: One of the big problems, the U.S. is pouring in a lot more troops. Going to have 68,000 troops, the president approved another 21,000. That may not be enough. There is deep concern that the Afghans, themselves, President Karzai, they are not stepping up to the plate.
WOODWARD: Yes. A big concern about Karzai, as a leader. I went with General Jones to talk to Karzai. He is very outgoing and friendly and highly Westernized, but you dig behind that, and a lot of people say he is making deals with people who are corrupt in order to win the election next month. And not putting people in, or keeping people, in the Afghan government who are really going to fix things for the people in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: Most of Afghanistan's wealth is from poppies, from opium. They are the biggest supplier of opium around the world. Is there any progress being made in reducing that?
WOODWARD: Well, you know what? They've actually decided now -we can't fix that, because that is the farmer's income. I talked to the general on the ground in Afghanistan. And I asked about that. He said, we do not want to eradicate the poppy crop now. We can't do it, because I will have 21,000 angry farmers. I can't deal with that. BLITZER: That was an American general, you're talking about?
WOODWARD: That was an American general. There is a new policy of -- we'll deal with the drug problem later.
BLITZER: Are the Pakistanis, on the other side of the border, the Swat Valley, are they making progress in going after the Taliban and Al Qaeda?
WOODWARD: They have. That is an optimistic note. But, boy, what's going on in those ungoverned regions of Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden presumably is. I wouldn't bet any money on it, but you know, it's the best guess. And, in Pakistan, there they are recruiting. They are plotting. It is scary stuff.
BLITZER: Does the Obama administration have confidence in that man, President Asif Ali Zardari?
WOODWARD: You know, he's somebody - you talk to people about it. And we talked with him, also. And he talks like he is on top of the game. You ask people about what's going on and they say, he doesn't know much about governing. He is Benazir Bhutto's widower. That's why he is in that office. He is somebody who spent 11 years in jail, somebody who is a businessman, and not naturally a politician.
And so, the situation, Afghanistan, Pakistan, they are linked. Afghan - Af/Pak policy, as they call it, the leaders of those two countries are not as strong as the United States and our allies would like.
BLITZER: We will see what happens in the Afghan elections in August. That's going to be critical as well. Iraq, not very far away. You know a lot about this subject. I pick up my home town newspaper, "The Washington Post". And there's a lead, Anthony Shadid, a great reporter, from Irbil in Northern Iraq, the Kurdish area. Let me just read this to you.
"Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region and the Iraqi government, are closer to war than at any time in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, a Kurdish prime minister said Thursday.
Closer to war, Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Shiites?
WOODWARD: Well, first of all, the Kurdish region is very independent. They value their independence. They want more of the oil revenue. That's something that really has not been worked out.
BLITZER: Could this whole Iraq experiment just simply collapse now that U.S. forces are out of the major cities? And eventually, not too far down the road, U.S. forces are going to be gone.
WOODWARD: Well, I wouldn't call it the Iraq experiment. I would call it the Iraq war. It is not over. We have 130,000 of our troops sitting there outside the cities, The general, Odierno, has told the Pentagon, said, "Look, we can't - the plan is to pull them out over the next year. Let's not do this too fast because there are all of these worries.
And the problem in the north, with the Kurds, is only one of them. The other one is Al Qaeda and the insurgency. They have not been eliminated in Iraq. It is still a violent country. There are still questions about how do you get a political solution there. Here we are, six months into the Obama administration, and he has George Bush's wars in Afghanistan, and Iraq, still very much on the table.
BLITZER: I know you are working on a book on the Obama administration that will be out next year. We will look forward to that. Bob Woodward, thanks for coming in.
WOODWARD: Thank you.
BLITZER: Happening now, after the bombing at two American luxury hotels in Indonesia, I will ask Marriott's head of security what can be done to protect you, as a hotel guest.
Criticisms have pushed the chance for health care reforms towards life support. That's what the critics are saying. But the president rushing out with some political CPR. Can he resuscitate his health ideas? The best political team on television standing by to weigh in.
And fresh details on that shocking double murder in Florida. The sheriff is here. He's finally revealing what was inside that safe stolen from the couple's home.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.