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Fears Afghan War Will be Lost; Democrats Face Election Dilemma; Terror Probe Suspects in Court

Aired September 21, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now, a new warning that war in Afghanistan may be lost. This hour, the top U.S. commander's powerful appeal for more U.S. troops. The leaked report putting more pressure on the president to act and to act fast.

Torrential rains and rising floodwaters in parts of the southeast. Hundreds of thousands of people are facing dangerous, even deadly conditions. CNN weather experts are tracking the deluge in their own back yard.

And President Obama's awkward landing in New York. He comes face to face with the embattled governor after reportedly trying to push him aside. It's an election dilemma for Democrats right now.

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

No wonder the Obama administration wanted to keep a just-leaked report on Afghanistan under wraps. The top U.S. military commander comes close to delivering an ultimatum. He says he needs more troops, lots more troops, and he also needs a new strategy or the 8-year-old war may end in failure. Dramatic stuff coming in from Afghanistan.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is joining us now with more details.

Chris, tell us what's going on.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, General Stanley McChrystal says it is still possible to win in Afghanistan, but this leaked report certainly ratchets up the pressure on the Obama administration.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): For U.S. troops, a sobering 66 pages meant to be confidential but leaked to "The Washington Post." In it the U.S. commander says the Afghan government is corrupt, insurgents have turned prisons into recruiting stations, and they contest or control a significant part of Afghanistan. General Stan McChrystal says he needs more troops and civilian advisers soon.

McChrystal doesn't spell out his specific needs but writes, "Time matters." The general says if he can't regain the initiative within a year, it might not be possible to defeat the insurgency. "Any of these risks are likely to result in mission failure." McChrystal says there's no point adding troops if officials don't buy into a new strategy. McChrystal writes that his commanders have been more concerned with protecting their own forces than the Afghan people. In a significant change, he says American troops have to assume more risk and spend "... as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases."

This leaked report puts more pressure on the Obama administration. Last week in Iraq, Vice President Biden told me they wanted to hold off on making an additional troop decision until all previously authorized troops arrive and the contested Afghan election is decided.

(on camera): Do you think that more troops are needed to win?


LAWRENCE (voice-over): McChrystal says resources alone won't win the war, but under-resourcing could lose it.

President Obama told CNN's John King he won't decide on troop levels until the goals and strategy are clearly defined.

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we have clarity on that, then the question is, OK, how do we resource it? And what I will say to the American public, it's not going to be driven by the politics of the moment.


LAWRENCE: Now, the vice president told me over and over again that the ultimate objective is not the Taliban, but al Qaeda, which is now predominantly based in Pakistan. There is a line of thinking that says a minimum number of NATO troops could keep al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, leaving the Taliban to do what it will as long as that doesn't include planning attacks abroad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon for us.

Thank you.

Republican Senator John McCain says the Obama administration is putting tens of thousands of U.S. troops in danger by delaying a decision on its Afghanistan strategy. In a statement to CNN today, McCain wrote this: "As soon as the decision is made, the sooner we can implement a strategy that will allow us to reverse the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. General Petraeus and General McChrystal should immediately be called to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on this vital issue.

Our Dana Bash says Democrats on the Armed Services Committee are working with McCain on a letter urging chairman Carl Levin to call the generals to testify. Levin told CNN's John King yesterday that he wanted to wait, at least for now. An update now on the disputed presidential election in Afghanistan and allegations of widespread vote fraud. A U.N.-backed panel has agreed to allow a recount of a sampling of hundreds of thousands of suspicious ballots. That will be quicker than a full recount, which could take up to three months.

Preliminary results from the August 20th vote show President Hamid Karzai winning with over 54 percent of the vote, but if enough votes are thrown out, he could fall below the 50 percent mark and be forced into a runoff against his main challenger, the former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

President Obama is on the road pitching his plans to turn around the economy. In a pep talk at Hudson Valley Community College, the president urged a greater commitment to scientific research.


OBAMA: When we fail to invest in research, we fail to invest in the future. Yet, since the peak of the space race in the 1960s, our national commitment to research and development has steadily fallen as a share of our national income. And that's why I set a goal of putting a full three percent of our gross domestic product, our national income, into research and development, surpassing the commitment we made when President Kennedy challenged this nation to send a man to the moon.


BLITZER: The president certainly has a big week ahead. On Wednesday, he makes his United Nations debut with both the Libyan and Iranian leaders planning to attend. The White House will be carefully trying to choreograph the president's schedule.

Then on Thursday, it's on to the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. President Obama and other world leaders will gather there to discuss the global economic crisis.

New York's Governor David Paterson says he still wants to be the Democratic candidate for governor next year despite the White House reportedly trying to push him aside.

Our White House Correspondent Dan Lothian has more on the election dilemma facing Democrats -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president's visit to New York was supposed to be about clean jobs, about important global issues like climate change and Mideast peace, and even a sit-down interview with David Letterman.

But instead, the Governor Paterson story is stealing a lot of the focus. This, after a story that Mr. Obama had been urging the governor to not run for a re-election, to drop out of the race because of his low poll numbers. There's concern that he could pull down other key Democratic seats and give Republicans the advantage. Well, no sign of any friction as the president arrived in Albany. He greeted the governor. They hugged and then talked for a few minutes. And then later, before the president delivered some remarks on innovation on the economy at a community college, he had kind words for the governor, calling him "a wonderful man."

Robert Gibbs was asked about this story aboard Air Force One. He did not confirm that the president had directly appealed to the governor to drop out of the race. Instead, he pointed out that it was a difficult situation going on in the state of New York. And another senior administration official pointing out that there is a lot of concern about the political climate in the state of New York, but that no one has ordered Paterson to get out of the race -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian on the scene for us.

Thank you.

The former Republican congressman Rick Lazio is expected to formally announce that he's running for governor of the state of New York as early as tomorrow. The announcement comes as former New York city mayor and 2008 GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani also contemplates this own bid for the governor's office and the Republican Party nomination.

Three natives of Afghanistan now suspects in a U.S. terrorism probe are making their first court appearances today.

CNN's Deb Feyerick is covering this story for us.

Deb, what happened today?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here's what we can tell you. The 37-year-old imam, Ahmad Afzali, entered the courthouse. He smiled at his family sitting in the front row, later blowing kisses to his wife and father who there were.

The judge read the charges against him, which include making false and fictitious statements. The court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Prosecutors are detaining him right now without bail. There will be a hearing on Thursday, and his own lawyer plans to present a detective from the Joint Terrorism Task Force to testify in Afzali's behalf.

Now, his lawyer says that rather than as authorities allege -- or the big question is that the imam did not take part in tipping off two Denver suspects, according to Ron Kuby, Afzali's lawyer. He says that the imam was actually trying to help federal investigators.


RON KUBY, AFZALI'S ATTORNEY: The authorities generally requested that the imam find out any way he can where Zazi is, where he's been, where he's going, and what he is up to. That's what they wanted to know, and that makes sense, because they thought he was coming to New York for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist attack.


FEYERICK: Now, a long-time friend who spoke to Afzali says that helping terrorists is not in the imam's character. That, in fact, he willingly let FBI agents search his house. He waived his Miranda rights. His lawyers saying that he gave DNA samples, even allowed agents to take a sketch of his shoe, an imprint of his shoe. So, his lawyer says this is likely to have a chilling effect on those who do want to help the government because now his lawyer says Afzali is a target.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Deb. Thanks very much.

And in the 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour, we're going to be speaking with Ron Kuby, the lawyer for the imam Ahmad Afzali.

In the meantime, let's got to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.


Military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan are about to force President Obama to do something he'd probably rather not do -- make a decision. The day of reckoning has been coming for a while now. The death toll of American troops continuing to rise there. The Taliban strengthening their hold on ever-larger parts of the country, and the effectiveness of the Karzai government when it comes to troops and security remains very much in doubt.

History suggests Afghanistan is a tough nut to crack. Ask the Russians. And to think you can do it on the cheap, with limited budgets and a limited number of troops, that's just plain ludicrous.

In effect, the White House is being told by the people fighting the war, either come up with a strategy that has a chance of working and commit enough troops to make it happen, or resign yourself to the same failure that all foreign invaders of Afghanistan have ultimately come face to face with. It's time then for the administration to stop equivocating.

First, we heard a decision on troops is "weeks and weeks away." Then we were told there are no plans for additional troops for Afghanistan. But the people fighting this war say without them there are no plans for victory either. Since World War II, this country has failed to achieve victory in Korea, in Vietnam and in Iraq, and the polls indicate the American people are not eager to commit the resources that might be necessary to win this one either.

Here's the question. What should President Obama do when commanders are saying the mission in Afghanistan will fail unless they get more troops? Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: A lot of people are frustrated, Jack, because you know what? Eight years into this war, where are the Afghan troops after the U.S. helped liberate Afghanistan? Where are they, and where are the NATO allies in all of this? They certainly could be providing a whole lot more troops. Yet, when all the dust settles, everyone always comes back to the United States.

CAFFERTY: Well, and the other part of the story is that after 9/11, we went into Afghanistan and probably had a pretty good chance of maybe doing away with a lot of the problems when it comes to al Qaeda and the Taliban. But instead, we decided to invade Iraq, and now it's almost nine years later.

Who knows where Osama bin Laden and the rest of al Qaeda are? A lot of people think they are in Pakistan. And we're stuck in a quagmire there with no way out, at least that we can see from here.

BLITZER: Key word "stuck." You're absolutely right.

CAFFERTY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

Former presidential candidate John Edwards still feeling the fallout from an extramarital affair. Why do some politicians move past scandal and others can't?

And the filmmaker Michael Moore is taking on the establishment again. This time the entire capitalist system. We're going to hear from him. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: They haven't seen torrential rain like this in the southeast in many, many years. At least two people have been killed in flooding in Georgia and Tennessee, and two others are missing.

Schools are closed. Cars and mobile homes have simply been swept away. And people are being warned not to drive through streets that look like swamps.

Our meteorologist Reynolds Wolf has been watching all of the water rise.

Literally in your own backyard in the Atlanta area, Reynolds. Explain.


You know, I live less than two miles from this very spot. This is one of the neighbors that we have that's relatively close by. You can see the water right here in the background.

You see a birdbath, and just from the bottom of the basin to the ground is rulely two and a half, maybe even three feet. The water is all the way up breaching that.

Now, let's pan over here, if we can. We're with CNN photojournalist Dave Roston (ph).

Dave, I want to show our viewers across America and Wolf in the studio this.

I want you to look down here on the ground. You're going to see some water that's actually popping out in a few spots here and there. That's actually bad news because it means the ground is so saturated, that water is actually working underneath this concrete, which means this water can actually cause this roadway to wash out.

And speaking of this road, this is Brownsville Road. I normally take this in to work every single day. And normally, Wolf, it goes over a stretch of a bridge. It only spans about 40 feet or so, and normally Sweetwater Creek, which runs through here, is only about a foot or so deep. Today, as far as you can see, all the way over to this hillside, it's basically one big river, and I can tell you firsthand that this water in this particular area, this is a pretty strong current that's flowing through here.

It's an amazing thing to see, and this basically is what was caused by about 20 inches of rainfall that fell anywhere from 48 to, say, the last say 24 hours, especially during the last nine hours. It just came down in torrents. This is the effect.

Something else that is ironic, you see, Wolf, is this sign over here. You see it says, "Cobb County Enforces Georgia's Outdoor Water Use Regulation." They put that up all over the county because we've been mired in such a huge drought, they have been limiting water usage.

Wolf, I think it's fair to say that the drought is over in this part of the area.

Certainly rough in my own particular neighborhood, just being selfish for a moment and telling you how things are closer to where I live. We had houses that are flooded. We've had two deaths in the area. It's a tremendous mess. The rain is still falling as we speak.

BLITZER: What about your house, Reynolds?

WOLF: We've got water just in the back yard that's actually about 20 feat from the house right now. The playscape where my daughters play every day is completely covered with water right now, and we're just keeping our fingers crossed.

BLITZER: All right. Good luck over there.

Good luck to all our friends down in Georgia and Tennessee.

Our iReporters are also sending in some powerful images showing the wrath of these torrential rains.

Let's go to our Internet correspondent, Abbi Tatton. Abbi, show us what you're seeing.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, I want to show you Catina Bell Street (ph). On a normal day, this is one of our iReporters, and this is the street where she lives in Stone Mountain, just in the Atlanta suburbs.

Now let me show you what it looked like first thing this morning. That roadway gone, completely collapsed, now a sinkhole which she says is longer than a car's length. Luckily, no one was hurt here. She says there's so many trees down on her street, that no one could drive up and down it anyway.

Now she's watching as work crews come to try to stop that water main break which has water flooding into this ditch. Now it's now been formed. You can see right by the houses just there, just by her neighbors, some of whom have electricity, some of whom don't.

We've got all these iReports coming in from around the Atlanta region of people waking up this morning trying to figure out how they are going to get to work. I want to show you this Atlanta housing complex here.

This is about 7:00 a.m. here. Quincy Osagie looking out of his window. The parking lot there, cars submerged, but also, if you can see that, those are rescue crews launching a boat to try and get to some of the people, some of the people in their vehicles that are tripped. Quincy says that that has now receded a little bit, but the rain is still falling, Wolf., where many of these images are.

BLITZER: An amazing rain indeed.

All right, Abbi. Thank you.

There's new outrage over the way a convicted terrorist is being treated. They say the man known as the "Shoe Bomber" is now getting a break, and they are blaming the Obama administration. Stand by.

And later, it's one of the worst places in America to live if you want a job. We're live in Detroit, getting be an up-close look at unemployment and the pain of recession.




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

Happening now, a sigh of relieve in the Spokane, Washington, area. A criminally insane killer is back in custody, but you won't believe how he got loose. State officials say the facility where he was locked up has a lot to answer for. President Obama prepares to face some tough international issues this week as he makes his United Nations debut and then hosts a G-20 summit. What could we expect? Stand by.

And bizarre behavior by a world leader. Embarrassing revelations about Boris Yeltsin from an unlikely source.

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

Let's get to the economy right now and a new warning from President Obama. He says he doesn't expect significant job growth in this country until next year. The president spoke at length about the recession and unemployment on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King.


JOHN KING, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": Where are the jobs? When are they coming back?

OBAMA: Yes. Well, look, this is something that I ask every single one of my economic advisers every single day because I know that, ultimately, the measure of an economy is, is it producing jobs that help people support families, sends their kids to college? That's the single most important thing we can do. What we've done I think in the first eight months is to stop the bleeding.

KING: Do you think jobs will not grow? You'll not be adding jobs until sometime next year?

OBAMA: No, I think we'll be adding jobs, but you need 150,000 additional jobs each month just to keep pace with a growing population. So, if we're only adding 50,000 jobs, that's a great reversal from losing 700,000 jobs early this year, but, you know, it means that we've still got a ways to go.


BLITZER: A long ways to go.

The people of Michigan may know better than most that Americans just -- may know better than most Americans, that is, just how bad the jobs market really is right now. The state's unemployment rate is the highest in the nation at 15.2 percent, and it's even worse in the city of Detroit.

Poppy Harlow of is in Detroit. She's doing some in- depth reporting on the economy there.

I guess the question, Poppy, is, how bad is it?

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: Wolf, it is as bad as we have seen, 28.9 percent unemployment within the Detroit city lines. It is unbelievable to most Americans. I like to call this ground zero for this recession, because you have got an auto industry on its knees, rampant foreclosures, and it's almost impossible to find a job. Let's take a look back at history, where we stand, almost 29 percent unemployment right now. Go back to 1970. You had about 8 percent unemployment. It rose to 17.9 percent in 1980, 16 percent unemployment in 2008, but now 29 percent unemployment.

That said, there are people, Wolf, that are making this city work for them, including small-business owners. Take a look at one woman we profiled.


LIZ BLONDY, OWNER, CANINE TO FIVE: It's confusing. Detroit is kind of a weird place. It's definitely a dichotomy of, you know, people that pay $4 for a latte and people that pay $10 for a crack rock. Weird.

This used to be -- we call it Midtown now, but it used to be called the Cass Corridor. And the Cass Corridor was traditionally a very rough neighborhoods, lots of hookers, lots of drugs.

Behind our amazing community garden that we have here, we have a billing, pretty burned out, drug-infested. So, I would say it's about 100 yards away. Maybe about 200 yards in that direction, we have a Starbucks.

I have got people standing in front of my business occasionally asking my customers for me money -- very, very frustrating. I work very, very hard to make sure that that doesn't happen. We have got security cameras installed.

I doubt, if I was in the suburbs, I would have had to get security cameras installed to make sure that my customers' cars don't get broken into. I -- I deal with the neighborhood. I deal with the challenges. I actually hope that ,in opening my business here, I'm making the neighborhood a little bit better. I think I am.


HARLOW: Well, she certainly is. That is one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in Detroit. It's known as the Cass Corridor.

Where I'm standing now is next to a house that Time Inc. just purchased, showing our dedication, teaming up with CNNMoney to cover this story, Wolf, from the ground up. We're not here for a day. We're not here for a week. We're here for the next year or longer covering this city and all the perils of this city.

It really is a city in America that's on the brink. It's all part of Assignment Detroit. It's something we're very dedicated to, more coverage at CNNMoney -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a heartbreaking situation in Detroit, indeed, throughout Michigan, not only there, but in other parts of the country. Poppy, I'm glad you're focusing in on what's going on.

HARLOW: Exactly. BLITZER: The filmmaker Michael Moore made a name for himself going after the car industry in Detroit. Now he's taking on an even bigger target, the capitalist system.

CNN's Susan Lisovicz spoke with Moore about his new film. She's joining us now.

Susan, this financial crisis pointed out the flaws in our economic system, but Michael Moore, in his new movie, says the system simply cannot -- repeat, cannot -- be fixed.


And Michael Moore came to Wall Street today, or, as he calls it, the scene of the crime. It's hardly controversial to say the U.S. economic system is broken, but Michael Moore says the system itself is beyond repair and has to change.


MICHAEL MOORE, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: It got broke a long time ago. And, like a lot of things, if you don't fix it right away, then it gets to a point where you can't repair it. Thirty years ago, when Ronald Reagan was elected, and they came up with this concept of trickle-down economics and go-go capitalism, where anybody can do anything they want, well, it started to fall apart then. That's when we really first started to see the huge unemployment losses.


LISOVICZ: Michael Moore, Wolf, says -- he talks about the growing disparity between rich and poor, the struggles of the middle class, and the lower standards in the workplace all as evidence that capitalism has failed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How much of the blame, Susan, does Moore pin on Washington?

LISOVICZ: Well, I have seen the movie, and, of course, I talked to him this afternoon, and you can't escape it. The opening scene in this movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story," is a vintage clip explaining the fall of the Roman Empire. It's the corruption of government, slaves working for the states, the disparity of rich and poor.

So, I asked him, did Washington enable Wall Street's excess?


MOORE: It's hard to call Congress the enablers, when they are actually more the servants. They are the paid staff of Wall Street. I mean, Wall Street banks, corporate America, they supply the money to -- to buy these congressmen, to buy the lobbyists. I mean...


LISOVICZ: And, Wolf, "LARRY KING LIVE" will have Michael Moore for a full hour with questions. So, that should be an interesting conversation. That's Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m.

BLITZER: Yes, I will be speaking with him as well, Susan. Michael Moore will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM later this week, as well, on Thursday. We will talk to him about what's going on.

We're also watching other developments happening right now, including the situation in Washington, the health care situation. That's unfolding. And we will have the latest for you on this.

Plus, angry Obama administration critics are saying that the shoe bomber, the airplane shoe bomber, is getting treatment right now that he shouldn't be getting.

Our Brian Todd is looking into that story for us.

Brian, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a Justice Department official told me this was thoroughly reviewed, all security implications were considered, and that Richard Reid is still understood very severe restrictions. But some experts say the safeguards that were in place before should never have been lifted.


TODD (voice-over): He sat beaten up and defeated after passengers and crew subdued him, but Richard Reid's failed plot terrified the public right after 9/11 and led to a measure we all have to deal with years later.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: As a result of Richard Reid, we all now take our shoes off at airports around the country. Nothing could be more serious than the plot that he was accused of.

TODD: Seven years after pleading guilty to trying to blow up a transatlantic flight with explosives in his shoe, Richard Reid has had some restrictions lifted at the federal supermax prison in Colorado. Since June, he's been able to correspond with his family by mail and can get news journals not long after they are published.

A Justice Department official says this decision came after a review by the department's counterterrorism section, the FBI, and prosecutors. The official says the shoe bomber will still be in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, and cannot physically interact with other inmates at that same prison, inmates like convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui.

Asked about Reid's mail, the Justice official said in a statement, "This correspondence is reviewed," insisting, everything will be strictly monitored.

Former New York City police Commissioner Howard Safir, who now runs a private security consulting firm, is not comforted.

HOWARD SAFIR, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: The reality is that, if a terrorist can communicate with his family, with other associates, even though it's monitored, he could use code. He could be directing other terrorist acts.


TODD: Now, we also want to read for you an excerpt from a -- from a 2006 report by the Justice Department's inspector general, which said that three convicted terrorists convicted for that 1993 World Trade Center bombing -- quote -- "wrote approximately 90 letters to Islamic extremists between 2002 and 2004." Those terrorists were in that very same prison that Richard Reid is in.

But the Justice Department -- Department official we spoke to said that there has been a considerable tightening of restrictions at that supermax facility since that report came out.

And it's also worth pointing out here, other terrorism experts are quoted as saying Richard Reid was no terrorist mastermind, that he was not a facilitator of communications, one expert from Harvard quoted as saying in a newspaper that Reid's I.Q. level was well below average and that officials probably feel there's not a threat of him indoctrinating other people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, I understand you spoke with a flight attendant who was actually there.

TODD: That's right.

This woman says she was among the first crew members to encounter Reid as he tried to light up his shoe that day. She says that he hit her, that she was injured. She's very upset about this, says she feels a little bit like those relatives of Pan Am 103 victims after the Libyan operative was released from Scottish custody -- custody recently.

Again, the Justice Department is saying that Richard Reid still very isolated and nothing changes about his life sentence.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

A military judge has granted the U.S. government's request for another delay in a September 11 war crimes trial at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The 60-day continuance gives the Obama administration more time to decide whether to move the trial to a civilian court or a revamped military court. The self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and other defendants did not oppose the delay.

John Edwards isn't in politics anymore, but the scandal over his extramarital affair still is haunting him. Just ahead, why can some political figures make sex scandals go away, and others can't?

And the dicey diplomacy, as President Obama prepares to be within shouting distance of the president of Iran -- we're looking ahead to his predicament at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

And stand by to get an earful when James Carville goes head-to- head with Ben Stein. That's coming up in our next hour.


BLITZER: Damning new allegations about the John Edwards extramarital affair are now coming out. This time, the claims could spell the end of Edwards' political career once and for all.

But there is a tradition in American culture of forgiveness.

Let's go to CNN's national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, is it possible for John Edwards to make a comeback?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you say, this country does have a tradition of forgiveness. If you're a famous politician, it seems you can do just about anything and have a comeback, as long as the offender apologizes, gets punished, and seems to suffer along the way.


YELLIN (voice-over): Remember when John Edwards admitted to having an affair with Rielle Hunter? He did a mea culpa on ABC News.


JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: In 2006 two years ago, I made a very serious mistake, a mistake that I am responsible for, and no one else.


YELLIN: But now he's getting front-page "New York Times" treatment. The paper cites a book proposal from former Edwards staffer Andrew Young, alleging that Edwards may not have told the full truth when asked if he fathered the mistress' new infant.

Here again on "Nightline":


EDWARDS: That it's not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events, so I know it's not possible.


YELLIN: Whoops. The article alleges, he's likely the dad. Another ugly charge? That Edwards promised his mistress a wedding after Mrs. Edwards, who has cancer, passes.


YELLIN: Culture watchers says Edwards could redeem himself if he follows the accepted script. STEINHORN: He has to apologize. He has to repent. That's this Calvinist framework our society works under when crises hit.

YELLIN: That worked for Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who is seeking reelection after a prostitute scandal, and for Nevada Senator John Ensign, who is still in office after an affair with a staffer/friend's wife.

Another model? There's Newt Gingrich, who had an affair while impeaching a president for the same, or the former president himself. Both men moved on only after enduring public punishment.

But then why do other politicians fail to win forgiveness, like South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who has apologized endlessly?

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I want to apologize to a good friend.

YELLIN: Or New York's Eliot Spitzer, who had to leave office, and John Edwards, who has all but disappeared from the public stage?

STEINHORN: There's an unseemly factor to what they did that sort of disgusts people, that makes people think that there's something fundamentally wrong with them. And I think that's why they may never recover fully, the way, let's say, Bill Clinton did.


YELLIN: Wolf, through spokespeople, both John and Elizabeth -- and Elizabeth Edwards declined to comment on the story. John Edwards' spokesperson also tells us he does not plan to make any statements about this issue in the near future.

I would finally note, Wolf, that you notice none of these politicians we're talking about is female -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a good -- good point, Jessica.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

In the "Strategy Session": President Obama has words of praise for New York's governor.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have got some special guests here that I want to acknowledge, in addition to Jill. First of all, a wonderful man, the governor of the great state of New York, David Paterson is in the house.



BLITZER: But, behind the scenes, does team Obama have doubts about Paterson's political viability?

And a day after the president's Sunday show spray, has the president's marketing campaign diluted his brand?


BLITZER: Political flap here in New York State.

Let's talk about what's going on with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, and Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein, a columnist for "Forbes" magazine, among other things.

Guys, thanks for coming in.

Gloria, I know you had a chance to speak to Jose Serrano, the Democratic congressman from New York, who said this to you: "If the White House has issues with a Democratic governor, there are ways to do that. Going public and embarrassing our governor doesn't make any sense."

He was referring to a front-page report in yesterday's "New York Times" that President Obama and his White House team don't want the governor to seek reelection next year. It's causing a lot of flap here.


And then, of course, today, the two actually had to meet, shake hands, and they gave each other kind of a tepid embrace. And Congressman Serrano also said to me, that must be the most uncomfortable situation either has faced in a long time.

And I would -- I would say that it is. And, you know, it all started early last week, when the White House political director met with the New York governor and said to him that the White House was concerned about his low standing in the polls, and that he would not be able to win the governor's race.

And they are particularly concerned, as you know, Wolf, not only about keeping that seat, but also not losing Gillibrand's Senate seat and not losing a few House seats along the way. So, they made their concerns known.

BLITZER: Because the -- the White House is not shy about endorsing Democratic candidates.

Let me bring Dan Gerstein into this conversation.

The president went out campaigning for Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, for Jon Corzine seeking reelection as governor of New Jersey. At what point does the White House tell a candidate, a Democratic candidate, you know, maybe it's time to hang it up?

DAN GERSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's -- it's one of the toughest call in politics, particularly for a sitting president. But I don't think that President Obama had any choice here. I think they gave Governor Paterson a lot of time and opportunity to make the right choice for the state and for the Democratic Party, and the governor has been very, very stubborn, in spite of his poll numbers and in spite of Democrats across the state making clear they don't think he's electable.

And I think that there had to be some kind of a message sent from the White House, because David Paterson is not going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party next year.

BLITZER: Apparently, they would like, Alex, the -- the attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, who is much more popular, to be the Democratic candidate, especially if Rudy Giuliani gets the Republican nomination. They are really afraid that whoever is atop the New York State ticket could affect a lot of sensitive congressional districts, and some Democrats who were elected could lose.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Coattails, it's -- a lot of this is about coattails. Andrew Cuomo has a 70 percent job rating. They would much rather have him at the top of the ticket.

But the problem here is, this is unprecedented, really, for a president to come out this publicly and cut the knees out of a sitting Democratic governor. This is the first black governor in New York history. Imagine if a Republican president had done this.

There's an elitism here and an arrogance that is beginning to characterize the Obama administration: We know best. We know how to run auto companies. We know how to run health care. And, by the way, this democracy thing is a little messy. Don't worry about that. We will pick the candidates from Washington.

BORGER: I -- I don't think it's at all out of the ordinary, though, for -- for a White House to make its political concerns known, particularly the White House political director to do that.

I think the problem was here that, somehow, this got leaked to "The New York Times."


BORGER: And, once that story gets out, then the White House has egg all over its face. And that's -- that's exactly what they are confronting right now.


BORGER: What do they do with the governor -- with Governor Paterson? Does he stay in? Does he leave? Do they give him another job, so he has a soft landing? We don't know yet.

GERSTEIN: Well, Gloria -- Gloria is absolutely right. This not only is not unusual. I just have to -- to respond to what Alex said. This is not the White House intervening. This is -- the state Democrats have made it clear -- I mean, labor union leaders have been meeting behind closed doors up here fretting about what they can do to get Governor Paterson to pull out of race, because he's not going to win.


CASTELLANOS: Leaks -- leaks coming from the presidency, though, from the White House interfering in a governor's race...

BORGER: I'm shocked.


CASTELLANOS: ... that's just not smart politics.

BORGER: Never.


GERSTEIN: Well, that's a separate question.

CASTELLANOS: That rarely happens.

GERSTEIN: I have got to say, it's more than likely the leaks came from Paterson's side.

BORGER: Well, but it's not only the White House that's concerned.

I mean, I think there are a lot of Democrats in the state of New York that are concerned. Senator Chuck Schumer had a meeting with the president in August, and I'm told that the president actually raised the issue of Governor Paterson.

No, nothing was decided there. Nothing was recommended at that meeting, but it was clear -- it's clear that the White House has been thinking about this for a very long time...

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: ... because the Democrats in the state...


BLITZER: And, Alex, Alex, let me make the turn to the president's appearance on five Sunday talk shows yesterday.

Howard Kurtz, the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" here on CNN, the media critic for "The Washington Post," writes this: "It's equally true that the president has become an eager player in this nonstop news cycle. And the more he waltzes on to every show this side of 'Dancing with the Stars,' the more he risks being seen as just another programming element, his words quickly fading into the electronic ether."

What do you think about what Howie Kurtz said?

CASTELLANOS: I think Howie is right. The president is burning up a lot of political capital, and not getting much for it.

When you drop a pebble in a still pond, it makes ripples. You notice. When you drop a pebble in a stormy sea, nothing changes. And this has been a very stormy sea now on the health care debate for a long, long time.

For the president to go out there and think that a few speeches are going to change anything, especially when he has nothing new to say, big political mistake. So, again, I think the president right now is burning up a lot of political capital, getting very little for it. And people are getting used to seeing the charismatic Obama speak and not make a difference.

That's a loss of power for the presidency.

BLITZER: We will leave it on that note, guys, because we're out of time.

Thanks to all three of you, Alex, Gloria, and Dan.

The columnist Ben Stein has a beef with James Carville. Stand by for their lively political debate about race, class, and the Democratic Party.

And embarrassing revelations about a drunk half-naked president -- and Bill Clinton's role in spilling the beans about that president, not an American president, a Russian president.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, what should President Obama do when commanders are saying that the mission in Afghanistan will fail unless they get more troops?

Jane writes: "First, define victory. Then define the strategy that will achieve it. And then define the resources needed to implement that strategy. A thousand doctors and teachers might be more effective than 50,000 infantrymen, but it depends on what you're trying to accomplish."

Brian in Florida writes: "Give all the generals some nice medals and make them spend some time with the loved ones of troops killed and a few months working at a VA hospital. It doesn't matter if we succeed in Afghanistan or in Iraq, except to those who are profiting from these wars. Terrorists are criminals who plot to murder people. Terrorism is a police matter."

John writes: "Obama is showing he is an indecisive politician. No plan for health care reform for months, until it's too late, no decision on troop levels in Afghanistan. Maybe we should have listened when, during the campaign, his Senate voting record of abstaining was brought up. Sometimes, sound bites are correct. Buyer's remorse is setting in hard." Lynn in Maine: "Are you kidding? This isn't Korea. We never had a 9/11 back then. We have just arrested a bunch of terrorists from Afghanistan. We're going to have smaller attacks all over this country, not as grand as 9/11. I don't like war, but, in this case, I say we have got to go for it and bring al Qaeda under control."

Terry in Indiana: "The U.S. military should destroy the poppy fields on their way out of Afghanistan. Without drug money, the Taliban might be willing to give up bin Laden for the multimillion- dollar reward money."

Dave in Lake Mills, Wisconsin: "Give the U.S. military a clear mission. They will accomplish it. Give the military a muddled, unclear or restricted mission, they will achieve exactly the mission they were given. Give the military an unrestricted mission to take down al Qaeda, and they will be gone. Short answer, give the commanders on the ground exactly what they ask for, and pull out -- or pull out totally."

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

BLITZER: Real dilemma for the president right now. We will see what -- which side he comes down on.

Thank you.