Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
New Hopes for Breakthrough in Standoff Over Iran's Nuclear Program; Jimmy Carter's Thoughts on Iran, Critics of President Obama; War Chief: 'Time Does Matter'
Aired October 1, 2009 - 15:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper.
Every hour today we're revealing one of our top 10 CNN Heroes for 2009.
From Essex, England, meet Betty Makoni. The program Betty founded in Zimbabwe has rescued more than 35,000 young girls from abuse.
I'll be back in an hour with our next top 10 CNN Hero. And join me for a "360" special at 11:00 p.m. to meet all our heroes and begin voting for the CNN Hero of the Year, who will won $100,000.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And congratulations to all of the heroes honorees.
Happening now, President Obama calls landmark talks with Iran constructive, but now he's demanding action.
This hour, new hopes for a breakthrough in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.
Plus, secret taped interviews with Bill Clinton, they're the basis for a new book filled with fascinating anecdotes from the Clinton presidency, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and a lot more. The author, the famed historian Taylor Branch. He's here this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And the retired prosecutor who admits he lied about the case against the film director Roman Polanski. I'll ask him if he's trying to make sure Polanski goes to jail three decades after he had sex with a minor.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
This hour, promises and progress after decades of tension and conflict between the United States and Iran. Just a short while ago, President Obama sounded encouraged by the Islamic regime's participation in international talks today. But he also sounded skeptical about Iran following through on its commitments ands coming clean about its nuclear program.
Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.
Jill, historic day today.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is, although you never know, Wolf. It's a long path here.
But you've got from the Americans, from the Europeans, all of them saying this is just a start with Iran. But the start of what, more talking or a possible breakthrough?
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): At crucial talks in Geneva between Iran and the U.S. and its big-power allies, the Obama administration's pledge to engage with its enemies swings into action. A pledge to meet again in a one-on-one meeting out of camera range during a lunch break between a top U.S. diplomat and Iran's chief negotiator.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today's meeting was a constructive beginning, but it must be followed with constructive action by the Iranian government.
DOUGHERTY: It's a dramatic detour from the path George W. Bush traveled on Iran.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil.
DOUGHERTY: But is it a breakthrough? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls the talks productive, but she's treading carefully.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've always said we would engage, but we're not talking for the sake of talking. We're not involved in a process just to say that we can check a box on process. We want to see concrete actions and positive results. And I think today's meeting opened the door, but let's see what happens.
DOUGHERTY: Critics of engagement warn Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be trying to simply run out the clock. One Iran expert cautions, the longer talks with Iran continue, the more pressure there may be on President Obama.
KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: If after weeks and months of meeting with the Iranians there's no headway, we've not seen any signs of compromise by the Iranian government, I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on the Obama administration to justify these conversations if they're simply an exercise in futility.
DOUGHERTY: And on that point, President Obama says he and his allies won't negotiate indefinitely. Iran has agreed to cooperate fully with the United Nations and allow inspectors full access to that secret uranium enrichment facility. And he says they must do that within two weeks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's see how they follow up on that. Good point, Jill. Thank you.
U.S./Iranian relations took a turn for the worst back in the late 1970s, during Jimmy Carter's administration. His presidency was tarnished by his failure to free Americans held hostage by Islamic revolutionaries in Tehran for 444 days.
Today, the former president is marking his 85th birthday and the reopening of his presidential museum in Atlanta. He sat down for an interview with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me ask you about Iran, because we're having those talks today. This is a country that you had to deal with during your presidency, during the hostages -- hostage-taking.
Do you see any hope at all that Iran is going to come to the community of nations and somehow say, sure, come look at our facility and we will certainly walk away from any nuclear ambitions? That's not going to happen, is it?
JIMMY CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, in this museum presentation, there's a lot about Iran. And as I said before, the things that affected me when I was president quite often are the same things that 30 years, 25 years later affect President Obama's decisions.
I hope and pray that Iran will be induced to permit the international inspectors to come in and observe their entire nuclear program, because what they're doing so far is entirely legal under the nonproliferation treaty. They have a right to purify uranium and even plutonium to be used to produce power.
I think the worst thing we can do is to continue to threaten Iran, because if Iran is on the borderline between going nuclear or not on a weapons system, the constant threats that we or the Israelis are going to attack Iran is the best thing to force them, let's defend ourselves. So I don't think that Iran has yet made up their mind about what to do. And I think the best way we can do it is engage them and stop making these idle threats that force them to take the most militaristic action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Candy, also asked President Carter about his recent remarks suggesting that some of the angry criticism of President Obama was fueled by racism.
First, though, listen to a clip of what the former president said in an interview with NBC News just a few weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American. That racism still exists, and I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South, but around the country, that African-American are not qualified to lead this great country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: You made some remarks recently about how you felt about the protesters that were protesting against President Obama. You said overall, you thought the protesters were upset that there was a black president, that there was racism involved. You said that many people...
CARTER: By the way, that's not what I said.
CARTER: I said those on the fringe element that had personal attacks on President Obama, those were the ones that I included. But I recognize...
CROWLEY: But your first remarks were that, overall...
CARTER: No, it wasn't. If you read the remarks carefully, you'll see that that's not what I said. I said that those that had a personal vituperative attack on President Obama as a person, that was tinged with racism. But I recognize that people who disagree with him on health care or environmental issues, things like that, the vast majority of those are not tinged by racism.
CROWLEY: So you think they were taken out of context? You didn't mean that most of those protesters out there were racists?
CARTER: I meant exactly what I said. What I actually said, if you look at the transcript, is just what I just repeated to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, speaking with our own Candy Crowley.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the president and first lady lobbied in Copenhagen for the 2016 Olympic games to come to Chicago. It's worth pointing out a lot of people who live in Chicago don't want the Olympic games. Mayor Richard Daley has called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The supporters talk about how the Olympics will bring jobs and revenue to the city. But a lot of people in Chicago just aren't buying this.
One poll done by "The Chicago Tribune," WGN, shows fewer than half of Chicago residents want to host the summer games. One group opposed says that if Chicago gets the games, "Corruption, cronyism, cost overruns are guaranteed."
Hey, it's Chicago.
There's even a Web site called Chicagoans for Rio, urging the Olympic committee to send the summer games to Brazil. They cite deficits of former host cities which, in some cases, are huge. They list Chicago's latest crime statistic. There's even a picture of Athens, Greece, five years after the games there, where they claim that 21 of 22 of that city's Olympic venues now sit empty and unused.
They also compare Rio de Janeiro to Chicago using examples like these -- city nicknames: Rio, "The Marvelous City"; Chicago, "The Second City." Histories: Portuguese empire capital, versus Chicago, a rail yard. And signature events: For Rio, naked people dancing, versus Chicago, chubby people eating.
So, here's the question. Should it matter that as many as half of the people in Chicago don't want the 2016 Olympic games?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thanks very much for that.
The pilot responsible for the so-called "Miracle on the Hudson" is now back in the cockpit. And the flight probably seemed familiar.
Also ahead, key military officials break through the veil of secrecy surrounding the president's Afghanistan strategy.
And secret late-night meetings with Bill Clinton. I'll talk with the man who captured his presidency on tape and has written a brand new book about it. Some very personal revelations from Bill Clinton's darkest days.
BLITZER: The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan says military forces battling the country must do things dramatically differently to succeed. General Stanley McChrystal is making his thoughts about how to win the war in Afghanistan very clear.
Who might support or disagree with the general's arguments among top U.S. military officials and inside the Obama administration?
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's got some details.
Barbara, what's going on?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, the administration is now well into days, if not weeks, of secret deliberations about what to do in Afghanistan. But some public positions are beginning to emerge.
STARR (voice-over): Secrecy has surrounded the high-stakes White House deliberations about Afghanistan. But key military players are now putting their cards on the table.
GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: We need to reverse the current trends, and time does matter. Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely. Public support will not last indefinitely.
STARR: In London, General Stanley McChrystal laid out his urgent case that it is troops on the ground that are a must to fight the insurgents.
MCCHRYSTAL: A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.
STARR: Vice President Joe Biden wasn't mentioned, but Biden and National Security Council adviser Jim Jones are said to be calling for a more limited effort, going just after al Qaeda, using fewer troops on the ground.
In Washington, McChrystal's boss, General David Petraeus, was asked, "What if the president decided to use drones or a small number of Special Forces on the ground?" He pointedly failed to endorse the idea.
By all accounts, Petraeus and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are backing McChrystal. But what side is Defense Secretary Robert Gates on? A senior Pentagon official tells CNN Gates is becoming more comfortable with the notion a significant number of additional combat forces will be sent. It just may not be the entire 40,000 the military believes are needed.
But Gates' bottom line?
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States.
STARR: Now, General McChrystal, Wolf, says it's important to take the time to get it right, but just not to take forever -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara, stand by for a moment, because I want to expand this discussion into our "Strategy Session."
Joining Barbara in this discussion, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our national security analyst, Peter Bergen. Gloria, listen to Senator John McCain, what he said about this subject earlier in the day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's very obvious what's going on here. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Petraeus, General McChrystal, all know that we need additional troops in the range of 30,000 to 40,000, and the administration is backing off of that, or trying to find the exit sign.
It's well known. It's broadcast all over television that there are individuals, including the vice president of the United States, now unfortunately the national security adviser, the chief political adviser to the president, Mr. Rahm Emanuel, who don't want to alienate the left base of the Democrat Party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Pretty stark assessment from Senator McCain.
And Gloria, I guess it's going to cry for some White House reaction. But what do you think's going on here?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think obviously McCain -- and, you know, don't forget, he's been consistent on this, on calling for more troops. You know, we know where he stands on this.
The one person, Wolf, that he didn't mention in his floor statement is, of course, the defense secretary that Barbara was talking about. He's really the linchpin in all of this.
It's very clear to me from talking to folks at the White House that the defense secretary is the person I think the president really wants to hear from. And my sources say that the defense secretary hasn't really played his hand yet, that he's talking to his generals, he's trying to come up with a number. It may not be the 40,000, as Barbara said, but he's trying to come up with a number. And he's also trying to define what kinds of manpower you would send over there.
BLITZER: Yes. And like Robert Gates, the president hasn't played his hand yet, either. And he's the commander-in-chief.
John Kerry, Peter, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, raises an intriguing question about an increase of troops in Afghanistan. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We need to know what the impact on Pakistan would be of a major troop increase in Afghanistan. Would successful nation-building in Afghanistan, in fact, translate into greater stability in Pakistan and elsewhere across the region? Or, to the contrary, does a troop increase in Afghanistan have negative consequences for our goals in Pakistan? And might it, in fact, add to the destabilization, as some in Pakistan in high positions of power have suggested?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Good questions.
What do you think, Peter?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, look, I think, Wolf, for the people who are advocating a more minimalist American position in Afghanistan, they really have to answer two questions.
One, if we're just going to rely, if the United States is going to rely largely on Special Forces and drones, how is that different from the first few years of the Bush approach to Afghanistan which yielded a resurgent Taliban, this time that have morphed ideologically with al Qaeda and got us in the situation we're in right now?
Secondly, if there is a drawdown from American presence in Afghanistan, what signal does that send to Pakistan?
It sends very much the wrong signal, because the Pakistanis haven't taken the Afghan Taliban card off the table entirely because they're not convinced the United States is in Afghanistan for the long haul. All this talk of perhaps a different strategy in Afghanistan, drawing down, confirms to the Pakistanis, in fact, that they should maintain at least acquiescence or even support for the Afghan Taliban, a policy they've pursued now for over a decades -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Are you hearing at all, Barbara, when this final decision about deploying thousands of additional troops might be made?
STARR: Well, the clock is ticking. The best guidance you get around the Pentagon is it will certainly be the case that a decision will be made by the end of October. That's most likely. But, remember, Defense Secretary Gates told our John King that it could be January before they could really get a significant number of troops moving in that direction.
BLITZER: One thing to make a decision, it's another thing to implement that decision.
Very quickly, Gloria. What's your point?
BORGER: Well, you know, the White House says they're not going to be rushed into this. And they continually remind you that President Bush took three months before he decided on the surge in Iraq. So he's taking his time.
BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much for helping us better appreciate what's going on. The stakes are enormous.
President and Mrs. Obama are going for the gold. But what if they fail to win? They're in a very high-stakes push right now to win the Olympic games for Chicago. Will the president's reputation suffer if Chicago loses?
And a huge twist in the Roman Polanski case, and the man causing this twist talks to me in a CNN exclusive. A lawyer who was involved in Polanski's case -- he was a deputy prosecutor at the time -- has made some damning accusations, but now admits, guess what? He lied.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a shocking revelation in the sex case of the film director Roman Polanski, now fighting extradition to the United States. A former prosecutor says he lied about influencing the trial judge. We're going to talk to the retired prosecutor about what he said right here in THE SITUATION ROOM..
This is an exclusive. Stand by for that.
Also, an international custody battle. An American charged with kidnapping, but it was his ex-wife who abducted the children. He speaks to us exclusively from a Japanese prison.
And a devastating back-to-back set of earthquakes in Indonesia. More than 1,000 people are now dead. We're going to go show you some of the unbelievable destruction.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's being called one of the most raw and revealing looks inside the mind of any sitting president, a new book called "The Clinton Tapes." This is no ordinary book. Just a few months into his term, then-President Bill Clinton invited the author to some secret conversations to document his presidency.
Bill Clinton would say things privately he could not say publicly. Virtually no topic was off-limits.
BLITZER: And joining us now, the historian Taylor Branch. He's the author of the brand-new book entitled "The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President."
Mr. Branch, thanks very much for coming in, and thanks for writing this book.
TAYLOR BRANCH, AUTHOR, "THE CLINTON TAPES: WRESTLING HISTORY WITH THE PRESIDENT": Glad to be here.
BLITZER: As a reporter who covered the Clinton White House for almost that entire period, it brought back a lot of memories.
Let's, first of all, walk through the process. How did you get this incredible access to the sitting president of the United States? BRANCH: It came out of the blue at his initiative when he was president-elect.
I got a message asking if I were willing to have dinner with him at Kay Graham's (ph) house. And I said, of course. I haven't seen him for 20 years. Why? They didn't know. I went down. And he comes in, this old friend of mine I hadn't seen for a long time, with the Secret Service, and says, I have only got two minutes. I want to ask you a question about presidential records from your work in the -- writing about civil rights.
And he was concerned before he took office about the quality of records that would be taken. And one thing led to another. And he wanted to do and keep a diary, because he couldn't tape-record his own conversations.
BLITZER: So, you came in basically, what, once a month, into the White House over these periods? It was a very secretive operation. And -- and you would ask him questions about what was going on. These would all be tape-recorded?
BRANCH: I brought my tape recorders, came on short notice, always late at night, sneaked into the residence, set them up, and said, this is session 41, Mr. President. Let's cover what we haven't covered since last time that you want on the record that is not otherwise going to be on the record.
BLITZER: Could you take notes during that process?
BRANCH: I -- I was taking notes. But, mostly, I was reading my notes, trying to figure out what was going on and what question I was going to ask next, because you never knew what was going on.
Chelsea would come in for help with her homework. Or Warren Christopher would call about airstrikes in Baghdad.
BLITZER: So, but you -- the tape -- the tapes themselves stayed with the president.
BLITZER: You have not had access to those tapes?
BRANCH: No. I gave each one -- it was designed, so that he would have control over them and decide when he's going to open up for research.
BLITZER: And, then, on your drive back to Baltimore, you got a -- your tape recorder out and you dictated to yourself your recollections of the conversation you just had with the president?
BRANCH: Everything that happened, what he said, and what happened on and off the tapes, and my impressions of them, yes.
BLITZER: And this book, "The Clinton Tapes," is based basically on your recollections... BRANCH: On my dictations.
BLITZER: ... of those extraordinary exchanges you had with the president while he was president.
And I want to go through some of them, because they're pretty amazing. At one point, you say President Clinton used to fall asleep during these tapings, during these interviews. Explain.
BRANCH: The -- the stress of the presidency and the crosshairs of all of these things was such, and he was tired. You could almost see him aging in front of you. But he also had a compulsion to think and talk.
And, so, sometimes, he would be talking while his eyes rolled up under his lids, because -- because he was tired. And I would say, Mr. President, are you all right? Do you want to keep going? And he would kind of snap out of it.
It really gave me a -- a sense that I never expected of the toll that this -- this is quite apart from any scandal. This was about Bosnia and Kosovo and -- and reelection and that sort of thing.
BLITZER: He was a night owl. He liked to stay up late, though.
BRANCH: He did like to stay up late.
BLITZER: He had certain trouble sleeping. I remember that as well.
One night, you unexpectedly pointed out that there were some pillows that were missing. Tell us that story.
BRANCH: He invited me to stay over one night because my wife was down in Washington and it was late at night. And we were finishing at 2:00 in the morning. And he said, you can stay. You can stay in the Queens' Bedroom.
And my wife came. But there was no pillow there. They were renovating. And he couldn't find one. So, he wandered all over the White House. The staff had long since gone. And, finally, he took one of his pillows, because Hillary was out of town and out of his -- And we were apologizing, saying, we will find a pillow. We will go somewhere else.
But, no, he was just like a -- a host in an inn in New England. And he wouldn't rest until we had a pillow on our bed.
BLITZER: A gracious host. Tell us about the time -- this was fascinating -- when the pope was quizzing the president.
BRANCH: He had a number of meets with -- meetings with the pope. And there was one during the impeachment trial when the pope with quizzed the president, saying, tell me how you see the world. I want you to go all around the world, says the pope. And -- and it -- and it launched into what was very rare for the president, which was that he was cross-examined by the pope on his view of the world, country by country, beginning in Cuba, where the pope told him that he, the pope, agreed that the United States embargo was bad. He was trying to talk President Clinton into lifting it.
BLITZER: Because the pope was visiting Cuba just when the Monica Lewinsky story broke.
BRANCH: That's right.
BLITZER: I remember that very vividly.
And his explanation to you about his behavior with Monica Lewinsky was that he -- quote -- "just cracked."
What -- explain what was going through his mind.
BRANCH: His resolve cracked not to risk the high stakes of his quest, which was to restore respect for the -- the political agenda of the United States in what he thought was a cynical era. And he was trying to lift us out of tabloid obsessions. And he said that he cracked and felt sorry for himself and that self-pity was his number- one weakness, and that, in a moment of that, he felt sorry for himself.
It led from -- to Monica Lewinsky. And he said, I forfeited my chance to lift us out of that cynicism, because this is -- this is what they will remember.
BRANCH: And it will validate that cynicism.
BLITZER: Did you feel he was honest and blunt with you in talking about Monica Lewinsky?
BRANCH: When he said that, I certainly did, because that was very difficult for him to say. You could see it.
BLITZER: At one point, he also tells you the Reverend Jesse Jackson calling his daughter, Chelsea Clinton. Tell us about that.
BRANCH: He said he had had many quarrels and quibbles with Jesse over the years, but he would never speak ill of him and always remember the fact that, when the Lewinsky scandal broke, that he admitted it -- you know, not when it first broke, but when he admitted it.
BLITZER: In August of '98.
BRANCH: In August -- that Jesse Jackson was the only person who somehow -- and he said this is another story -- managed to get Chelsea's cell phone and called her at Stanford and counseled her, and said, this is terrible for you. I know it is hard. But, if you ever want to talk, nobody will ever hear of this. I -- I will do this. And Chelsea told the president. The president told me -- he said, it meant a lot to her and even more to him, because, at that point, he was estranged even from Chelsea in -- in a way. She -- she didn't want him to be seen with her friends at Stanford.
BLITZER: Because, when the story broke in January of '98, we remember, a few days afterwards, he went on television and said, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."
BLITZER: And, then, in August, he changed his story.
BRANCH: That's correct.
BLITZER: He acknowledged the affair.
During that time, did he come clean with you, or was he lying to you?
BRANCH: He didn't -- he didn't discuss it with me in between. These talks that were very, very personal were afterwards.
BLITZER: Afterwards. He...
BRANCH: Yes, after he...
BLITZER: And the subject wasn't really all that much on your -- on your agenda?
BRANCH: No. We had so many other things going on that we didn't -- we didn't discuss it before his confession.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by for more revelations from the Bill Clinton tapes. There's an awkward moment when the president was caught smooching. We will have details.
And an openly gay member of the Obama administration now under attack from the right, could he be the next official forced out by controversy?
BLITZER: Rarely ever in American history do we get such a revealing look inside the mind of a sitting president. We continue our look at the new book "The Clinton Tapes" in part two of my interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch.
He talks about a light, intimate moment between then President Bill Clinton and then first lady Hillary Clinton shared at the height of a scandal.
BLITZER: There was a moment when Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, you found them smooching?
BRANCH: Well, I didn't. The -- the -- the -- the doorman in the White House who was supposed to take me up for a session refused to do it, because he said they're smooching upstairs, and I -- and it embarrassed him.
And he had to be talked into doing it by the White House usher. But, fortunately, by the time we got up there, they were -- they were on the phone talking with senators about impeachment. It was during the impeachment trial.
BLITZER: I was moved by one story you tell, the relationship he had with Al Gore. Al Gore wanted him to go to Japan for an environmental conference. But he had something, the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, that he felt was more important for him at that time, and he had to tell the vice president no.
BRANCH: He said no.
BLITZER: Tell us what happened.
BRANCH: Well, it was more important where he said, Chelsea had her midterm junior year high school exams coming up, and those are the most important tests in all of high school, and I'm not going to Japan to leave Chelsea by herself to take those exams.
And Gore thought he was crazy, because he said this was vital, the -- to the relations between the United States and Japan. And they got into a big argument about whether Japan was more important than Chelsea's junior year midterms.
BLITZER: Tell us about that letter he wrote to Chelsea Clinton entitled, what, "3:00 a.m."?
BRANCH: "3:00 a.m.," yes. He knew that his ordeal was hard for her. And he just wanted her to know how much he appreciated her. She was also having a hard time with giving up ballet. So, there -- there are some touching moments between Chelsea and -- and the president that we cover in here.
BLITZER: It's a -- it's a very moving part of the book. There's no doubt about that.
When was the last time you spoke to the president?
BRANCH: A couple of weeks ago.
BLITZER: And he knew you were coming out with this?
BRANCH: Yes. I had took it up to Chappaqua and gave it to him.
BLITZER: And did he -- what was his reaction?
BRANCH: All over the place. Nervous. "I hope this does well. This is a lot more detail than I thought."
But I think we will -- we will wait and see.
BLITZER: Because we -- someone who's read his autobiography, and now this book, you have got a lot of details in here that he didn't have in his book that he didn't sort of come clean with.
BRANCH: Well, I had -- I had more time, I guess.
BLITZER: When will the actual tapes be released by the Clinton Archives?
BRANCH: Well, that's up to him. This whole project was geared toward that. I know he suffered a lot to make it possible to do that.
If I had to guess -- I have asked him and gotten kind of evasive answers. If I had to guess, I would say it will be after Hillary's career is over, certainly when she leaves the State Department, maybe when she retires, and it's no longer possible -- because there's a lot of Hillary in here. And I don't think he would -- he wouldn't do anything to injure her -- her chances. And it would -- I think it's premature as long as Hillary's still in active politics.
BLITZER: So, future historians will have a lot of raw material...
BLITZER: ... once those actual audiotapes...
BRANCH: ... thousands and thousands...
BLITZER: ... are released.
BRANCH: Thousands and thousands of pages.
BLITZER: Do -- do you have any idea whether the current president, President Obama, is doing something similar with a historian right now to make sure that the historic record is accurate?
BRANCH: I hope he is. If it were up to me, they would be taping their telephone conversations, and we would be in a mature enough country not to interfere with them, so that we would really know in the future how our presidents conduct the people's business.
But, right now, we're kind of scrambling to get good records, so that you really know that. That's what we were trying to do here, at -- at the president's initiative.
BLITZER: And you did an excellent job.
Taylor Branch is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "America in the King Years." We all remember that wonderful book. And the new book is entitled "The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President."
Thanks very much, Mr. Branch, for coming in.
BRANCH: Thank you, Wolf. Nice to be here.
BLITZER: President Obama's about to leave on a high-stakes sales trip. And he doesn't have a lot of time to persuade Olympic officials to choose his hometown of Chicago.
And stand by for the big reveal. Another CNN hero is being honored. We're naming names right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Less than two hours from now, President Obama leaves the White House for Denmark. He will join his wife in trying to make a final pitch for Chicago to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Critics are questioning whether this is the way Mr. Obama should be spending his valuable time.
Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is in Copenhagen -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, two sources close to the process tell me that, behind closed doors, the battle is getting really ferocious between Chicago and Rio. And remember that, just a couple of years ago, London only beat out Paris by four votes.
So, White House aides are defending this quick trip by saying it may put the U.S. over the top in Friday's voting.
(voice-over): If there was any doubt about whether President Obama will do anything to bring home the Olympics to Chicago in 2016, Mr. Obama pretty much put those doubts to rest last month, when he played with a light saber on the South Lawn.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You should have seen the president in there fencing.
OBAMA: It was -- it was pathetic.
HENRY: White House aides are hoping his diplomatic skills are better than his fencing, as he and first lady Michelle Obama embark on an unprecedented joint diplomatic mission to beat out Madrid, Rio, and Tokyo.
VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: What a dynamic duo they will be. I think it will be high-impact. I think their presentation will be both very personal, given that they know and love Chicago so well.
HENRY: But what if they fly all the way to Denmark, and enlist the help of Oprah Winfrey, and still fail to collect the gold medal?
KENNETH VOGEL, THEPOLITICO.COM: If he goes and doesn't bring home the Olympics, it's going to be kind of a blow for him on the international stage.
HENRY: Republican Party Chair Michael Steele questioned whether the president should take on yet another challenge, amid debates over health reform and whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Who's he rooting for? Is he hoping to hop a plane to Brazil and catch the Olympics in Rio?
HENRY: White House officials privately say they had little choice but to raise the stakes, with competitors Brazil, Japan and Spain all sending their heads of state to Copenhagen, leading Mr. Obama to become the first U.S. president to ever make such a direct pitch for an American city, though, dating back to his days as a senator from Illinois, he's also made no bones about his personal interest, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 2008)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I only live two blocks away from where the Olympics are going to kick off in 2016. And I also, in the interest of full disclosure, have to let you know that, in 2016, I will be wrapping up my second term as president.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY (on camera): There's a lot of speculation here on the ground that the president got some sort of a secret heads-up that Chicago will win, so this is no risk for him, because all he has to do is come and celebrate a victory.
But two sources close to the process insist to me that the White House got no intelligence up front, that this is still very much up for grabs, with Chicago and Rio the front-runners -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, we're expecting the announcement, Ed, some time tomorrow early afternoon.
Meanwhile, another little-known member of the Obama administration is now coming under some serious fire from some conservatives. And, like others before him, he potentially could be in jeopardy.
Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, to explain what's going on this time.
Jessica, what is going on?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's put this in context. This happens at the same time that we're hearing about all this violence in Chicago schools, about swine flu.
Those are exactly the kinds of issues that Kevin Jennings is in place to help stop, to help resolve. He's in charge of the office that supports programs to stop school violence and keep kids safe. But now he's being targeted by critics of the Obama administration, not for his work -- not for his work fighting bullying, but here's the context.
Jennings is gay. In a book, he describes an incident in which he counseled a gay student who had sex with an older man, and Jennings did not report the incident to authorities. This all happened back in 1988.
And, in a statement, now Jennings says -- quote -- "Teachers back then had little training or guidance about this kind of thing. Twenty-one years later," he says, "I can see how I should have handled the situation differently."
Well, the Family Research Council is calling on Jennings to resign, saying -- quote -- "You do not need special training to know that child molestation is wrong."
Many other organizations are also going after him, organizations that are critical of the administration.
Now, there are a few things to point out here. First, there is no proof that this student who had sought -- who sought Jennings' advice had been an actual victim of child molestation. A legal letter and several of Jennings' own accounts make it clear the student was likely of legal age when this happened.
But, also, the groups that are going after Jennings have targeted him from the day he got his job, long before all this incident came to light. The Family Research Council, for one, started a stop-Jennings campaign, accusing him of promoting homosexuality to school kids.
Now, we should point out, this man has been honored by many organizations of different stripes. His supporters include William Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts. Supporters say that he is not just about helping gay kids, but all kids.
For now, Wolf, at least for now, his own boss and the White House have given them their full support.
BLITZER: All right, we will see how this plays out. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that context. Good perspective. Appreciate it very much.
When Sarah Palin's book, "Going Rogue," comes out, will John McCain actually sit down and read it? The senator is now talking about his former running mate's tell-all.
And a former prosecutor's confession could turn the case against the director Roman Polanski upside down. The SITUATION ROOM exclusive, that's coming up. This former DA tells me why he flat-out lied about the case years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I made these imprudent conduct -- comments just to liven it up a little. In retrospect, it was a bad thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker" right now: Three of Hollywood's most powerful man are endorsing Jerry Brown's bid to return to the California governor's office.
"The L.A. Times" reports that DreamWorks founders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen all will host a fund- raiser for Brown in November. This week, the state attorney general officially launched a committee to explore a run for the Democratic nomination for governor next year.
Brown has quite a few Hollywood connections from his many years in California politics, including his stint as governor from 1975 to 1983.
Guess who's eager to read Sarah Palin's memoir? Senator John McCain was asked today about his former running mate's upcoming book entitled "Going Rogue: An American Life."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Which part of Sarah Palin's book are you most looking forward to reading?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The -- the -- the part I'm -- I'm looking forward to most is the part where it energized our campaign and it put us -- her selection put us ahead in the polls.
The part I'm looking forward to least is some of the disagreements that -- that took place within the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator McCain was also asked about Governor Palin's political future.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I believe that I have an obligation to encourage the next generation of leadership, both that are in office now and those that are seeking office. And, yes, I think that Sarah Palin will play a significant role in -- in the Republican Party in the future.
GREGORY: Is she qualified to be president?
MCCAIN: Oh, sure. I mean, look, when I -- you say she would be qualified, let me say, that's a judgment the American people make. But I'm very proud of her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: John McCain was speaking to NBC's David Gregory in an event at the Newseum here in Washington earlier today.
Remember, for all the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com.
Remember, also, I'm on Twitter right now.
Jack Cafferty's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Do you -- do you tweet during the...
BLITZER: I do.
CAFFERTY: ... during the during THE SITUATION ROOM?
BLITZER: During the commercial breaks, I tweet some inside stuff.
CAFFERTY: And do you say "excuse me" when you do that?
BLITZER: I just tweet.
CAFFERTY: Is it true -- is it also that people who are on Twitter are known as twits? That's probably not true at all.
BLITZER: No, no.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, should it matter if more than half the people in Chicago don't want the 2016 Olympic Games? According to a poll done by The Tribune Company, that's the case. Half the people -- more than half don't want the Games at all.
Kenneth in Seattle: "I have heard every Olympic Games in history has lost money. Sure, some people made money, some people quite a lot. But the taxpayers generally lost. I guess it depends on who the Olympics are for."
Merlin writes: "I don't believe Obama should reduce his presidency to lobbying the IOC for favors. What if Chicago loses? That would be an egg on the face for President Obama." Jan in New Jersey writes: "Haven't you heard" -- or: "Haven't you learned anything, Jack? What the people want doesn't matter anymore. Somebody with money and power or celebrity knows what is good for us. That's why I fear there's going to be some kind of revolt in this country."
M. in Phoenix writes: "Can we stop pretending that this isn't a done deal? Everybody knows Chicago will get the Olympics. The debate is over regarding whether they should or whether the people want it or why Brazil is simply a better choice. We should also stop pretending that hosting the Olympics had any lasting impact on Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Montreal, or Calgary."
Adam in Canada writes: "Entirely irrelevant, sir, as Rio is a mortal lock. South America's never hosted an Olympiad. Suffice it to say, that political chit will be cashed tomorrow."
Jan in Salt Lake City: "I was one of the ones who wasn't exactly happy when Salt Lake was awarded the 2002 Winter Games. Boy, was I ever wrong. It was great fun and a boon for our city."
Simon in Ontario writes: "Be careful what you ask for, Chicago. You might get it. I had a ball at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, but the city is still paying for it 33 years later. And the venues are crumbling and underused."
And Harry in Boise, Idaho, says: "Since when does Chicago pay attention to the majority? Doing so now would set a bad precedent."
CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there.
Were you surprised at that; more than half the people, according to this poll in Chicago, don't want these Games?
BLITZER: I was surprised, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Yes, I was, too.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, stand by.
We want to get to a CNN special event. It's time to reveal one of CNN's top heroes of 2009.
Here's CNN's Anderson Cooper.