Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Infighting Over Afghanistan; Suicide Bomber Attacks Aid Workers in Pakistan; Convicted Killer's Execution Delayed

Aired October 5, 2009 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the White House insists the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is not -- repeat, not -- an option. We're seeing new infighting though about the future of the war after a bloody weekend out on the battlefield.

Plus, a consumer advocate says it's the worst abuse by a credit card company he's ever seen. A couple forced to the brink of bankruptcy. Are they paying through the nose because of a new law that's supposed to protect them?

And President Obama's late-night honeymoon apparently over. While he was out with his wife, he was getting no love from "Saturday Night Live." This hour, what all this says about his presidency.

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.

Right now, the Obama administration is wrangling over Afghanistan, and it's looking more and more like a war itself. A lot of competing voices are fighting to get the commander-in-chief's attention after the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in more than a year.

Today, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, said the president's next move in the war will be one of the most important decisions he has made and will make, and Gates seemed to push back against the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who has been loudly and publicly urging an increase in troop levels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: So, it is important that we take our time to do all we can to get this right. And in this process, it is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations, civilians and military alike, provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president will certainly get an earful about the war tomorrow when he meets with top congressional leaders from both political parties.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. Ed, what's the White House saying about all of this today?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what's interesting is, hanging over this entire debate that you just laid out is what appears to be some growing tension between the White House and the president's top commander on the ground, General Stanley McChrystal. As you heard from Defense Secretary Gates there, really trying to push back on what's going on.

As you noted, there's a lot of meetings coming up. Tomorrow, there'll be bipartisan congressional leaders here talking about Afghanistan behind closed doors. Then, Wednesday and Friday, the president bringing his national security team together.

Again, just like last week, when he was in the Situation Room here, basically behind closed doors, very quiet, deliberative, they don't want it leaking out, they don't want it out in public. That's a sharp contrast to what we've been seeing from General McChrystal, that speech in London late last week where he seemed to be openly campaigning for his own position of sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. But Robert Gibbs today, at the podium, appeared to not want to get into a public spat with the general, even though I pressed him several times.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Why is one person out there campaigning for just one plan?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Because the general made an assessment, and we're going through a series of decisions, including that assessment. That's what these meetings are about, Ed. That's the process that the president is going through in meetings three and four this week to try to get this strategy right, and to do it not based on the back and forth or rumors about this or that, but on what he thinks is best -- in the best national security advice and posture of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: But General Jim Jones, the national security adviser here, yesterday, on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," really seemed to be trying to push back on General McChrystal, saying that he would prefer that these comments come through the chain of command instead of being pushed out publicly as the general has been doing. And I just spoke to one of the president's top advisers who also said that the president has been very clear behind closed doors. He wants his advisers to be as vocal as possible in private and as mum as possible in public.

That is not what General McChrystal is doing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: While they were inside talking about Afghanistan, I take it there was a large protest outside the White House. What was that about, Ed?

HENRY: Yes, a very interesting protest. You see protests here outside the White House very frequently, obviously, but what was interesting about this one is it included Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist, somebody who used to be a real thorn in the side to then- President Bush about pulling out of Iraq.

Instead, she's here today pushing back as a liberal against Democratic President Barack Obama, ,saying she wants to see the war in Afghanistan end. She and other protesters were trying to chain themselves to the White House gates.

What's significant about it is it shows the public opinion that is shifting against the war, especially in the president's own party. But it's interesting, because Robert Gibbs today made very clear in the briefing, said the president is not pulling out of Afghanistan, that there may be various options on the table, but one that's not on the table is to pull out.

That's not going to please liberals like Cindy Sheehan, but advisers here saying, look, the president wants to get it right. He's not here to please the left -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tough decisions for the president.

Ed, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, a new overture by the president to the gay and lesbian community. He'll be the keynote speaker at a dinner for the human rights campaign on Saturday.

Bill Clinton is the only other sitting president to ever address the nation's largest gay and lesbian rights group. Mr. Obama will speak to the group here in Washington on the eve of a march demanding equality for homosexuals.

The president has faced criticism from some gay activists for not taking a stronger stand on overturning the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. He hasn't done it yet.

Let's get to a new terrorist attack in Pakistan. Today, a suicide bomber killing five employees at the United Nations World Food Program and wounding several others.

CNN's Reza Sayah reports from the capital, Islamabad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We now know how a suicide attacker managed to get himself inside the heavily fortified offices of the World Food Program here in Islamabad. According to Pakistan's interior minister, the suicide attacker was wearing a military uniform that belonged to the Frontier Corps. This is a Pakistani paramilitary force that had assigned several men to keep watch outside of the offices. The interior minister saying this individual went up to the private security personnel at the World Food Program and asked to use the bathroom. They said yes. Moments later, in the reception area, he blew himself up.

Here's what witnesses say they heard and saw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We felt that the building was collapsing. We started running. We came outside the basement. We saw the glass on the building was breaking

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The moment we heard the sound of the blast, we sat down. We thought the roof had fallen down.

SAYAH: Officials say five people killed in this attack, all of them employees of the U.N. World Food Program. Four of them Pakistani citizens, two of them women, and one Iraqi national. Six others injured.

Nobody has claimed responsibility, according to government officials, but this attack coming 24 hours after the current head of the Pakistani Taliban, Haki Molav Mehsud (ph), vowed to avenge the recent spate of U.S. drone strikes, one of them that killed Baitullah Mehsud, the former head of the Pakistani Taliban, on August 5th.

Officials say it's too early to say if there's a link between this attack today and that threat, but this attack certainly bearing the hallmarks of the Taliban, and certainly shows how no target seems to be off limits. The World Food Program, a U.N. agency that's designed to fight world hunger, but today the target of a militant attack.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Islamabad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Reza, thank you.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There's no question that Chicago's losing the Olympics was an embarrassment for President Obama. One headline on "The Drudge Report" on the Internet last week read, "Obama, Plus Michelle Times Oprah Equals Zero."

Princeton history professor Julian Zelizer writes on a column on CNN.com this morning that the usually calm, steady president has made two recent mistakes that have shifted the public's focus off the big issues like health care.

The first was when Mr. Obama waded into the controversy surrounding the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates by saying that the police acted stupidly when he didn't know all the facts on the case. The second mistake, according to Zelizer, was the president's decision to fly to Copenhagen for the Olympics pitch. Zelizer suggests the Olympics situation is more troubling because it was well thought out by the president and vetted by his advisers, whereas the Gates comment was an off-the-cut moment.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, the Olympic flap is not as big a deal as the Republicans will make it out to be. And come election time, it's likely whatever happens with health care reform, the economy, and whether or not we send more troops to Afghanistan will all weigh heavier on voters' minds.

But President Obama's decision to go to Denmark and appear before the International Olympic Committee could be seen as a lapse in judgment for a man who had almost perfect political instincts during the campaign.

Here's the question. Politically speaking, how big a deal was losing the Olympics for President Obama?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

A turning point in the Obama administration. The president getting downright skewered on "Saturday Night Live." Will the jokes accusing him of a do-nothing record really stick? What's going on?

Plus, what will happen to the man accused of stalking an ESPN reporter and taking nude videos of her?

Stand by for the latest on that.

And a couple turns to CNN after their credit card company raises their minimum payments through the roof. Could you be the next target?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A convicted killer who's supposed to be put to death soon will stay alive, at least for the time being. This comes after a bungled execution of another prisoner.

Let's bring in our Brian Todd. He's been working this story for quite a while.

Brian, what's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this case that we reported on three weeks ago seems to have had a chilling effect on the process of executions in the state of Ohio. A federal appeals court has halted the execution of this man, Lawrence Reynolds, Jr.

We have just learned that the state attorney general's office has filed a last-minute appeal to have that execution go ahead as scheduled. The federal appeals court, as we said, has halted it for now. Reynolds' execution was scheduled for this Thursday, but his attorneys filed for a stay based on another case in Ohio where a lethal injection was botched. Last month, the execution of Romell Broom was stopped after prison officials tried for two hours, pricked him 18 times, but could not find a vein for the infection. Broom, who was convicted of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl 25 years ago, never made it out of the preparation chamber. His execution is still on hold and Broom's lawyers want to stop it completely.

They say that bringing him back to die would be cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of his civil rights. But they also want to change the way lethal injections are done in Ohio.

I spoke about that a couple of weeks ago with Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center. Dieter says his group chronicles executions, does not take a moral position on the death penalty, but it has been critical of how they are carried out.

Here's my question to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And the gist of the issue here is the protocol in Ohio, which is similar to other states.

RICHARD DIETER, DEATH PENALTY INFORMATION CENTER: Yes. I mean, this is a complicated protocol involving three drugs administered by people who are not doctors, but rather who are guards, and there's going to be complications when you deal with human physiology.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Ohio prison officials say the vein insertions are done by what they call the execution staff, not by doctors, but they say that the people who have to do that are trained as EMTs or paramedics.

The director of the prison where Broom was slated to be executed said he has confidence in the process and he has confidence in his team, Wolf. But now two executions on hold because of that one botched execution of Romell Broom.

BLITZER: It's interesting stuff. In some states though, are doctors present at these executions?

TODD: Some states do require doctors to be at least present when the execution is occurring. Not that they have to do anything physically there. In Ohio, the doctors come the night before and check the inmate out, and then they leave.

It's a very sticky issue with the American Medical Association. Doctors really aren't supposed to be involved physically in any way with the executions. That's going to be another kind of interesting thing to see how this plays out.

BLITZER: And you'll watch it for us.

Thank you very much, Brian Todd.

Meanwhile, a death penalty case also is in the spotlight in Texas right now with the possibility that an innocent man was actually executed. Critics are asking just how far Governor Rick Perry of Texas would go to protect himself politically.

CNN's Randi Kaye digging deeper on a life-and-death story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the question: Is Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican in a tough re- election fight, trying to cover up the execution of an innocent man on his watch?

SCOTT COBB, TEXAS MORATORIUM NETWORK: This is a clear case of the governor sabotaging a public agency in order to cover up the findings for his own political advantage.

KAYE: Here's what happened Friday morning.

(on camera): The Texas Forensic Science Commission was to suppose to hear the latest finds on what really happened in this small town of Coachella, Texas, nearly 18 years ago in 1991. Still a question, because the original investigator said an arson fire killed three baby girls. It took a jury less than an hour to convict their father of arson homicide.

But since then three forensic investigations found there was no evidence of arson, none.

(voice-over): One of those reports even came before Cameron Todd Willingham was executed. Still, the governor stands by his decision.

Friday, for the first time, the state's own hand-picked expert was to present a scathing report that showed, once again, no evidence of arson.

But 48 hours before the scheduled meeting, Governor Perry stopped the entire process, removing three of the commission members.

RICK PERRY, (R), GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: Those individuals' terms were up, so we replaced them. That's not nothing out of the ordinary there.

KAYE: Governor Perry's critics suggest he's trying to delay and maybe even derail the state's own investigation.

Willingham died by lethal injection after Governor Perry refused to grant him a stay, even though he was presented new evidence the fire was not arson.

Scott Cobb heads a group pushing for a moratorium on executions. Cobb says Perry's move was politically motivated.

COBB: Governor Perry saw the writing on the wall. He moved to cover that up.

KAYE: If the commission had proceeded, the state's final report may have been released just weeks before the governor's primary election. And if it found it was not arson, critics say that would prove Perry is the first governor in history to preside over the death of an innocent man.

COBB: And I think that's what he's afraid of.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: There really is no excuse for a delay. Here finally, is a case with overwhelming evidence that an innocent man was executed by the state of Texas.

KAYE (on camera): Keeping them honest, we tried to interview governor Perry, but his office said they couldn't make it work. He has said there was overwhelming evidence Willingham was guilty. But one of the investigators, who reviewed the case over the years, called it B.S., bad science.

(voice-over): As for the state's expert, who was supposed to formally deliver findings on Friday, he said the fire marshal, who testified at Willingham's trial, had an attitude characteristic of mystics and psychics.

So will the commission hear this report? Maybe not. Governor Perry's new commission chairman, a political ally, is the man who postponed Friday's hearing indefinitely and told CNN he couldn't begin to guess when it might be rescheduled.

Five years ago, when Cameron Todd Willingham was executed, he said, "I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit." Governor Rick Perry's future may depend on a dying man's last words.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: David Letterman is getting ready to tape his show for tonight after dropping that bombshell late last week that he had sex with female staffers and alleging a blackmail attempt because of it.

Should he worry about a massive loss of female viewers? Stand by.

And he's the so-called bailout cop. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM claiming the government made misleading statements in the early days of the bank bailout program.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, a growing toll of despair and possibly death after last week's earthquakes in Indonesia. You'll meet a young woman who lost her entire family and see students going back to a school left standing when so much else was wiped out.

Also, angry protesters gained attention at the recent G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. Police helped regain order by gassing them. Even our own Brian Todd was gassed in the process.

Now that the dust has settled, some protesters allegedly committed crimes with the help of Twitter.

And on any top 10 list of worries for David Letterman, should a possible loss of female viewers be high on that list?

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

Millions of you certainly have them. We're talking about credit cards. And many of you complain that banks behind your cards engage in abusive tactics. Some of that was supposed to stop after Congress stepped in, but some believe the banks are getting around it.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is working the story for us.

Jessica, what are you finding out?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the story I'm about to tell is the kind of credit card nightmare that's happening to millions of Americans, as card companies change their policies before a new credit card law goes into effect.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): It looked like a win for the little guy when Congress tapped credit card reform to give you more protection.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: Today is a victory for every American who holds a credit card.

YELLIN: Oh, well. The new rules don't go into effect until February, and that's given credit card companies time to change their practices.

Chuck and Jeanne Lane are feeling played. They have excellent credit, never been late, but still, Chase credit cards jacked up their monthly minimum payment from $370 to $911, more than double.

JEANNE LANE, CREDIT CARD CUSTOMER: I just get emotional.

CHUCK LANE, CREDIT CARD CUSTOMER: And I thought I was paying it off under good terms, in good faith, and they have changed the game on me.

YELLIN: The card was sold as a low-interest way to pay down big bills. The Lanes have paid off half what have they owe, but still have more than $18,000 to go. They can't afford the new monthly payment, so Chuck Lane called to ask Chase for help. And guess what he was told?

C. LANE: You want me to pay five percent more in interest...

YELLIN: He can go back to his old payment, but only if he agrees to a higher interest rate. Under the new credit card law, the Lanes will have options. But for now, they are stuck.

C. LANE: So, you're putting us into bankruptcy. I mean, I don't see how that helps me.

YELLIN: The Lanes aren't alone. In a statement to CNN, Chase says they doubled the minimum payments for a million cardholders because, "While tens of millions of Chase loans have been paid back in less than 24 months, there have been a small percentage of customers that have not made as much progress. Our desire is to have these balances paid back in a reasonable period of time."

JOE RIDOUT, CONSUMER ACTION: Truly, this is the single-most abusive credit card change in terms that I have ever seen.

YELLIN: Consumer advocates are calling on Congress to make the new law effective immediately.

RIDOUT: Banks certainly are trying exploit these existing loopholes while they still can.

YELLIN: The credit card industry insists companies are not trying to skirt the new law.

SCOTT TALBOTT, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, FINANCIAL SERVICES ROUNDTABLE: It's their desire to provide the best products to consumers always, every day, to ensure that customers have the credit they need.

YELLIN: Ensuring that Americans have affordable credit, that was one reason banks like Chase got billions in taxpayer bailout money. Now this taxpayer is making a request.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like Chase to honor what our agreement has been all along.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Wolf, two members of Congress, they are trying to help. Barney Frank and Carolyn Maloney have introduced a new bill that would make those credit card rules go into effect on December 1, instead of in late February. But even if that passes -- and the bill is not on a calender for a vote -- but, if it did pass, that would still give the credit card companies another two months to keep raising rates and doubling payments.

And that's little solace for Chuck (ph) and Jean Lane (ph) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Little solace, indeed.

Jessica, thanks for that report. In other matters involving your money, the government watchdog who keeps an eye on the bank bailout program is out with a brand-new report, and it says in part that federal officials were not all that honest about the health of the first big bailouts to nine financial firms.

Neil Barofsky is the bailout special inspector general. He was appointed by President Bush back in -- last November, after his office was created by the law establishing the $700 billion federal bailout program known at TARP.

Mr. Barofsky is here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks for coming -- coming in.

NEIL BAROFSKY, TROUBLED ASSET RELIEF PROGRAM SPECIAL INSPECTOR GENERAL: Oh, it's a pleasure to be here.

BLITZER: All right, you say they -- they -- they mis -- the federal government, at least some officials, misled the American people about the health of some of these banks. Were they actually lying to us?

BAROFSKY: I wouldn't go so far as to say lying, but what they did say, when they said the first nine banks were healthy and that this infusion of capital was going to help them lend, they didn't necessarily think that they were in fact healthy.

Treasury had...

BLITZER: Well, why wouldn't they tell us the truth, instead of -- because I remember, at the time, they said, well, these are healthy banks, but we're just going to make sure they take some of this money, so that some of the non-healthy banks would feel more comfortable.

BAROFSKY: I think it was a lack of transparency and forthrightness in marketing of the program. The point was, what was going through their mind was the importance to having a big systemic support for these financial institutions.

They were worried -- as Chairman Bernanke told us -- there was a panic about what was going to happen. But rather than saying that we're doing this to support these financial institutions to return confidence to the system, they talked about the health. And that was unfortunate, because it's not what they believed to be true at the time.

BLITZER: You say they misled. It sounds to me like they were lying.

But name some names. Who -- who is responsible for misleading us about these nine financial institutions?

BAROFSKY: Well, former Secretary Paulson put out a press release where he emphasized the health of the financial institutions, repeatedly made reference to it, and there was also a press release that was signed by or put out by Chairman Bair and Chairman Bernanke as well.

BLITZER: Bernanke is still the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Chairman Bair is still around as well, right

BAROFSKY: Yes.

BLITZER: And did you consult, did you talk to them? Did you ask them why they did this?

BAROFSKY: No. Well, we did talk to -- to Chairman Bernanke about, you know, what his thoughts are and what was going on at the time, and he did have concerns about the stress on these institutions, and he did have concerns about whether they could survive.

BLITZER: You mean, if they would have told us the truth about the nature of these institutions, the situation would have been even more worse; it could have created more panic out there; is that what you're saying?

BAROFSKY: That may have been what was their -- their concerns were. It may have just been sloppiness.

We don't -- we don't really know the why, but what we do know is that there was -- there was a lack of transparency and care that occurred.

BLITZER: Does it ever make sense, from your perspective, for these officials, these people in power, to mislead us for the greater good, shall we say, because, if they tell us the truth, it will cause panic and -- and disaster?

BAROFSKY: I don't think so, because I think, whatever short-term gain there may be, there's a long-term harm.

People -- if people lose confidence in their government, ultimately, when we have these crises, it's the government's credibility that's one of its most important assets, and you lose that long term if you're not honest with the American people.

BLITZER: Do you -- I know you didn't investigate -- you're not investigating the current situation, but do you get the sense -- and you -- you obviously know a great deal about this -- that the new treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and others, they are telling us the truth, what's going on?

BAROFSKY: We certainly push for that level of transparency. And I -- I think that we certainly have seen no indications that they have not, but it's really a question of being transparent.

So, you know, for -- as an example, when we hear about how TARP may turn a profit or those types of suggestions, we need to take a hard look at those facts, because the bottom line is, there's strong indication that they won't.

BLITZER: Well, some of these financial institutions have returned the TARP money with interest, right? BAROFSKY: That's correct.

BLITZER: Like Goldman Sachs?

BAROFSKY: Yes.

BLITZER: But others have not.

BAROFSKY: Others have not. Some 35 banks have missed their regular dividend payments.

BLITZER: How much is this going to wind up costing all of us, the taxpayers, because, presumably, we're never going to get a lot of that money back?

BAROFSKY: It's impossible to know, precisely because the program is still rolling out.

But we know that we're not going to get $50 billion back as part of the modification -- mortgage modification program. We know we're not going to get -- or very unlikely we are going to get dollar per dollar. I mean, there's probably tens of billions in the auto bailouts. AIG and Citi are big question marks.

And these -- some of these banks that we have given money are -- are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What's the most important lesson you learned from this investigation that you conducted?

BAROFSKY: Transparency. Be honest with the American people. Tell them the truth about what you're doing and why you're doing it. It's the best way to protect credibility.

BLITZER: We can handle the truth; is that what you're saying?

BAROFSKY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mr. Barofsky, for this report. And thanks for coming in.

BAROFSKY: Thank you.

BLITZER: It's an eight-foot cross smack dab in the middle of a desert. It's pitting religion against history and it's up to the United States Supreme Court to choose sides.

And hundreds of Latino farmers say they are being treated unfairly by the U.S. government. Their crops, their land and their livelihoods are at stake.

And their school survived a massive earthquake, but just barely -- children struggling to get back to normal in the disaster zone in Indonesia. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Powerful allegations of ethnic discrimination are being leveled right now at the United States government. The complaints are coming from the farmlands of California.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is there, and she's investigating -- Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're talking about hundreds of small family farmers across the country, who alleged the USDA denied them access to government loans and disaster relief, and has treated them unfairly based on their ethnicity and race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): In Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, California, hundreds of Latino farmers say the US Department of Agriculture discriminated against them and forced many families out of business. Like John Carrillo, whose father built a thriving family farm in Salinas, California.

JOHN CARRILLO, LATINO FARMER: That's our logo here. Our American dream was to succeed as a Hispanic farming company.

GUTIERREZ: After the devastating floods of 1995, Carrillo asked for disaster relief.

CARRILLO: I was denied three times.

GUTIERREZ: He wasn't alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost our 300-acre ranch that we were leasing in Greenfield, California.

GUTIERREZ: What did you lose?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One hundred and (INAUDIBLE) acres.

GUTIERREZ: What did you lose?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

GUTIERREZ: Latino farmers allege that over decades the USDA denied them loans and assistance that white farmers were able to get. They filed a complaint known as the Garcia case, charging the government with discrimination. The case is stalled for nearly a decade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Hill. How are you?

GUTIERREZ: Attorney Stephen Hill represents the Latino farmers. His Washington, D.C., law firm took their case pro bono.

STEPHEN HILL, ATTORNEY FOR LATINO FARMERS: The original defendant in this case, Secretary Glickman, has admitted in testimony before Congress that good people lost their farmland not because of bad weather, not because of crops, but because of the color of their skin.

GUTIERREZ: Latino farmers, Native Americans, women and African- Americans all filed class-action lawsuits against the USDA claiming discrimination. But the government settled only with the black farmers.

HILL: And, to date, the government has paid out nearly a billion dollars to some 15,000 black farmers.

GUTIERREZ: And the allegations that the black farmers made were similar to the Hispanic farmers?

HILL: Not similar - identical.

GUTIERREZ: The only difference between the two cases, according to Hill, the black farmers were certified to fight as a group, whereas the court has not granted Latino farmers class-action status.

TOM VILSACK, U.S. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: The Garcia case is a little different because it wasn't certified as a class action.

GUTIERREZ: Tom Vilsack, the current agriculture secretary, acknowledged as much in a recent video posted on YouTube. A spokesman for the Justice Department, which represents the USDA, told CNN it could not comment on the case citing pending litigation.

How many of you are still farmers today? None of you? What are you doing now, Joe?

CARRILLO: I'm running harvesting crews for a company.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm working in Kmart.

GUTIERREZ: A bitter end to an American dream.

(on camera): The farmers say, if they are forced to fight the Government individually, many families will not be able to afford the legal battle, and their cases may never be heard -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thelma, thanks very much.

We're counting down, by the way, to a major CNN event, "LATINO IN AMERICA," a comprehensive look at how Latinos are changing America, reshaping politics, business, schools, churches, and neighborhoods. "Latino in America" coming October 21 and October 22 right here on CNN.

Live in New York, it was Saturday night, but the White House may not necessarily be laughing. "SNL" spoofed the leader of the free world as a sort of do-nothing president. Will that hurt him politically? And after G-20 protests in Pittsburgh, did angry demonstrators commit crimes with the help of Twitter? Wait until you hear the charges.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "Saturday Night Live" is an equal-opportunity spoofer. The latest target, President Obama. The comedy show has turned its harsh humor on him, doing a skit that essentially casts the self- proclaimed agent of change as a do-nothing president. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The following is an address by the president of the United States.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FRED ARMISEN, ACTOR: Good evening, and congratulations to Rio for getting the 2016 Olympics.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: And, to the Olympic Committee, I say, good luck with Rio.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: Now, last year, I was elected with a mandate to bring this country change we could believe in. And, as time has passed, it has become clear that this promise is troubling to some people.

There are those on the right who are angry. They think that I'm turning this great country into something that resembles the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, but that's just not the case, because, when you look at my record, it's very clear what I have done so far.

And that is nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: Nada.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: Almost one year, and nothing to show for it.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: You don't believe me? You think I'm making it up? Take a look at this checklist. Now on my first day in office...

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: ... on my first day in office I said I would close Guantanamo Bay. Is it closed yet? No. I said we would be out of Iraq. Are we? Not the last time I checked.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: I said I would make improvements in the war in Afghanistan. Is it better? No, I think it's actually worse.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: How about health care reform? Hell no.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: I even...

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: I even went personally to try to bring the Olympics to Chicago in 2016. It didn't work out.

But, in this case, there's some good news with the bad. For every person who buys an American car in the next six months, you're going to get one of these.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ARMISEN: Now, I just don't see why the right is so riled up. I mean, how do you think the left feels? They are the ones that should be mad.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: Now, I'm sure they thought I would have addressed at least one of the following things by now.

Global warming. No. Immigration reform. No.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: Gays in the military. Nuh-uh. Limits on executive powers. Nope. Torture prosecutions. No.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: So, looking at this list, I'm seeing two big accomplishments: jack and squat.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Pretty tough stuff, although, is it fair criticism?

Let's talk about it with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

What did you think about that little skit, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought it was funny. I think, in politics, it's never a good idea to overpromise and underdeliver.

And I think that Barack Obama, the honeymoon is over. He's not Superman anymore. I would point out, though, to be fair to him, he did have a big economic problem on his plate. And what was not listed there was the passage of TARP and, of course, the economic stimulus package.

BLITZER: Somebody pointed out here at CNN earlier today, Ed, that, if the president has lost "Saturday Night Live," he's in deep trouble right now.

(LAUGHTER)

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there are people here in the building behind me who will think that a segment like this is exactly what they hate about cable news. We're picking up on "Saturday Night Live" and using that.

But the fact of the matter is, you're right, that it's part of what's out there, and the fact of the matter is that people get their information from a variety of sources. Just ask Sarah Palin. The skits on her sort of cemented kind of an opinion of her out there in the public.

And the president -- I talked to a top Democrat around town today about the "Saturday Night Live" thing and some of the president's problems right now, and we sort of laughed about the segment, but the person said, look, if this president doesn't get a win on some of these issues, whether it's jobs, whether it's health care reform -- they mentioned the war in Afghanistan -- that is a difficult, difficult issue obviously, in the months ahead, some tough decisions -- this president is going to have a view out there that's cemented that he's lost his mojo, that he's struggling right now.

And it's tough to turn that around -- Wolf.

BORGER: You know, we -- it just contributes to the sort of sense that maybe this is a president who is overreaching, but he is going to get some version of health care reform. He's going to find some solution in Iraq. Some people may -- I mean in Afghanistan.

Some people may like it. Some people may not. He's going to figure out what to do on Guantanamo. He just hasn't done it all in the first nine months, which a lot of people may have expected.

BLITZER: People were expecting a great deal, and there is a sense of disappointment, especially from the left, Ed, from his real base out there, that he isn't moving more quickly in a lot of these issues, and didn't take a more forceful role from the beginning on health care. HENRY: Absolutely, but I can tell you Gloria is absolutely right. I have been on the phone today in the midst of working on Afghanistan as well, checking in on where health reform is on the Hill and talking to a lot of Democrats around town, who have been very pessimistic recently, are saying they think it's actually now back on track.

When it hits the Senate floor next week, it's going to be messy. It's going to be ugly, but they do believe what Gloria just said, that this White House is going to get a victory out of that. It's not going to be what he wanted. It's probably not going to have the public option, but a win is a win is a win, and they are banking on that in the end.

BORGER: Right.

HENRY: You talked about the left, Wolf.

Cindy Sheehan was out here, used to sort of stalk President Bush over Iraq. She now, as a liberal anti-war activist, is stalking this president, a Democratic president, saying, get out of Afghanistan.

But, as Gloria pointed out, in fairness to this president, he inherited the war in Afghanistan. He inherited the war in Iraq. He inherited the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. And that's what the White House is banking on, that people will give him more time for this change to kick in. But, as you say, Wolf, people are getting impatient.

BLITZER: Gloria, what's going to be significant, I think, the gubernatorial -- there are two important gubernatorial elections in November, just about a month -- less than a month from now, in New Jersey and in Virginia.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The Republican candidates are pretty strong in both of these states. If the Democratic candidates lose both of them, that will send a pretty strong message to a lot of nervous Democrats out there...

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: ... especially those moderate or conservative Democrats, those Blue Dogs, that, you know what, they want to protect their own seats.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, they are already nervous. This would -- this would make them more nervous.

But I hate to look back to the 1980s. Ronald Reagan did not do well in his midterm elections. He lost 26 seats in the House. But, three years later, if I recall, he won 49 states. So, you know, Democrats will be nervous. Members of Congress are always nervous. They are probably not going to do too well in these midterm elections, but that doesn't necessarily bode one way or the other for Barack Obama.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We will leave it on that note, continue this discussion. Guys, thank you.

In Afghanistan, the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in more than a year, some say this highlights that more American troops are needed.

And remember the clashes between police and protesters at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh? Some of the demonstrators now are facing revolutionary charges of using Twitter to commit anarchy

And David Letterman certainly has things to worry about right now, perhaps among them turning off female viewers. Will women continue to watch Letterman among his -- amid his sex and alleged blackmail scandal?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here is a look at our hot shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Afghanistan, an elections commission worker carries a disputed election box for recounting purposes.

In Germany, a shepherd leads his sheep across the road to fresh pastures.

In Belgium, a farmer gives a riot policeman a glass of milk while protesting low milk prices.

And, in Russia, the president, Dmitry Medvedev, presents a trophy to an educator who won a teacher of the year contest -- "Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

On our "Political Ticker": The vice president, Joe Biden, is on a fund-raising circuit today, raising cash for fellow Democrats in Connecticut. He's expected to praise Senator Chris Dodd for bringing stimulus money to the state. Dodd is facing a tough reelection bid.

The polls suggest his approval ratings have edged up a bit. The five-term senator will get be an even bigger helping hand later this month when President Obama headlines a fund-raiser for him.

The Democratic National Committee is pumping another $1 million into the Virginia governor's raise. The party is heavily focused on keeping the seat now held by the DNC chairman, Tim Kaine, and has already spent $5 million on the competitive Virginia race. Recent polls show that the Republican, Bob McDonnell, has gained ground over Democrat Creigh Deeds in the competitive fall election.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. You can always check out what I'm thinking and writing about THE SITUATION ROOM. Twitter -- go to Twitter.com/WolfBlitzerCNN -- WolfBlitzerCNN all one word. Get my tweets on Twitter. I love saying that. Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File."

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty shaking his head.

CAFFERTY: No, no. I just -- you know, I -- I -- it's technology that has passed me by. Get my tweets on Twitter.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I love that.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, politically speaking, how big a deal was losing the Olympics for President Obama?

Steve writes from San Diego: "Nobody wins every battle they fight. He was right to support our country's bid to host the Games. I give him credit for taking his best shot. So it didn't work out. So what?"

Rory in California: "I like and voted for our president, but this trip was not necessary. It made him look weak, ineffectual and easily distracted. And the first lady's sob story about her father didn't help either. We need a tough president, not a cheerleader or a TV star."

Jim in Colorado: "It matters, but only with people who don't. A reasonable person provides help when it is important and when asked. Win or lose doesn't really matter. People with some perverted sense of political posturing think the president should become involved only if the outcome has been somehow fixed in his favor."

George writes: "Who cares? The decision was made long before President Obama went. The vote was just a formality. He probably did waste his time. However, if he didn't go, your question would have been, did the president's prestige suffer because he didn't stand up for America? Damned if he did, damned if he didn't."

Frankie writes: "It was a neat idea. Too bad it didn't work. Do you honestly think every fly he swats and every move he makes is political? If the Republicans can't figure out how to politicize some action of the president, the media does it for them."

And Ken in Vermont writes this: "Obama is breaking the mold, and those who use the prism of the past will miss the mark when assessing his presidency. It's the first inning, with a lot of baseball left to play, and he knows it."

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Taliban militants lay deadly siege on a remote U.S. outpost in Afghanistan, as President Obama weighs how best to turn around the war, a decision