Return to Transcripts main page


Is Afghanistan President Obama's Vietnam?; Charges Pending in Alleged Balloon Boy Hoax; Feds Urge Leniency For Some Pot Users

Aired October 19, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Many Americans now see the Afghanistan war as President Obama's Vietnam -- this hour, new complications for U.S. strategy and for disputed elections in Afghanistan.

Also, new details emerging on when charges will be filed in the alleged balloon boy hoax -- the parents at the center of the bizarre story now complaining they are under siege.

And the feds try to clear up confusion about medical marijuana laws. They are urging prosecutors to give some pot users a break.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in the "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Right now, President Obama's tough decisions about sending more troops to Afghanistan aren't getting any easier. A U.N. commission investigating fraud in Afghanistan's recent presidential vote today invalidated ballots from more than 200 polling stations. And a new independent analysis of election data shows the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff against his main challenger.

On top of all of that, our new poll shows 52 percent of Americans now liken the Afghanistan war to the quagmire of Vietnam. We will have more on that poll coming up. We will also have a live report from Afghanistan.

But, right now, let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

They are urgently considering their next steps at the White House, Dan. They have got a lot to ponder.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They really do. And, you know, Wolf, the White House has been trying to make the point that the new strategy in Afghanistan is much more complicated than whether or not to send in additional troops.

The political situation and really trying to get a credible Afghan leadership there on the ground is part of the challenge.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): The White House has maintained that a new strategy for Afghanistan is coming in a number of weeks, but could the disputed elections and President Hamid Karzai's apparent reluctance to accept a U.N.-led audit delay the next critical step?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't want to get ahead of the process, in terms of important decisions that Afghan leaders are going to have to make over the next several days about how to step forward.

LOTHIAN: Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, has been playing a key role on the ground in Afghanistan.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I believe that, before the president commits additional troops, we need to know that we are proceeding forward in Afghanistan with a government in a constructive way that offers us the best hope of success.

LOTHIAN: During his weekend visit, a senior Democratic official says Senator Kerry had frequent conversations with both the White House and the State Department. While it's an independent trip, it's supported by the White House, and according to one senior administration official, it has been very helpful.

Meanwhile, the finger-pointing continues. On "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was critical of President Bush's administration planning of the war in Afghanistan.


RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: And the president is asking the questions that have never been asked on the civilian side, the political side, the military side, and the strategic side.


LOTHIAN: But President Bush's former top adviser, Karl Rove, fired back on FOX News.


KARL ROVE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. Rahm Emanuel left the impression that they were the first people to ask tough questions. That's simply not true.



LOTHIAN: By the way, that review was commissioned during a time that's similar to what we see now in Afghanistan, as that is a deteriorating situation on the ground.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama continues his review, meeting with his council, his war council, here at the White House this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does he have another formal meeting in the Situation Room in the West Wing of the White House set for this week?

LOTHIAN: That's right.

We don't know the time yet or what day this week, but we're told he will have another formal meeting, although two top leaders will not -- officials will not be there, we're told. They will be traveling. But he does plan to have the meeting. It will be the sixth meeting so far. And all indications are that there will be an additional meeting after this week as well.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, thank you very much.

Now to the man who is trying to bring Afghan President Hamid Karzai down. That would be his main challenger in the recent election, the former Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

He spoke exclusively with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, just a little while ago.

And Christiane is joining us.

Christiane, did he -- did he give you a headline?


You know, I asked him precisely the question you were just talking about: What about the U.S. debate that's going on about more troops, how to fight the war in Afghanistan? Of course, it depends, really, on a legitimate government.

And he said, Dr. Abdullah, that, "I am prepared to do all that I can to help this process."

And he said that, obviously, since some of these leaked results are showing that President Karzai has less than 48 percent, since the constitution calls for a runoff, he's fully prepared to -- to run in a runoff, but he said he also leaves the door open to negotiation.



DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It will certainly go to a runoff. I'm prepared for going to a runoff.

And, in fact, since this was our anticipation, more or less, even before, so I had done some homework on preparations to go for a runoff. But, at the same time, there are some practical questions ahead of us. That's the issue of the winter, security situation, and other realities on the ground.

So, while I'm prepared to go for a runoff, at the same time, the door is open to see, if a runoff were not possible due to those circumstances before the winter, so to find a solution for it.


AMANPOUR: So, he was talking about trying to find a political solution. I asked him whether he's in negotiation with President Karzai.

And he said President Karzai had approached him a while ago, but there hasn't been any conversation over the last several days. Dr. Abdullah expects the Afghan election commission to announce the results tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, in other words, he's leaving the door open for a possible unity government, if you will, in which he would join Hamid Karzai in a national unity government in Afghanistan, without the runoff?

AMANPOUR: Well, he pretty much said he's leaving the door open. He wouldn't specifically say exactly the nature of it, but he said it's not -- I am leaving the door open but not just to take a portfolio or to have some of my -- my -- my backers as -- as ministers, but to have a proper -- as he said, a proper role for so- called change in Afghanistan.

So, by that, I interpret it -- and I think many others do -- the possibility of a power-sharing unity government.

BLITZER: On a totally different issue in Iran, a huge suicide bombing in which several commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard were killed, and -- the Iranian government now blaming the U.S. and Britain for that. What do we -- what do we know about this, Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Well, this isn't the first time that they have blamed the United States and others for these attacks on their personnel, military personnel, down in that southeastern part of Iran.

And they -- certainly, officials have told me in the past that they blame what they call U.S. or British or whatever kind of backing may be going to some of the militants who are coming over from Pakistan. So, they have been saying this.

And, again, today, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, again reiterated that -- that -- that criticism of the U.S. and Britain. It's hard to say exactly what they base that on, but somebody told me that they are sure that these militants are being sponsored by -- by abroad against the Iranian regime.

BLITZER: All right, Christiane, thank you very much -- Christiane Amanpour.

By the way, you can always catch Christiane's show every Sunday on CNN. She digs deeper on international stories at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, welcome back after -- hope you had a nice weekend. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I did, Wolf. Thank you. You, too.

They both went to acting school, but, in the end, they weren't quite good enough to pull it off. Police now say balloon boy was a bust, made-up story designed to get Richard and Mayumi Heene a reality TV show, using their sons as props in a poorly produced one-act play.

It took a question from the Wolf man to little 6-year-old Falcon Heene to expose the whole ruse. And when the family then the next day went on television to talk about all this, little Falcon, who knew it was all a lie, got sick and threw up twice.

But that didn't stop his attention-starved father, Richard, from desperately trying to be noticed. Well, now he has been, but not exactly the way he wanted to be. Police say the investigation is still under way, charges are likely for several felonies, conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, attempting to influence a public servant.

There could also be misdemeanor charges of filing a false police report. The most serious charges among these carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Federal charges are also a possibility.

Whatever it all adds up to, it's not enough. Authorities want the taxpayers' money back that was spent on this wild goose chase. In addition to local police and first-responders, the National Guard mobilized two helicopters in a rescue attempt.

A lawyer for the Heenes said they are not running from the law, and if a warrant is issued, they will turn themselves in.

So, here's the question. Should the balloon boy's parents face criminal prosecution? Go to Post a comment on my blog.

See what you started, Wolf?


BLITZER: Well, I -- I didn't start it. I just asked the question, Jack.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty will be back. And I'm sure a lot of you will want to weigh in on that question.

And we're going to have some more on the balloon boy case coming up. We will look at some other hoaxes in our history. See if you can remember our past examples of the American public being hoodwinked. Stand by for that.

And round two of the White House vs. Wall Street -- why is the Obama administration venting new outrage right now about corporate greed?

And President Obama goes back to school, not once, but twice, today. We will explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The most powerful political institution in America is blasting the powerful financial institution in America, and guess who is caught in the middle? All of you.

Right now, the White House is taking Wall Street to task, essentially saying financial firms appear to be ungrateful after getting your taxpayer dollars to avoid collapse.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin. She's working this story for us.

It looks like a little fight going on here.


Populism is back in fashion over at the White House. You could hear it on the Sunday shows, and expect it in the weeks ahead, because the White House is ramping up its verbal assaults on Wall Street as they prepare for the next big political fight, the campaign to pass financial reform.


YELLIN (voice-over): The numbers are growing, on Wall Street, where profits are up, and on the unemployment line, where claims are rising. Nine-point-eight percent of Americans are looking for work, 17 percent if you include the underemployed and those who have given up the search.

The president's men say they are outraged the finance world is so out of touch.


EMANUEL: And I think the American people have a right to be frustrated and angry.



DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: They have responsibilities. They ought to meet those responsibilities.


YELLIN: It's round two of the White House vs. Wall Street. Round one was the AIG bonus scandal.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean, how do they justify this outrage?

YELLIN: Back then, it was public anger, but, privately, the administration pressured Congress not to pass laws that would limit bonuses. Instead, the president appointed a compensation czar, who has limited power and can't do anything to banks that paid back their bailout billions, like Goldman Sachs, which set aside $16.7 billion for bonuses this year, or J.P. Morgan Chase, $8.9 billion.

Clearly, the administration's campaign to shame Wall Street didn't do the trick.

NEIL WEINBERG, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "FORBES": Shame doesn't seem to work on Wall Street. Wall Street's language is money.

YELLIN: So, now the White House is turning up the rage, focusing on another number, $224 million. That's the amount spent by the financial services industry on lobbying the first six months of this year, just as Congress prepares to vote on the president's new financial reforms.


EMANUEL: They are now back trying to fight consumer offices and the type of protections that will prevent another type of situation where the economy is taken over the cliff by the actions taken on Wall Street and the financial market. And that -- and that is what's frustrating people.


YELLIN: What to watch next? Will the White House back up that rhetoric with a commitment to strong reforms?

WEINBERG: Wall Street will continue to make as much money as it possibly can, and be shameless about it, unless there are rules, regulations and laws that limit their ability to do so.


YELLIN: Now, in a meeting I had with a top Treasury official, I was told that the administration has sent Congress 618 pages of detailed legislative language on the financial reforms.

In other words, they are not handling this one like health care reform. They are not sending up principles. They are guiding this bill all the way through.

And, Wolf, they insist that this administration is committed to keeping the piece of this reform package that is going to cause the biggest fight with Wall Street. That is the creation of a consumer agency, an agency dedicated to protecting the consumers.

We're going to hear a lot about that in the months ahead.

BLITZER: Yes, people are complaining, why is it taking so long to get some regulations in place? YELLIN: A lot of time spent on lobbying, a lot of time working out the details. It's going to take longer, maybe until next year.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Wall Street doing just fine today, the Dow Jones up almost 100 points, closing at 10092.

Jessica, thanks very much.

On health care reform right now, only a select group of lawmakers is privileged enough to be part of the secretive process. That's not how then candidate Barack Obama said it would be.

CNN's Jim Acosta explains.


OBAMA: Thank you so much.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was an Obama campaign promise, the crafting of health care reform would be out in the open.

OBAMA: This whole thing is going to be televised on C-SPAN. Everybody's going to be watching.

ACOSTA: But now that the major reform bills have cleared committees, they're being merged in private by congressional leaders and White House advisers. Republicans ask, where's C-SPAN?


SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), MINORITY WHIP: The bill that's being written right now is being written in Harry Reid's office, behind closed doors with Chris and Max Baucus, and the leader, and others. No Republicans need apply to come into that room.



RAHM EMANUEL, CHIEF OF STAFF, WHITE HOUSE: The entire health care process has been fully public.

JOHN KING, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING": This is most important part.

EMANUEL: Yes, and -- and everybody's been -- is going to continue to be involved.


ACOSTA: The process also worries Democrats, who fear the White House will cave on a government insurance public option before any votes are cast. Some in the party vow they won't back down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS") SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: I'm not prepared to recede at all. I think the public option is gaining momentum.


ACOSTA: Administration officials say the president is open to compromise on the public option.


VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Push for it, certainly, but he's also realistic to say we've got to look at all options. He has said very clearly he thinks it's the best option and we'll see what happens.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": So, he's not demanding that it's in there.

JARRETT: He's not demanding that it's in there. He thinks it's the best possible choice.


ACOSTA: But that willingness to cut some deals has irked some liberals who want the president to get tough. It's an undercurrent picked up by presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, who told "National Journal" magazine: "Mr. Obama has created an atmosphere of no fear. Nobody is really worried about the revenge of Barack Obama because he is not a vengeful man.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You make him angry, he turns -- he turns into The Rock Obama.



ACOSTA: Even "Saturday Night Live" joked about whether the president can get tough with Congress.


AXELROD: I think people want toughness, but they also want to have thoughtful leadership and that requires reviewing these issues, thinking them through clearly, and bringing people along and that's what he's doing.


ACOSTA (on camera): And another sign the GOP has latched onto this issue? Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is using her Facebook page to call out the president for not putting the current health care talks on C-SPAN.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: A talented and beloved college football player is dead. A single stab wound is all it took. Now police are on the hunt for who killed this 20-year-old athlete and why.

And many people call it swine flu, but it was never actually found in pigs, until now.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Betty, what's going on?


You know, the Agriculture Department says, for the first time, the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, has been confirmed in at least one pig. Today's announcement says the virus was detected in a sample taken three days ago from a pig displayed at the Minnesota State Fair.

Now, the department says people cannot get the flu from eating pork, and the nation's food supply is safe.

Well, the university of Connecticut's football coach says two teammates were with a player who was fatally stabbed during a fight after a dance over the weekend. UConn starting cornerback Jasper Howard died of a single stab wound to his abdomen.

Now, one teammate applied pressure, while another held the 20- year-old Miami native. The killing happened less than 12 hours after UConn's 38-25 homecoming victory over Louisville on Saturday. And police so far have no suspects.

And a season of unrest in European agriculture comes to a head in Luxembourg. Look at this. Angry farmers, they demonstrated today pelting riot police with eggs, milk and then choking traffic with those tractors that you see right there. The European Union gave in, giving the dairy sector an extra $420 million in special subsidies. The move also includes rules that can limit milk production to permit prices to rise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Betty, thanks very much. Stand by. We are going to get back to you for more.

Meanwhile, many of you are asking, what kind of parents would claim their child is in danger for a publicity stunt? The answer from police: the parents of the so-called balloon boy accused of a hoax. Wait until you hear what the police are now saying about their motive.

And might the president go against public opinion? A new poll shows how many of you are for or against sending more U.S. troops into Afghanistan.


OBAMA: After many months of...



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

Happening now: Its agents are trained to take a bullet for the president and track threats against him, but widening duties have one author suggesting the Secret Service may have bitten more than it can chew.

A watershed moment in a federal pot policy -- the Justice Department says it's backing off from prosecuting legitimate use of medical marijuana.

And they're a selling point on big-ticket home appliances. Are energy-efficiency ratings all they are cracked up to be?

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

Felony charges are expected to be filed this week against the parents of the so-called balloon boy. Their lawyer says they will plead not guilty to allegations they carried out a bizarre hoax on the police and on the nation.

Let's get some more on this developing story from CNN's Dan Simon. He's joining us from Fort Collins, Colorado.

I take it still no formal charges filed yet today, Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No formal charges yet, Wolf, but we can tell you that investigators say it was actually your interview with the family that proved to be a decisive factor in bringing this thing to light.

They were suspicious, as -- as much of the nation was suspicious, when they saw little Falcon speak to you, Wolf.

Anyway, here's what happened. Over the weekend, investigators interviewed the family members separately, and, after those interviews, they became convinced that this whole thing was a hoax.

Take a look.


RICHARD HEENE, FALCON HEENE'S FATHER: Mayumi, (INAUDIBLE) tether. You didn't put the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) tether down.



SIMON: That home video, the interviews...

R. HEENE: I'm really sorry I yelled at him.

SIMON: Call to 911.


DISPATCHER: So, we are sure that he's in that?

R. HEENE: Yes, we -- we looked everywhere.


SIMON: All of it, authorities say, part of an elaborate hoax orchestrated by the 6-year-old's parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene.

JIM ALDERDEN, LARIMER COUNTY, COLORADO, SHERIFF: These people are actors. Not only have they have appeared in several reality television shows and on YouTubes. We have since determined that, in fact, they met together, the way that they met and established a relationship was in acting school in Hollywood.

SIMON: And the motive, according to the sheriff, was so the Heenes could better market themselves for a reality TV show. The alleged plot, to pretend that 6-year-old Falcon was inside that runaway balloon, he said, was hatched two weeks ago.

What made authorities believe it in the first place?

ALDERDEN: They granted us complete access to their children to interview independently. After Falcon was found, they didn't even hesitate to allow us to talk to him outside of their presence.

SIMON: But Falcon, investigators believe, spoke the truth during the family's live appearance on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE," only hours after the drama unfolded. The widely played interview proved to be the turning point.

R. HEENE: Did you hear us calling your name at any time?


R. HEENE: You did?


R. HEENE: Why didn't you come out?

F. HEENE: You said that we did this for a show.

ALDERDEN: If you look at the nonverbal responses, as well as some of the verbal cues, it became very clear to us at that point that they were lying. SIMON: Still, even after authorities became skeptical, they publicly backed the family, admitting now to misleading the media so the Heenes would trust them. The couple could face multiple charges, including three felonies -- conspiracy between the husband and the wife to commit a crime, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and an attempt to influence a public servant. Their attorney says they should be presumed innocent.

DAVID A. LANE, ATTORNEY FOR RICHARD AND MAYUMI HEENE: I mean, if they have probable cause to make an arrest, then make an arrest and give me the evidence, and we can -- it's analogous to a batter standing in the batter's box waiting for a pitcher to throw a pitch. You can't swing until they throw the pitch. Throw the pitch, then we'll see.


SIMON: Well, just moments ago, we saw the entire family emerge from the home. They got in their pickup truck and drove away without making any statements.

Meanwhile, another twist to this whole case. Authorities actually consulted with a local physics professor, a professor at Colorado State University. He took a look at that balloon and determined that there is no way it could have even lifted off the ground with a 37-pound boy inside.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Dan, I take it the family can just leave, travel around, and the police aren't stopping them?

SIMON: That's correct. Right now they are basically not under surveillance, and no charges, you know, have been filed against the family. So they are free to go wherever they want. But we are told, according to the attorney, once charges are filed, he is expecting that local authorities will notify, at least call the attorney, so they can turn themselves in.

BLITZER: Dan Simon on the scene for us.

In the next hour, we're going to be speaking with our legal analyst, Lisa Bloom. Lots of legal questions have been raised. We'll get some of the answers. That's coming up.

Meanwhile, many hoaxes certainly have been pulled off over the years, and if you can believe it, this isn't even the first case involving a balloon.

Back in 1844, the writer Edgar Allen Poe claimed that this balloon known as the Victoria managed to cross the Atlantic, something that was unheard of back then. The problem was, it was all made up.

In 1971, the novelist Clifford Irving wrote a book about the legendary billionaire Howard Hughes, but that story was also false and he served jail time as a result. The incident was the basis for the 2007 film "The Hoax" starring Richard Gere.

And you might remember that infamous runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks. Shortly after going missing in 2005, she called authorities and told them she had been abducted and sexually assaulted. She later recanted her story, was sentenced to 120 hours of community service.

Let's get back to the turmoil in Afghanistan's disputed presidential election right now. As we reported, a United Nations fraud commission today invalidated ballots from more than 200 polling stations across the country. And a new independent analysis of election data shows President Hamid Karzai did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking out about all of this just a little while ago.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The ECC, the Elections Complaint Commission, has made its findings known, and we're looking to hear from President Karzai tomorrow, Kabul time. But we have continued to urge that everyone follow the constitution and the legal process, which is important for the people of Afghanistan and their leaders to exemplify a commitment to the orderly running of elections going forward.


BLITZER: All right. So, she expects some sort of an answer tomorrow.

Let's go out to the war zone right now. Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is in Kabul for us.

Chris, amidst all the political turmoil in Afghanistan, the U.S. military and the NATO allies, the troops on the ground, they have their hands full right now. You've just -- you've just gotten there. What does it look like?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you, you know, when you look at the strategy that the U.S. has been trying to follow, the strategy that is recommended by General Stanley McChrystal, it is a counterinsurgency, which means protecting the population and strengthening the local government.

It depends vitally on a strong local partner, the Afghan government. But today, a senior international official confirmed to us that after the fraud investigators threw out a lot of those election results, that President Hamid Karzai had slipped down to 48 percent of the vote, which means that if this independent election commission says those numbers are valid, that could trigger a runoff, which is instability. That is not a stable local partner that the counterinsurgency strategy would need to really move forward quickly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, is that the big danger of a runoff, that there would be this prolonged period of instability within the Afghan government?

LAWRENCE: That's true. But on a practical level also, Wolf, it's already getting cold here at night.

Within a month, winter will set in here, and you're talking about heavy snows that make the mountain roads impassable. You couldn't hold a viable election under those conditions, so really you'd be racing the clock trying to get this runoff scheduled in the next few weeks.

That also means that you'd be taking NATO troops who are performing counterinsurgency missions right now. They would have to be diverted to securing yet another election, not something that the generals on the ground I'm sure would -- they would like -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence is our Pentagon correspondent. He's on the scene now in the war zone.

Chris, we'll get back to you.

Meanwhile, here at home there's new evidence that Americans are souring on the war in Afghanistan and the prospect of sending in more U.S. troops.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

You've got some new poll numbers to share with our viewers. I suspect some folks who support increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan won't necessarily be all that pleased.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I tell you, the president and the White House has said that they are not going to look at public opinion polls to make this decision. If they do, they certainly will find growing opinion in the U.S. that this is not a war Americans want to fight. What's even more interesting is they have already come up to the answers to some of the questions the White House is now asking itself.


RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We've had five meetings. There's another set of meeting this week and the following week.

CROWLEY (voice-over): The president may be undecided on Afghanistan, and his advisers divided, but Americans are decidedly not, with the latest polls showing just 39 percent of Americans favor sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Fifty-nine percent are opposed.

In general, the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows an America broadly skeptical that Afghanistan can pull itself together under a stable government and fearful of Vietnam syndrome, vaguely defined as fear of an unending, unwinnable war. Fifty-two percent think Afghanistan has turned into another Vietnam, 46 percent disagree with that. In the latter category, Senator John Kerry, a decorated war veteran who became known for his opposition to the Vietnam War upon his return home. Afghanistan, Kerry says emphatically, is not Vietnam.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We are here in Afghanistan because people attacked us here in this most significant attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor. We are here because there are still people at large who are plotting against the United States of America. And we are hear because the stability of the region is a critical strategic interest to the United States.

CROWLEY: And that's one of the curious twists of the poll, because most Americans agree with the senator. Sixty percent say it's necessary to keep troops in Afghanistan to prevent terrorism in the U.S. But at the same time, 57 percent of Americans say they oppose the war.

CNN pollster Keating Holland thinks, in part, some Americans no longer believe terrorism should be fought at any cost.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Americans don't feel the same personal jeopardy when it comes to terrorism that they felt in 2001 and 2002. Others may simply see the benefit of preventing a terrorist attack somewhere in the United States being outweighed by the costs associated with a long, ongoing war that involves a lot of troops and a lot of money.

CROWLEY: It's not known when and what the president will decide about Afghanistan, but it's pretty clear that should he send more troops, he'll have a big sales job ahead of him with the American people.


CROWLEY: And he will find the sales job particularly difficult when it comes to older Americans. What we found in this poll, Wolf, is that the older you got, the more likely you were to see Vietnam and Afghanistan. So the people that experienced Vietnam are seeing it. Much less so with younger people.

BLITZER: And they remember Vietnam. Younger people don't.


BLITZER: That makes sense.

Candy, thanks very much.

Evangelical leaders in the Latino community are sending a message to Washington, and officials are taking notice.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They should worry, both the Democrats and the Republicans, the fact of the matter that we're not going to sell out our values for the sake of political expediency.


BLITZER: Also ahead, can you get swine flu from someone standing 10 feet away? We're going to discuss some frightening new information with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He's standing by live.


BLITZER: Attention all Democrats and Republicans. A voter says you better take note -- you'll have to earn their vote.

Here's CNN's Thelma Gutierrez.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's a rock star to Latino evangelicals. He preaches in English.


GUTIERREZ: ... and in Spanish.


GUTIERREZ: The Reverend Sam Rodriguez describes his style as a little Dr. Martin Luther King...

RODRIGUEZ: I believe that we're about to see a great moment of emancipation.

GUTIERREZ: ... a little Billy Graham...

RODRIGUEZ: We'll bow down to the authority of God.

GUTIERREZ: ... with what he says is a lot of salsa.

(on camera): That was quite a sermon. You have English, Spanish and rap.

RODRIGUEZ: The reality of who we are.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): They are Latino evangelicals, 16 million strong. And as president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, he is their leader. He has influence.

RODRIGUEZ: My prayer is that this Congress remembers another 12 million people living in the shadows.

GUTIERREZ: Reverend Rodriguez is determined to wield his political clout.

RODRIGUEZ: They should worry both the Democrats and the Republicans; the fact of the matter that we're not going to sell out our values for the sake of political expediency.

GUTIERREZ: The Reverend says, traditionally, Latino evangelicals tend to vote Republican and align themselves with white conservatives on issues like traditional marriage and abortion. But immigration, that's the deal breaker.

RODRIGUEZ: That scares the daylights out of many Americans. How dare we, is this the Latinization of America, one for English, press two for Spanish. That's the elephant in the immigration reform room.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): What if they say, fine, go elsewhere, we don't need you?

RODRIGUEZ: They don't need 47 million Hispanic Americans? This is the largest minority group in America.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Republican leaders want Latino voters back after losing them in the last election.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm convinced that the biggest mistake that was made in the Republican primary was that we put the fault in the wrong place.

GUTIERREZ: The Democrats want to keep them.

REP. JAMES E. CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: We interact with him simply because we think when we hear from him, we are hearing the wishes of his constituents.

RODRIGUEZ: And we're going to see the promises of God made a reality in our lives.


BLITZER: CNN's Thelma Gutierrez reporting.

CNN's newest groundbreaking documentary, "Latino in America," by the way, debuts Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. It airs Wednesday and Thursday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Many of you are desperate to avoid swine flu, but can it really jump from one person to another person, as much as 10 feet away? It's a startling assertion. I'll speak about that and a lot more with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He's standing by live.

Here's the question: How can you protect yourself?


BLITZER: The H1N1, it's a huge issue right now. So much confusion. Let's see if we can help our viewers better appreciate what's going on with the so-called swine flu.

Joining us now from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the director, Dr. Thomas Frieden. Dr. Frieden, thanks very much for coming in.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CDC: Thank you. Good afternoon.

BLITZER: There was this startling assertion on "60 Minutes" this weekend. I want to play a little clip from the show, and then we'll talk about whether or not the swine flu, or H1N1, can jump from person to person 10 feet away.

Listen to this


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): In animal studies, he's found that the virus can travel at least 10 feet from person to person.

(on camera): So, if the virus transmits readily across 10 feet, people in a carpool, people in an elevator, even people on an airplane?

DR. PETER PALESE: Correct. I think all of these scenarios are very much likely to allow transmission of an influenza virus when humans are together.


BLITZER: Wow. I didn't know about that. I thought there had to be touching, or that's why everyone was washing their hands. But is that true, Dr. Frieden?

FRIEDEN: The reality is that we don't know as much as we wish we knew about how influenza spreads. We do know it spreads very widely.

In an average flu season, between five percent and 20 percent of an entire community may become infected. We do believe that the most common way is by droplets, when someone coughs or sneezes and they don't cover their mouth. So that's very important. However flu spreads, there are some plain, simple things that people can do to protect themselves and their families and community.

BLITZER: And the most important thing is to keep washing your hands. Is that right?

FRIEDEN: Well, I would say, first, if you're sick, stay home. You'll do yourself a favor and you won't infect others. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands frequently. And as soon as you can get vaccinated, get vaccinated.

BLITZER: All right. But as far as the vaccinations are concerned, I take it you're not meeting the schedule you had hoped for, and there's a shortage right now. And we're already heavy into this flu season. Is that right?

FRIEDEN: We wish there were more vaccine out there right now. There have been manufacturing delays such that we're not where we thought we'd be even a few weeks ago, and that's frustrating. It's frustrating for us at CDC, it's frustrating for state and local health departments and health providers, and most of all it's frustrating for people who want to get vaccinated.

There are now millions of doses out in states. What we've done is to get a vaccine out as soon as it becomes available to us. We're shipping overnight.

There are about 10 million doses now out in the community, or getting to the community, and it is challenging for people to find vaccine. The good news is that if there are no further manufacturing delays, within two or three weeks we should be in a much more comfortable situation where it is much easier to find the vaccine.

BLITZER: And correct me if I'm wrong. The most vulnerable right now, as far as, God forbid, death is concerned, are young people and pregnant women. Is that correct?

FRIEDEN: The highest risk groups are people who have underlying health problems like diabetes, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, pregnant women, and other people who would be more severely affected by flu, whom have trouble breathing for other reasons or limited physical reserve on how they can breathe and stand an infection.

BLITZER: All right. Let into the camera and tell our viewers out there -- a lot of them are just nervous about this new vaccine, and they're afraid either to get it for themselves or their loved ones, saying they don't know what the outcome could be and they think they could even get sicker as a result of the vaccine. I want you to reassure them that this is the right thing to do, go out there and get this vaccine.

FRIEDEN: I understand why people would be worried about getting vaccinated. Nobody likes to get treatments, medications, vaccines.

The flu vaccine has been given to hundreds of millions of people. This year's flu vaccine, the H1N1 vaccine, is being made in the same factories, by the same companies, with the same safeguards as the vaccine that we use every year and that has an excellent safety record.

My family is going to get it when there's enough for everyone to receive it. I'm going to receive it as a health care worker. And there's an excellent safety record for the flu vaccine. We wish we had it earlier. It's the best thing you can do to protect yourself against the flu.

BLITZER: Well, we hope that it becomes mild, but it looks very worrisome out there. We'll stay in close touch with you, Dr. Frieden. Thanks very much.

FRIEDEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: President Obama gets called to school. Stand by for his reading tips for young people.

And later, the Secret Service does a lot more than simply protect the president of the United States. Some say it's too much.

And once charges are filed in the alleged balloon boy hoax, what are the chances they'll stick?


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker," President Obama goes to school. This morning he went to a parent-teacher conference for both his daughters, and around lunchtime he stopped in at the Viers Mill Elementary School outside of Washington, D.C.

He spoke to the kids about his family and about the joys of reading.


BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because you guys are reading so much and you're working so hard, you guys are doing great in terms of the test scores and how this school is doing. And so this was just a great example of how much improvement a school can make just in a really short time when you've got motivated kids.

So, I wanted to come by and interviews myself, to say I'm very proud of you. I am hoping that you guys will continue to read, read, read, and that all of you are going to be really working hard not just this year, but all the way through high school and all the way through college.

I've got a lot of favorite books, but I'll tell you that, you know, Malia and I read those "Harry Potter" books, and we thought those were pretty good.


Yes, I was born in Hawaii. That's true, absolutely. And my sister still lives in Hawaii.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a dog?

OBAMA: And we've got a dog named Bo. Yes, his name is Bo. He's a great dog.


BLITZER: Bo is a great dog.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out You can always follow what I'm posting on as well, WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It looked like there were some Republican kids in that lunchroom.

BLITZER: Yes. CAFFERTY: They could have cared less that the president of the United States was there. They were busy talking about what they were going to do at recess, or whatever.

The question this hour: Should the balloon boy's parents face criminal prosecution?

Darl writes, "I have many years experience in the mental health field, particularly with abused children. This is a family at risk, and they are most at risk from the parents, specifically the clearly unstable father. Whether or not they face criminal prosecution, first and foremost, these kids need to be removed from his care."

Kurtis in New Haven writes, "Time to send them a bill and move on. Jail? Really? Is that what we've come to?"

"It reminds me of April Fools Day. Everybody's all snickers and giggles until the joke is on them. Then it's revenge. They pulled one over on us. Get over it."

Dough in Dallas writes, "Considering the effort and dollars expended for the fraud perpetrated, yes, they should be made to repay all of the costs associated with the hoax. But they sure did get what they wanted thanks to the news media. Are you guys going to send them a bill?"

Tom writes, "I see two people picking up trash along the highway in Fort Collins, Colorado, for a very long time."

Catrina in Virginia, "Too bad they can't just be banned from appearing on television. Somehow I think for these people that would be the worst punishment of all."

Sue writes, "Absolutely. What if there was a real emergency elsewhere while these officials were off chasing this guy's attention- seeking balloon, or if some of the rescuers had crashed? They definitely need to repay the cost of the rescue operation at the very least."

Jim in Chicago, "I'd give these reality show publicity hounds all the attention they crave. Let's start with an appearance for them on 'Cops," followed by 'Lockup.'"

And Jay writes, "They ought to be prosecuted. And if they're found guilty, strapped into a weather balloon and set adrift."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can check my blog at