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Afghanistan War Plans; Manhunt Continues For Suspected Cop Killer

Aired November 30, 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: Good to go. Good to come back.

Happening now: the buildup to President Obama's big announcement on Afghanistan. He's starting to spread the word about troop levels and strategy, before he speaks to the nation and the world tomorrow night.

The manhunt for the suspected shooter in the deaths of four police officers -- the spotlight is on an ex-convict now on the loose in Washington State and on a former presidential candidate who commuted his sentence and let him out of jail.

And tough questions for the White House today about those now famous presidential party-crashers. How did it happen, and what's the Secret Service doing to stop it from happening again?

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.

President Obama is putting more top officials in the loop today about his new war plan strategy in Afghanistan. His long-awaited public announcement on troop levels a little over 24 hours from now, and there's a lot of anticipation and concern about more American lives on the line, along with lots more U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Let's begin our coverage of this important story with our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's standing by at the White House.

A little bit more than 24 hours from now, he will go on television, Ed, and make his big announcement. What do we know?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the drama is building, because the new strategy has officially been put in place.

The president officially issued the orders to his commanders late last night, a rare Sunday evening where he brought in his war council here at the White House to put the final pieces in place to start moving troops towards the battlefield.

The harder part, though, now comes in terms of the president trying to gather support from key allies and trying to sell it to the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): On the eve of a monumental speech from the president, he huddled privately with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan, and placed calls to the leaders of Italy, France, Russia, Great Britain, and Denmark, all aimed at showing the war is not just a bottomless pit for the U.S.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is not an open- ended commitment, that we are there to partner with the Afghans, to train the Afghan national security forces.

HENRY: But senior officials say the president will send about 30,000 more U.S. troops, while it's unclear how many new troops allies will send and how quickly Afghanistan can stand on its own.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: The key element here is not just more troops. The key element is shifting the operations to the Afghanis. And, if that can be done, then I would support the president.

HENRY: In a CNN interview this month, the president said he will focus on an endgame, but it was telling, he hedged on whether President Hamid Karzai is a reliable charter.

(on camera): Do you trust President Karzai?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I think that President Karzai has served his country in important ways. He has some strengths, but he's got some weaknesses.

HENRY (voice-over): And how will the president pay for his second escalation of the war? Powerful Democrat David Obey is turning up the heat on Mr. Obama by pushing a war tax to fund the new troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING")

REP. DAVID OBEY (D-WI), HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I just think that, if this war is important enough to engage in the long term, it's important enough to pay for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: An issue the White House will not take a position on.

(on camera): Will it be with a new tax or will it be with spending cuts?

GIBBS: Well, again, I think those discussions, once the president has a policy and can put a price tag on it, I think you will see those more in earnest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now Mr. Obama will not be able to duck the cost issue for long. David Obey and other top lawmakers in both parties will be here tomorrow at the White House in the afternoon just hours before the president's big speech to the nation.

They are likely to press him on the cost issue, many other issues, especially with the nation right now $14 trillion in debt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I know you are going to be heading up to West Point, Ed, with the president. He's going to be surrounded, I assume, by cadets and soldiers as he delivers this speech.

Do we have any indication if it's going to be 10 minutes, 20 minutes, a half-an-hour, 45 minutes? What -- what -- what is this -- the speech going to entail?

HENRY: We have not gotten a length yet because it's still being drafted, we're told, by top aides. They have not completed it yet.

But what they know about the broad outlines is, the president is really going to try to focus on the endgame, to say that -- that what he wants to do in this part of the mission, frankly, is to end it, that it went on, he believes, for about eight years with no strategy, no mission, and no real resources in place, that he wants to finally -- and it's going to be a tough call, but he wants to finally send enough resources to get the job done -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, reporting for us from the White House, thank you.

And stay with CNN to see the president's announcement on Afghanistan. You will see it, you will hear it live here. Our special coverage begins tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We're harnessing our global resources to bring you all the angles on this very important story as no other network really can.

Let's get to crime and punishment and politics right now. There's new urgency to find the suspect in the killing of four police officers in Washington State. Today, he apparently managed to elude members of a heavily armed SWAT team that thought they had him cornered in a Seattle home.

Right now, an intense manhunt is under way for Maurice Clemmons. He has a long criminal record, including a long prison sentence in Arkansas that was actually cut short by the former Governor and failed Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Our Mary Snow has more on this case and the possible political fallout for Mike Huckabee.

Mary, this is a very, very tragic story.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf.

And the links with former Governor Huckabee and the suspect now being scrutinized, and, as for the political fallout, some political watchers say, it could be significant.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice-over): Fellow police officers in Washington want to know why the suspect in the killing of four police officers was free, given his long criminal record.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe he was out on the street. If what is true, I think this country needs to get together to figure out why these people are out.

SNOW: Maurice Clemmons' criminal record began in Arkansas. Between 1988 and '90, he was arrested on eight felony counts, including aggravated felony and possession of a firearm. He was convicted and sentenced to 108 years in prison.

In 2000, he sought clemency, saying he was a changed man. He wrote to then Governor Mike Huckabee that he was a teen who had just moved to Arkansas from Seattle, adding, he fell in with the wrong crowd and thus began a seven-month crime spree, which led him to prison.

Huckabee granted clemency, making Clemmons eligible for parole, but prosecuting attorney Larry Jegley objected, telling CNN, "A lot of my fellow prosecutors and I raised Cain with the governor, and Jegley says he continued to dread what's out on the streets.

Clemmons returned to prison again in Arkansas in 2001, but was paroled in 2004, and then moved to Washington State. There, authorities say he faces charges in the assault of a police officer and the rape of a child. He was released on bond just last week.

Huckabee addressed the topic of Clemmons on his daily radio commentary.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE HUCKABEE REPORT")

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SNOW: A spokesman for Huckabee declined our request for an interview. Huckabee is a commentator for FOX, and also defended his role on FOX Radio.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, FOX RADIO)

HUCKABEE: If I could have known nine years ago and looked into the future, would I have acted favorably upon the parole board's recommendation? Of course not.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SNOW: This isn't the first time Huckabee faced criticism about Arkansas prisoners being released. During the 2008 campaign, he was questioned about the release of Wayne Dumond , a convicted rapist who later raped and murdered a Missouri woman.

While Huckabee wrote to Dumond saying he hoped he would get out of prison, he denied pushing the parole board for his release.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, yesterday, on the Sunday talk shows, just hours before Clemmons was named a suspect, the 2008 presidential candidate played down his chances for again running for president.

But, with this new development, political watchers say, this case will haunt Huckabee should he run. Already, there are comparisons to the Willie Horton ads that helped sink the candidacy of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988. Horton committed rape and robbery while released from prison on a weekend furlough program in Massachusetts. Republican stressed law and order in that campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Mary Snow, very much.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, he's the most recognizable name in sports and arguably the greatest golfer who ever lived.

But Tiger Woods has a problem. Woods earns millions playing golf and hundreds millions more in endorsements. One estimate names him as sports' first billionaire. The mind-boggling endorsement money he gets is based in part on Woods' squeaky-clean image and his ability to persuade the rest of us to buy the products he's selling.

But last week, a tabloid alleged that Woods has been having an affair with a New York nightclub hostess. According to the Associated Press, the woman has denied having an affair with Tiger Woods. Last Friday, at 2:25 in the morning, Tiger crashed his SUV leaving his driveway. He hit a fire hydrant and then a tree. The neighbor who called 911 said that Woods was unconscious at the scene of the accident. And police said that he had cuts and bruises on his face.

He was taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released. For three days, Woods refused to meet with state police to talk about what happened. He still hasn't, and he's not legally obligated to. The air bags on his car didn't deploy, but his face was cut and swollen.

Police say, when they arrived, they found Woods' wife over him, claiming to have broken out the rear window of his SUV with a golf club in order to help him escape.

Then, yesterday, a terse statement from Woods on his Web site, saying that it is all a private matter and nobody else's business. And then, finally, late this afternoon, Tiger Woods canceled plans to attend his own golf tournament in California, citing his injuries from this car accident.

Here's the question. Does Tiger Woods owe anyone an explanation? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: It's a good question, Jack, a good question, indeed. Lots of -- lots of questions we want to ask as well. And I suspect it will take a while, but, eventually, we will know the answers, don't you think?

CAFFERTY: I would imagine that, the longer he puts off making a more complete statement than the one on his Web site, the more curious the media will become and the more difficult his life will be. You know how the media is when they get something like this...

BLITZER: Right.

CAFFERTY: ... in their -- in their gun sights, so we will see.

BLITZER: And -- and there are a lot of media in the gun sights right now. They want the answers.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

For the first time, the White House is taking reporters' questions about the couple that crashed the president's first state dinner. Stand by to hear what Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, is saying about the potential danger to the president.

And in the countdown to the new year, airport security is about to get more complicated. Your driver's license may not be enough to get you on board.

And more evidence that straying into Iranian territory can be dangerous and turn you into a captive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Imagine this. You're traveling for the upcoming holidays, you go to the airport, you show your driver's license as usual, and you're told your driver's license won't -- repeat -- won't get you through security. That's a very real fear, as an important deadline nears.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is joining us now with more.

What's going on, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a possibility, a possibility that air travel could get a lot more complicated for a lot of people. And it's because of a showdown over new security requirements for driver's licenses.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Most people show a driver's license to pass security and board an airplane or enter a federal building. But, as of January 1, licenses from as many as 36 states may not be accepted, because those states are not complying with the requirements of REAL ID, a law passed after 9/11 to make licenses more secure.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: REAL ID, first and foremost, is to make sure that we don't have terrorists coming through and posing as Americans and able to get on aircraft and access chemical refineries and all the other places where terrorists might go to kill Americans.

MESERVE: But the states say it will cost $4 billion to implement REAL ID. And 24 states have passed laws or resolutions saying they will not comply. Other states which won an extension on the December 31 REAL ID deadline have until Tuesday to demonstrate they are making progress, but as many as 12 states may not be able to do so, making 36 states in all noncompliant.

DAVID QUAM, DIRECTOR OF FEDERAL RELATIONS, NATIONAL GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION: You're talking a very large portion of the population. You're talking large states, small states. We don't have the specific list of states. It is across the country. It's not geographic. It's not by size. There's a lot of people who can be affected come January 1.

MESERVE: Governors, some members of Congress, and even the secretary of homeland security support an alternative called PASS ID. Supporters say it would be cheaper and easier to implement, but critics maintain it doesn't provide enough security and Congress has yet to pass it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Now, some say that, unless Congress enacts PASS ID quickly, on January 1, driver's licenses from those 36 noncompliant states may not be accepted as identification at airports, snarling security lines over the holiday season and beyond.

But there are others who doubt that events are going to unfold that way. They predict the secretary of homeland security will intervene and push back REAL ID deadlines. That would avert a travel catastrophe, but it could postpone a key implementation of a key 9/11 Commission recommendation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're going to have to do something. Thirty-six states, that's millions of travelers out there who are not going to be allowed to -- to board a flight?

MESERVE: And you can imagine the confusion if they take licenses from one state and not the next. There would just be an uproar at the gates. I think we can predict something is going to happen. Whether it will passage of PASS ID or an intervention by the secretary, we don't know yet.

BLITZER: I suspect intervention by the secretary. That's just my suspicion.

(LAUGHTER) BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Jeanne.

Another milestone in the fight over health care reform -- Senate debate has been under way now for about an hour. Democrats mustered just enough votes to bring legislation this far. But you can expect a lot of arm-twisting and uncertainty in the days and weeks ahead.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She is working the story for us.

This is just the beginning of a critical series of amendments and debate that could go on and on, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. In fact, if you look at the Senate floor right now, you're looking at what you're likely to see for several weeks, in fact, probably most of December, Wolf.

And that is, as you said, a public debate, and there will be votes on a lot of amendments, amendments that are controversial and non-controversial.

But, really, what's been -- what's going to happen and what really matters right now is what is going to go on outside the Senate floor. And that is discussions among key senators, senators like Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Joe Lieberman. These are senators who have said -- they are Democrats -- they have said they will not support a public option -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There -- you know, there's a new CBO, Congressional Budget Office, report now on premiums, because the Democrats have insisted, if this passes, all of our premiums are going to go down. But what is this new CBO report saying?

BASH: It's very interesting, Wolf. It says that -- I will show you some -- some of the -- of the highlights.

For most people, like -- like you and me, who get their insurance through their companies, there will not be much of a change in the premiums, but for people who work in small businesses, there will be -- premiums could go up between 8 percent and 11 percent. And for middle-income people, who simply are going to have to buy insurance on their own and aren't going to get subsidies, their premiums could go -- excuse me -- could go up between 10 percent and 13 percent.

So, there is something that the Republicans can crow about, something the Democrats can crow about, but, for the most part, for most people, what this shows is that premiums across the board probably won't see much of a change under the Democrats' bill.

BLITZER: The debate is only just beginning, and we're going to be learning a lot more in these weeks to come.

Dana, thanks very much for that.

There's a new twist in a story being watched around the world. It involves five British nationals, Iran, and possibly a mistake that got the Brits into some real trouble.

And who would think a TV channel called the Saddam Hussein Channel would be must-see TV? Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting some new information on Tiger Woods, that whole story. Stand by. We will share it with you momentarily.

In the meantime, let's check this with Betty Nguyen. She's monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf.

Well, members of a British yachting crew, they are being held in Iran, after possibly straying into Iranian waters. The Iranian navy detained the five Britons Wednesday during a sail from Bahrain to Dubai. Although the crew member' names have not been released, they are believed to be safe. That's the good news.

The yacht is owned by Sail Bahrain, which is a newly launched company aiming to bring international sailing events to Bahrain. We will continue to follow that story for you.

Look at this. A Texas prison inmate is on the loose, apparently armed and dressed like an officer. Authorities say the 6-foot, 200- pound man pulled a gun on guards, even handcuffed them together during a prison transfer from Huntsville. He's been serving a life sentence for convictions, including indecency with a child and aggravated sexual assault.

And an Iraqi television channel devoted to Saddam Hussein has fallen off the dial. Three days after hitting the airwaves, the so- called Saddam Channel has gone dark. The channel's chairman says the -- told the Associated Press, that is, that it will be back once technology upgrades are made. Now, Iraqi government officials believe Baathists, whose political party Saddam once led, are behind the project -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The Saddam Channel. I guess...

NGUYEN: Yes, interesting, huh?

BLITZER: ... some people still like Saddam in Iraq. There's no doubt about that.

NGUYEN: Well, they're not going to be able to see it for a little while.

BLITZER: Yes. We will see if they get their technology...

(CROSSTALK)

NGUYEN: Yes.

BLITZER: Betty, thank you.

Tiger Woods is not talking very much. A lot of other people, though, are. After his crash and virtual silence about it, a lot of people want to know what's really going on. I will speak with the veteran sports and entertainment journalist Pat O'Brien. He knows Tiger Woods, interviewed him on many occasions. Stand by for that interview.

And out of rocks and rubble must rise housing for U.S. troops. With thousands more troops destined for Afghanistan, building shelter for them will not be easy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: We're following developments in the Tiger Woods car crash. Why is he turning down repeated requests from police to be questioned and now dropping out of his own golf tournament? We are going to have that, plus more.

Making space on the battlefield -- new roads, lots more housing, U.S. forces racing against the clock right now to prepare for the possible deployment of tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

And help for homeowners at risk -- President Obama gets tough on mortgage lenders -- what he wants the banks to do now.

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

Virtual silence from Tiger Woods about what happened last week fueling even more talk right now. As we have reported, the golf superstar is canceling plans to attend his own golf tournament in California this week.

In a statement, Woods says he's disappointed and cites injuries he suffered when he crashed his car early Friday. Woods also won't talk at a scheduled news conference tomorrow for that golf tournament.

A lot of this is raising lots of questions. There's no doubt that the questions keep coming up and up.

Let's talk about this with Pat O'Brien. he has covered, news, sports, entertainment for almost 40 years, knows Tiger Woods.

You have -- you have interviewed him, Pat, on many occasions. How surprised were you about all of these developments? I was stunned, but what about you?

PAT O'BRIEN, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: Well, I'm -- I'm -- it's hard to be surprised by anything.

First of all, he's done -- as far as we know, the only thing he's done is run into his neighbor's tree. And it proves again what I have said to you many times, is that, in this day and age, nobody goes undefeated, including Tiger Woods.

O'BRIEN: Now, Tiger is probably one of the most private people I know. And to be in a situation like this, surrounded by this type of speculation, is like him picking up a tennis racket and trying to win Wimbledon. It's just all new territory for him.

But, you know, you reported this golf tournament. That's a big deal, because this is his golf tournament that finances his foundation that I've been at many times, and that raises the money for a foundation he cares very much about.

So, you know, we don't know what happened. All we know right now is that he was in a car accident and ran into a tree. The rest of it is image death by speculation.

BLITZER: Yes. He says he regrets it, obviously, it's embarrassing. He promises it won't happen again. But in a situation of damage control like this, all the damage control PR experts say, you know what? Get out there early and explain your side of the story before the tabloids and everybody else gets their way.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It's the three As. It's admit, if you have anything to do, apologize in advance. And, you know, these kinds of stories, having been there, you've got to get in front of it. You've got to stop the speculation.

And, you know, responding to "The National Enquirer," that's not such a big deal, because if we had to all respond to "The National Enquirer" on television news conferences then, you know, everybody would be on TV all day long. You wouldn't have time to report the news.

But, you know, it does raise a lot of questions, and he's got to somehow get in front of it. Or, on the other hand, let's take this position -- why would he have to do anything if he's done nothing wrong? If he just ran into a tree in a car accident, he's tough as nails and, as you know, Wolf, is focused and can get through this. If he can stomach this type of talk, then he can probably just stonewall it and go move ahead, but I don't think the media will let him.

BLITZER: Well, how will this affect endorsements? He's made, what, $1 billion? He's the richest athlete ever. How does this affect endorsements whether from Nike or Gatorade or American Express?

O'BRIEN: Well, so far, as we know, it's been a car accident, so I don't think they're going to drop him over running into his neighbor's tree. It's not a very good ad for Cadillac, because that car looked pretty bashed up for running into a tree.

But, you know, look, Michael Vick got his stuff back. Kobe Bryant got his endorsements back. Martha Stewart went back to work after she got out of jail. So these things can pass you by. These things can go away.

And it's not how you fall, it's how you get up. And, you know, I think he'll be fine in that regard.

Look, if the absolute worst happened to him, I think he's got enough "go to hell" money to just say goodbye to everybody.

BLITZER: Yes, he certainly has plenty of money.

O'BRIEN: But if the speculation continues though, he's going to have to come out and say something. But right now I don't think it matters.

BLITZER: Right. But, you know, let's not forget, he's an athlete, first and foremost, and you've covered sports for a long time. It has to affect his head, and so much of golf is strategy and thinking and being ready, as any great athlete will tell you.

How does this affect an athlete, this kind of publicity, some of which is not so nice?

O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, golf is a game of focus and it's a game of completely being in the game and focus and direction. And you're absolutely right.

I mean, if this is going on around him, whatever is going on -- and by the way, let's don't forget, only two people know what really happened, and they live under the same roof. But, you know, I'm not going to speak for Tiger Woods, but I'm sure that in a game of focus, when you have this kind of thing on the blogosphere -- and, you know, we're sending 30,000 men and women to their possible death in Afghanistan, and this is all we're talking about for the moment.

BLITZER: No, we're talking about Afghanistan, too.

O'BRIEN: You know, people at home watching -- I know you are, but you know what I'm saying.

BLITZER: I know.

O'BRIEN: This is the headline everywhere, and it's just the world we live in.

BLITZER: As someone who has had his share of negative publicity, Pat, give us some advice you would give -- you would share with Tiger Woods right now from your heart, from your gut, from your mind.

What does he need to do?

O'BRIEN: Right. Right.

Well, my negative publicity was five years ago, so I'll discuss that on the History Channel next time but, you know, you've got to get in front of the story. If you've done something wrong -- you know, I made a mistake and I owned up to it, was a man about it and held my head high since, and didn't really lose much over it.

So you've got to get ahead of it, explain -- you know, if there's something true that happened, explain that. But if there's just rumors and speculation, you know, come out and say it.

And you can't come out with a statement that says, "This will never happen again," because what will never happen again, running into a tree? So, you know, he's got to get ahead of the story, he's got to say something.

He's got a lot of fans out there, and he's loved and adored, and I think he's pretty much untouchable in terms of what this could possibly be. And I think he can move past it. But he lives in a world where privacy -- that's the name of his yacht -- privacy is supreme in his world, premiere in his world, and I think he's probably going to stick to that. He may not ever talk about it.

BLITZER: Yes, he might never, but good advice from Pat O'Brien, as usual.

Pat, thanks very much for coming in.

O'BRIEN: Always great to be in the room.

BLITZER: In THE SITUATION ROOM with Pat O'Brien.

All right, Pat. Thanks very much.

They crashed a White House party, and now their stars on the Internet. The online buzz about the couple apparently eager to get their 15 minutes of fame.

And in our "Strategy Session," what, if anything, will President Obama accomplish in his upcoming jobs summit that's happening this week?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Questions are swirling in an embarrassing scandal involving the White House and the Secret Service. Chief among them, was President Obama in any real danger after a couple breached, supposedly, stiff security at the State Dinner for the Indian prime minister last week?

Today, the White House addressed this controversy for the first time directly with reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Are you concerned about his safety with this?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No.

QUESTION: Is he angry or is he as incredulous as the average American is, that people could just walk right into the White House like that?

GIBBS: I think the president -- look, the reason there's an investigation is the president and the White House has asked for that to happen. So, I think, suffice to say that the president is rightly concerned about what happened last week.

QUESTION: Have you actually heard him say anything?

GIBBS: I have not hear him, but it's been relayed to me.

QUESTION: Can you confirm (OFF-MIKE)?

GIBBS: That is not a power bestowed on me as the press secretary. I know they have -- according to media reports, they have been interviewed by the Secret Service. I think that's a decision that would be made by the Secret Service and the United States attorney in that area.

QUESTION: Robert, just to follow on April's question...

GIBBS: Well, April's question followed Anne's (ph).

QUESTION: ... the so-called -- so a triple follow-up -- the Social Office knows that list inside and out. Presumably, if someone from the Social Office had been at the gate, they would have overheard the couple...

GIBBS: Can I refer you to follow the answer that I gave to April and the follow-up answer?

QUESTION: No, listen to me.

GIBBS: I understand. But Cheryl (ph)...

QUESTION: They would have overheard the couple announce themselves and would have -- it wouldn't have required a phone call, it wouldn't have -- they would have flagged it right away. Would it not make sense?

GIBBS: If the couple wouldn't have come, it wouldn't have required a phone call. I mean...

QUESTION: That's true, too, but just asking.

GIBBS: I understand. And generally, when people have questions -- Cheryl (ph), when you have a question -- April, when you have a question -- I don't have to be there in person to answer your question despite the fact that you may announce your question. Generally, you can pick up the telephone and reach me right there in my office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The press secretary, Robert Gibbs, getting pounded with some serious questions there.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, once again.

Ed, you had your own questions for the press secretary. Were they answered? ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, not exactly. I mean, what you heard Robert Gibbs saying there at the end was that the Secret Service could have, at that first entry point, when they spotted this couple, if they were not on the list they could have picked up the phone and called the Social Secretary's Office. But the problem is that in previous administrations -- and this is what I first asked Robert Gibbs that started that off -- previous administrations, Democratic and Republican, they used to have a person or two from the Social Secretary's Office at the front gate with the Secret Service.

The Secret Service is not supposed to focus on party lists. They're supposed to focus on security. Then you have someone from the Social Secretary's Office who actually checks the names so there's no embarrassment about who's on the list, who's not on the list.

And so, what I think you heard people pressing on was, look, if at least someone from the Social Secretary's Office was there, they would have seen the list and said this couple doesn't belong. And it could have helped the Secret Service root it out.

There's no doubt that the Secret Service, by their own account, made mistakes, and they're investigating that. But my very first question to Robert Gibbs was, "Are you also going to be, in that investigation, looking at White House aides?"

He initially suggested, no, it's an investigation focused on the Secret Service. By the end of all those follow-ups, Robert Gibbs was sort of shifting it by saying, well, actually, it will be looking at everybody. And I think that's the bottom line in fairness to all sides here.

So that the Secret Service doesn't get scapegoated, there should be an open, honest, straightforward investigation. Robert Gibbs says there's going to be one by the Secret Service that will look at all aspects of this, because no one is trying to clear the Secret Service.

They clearly made mistakes, but were there other people on the White House staff who added to that? Because this is very serious. You had a couple that had no business being there who was able to get this close to the president of the United States and to the prime minister of India -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a frightening situation, if you think about what could have happened. And fortunately it didn't happen.

The frustration level at the White House, how would you describe it right now, Ed?

HENRY: Well, a short time ago I got off the phone with a top White House aide who was sort of grilling me on why we're even asking about this, saying, look, the media is obsessed with this couple and that it's a reality show, and sort of, what's the big deal? And this aide was suggesting that the media really is not focused on the security aspect, just wants to talk about the couple. I think, actually, sure, there is some interest in there and this reality show nonsense, et cetera. But the fact of the matter is, at its core, as lawmakers in both parties now have said, they're going to hold hearings on this, Democrats and Republicans. And, in fact, we're told the couple, as well as the Secret Service director, are going to be on Capitol Hill Thursday testifying under oath about this. It's very serious.

Obviously, as you said, it's lucky that this couple didn't have a weapon or something else that got through, but given the fact that they were not on the list and they got into the White House, which is supposed to be really secure around here, raises some very, very troubling questions.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. Ed, thanks very much.

As Ed noted, this is a couple clearly interested in being reality TV stars, and this real-life episode is bringing them a certain measure of notoriety and fame right now.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's here to explain what's going on.

Explain, Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's certainly one way to attain one some measure of notoriety, right, to go to the White House in this manner? And certainly online they are getting a lot of attention.

This wedding video from the couple from 2003 has now been viewed 70,000 times on YouTube. People are trying to get a glimpse of some of the lavish celebrations that were happening -- 1,800 guests, 15 official photographers, an eight-foot wedding cake, and this has become quite the forum for people to talk about what happened. Thousands of people also following them on Facebook, trying to get another glimpse, trying to see if any more pictures are going to be uploaded from this couple who put up these photos that we've been showing you since last week.

One thing that we're not hearing from is from the couple themselves. They haven't -- even though they've got all these forums online, they haven't posted anything since they posted those photos. They have gone a little bit silent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see if they testify before this committee on Thursday. I think that hearing is supposed to take place, the House Homeland Security Committee hearing.

What else are we hearing about possible remarks from them?

TATTON: Well, their publicist says they are not making arrangements to speak with the media, and put out this statement about reports that they were looking for payments, saying, "The Salahis are not shopping any interviews or demanding money from any media networks. We refute these false allegations and demand that this adverse, inaccurate information cease immediately."

The couple were booked on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight but have since postponed. They did not ask to be paid, and if they had, CNN would have declined -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Abbi Tatton working this story.

When we come back, we'll take a closer look at those four police officers slain in Washington State. What's going on?

Our coverage will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to a story we've been covering, Mike Huckabee and his decision back in the year 2000 when he was governor of Arkansas to commute the sentence of someone who is now described as a person of interest in the killing of four police officers in Washington State.

Let's talk about the political fallout with our CNN political contributor Hilary Rosen of The Brunswick Group and Republican strategist John Feehery of The Feehery Group. Appropriately named, Feehery Group, John Feehery.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There you go. How about that?

BLITZER: Look at this. Our recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in October had among Republicans' choices for the president nominee in 2012, still very early, but Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, 32 percent; Sarah Palin, 25 percent; Mitt Romney, 21 percent; Tim Pawlenty, 5; other, 10 percent.

This is a problem though potentially for Mike Huckabee right now, if in fact the man who he let out of jail has gone ahead -- and we don't know if it has -- but if he's convicted in killing these four police officers, that would be a problem for him.

FEEHERY: Well, first of all, it's tragic for the family, and I think we have to always express that at every -- the family of these four officers.

You know, for Mike Huckabee, this is the second time this has happened. And for him, he's got to do what Pat O'Brien said. He's got to get ahead of the story, explain exactly why he made the decision, and try not to cast blame on anyone else but accept responsibility.

This is very, very bad thing for Mike Huckabee, because with his conservative base, they want to hear that he's going to be tough on crime. And if he's letting the criminals out like this, that's going to be tough for him.

BLITZER: Because he was the governor of Arkansas. He could have stopped it if he wanted to, but he went ahead with it.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I believe in clemency programs though, but this is the result of them sometimes. And I agree with John that the problem that Huckabee has is, for the last two days -- well, since it's happened -- he has tried every which way to blame everybody else.

He has got to take responsibility. That's what happens when you grant clemency. You've looked at the case. You really believed that somebody can be rehabbed. Obviously there were mistakes in this guy's case, and he's got to own that.

BLITZER: Because he was a teenager when he was convicted. He was 19, I believe, when his sentence was commuted, and he promised the governor, he promised the clemency board that he would never do anything like this again.

FEEHERY: And for Mike Huckabee, he's got to say, listen, this was a big mistake, we've got to fix this problem so something like this never happens again.

You know, the hard thing is when you're talking about 17-year- olds, as Hilary says, you want clemency, you want to be able to rehabilitate these people. But if they're going to commit crimes again, boy, you really have to look at the whole case and make sure that something like this doesn't happen.

ROSEN: It's a trap. These guys get into a trap. When they are so sure of themselves, in my view, they are so sure of themselves that, you know -- and so judgmental about governors that make decisions on clemency, about law and order. And it's always the ones who end up being so black and white about these things, when these are not always black and white issues, that get tripped up by mistakes.

BLITZER: But you say you believe in clemency in principle, but a case like this is going to make it very hard...

ROSEN: Very hard.

BLITZER: ... for all governors down the road to go ahead and let these kinds of convicted criminals out of jail, even if they may be worthy of getting out of jail.

ROSEN: Well, you know, I think that worthiness is an extremely strict test. There's got to be, you know, enough evidence, enough barriers and places for prisoners to go when they get out of jail, programs that they can go into that are successful, proven successful.

BLITZER: So you think this is -- I mean, he said over the weekend, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, he really has no intention right now of running once again for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

Where does this incident, if in fact this guy he let out is proven to be the killer of these four cops, where does this leave him in 2012? FEEHERY: Well, he's still very popular with the political base of the Republican Party. I think he has his own TV show on a rival network. He's got that kind of homespun charm. So he's still a powerful force within the base. But the problem is, this doesn't help with that same powerful base.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note, guys. Thanks very much for coming in.

Tiger Woods won't answer questions from the police or the news media. At least not now. Does the golfing great owe anyone an explanation about his mysterious car crash? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

Also, Chelsea Clinton's big news. She's keeping politics all in the family.

And President Obama's new marching orders for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, how the deployment may play out after his big announcement tomorrow night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker" right now, Chelsea Clinton is engaged to her longtime boyfriend. The spokesman confirms the 29- year-old former first daughter has said yes to 31-year-old investment banker Marc Mezvinsky.

She met him as a teenager right here in Washington, D.C. Then they both went to Stanford University.

Of course, everyone knows who her parents are, but did you know that his parents are both former Democratic members of Congress? In fact, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky cast a critical vote for Bill Clinton's economic plan back in 1993. It passed the House of Representatives by only two votes. That move though wound up costing Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky her job as a United States congresswoman. Pennsylvania voters ousted her the following year.

Chelsea Clinton's future father-in-law, Ed Mezvinsky, is a former congressman from Iowa who voted to impeach Richard Nixon back in 1974 when he was a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He recently did serve some time in jail for his connection to a Nigerian e-mail scam.

It looks as though these two political families will be joined next year. In an e-mail to friends, Chelsea and Marc said they are looking forward to a summer wedding.

Congratulations to both of them and to their families.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com.

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

Jack, did you get any e-mail on the Tiger Woods story?

CAFFERTY: One or two. We got probably a couple thousand in a half an hour.

Here's a sampling to the question, "Does Tiger Woods owe anyone an explanation?"

Steve in Florida, "Any other citizen of this country would certainly have to talk with at least the police. He was in a traffic accident. He destroyed public property. He had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance."

"There are multiple signs and indications that this was a case of domestic violence. Why does this man get to take a three-or-four-day nap first? Because he's good at playing some game? It's absurd."

Jeff in Connecticut, "Absolutely not, not to the public and definitely not to the news hounds who can't seem to find anything substantial going on in the world to report on. Tiger Woods' private life is none of my business and it's none of yours."

Mike in Louisiana, "No, he doesn't owe us an explanation. But, he has stated that as a 10-year-old, he had a poster of Jack Nicklaus on the wall in his bedroom and he emulated him. Imagine the kids out there now who are Internet-savvy and fans of Woods, trying to emulate him. Now they're cruising the Web, they're reading these stories."

"This is the sad part, that this is Tiger's debt to his young fans. Be honest, own up, and come clean before your young fans stop calling you 'Tiger' and begin calling you 'Cheetah.'"

Jim in Ohio, "If people cared as much about health care, we'd have universal coverage by now. He doesn't owe anyone an explanation. It seems he gave his wife one that she didn't care for."

Kevin in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, "I'm not a lawyer, not a PR guy, I'm not a journalist. But I am a golfer, and I'm a big-time Tiger Woods fan. I look at it this way: If he had a fight with his wife, left in a huff and ran into a fire hydrant and a tree, just say so. Everybody would get that. He doesn't have to tell anybody what the fight was about."

And Buddy in Illinois, "Jack, he certainly doesn't owe the General public any explanation. However, I can't get the image of a man fleeing a golf club-wielding wife out of my head."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to the blog. There are lots of them there, and some of them are pretty funny actually -- CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people, Jack, presumably think we shouldn't be covering this story, the man is entitled to his privacy.

Is that what you're hearing?

CAFFERTY: Well, that's what some people are suggesting. Other people want to know.

The fact is, he's the most well known -- outside of President Obama, he's probably the most well-known person on planet Earth. And so, when anything happens to somebody who is that high profile, there's an immediate rush of interest in knowing what's going on.

And the fact that there were these reports a couple of weeks before the traffic accident about an alleged relationship with someone besides his wife, that only fuels the speculation about what might be going on here. So there's a lot of interest in this. Whether it's -- no, it isn't the SALT Talks, but it's interesting.

BLITZER: Very interesting. And you know what? We'll cover the story as we always do.

Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

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

Happening now, breaking news. A surprising announcement from Tiger Woods, fresh fallout from his controversial car wreck. But what the golf legend is saying now is only deepening some of the mystery surrounding this incident.

Stand by.

Also, new information emerging this hour about the subject of a massive manhunt in Washington State. The suspect is accused of killing four police officers in a brutal ambush.

And Iran detaining more westerners. This time, the British crew of a racing yacht seized and now being held by the Islamic Republic.

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