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President: Iraq Combat Mission Ending; Leak Suspect Disciplined Before; Second House Democrat Faces Ethics Trial; Interview with Denis McDonough

Aired August 2, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, after seven years and a fortune in American blood and treasure President Obama looks to the end of the Iraq War, with a massive troop drawdown and combat operations to end in less than a month.

Also, wounded warriors transported from the front lines in Afghanistan back home, sometimes within just 48 hours.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, was granted exclusive access and travels along for the journey home and out of harm's way.

Plus, hundreds of thousands of people about to be cut off from e- mail, text messages and the Internet, as one country prepares to pull the plug on BlackBerries.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


When the United States invaded Iraq back in March of 2003, few people would have imagined that seven years later, it would be President Barack Obama announcing the end of combat operations. But that's exactly what he did today in a speech to the National Convention of Disabled American Veterans, taking credit for making good on one of his central campaign promises.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America's combat mission in Iraq would end.


OBAMA: And that is exactly what we are doing, as promised and on schedule.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He traveled with the president to Atlanta for this speech -- Ed, if you listen closely, the president didn't flatly say the U.S. has won in Iraq or is even winning in Iraq, did he?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that's by design. I talked to a top White House official today and said, look, are you going to declare victory or not?

And basically they wouldn't go there. And the reason is they saw what happened when President Bush had that "mission accomplished" banner much earlier, obviously, in the war. That blew up on that White House's face. They've learned that lesson. They are clearly not going to do any aircraft carrier moments in this White House.

Secondly, there's good reason to be skeptical right now. Even as the president was hailing a campaign promise that was met, which is true, the fact of the matter is the security situation on the ground in Iraq is not completely stable yet. And just this weekend, the Iraqi government put out some new numbers, saying that July was the deadliest month in about two years on the ground in Iraq.

Now, administration officials insist those numbers are wrong.

But the bottom line point is that come August 31st, when U.S. combat troops come out, it's not like some magic switch is going to go off and suddenly the Iraqi government can stand on its own two feet. This White House doesn't know what's going to happen once those combat troops come out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And how does this tie into what's happening in Afghanistan, where the United States is still building up its troop presence?

HENRY: It's a good question because the White House hopes that today is a model for Afghanistan, that come next summer, the president has called that sort of a pivot point for Afghanistan and he can begin withdrawing troops there.

But it's interesting, another thing he didn't mention in today's speech was George W. Bush's surge. And Republicans pounced on that and said the reason is this president doesn't want to give the last president credit for a surge that many Democrats, including then Senator Obama, opposed.

Well, now it's -- the shoe is on the other foot. This president is surging troops not to Iraq, but to Afghanistan. And in a few weeks, there's going to be 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan. And it's not clear yet whether, when next summer comes up, the Afghanistan government, just like the Iraq government now, is going to be stable enough for a real handoff -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed -- Ed Henry is on the scene for us.

Thanks very much.

The United States certainly has learned the hard way that things in Iraq don't often go as planned.

So here's the question -- is the Obama administration prepared to change its time line if necessary?

I'll talk about that and much more with one of the president's top national security advisers, the NSC chief of staff, Denis McDonough. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're learning new information right now about the U.S. Army private suspected of leaking tens of thousands of documents about the war in Afghanistan. It turns out he may have faced -- get this -- earlier disciplinary action.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working this story for us -- it's a pretty shocking development, Barbara.

But explain what we know.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, details are beginning to seep out about Private First Class Bradley Manning. No matter how much the Pentagon wants to clamp down on information, we are now learning that he faced disciplinary action, perhaps twice.

Military officials say that just a few months ago, Manning got into a fight, it is alleged, with another service member and was busted down a rank -- demoted from specialist back to private first class. That was the most recent one.

But another military official tells us that Manning was disciplined in 2008, when he attended intelligence school at Fort Huachuca in the United States. Now, we don't know what that discipline was for. But the Web site,, reported that Manning had uploaded videos containing classified discussions -- classified information about where he had attended school and what he was doing. That would have been a violation. The military not saying that that was it, but saying that he was punished, also, back in 2008 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's a question -- if you -- if you faced disciplinary action, why is it that you retain your top secret security clearance?

STARR: Well, absolutely. That is the question on the table. Manning actually had a higher level clearance -- well, as you say, top secret, plus one that allowed him access to very specialized, if you will, compartmented -- that's the term the military uses -- information -- things in very special places on that computer system. He had a clearance to get in there. Now, they spend thousands of dollars on clearances. They don't take them away lightly. If they start that formal proceeding, which we do not know if they did, he would have the right to due process, the right of appeal.

There's another way they could have gone. They could have just simply cut off his access, saying you can't get -- you can't do this kind of work anymore.

But what we know is he was able to download tens of thousands of classified documents.

BLITZER: It's a shocking, shocking story. And I know we're going to be getting more.

Barbara, thanks.

Barbara, by the way, has an amazing story coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM about wounded warriors. She flew with them from Kabul back to the United States. The first of the three part series airing today here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You'll want to see this -- a very moving, moving report.

A second House Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus is now facing a trial before the Ethics Committee. Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California is a 10 term House veteran and a senior member of the Financial Services Committee.

Our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is here working the story for us.

What does -- what does this say?

What's going on right now?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really interesting, Wolf. Maxine Waters -- this is what we know. She called then Secretary Henry Paulson back in September of 2008 to get a meeting with Treasury officials for the National Bankers Association. This is a group that represents more than a hundred minority owned banks. And she wanted this meeting because, of course, this was in the middle of the financial crisis and these banks, they wanted federal assistance.

This all started because the NBA, this group called Waters after failing to get a meeting with the Treasury Department on their own. And with her help, they were able to get one. But it was One United -- this was then the biggest African-American owned bank -- that was the only bank represented at this meeting. And its fate was very much the focus of this meeting.

And though Waters was not at this meeting, her husband -- get this -- owned a considerable amount of One United stock -- almost a quarter million dollars. And he had just stepped down from its board of directors a few months before.

So what happened here is the Ethics Committee came out today and they said there is reason to believe that she broke House rules governing conflicts of interest and also one that gov -- that says a member of Congress cannot advocate for a matter in which they have a personal financial interest -- Wolf. BLITZER: What -- what is she saying about all this?

KEILAR: She flatly denies this, Wolf. In fact, she said this was not about this singular bank, One Unot -- One United. She says this was about these numerous small minority owned banks. Their survival was endangered, she says, and they were getting short shrift at the height of the financial crisis, while all of the big banks got the attention. That's what she says. BLITZER: With Congressman Charlie Rangel, the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, now facing a trial in the House, now Maxine Waters, what is -- give us the political context, what this means for Democrats.

KEILAR: Well, obviously, this is very tough for Democrats. And what you have is kind of a double whammy here, because like Charles Rangel, who is facing an ethics trial, it's very much the same thing here. Sources familiar with this process say that Maxine Waters insisted on having her day in court, that she refused to negotiate a settlement. And, of course, as you have these things going on in parallel, it is a nightmare for Democrats politically. These ethics trials are very rare. They are public spectacles -- kind of media circuses. The last one was in 2002. And this, of course, is the last thing, Wolf, that Democrats want to deal with as they try to minimize their losses in November.

BLITZER: Yes. The political fallout could be severe. But we'll watch this very, very closely.

Guy -- thanks very much for that, Brianna.

It sparked a huge controversy during the presidential campaign -- now the possibility of a meeting between President Obama and the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is being raised again, this time by Ahmadinejad. I'll talk to a top Obama adviser about it and we'll also get some insight from our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

Plus, top Democrats are no-shows at a fundraiser headlined by the president of the United States himself.

What should he do to help his party?

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is standing by for that.


BLITZER: Here's some excellent news for all of our viewers -- Jack Cafferty is back with The Cafferty File, fresh from a little vacation and some good R&R, I hope.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes.

I'm an old man. I need my rest.

And you were away too, weren't you?

BLITZER: I need some rest, too.

CAFFERTY: Well, so Suzanne Malveaux had the burden of this entire telethon...

BLITZER: And she did an excellent...

CAFFERTY: -- on her tiny little shoulders...

BLITZER: -- excellent job.

CAFFERTY: -- for a week and she did a great job.


CAFFERTY: They may not want us back, you know?

BLITZER: Maybe. You never know.

CAFFERTY: It's the media's fault -- or at least that's where politicians like to lay the blame for almost anything that goes wrong.

Enter Sarah Palin, the former half term Alaska governor, who's blaming her poor approval ratings among Independents on -- you guessed it -- the media.

Palin told the F word network, where she's a paid commentator, that, quote, "I don't blame people for not really knowing what I stand for or what my record is because if I believed everything that I read or heard in the media, I wouldn't like me either," unquote.

It makes you want to react like that duck in the Aflac commercials, when he walks out of the barber shop after listening to Yogi Berra.

Palin didn't want to talk about what she refers to as "fickle polls," probably because recent polling shows that while Palin remains popular with a small conservative part of the Republican base, most of the rest of America doesn't like her. She gets an unfavorable rating from majorities of Democrats, Independents, people in urban and suburban areas, along with those in the Northeast, in the Midwest and in the West, which makes it kind of tough to build a coalition, you know what I mean?

So what about 2012?

Well, Palin insists that's not where her focus is right now.

Meanwhile, Palin is stepping into the immigration debate, saying that Arizona's governor, a woman, Jan Brewer, quote, "has the cojones that our president does not," unquote, when it comes to securing the country's borders. Palin is blasting President Obama for suing Arizona to block its controversial new law, while not going after sanctuary cities that harbor illegal aliens and, like our federal government, refused to enforce the nation's immigration laws.

I actually agree with Sarah Palin on that point.

As for the economy, Palin says it's idiotic to consider letting the Bush tax cuts for wealthier Americans expire in the current economic climate.

So here's the question -- are Sarah Palin's low approval ratings the media's fault? Go to and post a comment on my blog.

You know, it's like getting an early Christmas present -- come back from vacation and find out Sarah Palin said something else that's worth noting.

BLITZER: I know. I knew you would enjoy that.

CAFFERTY: Have you seen that Aflac commercial...

BLITZER: Of course I have.

CAFFERTY: -- where the duck comes out of the barber shop?

BLITZER: Yes, I have. And it's good stuff.


BLITZER: All right.

Stand by, Jack.

Other news. The Iranian president -- get this -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be in New York in September to attend the United Nations General Assembly. He usually comes for that. But it's now raising some speculation about a possible meeting with President Obama. In fact, Ahmadinejad says he wants to meet one-on-one with President Obama when he's in New York.

It was Candidate Obama who himself opened the door to such a meeting with Ahmadinejad during a CNN YouTube debate back in 2007.

Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this -- that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous. One of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they're going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, David Gergen, to talk about this.

The president of Iran says I'm ready to meet one-on-one in New York with President Obama.

Does this put President Obama in an awkward position, given what he said at that CNN YouTube debate three years ago?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Not at all, Wolf. Look, three years ago, the president was hopeful that there might be progress by reaching out to Iran, having talks. You know, here we are almost three years later and there's been no progress through the talks. We've had to slap on new sanctions. There's a real question of whether those are going to work.

I don't think he needs to sit down with the president, Ahmadinejad.

We -- what -- the last thing we need right now are more theatrics and more talking with the Iranians.

What we need is action. We need Acton on their part to convince us they're serious about not building a nuclear weapon.

I do think, Wolf, he might talk to a couple other folks, though. I think he needs to talk to Americans about what's coming so that they're prepared for some very tough choices...

BLITZER: When you say what's coming...


BLITZER: What's coming where?

GERGEN: Well, it -- it -- it's pretty clear that we're on a path right now, unless something dramatic happens, for the Iranians either to acquire a nuclear weapon or to have the capacity to build a nuclear weapon rapidly. We don't know whether that's going to happen -- it's not likely to happen in the next year, year and a half, two years, that's a good possibility. At that point, we're going to face extraordinarily difficult decisions about whether to live with it or to take it out -- take out that capa -- that capability militarily.

And we're going to need not -- the president will need not only American support, it's going to be very important for him to build support in Europe and elsewhere for maintaining his options. Those options are going to get foreclosed on him and he's not going to have any leverage.

So he needs to be doing some talking about Iran. It's a good thing to be talking about Iraq today. It's a very good thing to be talking about Afghanistan. But Iran is a critical piece of this. Bob Gates, the Defense secretary, says the toughest problem he -- we've faced since he entered government 40 years ago.

BLITZER: We're going to be pressing the chief of staff at the National Security Council, Denis McDonough, on this specific issue of Iran -- a potential meeting between the president and Ahmadinejad. That's coming up at the bottom of the hour, David. I think you'll be interested to hear what Denis McDonough, who's a key player in all of this, has to say.

Thanks very much.

GERGEN: He's very close -- very close to the president, too, as you know.

By the way, didn't the president look a lot younger in that...

BLITZER: Yes, he does.

GERGEN: -- in that debate three years ago.

BLITZER: Yes. Three years is a lifetime when you're president of the United States, obviously.

GERGEN: Oh, Wolf, absolutely.

BLITZER: He's aged. That's quite obvious.

All right, David.

Thanks very much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: A desperate manhunt now underway for two convicted killers who escaped from prison. They're considered armed and dangerous. We'll have the latest. That's coming up.

And it could be the perfect time to buy that new condo. Some are going for a lot less. In fact, some are going for less than the cost of a car.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.

And welcome back, by the way, Wolf.

Well, authorities are on the hunt for two of three convicted killers who escaped from an Arizona prison. The men, who were discovered missing Friday, are allegedly with a female accomplice. They're considered armed and dangerous and are believed to be driving a 2002 silver Volkswagen Jetta. The third escapee was captured yesterday and is being held in Colorado.

Three passengers are believed to be dead after a fiery plane crash at the Nollie National Park in Alaska. The crash sparked a one acre blaze on the ground. Three people were reportedly aboard the flight. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident.

And a CNN affiliate is reporting that five of six sky divers are out of the hospital after surviving this plane crash in New York State. The plane, which was carrying members of a sky diving club, crashed shortly after takeoff yesterday. Most of those hospitalized sustained minor injuries. One passenger, though, remains in critical condition.

And if you are in the market for a condo, well, it could be the perfect time to buy, especially with some now going for less than the cost of a new car. The National Association of Realtors estimates condo prices have fallen about 25 percent since 2007, due to the housing bust. As a result, cities across the country have started listing dozens of homes for as little as $25,000. So now is the time to snatch up those bargains -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, but always check that monthly fee -- how much the condo association wants to stay there, because that could be expensive.

SYLVESTER: You've got that right. Yes, those condo fees can be something else -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Will President Obama meet with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when he comes to New York in September?

I'll ask a top Obama adviser, the National Security Council chief of staff, Denis McDonough.

Plus, why one country is poised to take drastic action -- get this -- with a total ban on BlackBerries.



Happening now, the state of Arizona now embroiled in a bitter fight with the courts over its controversial new immigration law.

But as tensions grow, is another state now poised to follow in its footsteps?

New information coming in.

Plus, a CNN exclusive -- our own Barbara Starr goes where no journalist has gone before. You're going to see up close the chilling journey wounded troops take to get out of the war zone.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're now less than a month away from a major milestone in the war in Iraq -- a massive drawdown of U.S. combat troops in preparation for the entire American military force leaving Iraq by the end of next year. But in a conflict where so much has gone wrong, is the Obama administration prepared to change that, if necessary?

I talked about that and much more with the National Security Council chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who "The New York Times" recently described this way -- let me quote: "When it comes to national security, Mr. Obama's inner circle is so tight, it largely consists of Mr. McDonough, a 40-year-old from Minnesota, who is unknown to most Americans, but who is so close to the president that his colleagues, including his superiors, often will not make a move on big issues without checking with him first."

And joining us now from the White House, the chief of staff at the National Security Council, Denis McDonough.

Denis, thanks very much for coming in.


It's always good to be with you.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise, we will be down to 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of this month, is that correct?

MCDONOUGH: That is correct.

BLITZER: And all U.S. troops -- the remaining 50,000 will be out of Iraq by the end of next year, is that correct?

MCDONOUGH: Also correct.

BLITZER: What would change that?

If, for example, there's a collapse of the Iraqi government -- there's no new government yet now.

What would change that possibility of keeping troops beyond the end of next year?

MCDONOUGH: Oh, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, Wolf. This is an agreement that was hammered out by the Bush administration and the democratically elected government of Iraq that would transition the forces out of the country by the end of next year.

We think, given that politics is breaking out in Iraq, given that now Iraq has fully trained 665,000 security forces, who themselves have been in the lead, really, in many places throughout Iraq since the summer of last year, we believe that they're making exactly the kind of progress that the Bush administration and the democratically elected government there anticipated. So we think that we're on track.

BLITZER: A lot of Iraqis, though, have told me in recent weeks, they're deeply worried about the fact that they can't form a new government. There seems to be a stalemate. How worried are you?

MCDONOUGH: Well, look, Wolf, we always anticipated there would be an extended period of time to form this government.

If you look back over the experience of Iraq, back in 2005, it took six months. So we're still within that window. We think that it's obviously an important development. We're obviously following it closely. But we also think that it's important that we've seen now politics break out in the country there, as the vice president has said. So we think these disagreements and so forth are being worked out in a political, democratic process. And we think that's all to the good.

BLITZER: How worried are you that a Shiite led government in Iraq will further enhance its relationship with the Shiite led regime in Iran?

MCDONOUGH: You know, Wolf, of the many things I worry about that's not one of them. I mean we've seen obviously that a strong and independent Iraq has formed itself. You see Shia on the ground in Iraq who are very uncomfortable with Iranian interference. So the fact is that the Iraqis have their own vision for their future. I think it's not a vision that's driven by sectarian differences as some neighbors would like to see happen. So we feel pretty good about the politics, the political process playing out there and we'll see how it unfolds now in the next couple weeks.

BLITZER: President Ahmadinejad of Iran says he wants to meet one-on-one with President Obama in New York in September when he's there for the United Nations general assembly. Is the president ready to meet with Ahmadinejad one-on-one?

MCDONOUGH: You know, Wolf, I'm not sure the president has even seen that report and I think this is the first time I've heard of it myself but here is what we do know is that now over five successive U.N. Security Council resolutions, strong resolutions from the United Nations and a strong law passed by Congress, the international community is saying to the Iranians they have to live up to their responsibilities to come clean on what is clearly an inappropriate and illegal nuclear program. Obviously we know what President Ahmadinejad and the Iranians could do to live up to their obligations. It is spelled out right there in the U.N. Security Council resolutions. We'll see how that plays out. I'm not jumping ahead to the end of September just yet.

BLITZER: It sparked what happened what President Ahmadinejad is now saying. You remember the CNN/YouTube debate then candidate Obama said he'd be ready to meet without any preconditions with Ahmadinejad and a bunch of other world leaders. Is President Obama still committed to that?

MCDONOUGH: You know, President Obama did in your debate, Wolf, I remember it very clearly, make that point, and you have seen him NOW over the course of two years unfold a strategy that follows, tracks exactly very closely to what he laid out in that national debate with the American people and with his opponents. And bottom line is that that strategy has succeeded. The Iranian government is more isolated than it's been in a long time including with strong support to the international community efforts from the Russians and from the Chinese. The Iranians internally frankly are more divided than they've been in a long time and that's a function frankly of our ability to make clear that it's they who are standing in front in the way of the Iranian people's aspirations and not the United States government. You're seeing the impact of those sanctions, too, Wolf, seeing it in the bazaars throughout Iran and it is frankly the Iranian government that is standing in the way of a strong middle class in Iran getting to the dreams and hopes they all have for their families.

BLITZER: We'll move on, sort of button it down. Are you leaving open the possibility of a Obama/Ahmadinejad meeting in New York in September?

MCDONOUGH: You know, Wolf, I'm not jumping ahead, I'm just learning about it on your show. We'll be continuing to unfold this strategy that has been unfolded very successfully by the administration and our international allies and partners over the course of these last 20 months so we'll continue to do it but I also know the Iranians understand full well what they need to do and that means they have to stop that illicit nuclear program.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta the CIA director recently said there were only between 50 and 100 al Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan. Does the United States really need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan to find 50 or 100 al Qaeda fighters?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I think al Qaeda as you know, Wolf, is very active in that region generally. Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we've been working very closely with our Pakistani partners as well as our Afghan partners and so you I think are very familiar, Wolf, as is al Qaeda with the pressure that they're under be that in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, East Africa, Southeast Asia, frankly we'll take the fight to them wherever they are.

BLITZER: So in other words moving large numbers of troops into those other countries as well as -- is that what you're saying?

MCDONOUGH: What I'm saying is we're doing exactly what we said we'll do which is we'll take the fight to al Qaeda wherever they are partnering with our friends and allies and making sure they can't ply their plot and trade to attack and kill Americans.

BLITZER: Denis McDonough the chief of staff of the National Security Council, thanks very much.

MCDONOUGH: Thank you, Wolf. It's always good to be with you. Congratulations on five years.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Five years here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our situation room, not the white house situation room. This week will mark our fifth anniversary of the CNN SITUATION ROOM. Very happy about that. Which states are the most conservative and which are the most liberal? The new survey is revealing the reddest and bluest parts of the country. We have that for you.

Plus President Obama heads to Atlanta to raise money for fellow Democrats but where are the candidates? The details coming up.


BLITZER: A new Gallup survey names Wyoming and Mississippi the two most conservative states in the country. The survey says that 53 percent of the residents in those states identify themselves as conservatives rather than moderates or liberals. Utah is close behind with 51 percent. As for the most liberal states in the country the survey ranks the District of Columbia which is not a state at the top with 42 percent followed by Rhode Island, which is a state, at 32 percent. Connecticut and Vermont are tied for third with 29 percent.

President Obama was the headliner at a Democratic fundraiser in Atlanta today but some of the state's top Democrats were not there including Roy Barnes, the current Democratic nominee for governor. Also not showing up, some Congressional lawmakers up for re-election in a state where the president has a relatively low approval rating. Let's talk about it with our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. She is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. A lot of elected officials rode the coat tails of President Obama only a couple years ago. Can they still do that now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. Absolutely not. And the folks in the white house are going to be the first to tell you that. In a state for example like California where the president remains popular, he's going to go out and help Senate -- Senator Barbara Boxer who is running for re-election because he can really do her some good. But in a state like Georgia for example you just spoke about it where a majority of the voters disapprove of the president, he can't help as much. In fact, if you're candidate in one of those states right now as a Democrat what you've got to do, I was talking to some Democratic pollsters today, is not ride on his coat tails but actually show your independence and say, sometimes I supported him. Sometimes I didn't support him. But I am my own person.

BLITZER: The president can certainly help in some states but not necessarily in others.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Now the Democrats at least some Democrats behind the scenes have been complaining about the white house.

BORGER: Oh, yeah.

BLITZER: There seems to be an effort now to try to coordinate a little better.

BORGER: There's kind of a truce right now because early on folks on Capitol Hill were worried that President Obama was going to run an anti-incumbent campaign, Wolf, and run against all incumbents which means Democrats as well. Now he is not. He is turning it into a choice election which is either go with the Democrats or go backwards if you vote for Republicans. Now, it's hard to see realistically how a mid-term election is anything other than a referendum on the man in power but they're going to try that. He is still going to be fundraiser in chief and the Democratic National Committee is committing $20 million to house and Senate campaigns.

BLITZER: That is critically important. Obviously money talks. What is the most important thing the president needs to do to help Democrats?

BORGER: The mobilization of what pollsters call Obama's surge voters. And those are the base voters that came out for him in 2008 and made a difference. And so he is going to go out and campaign for those voters. The DNC again spending another $30 million on getting out the vote and President Obama will be saying, the states in this election are exactly the same as the stakes were in the last election. That's what he's going to try and do to get them out and vote for Democrats. They're disappointed though so we'll have to see.

BLITZER: Less than a hundred days. There is still some time.

BORGER: There is.

BLITZER: Some close races.

BORGER: Anything can happen.

BLITZER: Of course. Thank you very much. That's why we cover politics.

Are African Americans in Congress held to a different standard? Ethical questions surrounding some black politicians are raising some new concerns about race. We'll talk about that and more in our strategy session.


BLITZER: We'll get to our strategy session. Joining us are two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and national talk show radio host Bill Bennett will be joining us in a moment. But Donna, I don't know if you saw that story in Politico today. There was a story, ethics cases raise racial questions. I'll read a line to you about the Maxine Waters/Charlie Rangel issue. "The question of whether black lawmakers are being singled out for scrutiny has been simmering throughout the 111th Congress with the office of Congressional ethics a focal point of the concerns. At one point early this year all eight lawmakers under formal investigation by the house ethics committee including Rangel and Waters were black Democrats." Are you among those like one unnamed member of the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, who told politico he thinks there is a double standard for African American lawmakers?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Wolf, I do believe that under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi and the house Democrats that there are now new tough standards that will hold all members accountable, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, others. The point is I think that Barbara Lee last week the chair of the Congressional black caucus said it best. She said that we should allow these members whether Charlie Rangel, Maxine Waters, or others to have an opportunity to have their allegations answered. We should give them an opportunity to respond to these charges. Who knows? We know earlier this year a Congressman was under investigation and has been cleared. Let's give these lawmakers an opportunity to have their cases heard before the ethics committee.

BLITZER: You don't care about the political fallout if there are two trials let's say in September involving these two members of Congress both Democrats, you don't think that necessarily is a big deal, the fallout? It's more important that they have their day in court?

BRAZILE: We shouldn't allow political expediency to be the rule or standard that guides our discussion. We should assume these lawmakers are innocent until proven guilty. I don't care who they are. Senator Ensign is under investigation. There are Republican lawmakers under investigation. We should allow these lawmakers, I know it's not the right time. Timing is everything in politics, but I also believe that truth -- if these lawmakers are able to prove they are innocent of these allegations then give them an opportunity to clear their names. I know personally Charlie Rangel. I know personally Maxine Waters. I know them to hold very high standards not just for themselves but their staff and others and I would hope they would have an opportunity like the other lawmakers to clear their names and present their cases to the ethics committee.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett is on the phone with us. Bill, what do you think? Do you think Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters should basically accept some sort of censure or reprimand and give up their own day in court or let them go forward and if they didn't do anything wrong prove it?

BILL BENNETT, NATIONAL TALK SHOW RADIO HOST: Well, that is really their decision. It's like a plea bargain. Charlie Rangel obviously wants to go ahead. Looks like Maxine Waters does too. I know Charlie Rangel very well as well. He was chairman of my committee when I was drug czar. He wants to fight. What I found odd, Wolf, was the president was talking about Charlie Rangel in the past tense. Said he has served this country well and so on as if were gone. Obviously the president would like this gone but it's not gone and Donna's right. He has to have his day in court. He wants to have his hearing. They have to make the case and prove it.

BLITZER: Were you a little uncomfortable Donna with what the president said in that CBS interview where he seemed to be referring to Charlie Rangel as somebody in the past tense and basically saying you know what? Get over it, move on?

BRAZILE: Well, he also said that Charlie Rangel has had a very good career and should go out in dignity. I can tell you as a daughter of a Korean veteran who is also 80 years old you cannot tell them to sit down and shut up. They will fight.

BLITZER: Let me move on to another issue, Bill. This Senator Kyl and a bunch of other largely Republicans are saying maybe we should take another look at the 14th amendment which stipulates anyone born in the United States is automatically a U.S. citizen including those whose parents may be here illegally. Do you think it's time to take a look at that?

BENNETT: No. They're not saying let's take another look at the 14th amendment. I saw this on Huffington Post and CBS and this is really a slander. They're saying let's take a look at the phrase in the 14th amendment, the phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof." Let's have hearings on what that means because of the present situation where you have thousands, hundreds of thousands of illegals coming in having children and does the constitution protect those children? This has been an issue in constitutional law for a hundred years. It is no more calling for the repeal of the 14th amendment than to have hearings on what the meaning of cruel and unusual punishment is as a call for the repeal of the eighth amendment. This is the clarification of a phrase which scholars have wrestled with for a long time and it is an entirely appropriate inquiry.

BLITZER: Right now if you're born in the United States and your parents are illegal immigrants, you are still an automatic U.S. citizen.

BENNETT: That's the way the courts have interpreted it but there are a number of scholars who have written about this saying this is not what was intended. You know the diplomats born in the neighborhoods in which we live in Washington, D.C., the children of diplomats, are not citizens of the United States because they're not subject to the jurisdiction thereof. So there are complications and questions. Did the framers of the constitution intend for widespread illegality of people coming to this country in massive numbers and then giving birth to those children to be automatically become citizens? I think it's a fair and honest question.

BLITZER: We'll continue to watch this debate. Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, guys, thank you.

Are Sarah Palin's low approval ratings the media's fault? Jack Cafferty's coming up with your email.

Also details of a looming Blackberry ban, one country about to pull the plug entirely.

And at the top of the hour a CNN exclusive, pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr follows the journey home with wounded American warriors. This is a gripping report you won't see anywhere else.


BLITZER: Jack's joining us once again with the Cafferty File. Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour Wolf is are Sarah Palin's low approval ratings the media's fault as she suggests they are?

Michael in Texas says, "It's not all the media's fault. She deserves credit for giving the media something to work with."

Ron in Indiana says, "The urban dictionary defines ditz as a superficially dumb valley chick with no common sense whatsoever; usually of the white race, rich and pretty; often used as words such as, like, oh, my gosh, oh, my goodness, and dude. I would say Sarah's low approval rating is due to her being a ditz and nothing more. The media had nothing to do with it."

Jackson writes from Rome, Georgia, "Sure Jack, if documenting her incoherent, buzz word and dog-whistling-filled ramblings count as fault, then surely the media is at fault. I can't throw a dart at a newspaper without hitting a story about what the maverick pit bull with lipstick grizzly mom straight shooter is having for breakfast."

Charles from New Jersey writes, "Yes, because without the media she could appear to be whatever her handlers and coaches deem necessary instead of the functioning lunatic she is. Fundamentalists Christians make scary politicians which is why the first amendment chopped them off at the knees rather than risk theocratic sedition."

Jeff in Florida writes, "Of course the media are at fault. It's never Sarah Palin's fault. Whatever you may think about Sarah Palin, you have to give her credit for having absolutely no shame whatsoever."

Julio writes, "No. Anybody who's half smart understands Palin's milking her 15 minutes of fame for every penny she can get. All the media are doing is keeping her in the limelight, making her richer. She should be grateful."

And Don in Colorado says, "Jack, every time you mention her name, your eyes bug out, your face gets purple and tiny bits of foam appear on your lips. We watch you and fear her instinctively."

If you want to read more on the subject, got a lot of e-mail. We always do on Sarah. Go to my blog, I wiped the foam off right before I came.

BLITZER: I'm looking for that foam a little bit. I don't see much foam. All right. Stand by Jack. Thank you.

Blackberry users about to be cut off entirely from email, text messages and the internet at least in one country will be cut off. We'll have the details of what this country is planning on doing.

Plus, wounded Americans air lifted from harm's way and coming home in as little as 48 hours. CNN's Barbara Starr is granted exclusive access taking us along on the journey.


BLITZER: A Blackberry fan is scheduled to take effect in United Arab Emirates leaving more than half a million users cut off from their mobile email, web browsing, text messaging. What is going on? CNN's Lisa Sylvester is taking a look at the details. Unites Arab Emirates, we're talking Abu Dhabi, Dubai, pretty sophisticated places. No Blackberry, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what's going on Wolf is in fact these Blackberries are actually amongst the most secure of these types of mobile devices. So much so that the UAE is worried it's not able to track security threats that might be transmitted via Blackberry. And the UAE is not alone. There are other countries, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain who have also expressed some of the same concerns.


SYLVESTER: The convenience of modern technology at your fingertips, emails, web browsing and text messages using your Blackberry. That all goes away for visitors and residents in the United Arab Emirates come October, not welcome news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that would be a disaster for me. I'm using my Blackberry 12 hours a day. Or 24 hours a day, at least.

SYLVESTER: The country's telecommunication regulatory authority banned the mobile device services, citing national security concerns. In an online post posting the UAE government says Blackberry suspension will remain in place until, "Blackberry applications are in full compliance with UAE regulations." The Blackberry is unique from other smart phones. It's made by Canadian company Research in Motion, or R.I.M., which uses its own special encryption and network of secure operation centers around the world. Telecom experts say that makes it secure enough for use by President Barack Obama and the U.S. military.

ABDEL RAHMAN MAZI, SAUDI TELECOM EXPERT: Blackberry is one of the most secure system. It is so secure that nobody can break the security level of Blackberry.

SYLVESTER: The conservative UAE says it worries that airtight system makes it harder to monitor security threats. But the Blackberry ban, if it takes effect will impact business and tourists in some high profile places.

JON ALTERMAN, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: A lot of people go to the UAE to do business. It's a great environment to do business and people come from all over Asia and the Arab world and Africa and Europe to do business in the UAE, largely in Dubai, but also in Abu Dabai. It's a black eye for Blackberry and the UAE that they can't work out some way to keep people from using Blackberries for terrorism.

SYLVESTER: R.I.M. respects both the regulatory requirements of government and the security and privacy needs of corporations and consumers.


SYLVESTER: None of this, though, is finalized. The ban doesn't take effect until October 11th and the company and the UAE are in active discussions right now to try to find some type of middle ground. RIM says it won't disclose, though, any specifics of their confidential regulatory discussions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Lisa, thank you.