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THE SITUATION ROOM

President: No Regrets on Mosque Comments; Pakistan Disaster Worsens; Easing Cuba Travel Restrictions

Aired August 18, 2010 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Rick.

Happening now, President Obama helps keep the mosque controversy going. We're going to tell you what he's saying about the planned Islamic center near Ground Zero. He's not the only Democrat, by the way, adding more fuel to the fire on this day.

Plus, water and misery as far as the eye can see -- we're in the thick of the flood crisis in Pakistan, where aid isn't coming fast enough for hungry children and their desperate parents.

And it's now safe for sea turtles to return to the Gulf of Mexico.

CNN is there exclusively as creatures rescued from the oil are released and make their way back home.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama says he has no regrets about supporting the rights of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near Ground Zero. But many members of his own party have nothing but regrets that he ever said a word about the controversy. Top Democrats attempting some damage control today may be only making matters worse, as some Republicans go for the jugular on this issue.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, trying to cover her bases, says questions need to be asked about who's funding the center and who's funding the attacks against it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There is no question that there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some. And I join the -- those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now to the president's latest remark about the flap.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, traveled with him to Ohio.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf.

It's his ninth visit to Ohio since becoming president. This was all a part of an effort to raise money for the party, support key Democrats and to stay on message.

But that has become much more difficult than expected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: (voice-over): A reporter's question threw the trip off message, as the president again waded into the controversy over whether an Islamic cultural center should be built close to Ground Zero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any regrets for jumping into the Islamic center?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The answer is no regrets.

MALVEAUX: President Obama had been talking kitchen table issues -- literally with a family around their kitchen table and later in the backyard with their neighbors.

OBAMA: You guys can ask me questions about anything.

MALVEAUX: They hit him with education.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It seems to be in a crisis now.

MALVEAUX: The economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the long-term, so they can grow the market on their own.

MALVEAUX: And health care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that you're not done with health care.

MALVEAUX: The administration has attempted to put an end to the controversy since the president first commented at a White House Muslim celebration on Friday.

OBAMA: I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion, as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan.

MALVEAUX: Then, after receiving much criticism less than 24 hours later, making this comment.

OBAMA: I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That's what our country is about.

MALVEAUX: According to two Democratic sources, the president's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has been fielding calls from some Congressional Democrats who are frustrated that the president spoke about it in the first place. One Democratic lawmaker says it gave the issue legitimacy and Republicans a green light to use it as a wedge issue during the upcoming mid-term elections. Another says some Democrats feel keyed up to get smacked by the controversy.

One powerful Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is in a tough reelection battle in Nevada, is openly defying the president's position.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: Democratic sources that I've spoken with say they believe that Republicans may be over playing their hand on this one, that this is not going to be a major issue in November. And according to one Democratic lawmaker who bluntly put it, he says he believes it will prove that some Republicans are narrow-minded bigots -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux traveling with the president in Columbus, Ohio.

Check out this graffiti that turned up overnight at the site of the proposed Islamic center. It expresses support for the project and urges people to read the Koran.

Most New Yorkers feel differently. A new poll shows 63 percent of registered voters in New York oppose building a Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero. That's in line with the CNN survey last week that found over two-thirds of people nationwide are against this project.

The New York governor, David Paterson, will be the exclusive guest later tonight on LARRY KING LIVE. That airs at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

A disaster of epic proportions is now getting worse. The United Nations saying it's received less than a half of the $460 million needed for relief efforts in Pakistan. And the massive flooding has submerged about one fifth of the country underwater right now. That's an area larger than many nations, including the U.K.

CNN's Sara Sidner is on an aid ship near Karachi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're here off the shores of Karachi on the USS Peleliu, with the Expeditionary Strike Group Number 5. It is their whole mission to make sure to be available when there is some sort of disaster. They patrol these waters and they were in the area to help those in the flood zone in Pakistan.

They've been able to get about 5,000 people out of those flood zones, rescuing them with helicopters. They've also been able to drop about a half million pounds of aid. They say they will be here for as long as it takes. There are more helicopters coming in. There are more ships coming in.

The U.S. Says that it has a humanitarian commitment that they're going to make to Pakistan. They've already given about $90 million in kind.

But the U.N. is continually saying that there is simply not enough aid being offered to this country.

And so, about $460 million so far. Less than half of that has been pledged. There is still a great deal of need here in Pakistan.

The U.S. military says they'll be here. The United States itself says that it will keep providing lots of help, as much as it can, but much more is needed here.

Sara Sidner, CNN, off the coast of Karachi.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: There are new indications this hour that traveling to Cuba for Americans could be getting easier.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is working the story for us over at the White House.

What are the latest developments -- Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf.

Well, the Obama administration is preparing, we're hearing, to ease travel restrictions to Cuba, making it easier for Americans to travel there, according to Congressional sources and top U.S. officials. They say that the administration is in the final stages -- putting the final touches on this new plan, on these new regulations. But they say a formal announcement could come in the next couple of weeks. And with the help of some excellent reporting from State Department producer Elise Labott and the Congressional producer Deirdre Waltz, where -- Walsh -- here is what these new rules -- these new regulations include.

They're talking about increased people to people exchanges. That really meaning that the U.S. will allow more groups to travel to Cuba. That could include more cultural groups, more academic groups, more sports teams even and more business groups. Additionally, what these new regulations -- these new rules would include is a relaxing on the visa and licensing restrictions that really hampered travel to and from the country, this making it easier -- the process easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and for Cubans to travel to the United States.

Also, what the administration is considering doing would -- probably will be doing and will be announcing it -- is expanding a policy that the president announced last year. This policy that he announced allowed for Cuban-Americans to send economic support remittances back to family members in Cuba. Well, now, with this new regulation, non-Cubans will be able to send money there, meaning Americans could send money to universities, NGOs and churches there, among -- among such other organizations. Essentially, Wolf, what this is, is a rollback, in part, of the -- some of the restrictions that were adopted under the Bush administration and is being described as, really, a return to Clinton era Cuba policy plus some.

And we should note that while this is a relaxing and easing of travel restrictions to Cuba, the decades-old U.S. embargo on Cuba remains in place. Any major changes like a lift of the entire ban, that would require Congressional approval. And we're told these changes do not. But they are still significant changes.

BLITZER: Any official word from the White House on any of this, Kate?

BOLDUAN: Well, right now, Wolf, the White House is staying a bit mum, saying that they don't really have -- they don't have anything to announce at the moment. But Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton was asked about this yesterday, when he was with a gaggle of reporters. And he said essentially -- on the topic, he only said: "The president is going to continue to do things that are in the best interests of the United States and that help to create a more Democratic environment and expand freedoms for the Cuban people."

BLITZER: All right, Kate.

Thanks very much.

Not all Muslim-Americans necessarily see eye to eye about the Islamic center planned near Ground Zero. Stand by. Hear some very personal and passionate views on both sides of the debate.

And we'll take you inside another 9/11 site -- the Pentagon, where Islamic prayer services happen regularly.

And I'll talk to the man who's taking charge of the claims process in the Gulf oil disaster. I'll ask Ken Feinberg if and how he can do a better job than BP.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: President Obama, arguably one of the great orators and most articulate campaigners ever to occupy the White House, runs the risk of an incoherent presidency. The White House is sending out mixed messages that have people scratching their heads sometimes and political opponents licking their chops.

David Morey, whose communication group Core Strategy, gave advice to the Obama campaign in 2008, tells CNN that: "simpler is better and this White House needs to lead by controlling the dialogue."

Pretty tough criticism for a candidate whose campaign was tightly run and almost always right on message. Recently, though, that doesn't seem to be the case. Take this wave of criticism the president is facing since he weighed in on the plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero here in New York City. After making his initial comments in defense of the project on Friday, the president seemed to backtrack the next day. A White House spokesman felt the need to clarify his comments. And then today, Mr. Obama told reporters he has no regrets about weighing in on the debate.

I bet he does.

Maureen Dowd described Mr. Obama as an incoherent president in a recent "New York Times" column. She said he is, quote, "with the banks, he's against the banks. He's leaving Afghanistan, he's staying in Afghanistan. He strains at being a populist, but his head is in the clouds," unquote.

The advice from Morey, the communications guy, is the president needs to sound less like a Harvard Law professor. A few years ago, critics often ridiculed former President Bush for his mangled speech, mispronouncing words or, in some cases, just making them up. But President Bush rarely had to backtrack on what he said because he kept it so simple and direct. "Bring them on" and "I'm the decider."

Remember?

Here's the question -- who sent the clearer messages as president, George Bush or Barack Obama?

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

BLITZER: Good question, Jack.

Thanks very much.

We want to continue our discussion on this growing political debate over the proposed mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York.

Is this more about a clash of cultures?

Let's discuss with our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

You're very familiar with the Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, who warned of a clash of civilizations between the Western civilizations, Islam, the Asian civilizations. There's a column in "The Wall Street Journal" today from Ayan Hirsi Ali, who -- who writes this. She writes: "We need to recognize the extent to which the advance of radical Islam is the result of an active propaganda campaign.

Our civilization is not indestructible. It needs to be actively defended."

The title of the article, How to Win the Clash of Civilizations."

Do you buy into that -- David? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, Sam Huntington was a friend, Wolf. And Ayan Hirsi Ali is first class. She's a very interesting woman.

I do think that there is a -- there are tensions among the civilizations that we're seeing rising, not only between the Western civilizations and Asian, but as Sam Huntington argued, between Western civilization and Islam. And he thought it was a clash or it could become a clash.

But I think, Wolf, one has to be careful not to overstate this. The goal here is to figure out how we can have better interfaith dialogue, how we can have more respect among civilizations and not sort of go down the path willy-nilly, automatically, mindlessly toward a clash.

And I think the mosque situation arises in the midst of that conversation. It's part of a much bigger issue.

BLITZER: This is a debate, I suspect, the Obama administration didn't want. And, clearly, a lot of Democrats are feeling so uncomfortable about it right now.

GERGEN: Well, clearly, they didn't want this debate to go the direction in which it has taken, as Jack Cafferty just pointed out. And that is when they waded into it, I cannot imagine that they thought that they were going to issue one statement on Friday and then have to issue a clarifying statement over the weekend and then have a firestorm over it.

And it's clear -- very, absolutely they -- they stumbled. They didn't think through what they were going to say to start with they didn't say it well. And then, with an avalanche of criticism they seemed to backtrack.

And I think it looked j it made him look as if he were waffling. And -- and that, to many Americans, is a sign of weakness. And it's something that has dogged him now through his presidency. And I also think that in his first statement, he didn't recognize, even as he spoke about the Constitution -- he was right about that. There is a Constitutional right to build this mosque. There's a legal right to build this mosque. But he didn't recognize there's an alternative perspective, that's what right isn't always -- is not always appropriate.

It's worth recalling that back in the 1990s, Pope John Paul II asked Catholic nuns to cancel plans to build a convent in Auschwitz. And he said, you know, we have a right to do that, but it's not appropriate. It's -- it's, in effect, it's violating the memories that people are trying to hold true.

And that's -- that's the sentiment you're seeing from a lot of Americans. I don't think the president seems to -- seemed to get that for most people and...

BLITZER: And just... GERGEN: -- I think that's a problem.

BLITZER: -- when the White House would like this story to go away, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, today saying there should be an investigation not only of those who want to build the mosque, but those who are critical of this mosque. That -- that raises it to another level.

GERGEN: It sure does. And I just can't imagine the Democrats are going to want to keep this alive beyond August. I think their hope would be that this is an August story, a slow news time -- it would disappear and they can get back to other things.

But if -- if -- right now, the story is still building. And I don't -- it has a lot of legs left, doesn't it, Wolf, in journalistic parlance?

BLITZER: Yes. Well, that's what they say.

GERGEN: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, David.

Thank you.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: It's a rare quartet -- what brought the presidents of Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan together today for a major meeting today?

And Sarah Palin -- is her luck running out when it comes to the candidate she's backing out there on the campaign trail?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With a year round still resident population...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Alina Cho is monitoring some of the other top stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Alina, what's going on?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf.

The presidents of Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan are sitting down together. They met in Russia today to talk about a number of critical issues, including terrorism, the war on drugs and economic cooperation. Now, this is the second such meeting in a little more than a year. The Russian president also held bilateral talks with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Angry public workers in South Africa are officially on strike now. A union member says hospital attendance, education employees and civil servants are demanding better compensation and benefits from the government. The workers are hoping to increase their wages by a little more than 8 percent. The protests are expected to intensify.

Well, lying about military honors is not a crime. That's according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which knocked down the prosecution of a California man who falsely claimed he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Now, the court ruled that all speech is protected under the First Amendment and that a federal act which protects military decorations is actually unconstitutional. There's no word just yet on whether the Justice Department will appeal.

And is Sarah Palin losing her political clout?

Well, the former Alaska governor and V.P. candidate's picks in the Washington State senate contest and the Wyoming governor's race lost yesterday to candidates backed by the GOP establishment. Five candidates Palin endorsed have faced votes this month and all of them were defeated.

Guess what, though, Wolf?

She's going to get another shot on Tuesday, when Alaska, Arizona and Florida hold primary votes. And we'll be waiting for those results -- back to you.

BLITZER: We'll see how she does with those picks.

All right, Alina, thanks very much.

Stand by to hear from both sides of the debate over building an Islamic center near Ground Zero. It's a very emotional debate, especially for a Muslim-American woman whose mother was killed on 9/11. And there is no dispute over allowing Muslims to pray inside the Pentagon, where Islamic terrorists also struck almost nine years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a dire situation in flood-ravaged Pakistan grows worse.

With such massive devastation, why is so little aid getting in?

Our Reza Sayah is investigating. We're going to Pakistan.

Plus, they were erected along Utah roads to honor fallen highway troopers. Now a new court ruling could put an end to these controversial crossings.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Back to our top story right now. President Obama says he has no regrets about wading into the controversy over plans to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York.

We want to bring you both sides of this politically charged debate.

First, listen to this Muslim-American woman whose mother was killed when her flight slammed into the World Trade Center.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEDA BOLOURCHI, OPPOSES PLANNED ISLAMIC CENTER: Oh, she was more than my mom. She was my best friend.

My name is Neda Bolourchi and I am an Iranian-American citizen.

I live in Los Angeles, My mother was on United Flight 175, that hit the South Tower on September 11. And I am opposed to building a mosque near the World Trade Center.

When a plane blows up and the passengers blow up and they get burned and they're everywhere, a huge area of land becomes part of their grave site. It is sacred ground for all of us because any grave site is sacred ground, regardless of where it is. And it becomes a sacred to the family members because we have no other place.

We're asking for it to stay that way, to stay as a peaceful, reflective place, where I can go and be with my mom, since I have no other place to do so.

The founders of Cordoba are refusing to listen to the family members. He could have built it anywhere else, because if his true intention is to reach out to people, it should make no difference where you build a mosque.

Tehran Hamzadi Bolourchi (ph).

He is trespassing on my mother's grave site. More importantly, he is trespassing on our hearts.

You want to be somebody who reaches out to people?

Well, then start with, you know, your own kind. I'm a Muslim from your own faith and you cannot even give me solace. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bloodshed and there is a lot of violence in the name of religion and it has done nothing to bring more understanding. To me, if you want to bring more understanding, build a garden, plant a tree or a flower in the name of everybody who perished. I don't need a mosque.

As a Muslim, I don't walk into a temple. I don't -- as a Muslim, I don't walk into a synagogue. I don't think that people of other faiths are going to walk into a mosque and say, well, I'm going to learn more about Islam. But the insistence that it has to be there, it has to be built or else we will not be able to offer people understanding is just absurd to me. And just like the images that we saw over and over again on that day hitting the towers, I do not want another building to remind me of what happened. It has happened. It's over. And I just want to be left alone with my mother in a peaceful manner and to be alone with her. And I do not want a building to remind me of that tragedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now let's hear from a supporter of the mosque project.

Ibrahim Raney heads the civil rights division of Muslim-American Society.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Ibrahim Ramey, Muslim American society: Is it an appropriate way to begin a process of healing?

And there are some who would disagree by saying that the proximity of the mosque -- or the proposed mosque -- somehow encroaches on what has been called by some media people as sacred ground.

Well, there happens to be a huge amount of commercial development right -- right now in that part of Lower Manhattan. It is not at the site of the terrorist attacks. No one has protested any other building or any other commercial activity going on there.

But there are people who now begin to say that this ground is sacred because Muslims, who had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 tragedy, want to have a community center and a worship center.

I have in conclusion had the opportunity last year in Australia to meet the imam of the initiative and also his wife. These are people who have really dedicated a great amount of their lives to building the kind of relationships that we think are important between Muslims and other people of faith and other communities in America. They are not people who want to do harm or evil to the country. They are good citizens. They are good Muslims. They're good human beings. And to see them demonized and dragged through the mud the way some people are willing to do for political gain or for their own political issues and agendas is really reprehensible.

So I say to you as a person standing before you, and an advocate of human and civil rights, that the mosque has a right to be there, that Muslims have a right to be in America. Indeed we've been in America as long as there has been a United States of America and even longer than that and most of all we are saying to the media and to the civil society that we can have a civil dialogue. We can have a discourse about Islam and other faiths and we can co-exist without animosity and acrimony and bitterness and false accusations. And I believe that that is, in fact, and indeed, the best calling to the American dream, the best calling to the principles of the United States, and the best that our country can offer, particularly in a time when so much depends upon building bridges of understanding and trust.

BLITZER: This note the New York governor David Paterson will be Larry King's exclusive guest later tonight 9:00 p.m. eastern. They'll talk about this mosque.

Also we're standing by to talk to the man in charge of paying out the oil claims in the Gulf of Mexico, Ken Feinberg. He'll be my guest.

It's being called a national crisis in education and for our economy. Stand by for an alarming new report on why so many African- American boys are failing to graduate from high school.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today marks the final day that BP is accepting claims from those affected by the massive gulf oil disaster. More than 150,000 claims have been opened and more than 360 million dollars have already been paid. From now on the company will direct all additional inquiries to the gulf coast claims facility led by the Washington attorney Ken Feinberg. Ken Feinberg is charged with independently overseeing the $20 billion escrow fund BP set up to compensate for the spill's damage. Ken Feinberg is joining us from Kenner, Louisiana. Thanks very much for coming in.

KEN FEINBERG, OIL CLAIMS ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little about some controversy that came up at your town hall meeting today. I'll play a little clip. An exchange you had with a woman and then we'll discuss. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To provide service for our boat and that's what we provided. Our boat is full of oil sitting over there.

FEINBERG: Then maybe --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what we have. Why should that have anything to do with my compensation on my loss of income? That is what I provided -- I provided a service. They hired me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. The argument is that these were fishermen, shrimpers who lost income because they couldn't go out there and do their work yet when it came to skimming and other projects you used their boats. You used their facilities. You paid them for that. But now you want to deduct whatever they made for their boats for the skimming let's say from the compensation for the lost income. Does she have a point?

FEINBERG: She has a point but the point is that if a fisherman has lost $5,000 a month because he can't fish, BP puts that fisherman to work skimming oil at $3,000 a month to help that fisherman make up for lost income. $5,000 lost, $3,000 gained. The facility will pay that fisherman the net loss per month of $2,000. And if the fisherman doesn't like that, the fisherman is under no obligation to enter this program at all. It is purely voluntary.

BLITZER: The other choice they have is to sue BP is that right?

FEINBERG: They can sue BP. And litigate for years. The whole purpose of this facility is to get fishermen, oyster harvesters, shrimp men, hotels, motels, businesses, restaurants, hotels that suffered as a result of the spill to come into this program voluntarily, totally voluntarily, and accept emergency payments of up to six months without any obligation whatsoever to refuse to litigate against BP.

BLITZER: I guess the complaint these people are making, yes, they went out and worked. Let's say they made the 3,000 instead of the 5,000 you were talking about but maybe their colleagues, their friends didn't do any work. They're going to still get the $5,000.

FEINBERG: Sure. But there are very few people that I've met here in the gulf who are in an emergency situation, desperate to pay their mortgage, to put food on the table, who have not sought other work, other employment, in order to meet their financial obligations. This program is designed to help them overcome the damage, the financial injury caused by that spill.

BLITZER: You have billions of dollars now in escrow. Are you going to be able to turn the money around, these claims more quickly than BP was able to do?

FEINBERG: Absolutely. I have stated publicly that my objective beginning next Monday is to turn around individual claims for emergency compensation within 48 hours, and if it's a business, small business, large business, the objective there is to turn around that compensation within seven days. We are here to help. I'm determined to help the people in the five states, and that's the objective.

BLITZER: Do folks who get the money, do they have to sign documents saying they're not going to sue BP, they gave up their right to file lawsuits?

FEIBERG: Absolutely not. I'm prepared, if cases -- if individuals are eligible, and if they can document their claim, they've got to document their claim. I'm prepared to issue payment of up to six months emergency compensation without any requirement whatsoever that a claimant, an individual, a business waive their right to litigate against BP.

BLITZER: I'm sure there are bad people out there who are going to try to get some of that money. What is the penalty for someone who files a false claim with you?

FEINBERG: They better be careful. Nothing will undercut this program and the credibility of this program more than fraud. If there are fraudulent claims, they will be referred vigorously to the department of justice criminal fraud division which is working closely at my side to prevent fraud. We've got internal auditing experts in antifraud consulting to make sure that fraud does not become a part of this program.

BLITZER: So if someone lies to you you'll go after them with the full weight of the federal law.

FEINBERG: That is absolutely right. The American people expect that everybody will comply with the law. And if somebody files a fraudulent claim, you hear these stories of people filing claims, using the same name and 23 different locations. I mean, if there is fraud committed here, we will vigorously pursue it and we will refer any fraudulent claims or claims that appear to be fraudulent to the department of justice.

BLITZER: Good luck, Ken. A lot of folks are counting on you.

FEINBERG: Thank you. Thank you very much, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Ken Feinberg has a huge job ahead.

The GOP plays on the infamous story of a flight attendant who snapped on the job. Find out how it's being used to attack President Obama.

Plus a CNN exclusive, oiled sea turtles now newly rehabilitated and returning home for the first time. Our John Zarrella is there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us the Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri. She's with the Center for American Progress here in Washington and the Republican strategist Tony Blankley with Edelman Public Relations. Take a look at this Republican National Committee ad that has just come out. We'll discuss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the president's approval rating at an all time low a lot of Democrats don't want him anywhere near their districts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats who are kind of afraid to be who they are or pushing back on their leaders, I think they're crazy.

BLITZER: They're obviously having a little fun Jennifer at the JetBlue flight attendant who slid out with a can of beer and a lot of Democrats are trying to run away supposedly from the president. Is this kind of -- it's funny.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's clever.

BLITZER: Can it be effective?

PALMIERI: I'm sure it's a morale boost at the RNC but I don't think it will make a difference in the campaign. I do think when the president of the United States comes to your state whether you're Democrat or Republican you don't stand on the stage with the president --

BLITZER: Plenty of Democratic candidates who haven't.

PALMIERI: I think it's nuts because you're going to get -- you're going to get associated with the president anyway and you look pathetic when you try to run away like that. If you can't stay on the stage with the president of the United States then have him not come to your state or if he does, you know, suck it up and stand up there with the president.

BLITZER: A good point. There were Republicans running away from Bush and Cheney, too.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: When I worked with Newt in 1990 we ran away from George Herbert Walker Bush because he raised taxes and it is thought we saved 15 or 20 seats by running away from him. This is a cute ad. I think the only useful thing it does is it reminds the locals that, ask a Democrat whether he's sticking with a president or not. I don't think fundamentally this is a strategic ad. I think it's a pleasant August ad that does no harm and is honest. It has the unusual advantage of not being dishonest which most parties' ads --

BLITZER: The president can still be pretty effective in this cycle in terms of raising money for candidates and in some big cities, some Democratic leaning states, he can certainly help candidates.

BLANKLEY: Well, this is like Bush in '06 and Herbert Walker in -- I think -- I don't think there are many Democratic candidates in competitive Congressional districts who are going to benefit from the president's campaigning in this.

PALMIERI: It doesn't seem that the president would be helpful there but certainly in statewide races and raising money.

BLITZER: Let me ask both of you to react to this story getting a little buzz. News Corporation the parent company for Fox News, "The Wall Street Journal", "The New York Post" giving $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. We've got some numbers I want to show our viewers as far as governors associations. They gave a million dollars to the Republican Governors Association. GE the parent company of NBC News and MSNBC gave $237,000 to the Democratic governors association, $205,000 to the Republican Governors Association. Time Warner, which is CNN's parent company, $60,000 to the Democratic Governors Association. $50,000 to the Republican Governors Association. If you take a look at Democratic and Republican candidates, both -- all three of these parent companies splitting a little bit more or less between Democrats and Republicans but on the million dollar contribution to the Republican governors, that's a large, large number.

BLANKLEY: Yeah. I mean, Fox has contributed over time 46 percent to Republicans and 54 percent to Democrats.

BLITZER: News Corporation you mean.

BLANKLEY: And just to point out.

PALMIERI: In dollar amounts or numbers of contributions?

BLANKLEY: In percentage. The owner of CBS gave 7 percent of his $320,000 to Republicans and 64 percent to Democrats. Ted Turner in his time gave 380,000 only 8 percent. Let me make a point about this. I've been graciously invited onto this network for almost 20 years and always was given fair comment and fair treatment even though Ted Turner for his own reasons was contributing this way and that. And certainly I've been on Fox maybe 500 times, always paired up with a Democrat and have the same kind of exchange we have here. I don't think the contributions of the owner which is usually for business reasons, after all Murdoch supported Tony Blair as well.

BLITZER: All right. We get the point. But do you think it's a good point he's making? Whatever the parent companies do, whether Viacom or GE or Time Warner or News Corporation really doesn't affect the news product of the various news organizations?

PALMIERI: I got to say that I think that the -- that Fox's -- when they're doing the million dollar contributions to Republicans and given who they choose to put on, who they choose to put on their primetime lineup, pretty conservative hosts, shows they have a bias. I don't know that anybody hasn't ever seen they have a bias. We are in a brave new world after citizens united, corporations like Target gave $150,000 to Republican candidates -- I don't think we know how to deal with it yet.

BLANKLEY: Rich guys are giving money to whoever they want and the rest of us down below are doing our jobs as journalists and commentators. I think this is a false issue.

BLITZER: On that note we'll leave it alone. I'm sure we'll come back. Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is asking who sent the clearer message as president? Would it be George W. Bush or Barack Obama? Jack will be back in a moment with the Cafferty file.

We will investigate why aid is not getting to so many flood victims in Pakistan, and the scope of the disaster and the need are even greater than the Haiti earthquake.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the midst of the uproar over plans to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York, Muslims are free to worship at another sire of the 9/11 attacks. We are talking about the pentagon. Our pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is joining us. You had an opportunity to visit one of the sites at the pentagon where Muslims can pray.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes that's right, Wolf. I mean you worked this beat. You know there was no chapel here before September 11th. It was because of the destruction that they had to rebuild an entire side of the pentagon that they built this chapel for all faiths to use.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Once a day, Muslim civilians and solders who work in the pentagon come here to pray, less than 100 feet from the terrible impact nine years ago when terrorists crashed a plane into the pentagon and killed 125 people.

GEORGE WRIGHT, U.S. ARMY PUBLIC AFFAIRS: We are very tolerant here of one another and our faiths.

LAWRENCE: Cameras aren't allowed in any of the actual services but a chaplain tells me Muslim worshippers come at 2:00 every afternoon and lay out the prayer mats and pray.

WRIGHT: We don't keep track of who comes in here. We don't count numbers. We have estimates of course, 300 to 400 a week, but people are free to worship here as they see fit.

LAWRENCE: Unlike the controversy in New York where they debating city blocks, here in pentagon, it is literally a matter of inches, and that is the distance of a September 11th memorial to the front door of the chapel where Muslims worship. It is not a mosque. All faiths get a chance to use the chapel. Take Wednesday for example, there is a catholic mass at 11:30 followed by Protestant bible study, an Episcopal service and then the Muslim prayers. On other days, Hindus and Mormons get their time slot, too. And on Fridays, there is a Jewish service followed immediately by a Muslim one where a local imam actually comes in to lead the prayers. Is it the same imam every week or pulled from a rotating group?

WRIGHT: I think it is pulled from a rotating group.

LAWRENCE: There are nearly 3700 Muslims in the U.S. military, but that is less than 1 percent of all service members. Some have deployed to the war zones and Army Corporal Careen Khan was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously after he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: You know, we talked to several people affiliated with the chaplain's office and they tell us that, you know, they are not making assumptions on what is going on in New York. They say that just because this is the situation at the pentagon, they say that those people in New York, they feel have legitimate concerns about what is happening there. But, again, this is something that all faiths are able to share right here, Wolf, on literally, on the site where that plane hit the building.

BLITZER: And there are Muslim chaplains in the U.S. military as well, right?

LAWRENCE: Yes, there are Muslim chaplains and rabbis and catholic priests who administer to service members both here and around the world.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, good report. Thanks very much. Helps keep it in perspective.

Who sent the clearer message as president, George Bush or Barack Obama? Jack Cafferty will be back with some answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack is joining us again with the Cafferty File. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour, who sent the clearer message as president, George Bush or Barack Obama?

Andrew writes, "President Bush's message was clearer, but it oversimplified complex issues into us versus them mentally. Obama is approaching complicated issues with care and nuance and although it is more difficult for Americans to understand his positions with small sound bites, it is a sign of intellectual maturity."

Vinnie in Connecticut, "Although President Bush is not a gifted speaker when he said something it was plain, simple and he meant what he said. Obama always has mixed messages and when he is off that ever present tell prompter he puts his foot in the mouth over and over again as he stumbles and bumbles for right words. When Obama says, let me be clear, you know that he is not going to be."

Kevin in Dallas writes, "I'm not sure, but I want to throw this out here anyway. The fact that a news organization other than you know who is asking if Obama is better than Bush in any regard says something about Obama. And it is not good."

Brent in Cleveland writes, some of these are harsh. "Bush was an idiot, but it was clear to all of us how stupid he was, and no confusion there. Obama is a smart man, but he seems pretty wishy washy and indecisive. This is reflected in the public statements and how he influences legislation in Congress. He wanting everybody on both sides of an issue to like him and be happy. That's not leadership and it's not reality."

Steve in Virginia writes, "In my opinion George Bush sent a clearer message that he was in over his head and had an intellect deficit."

Ray writes, "W's message was simpler. Muslims bad, USA good. He stayed with that message through the majority of the tenure in the white house. Obama's message much tougher as he is trying to fix everything the Republicans have done to this country over the last 30 years."

And finally Ken in Maryland, "Bush sent the simpler message. That message was usually mangled and borderline incoherent and I disagreed with it 99 percent of the time, but it was simpler." If you want to read more, go to my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.