Return to Transcripts main page


Democrats in Danger; Freed Hiker Meets With Iranian President

Aired September 24, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, clouds on the horizon are getting darker for Democrats as the midterm election closes in. We are getting a new sense of what voters All right, feeling and saying, it's some of the best news yet for Republicans.

Also, the American hiker recently freed after more than a year in a notorious Tehran prison met today with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in New York. And she is revealing more details of her ordeal to us.

And Bill Clinton's dramatic weight loss, he talked with me earlier in the week in New York about how he did it. This hour, I will talk to the doctors behind that diet, the diet that transformed the former president in time for his daughter's wedding.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All that is coming up, but we are receiving some breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

A federal judge in Northern California has just cleared the way for the state to resume executions by lethal injection. And the first execution is now scheduled to take place this coming weekend. The death penalty has been on hold in California since 2006, when a lawsuit challenged the state's lethal injection method, arguing that the cocktail of drugs could cause excruciating pain in some cases, constituting what is called cruel and unusual punishment.

Officials have since revised the levels of drugs and the state built a new execution chamber. That clears the way for a convicted rapist and killer to be put to death next week, barring a successful appeal. We are staying on top of this story for you.

Just 39 days to go before the midterm elections, and there are new numbers out today that should make Democrats shutter. Take a look at this latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. President Obama's approval rating now is at a new all-time low for him, 42 percent, down eight points from just three weeks ago.

There is also troubling news for lawmakers -- 53 percent of likely voters say they would choose a Republican for Congress, putting the GOP 11 points ahead of Democrats on what is called the generic ballot. Compare that to 1994, when Republicans won a congressional landslide. Back then the GOP was only polling three points ahead, yet they did very, very well in '94. Behind those new numbers, simmering voter anger that is boiling over in some cases, including one high-profile Senate race. Some people got into a fistfight at a candidates forum.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now with details. He has more.

Brian, what happened?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they started out heckling each other, kept up with that all evening, then came to blows. It is emblematic of the bitterness of that particular campaign and of voter anger that is peaking as we head to the midterms.


TODD (voice-over): It looks like a brawl in Taiwan's Parliament, but this was a political throw-down in suburban Las Vegas. After heckling got to a boil at a Senate campaign event, supporters of Republican Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle and backers of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hauled off and hit each other.

An isolated incident?

(on camera): What do you make of this event, voters in Nevada kind of at a boil here?

REID WILSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE HOTLINE": Yes, voters -- this is happening all over the country. We have seen it for more than a year now. People are upset with politics. People are upset with the way the economy is going and the simple fact that Washington, D.C., has not fixed anything.

TODD (voice-over): Reid Wilson, editor of the political tip sheet "The Hotline," says when so many Americans have friends and relatives who have lost jobs during this recession, fears for their own well-being can lead to angry outbursts.

One new poll from the Associated Press and GfK Roper shows Republicans and independents are angrier about politics than Democrats. Politicians are popular targets, but they're also brushing back. Take this smackdown from New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie, when a heckler shouted at California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Hey, listen. Hey, listen. You -- hey, listen. You know what? You want to yell, yell at me, but don't give her a hard time.

We are here. We are here talking about the future of the state of California and the future of our country. And you know what? And you know what? And you know what? Let me tell you -- let me tell you this.

You know what? It is people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country. We are here to bring this country together, not to divide it.

TODD (on camera): How does this all this anger between voters and politicians translate really into the vote this November?

WILSON: Well, I think it is going to play out very well for the Republican Party. We have seen poll after poll that shows that Republican voters are animated, they are excited, they're ready to get out, largely because they are angry at what is going on in Washington, D.C. The midterm elections are really their opportunity to change the direction of the country.


TODD: Analysts say the equation is pretty simple. Angry voters turn out at the polls. Reid Wilson says this year the Republicans, the angriest voters right now, seem to be successful in getting out and mobilizing independent voters, just like the Democrats did in 2006 and 2008 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, conversely, Brian, more Democrats are disappointed in their own leadership right now.

TODD: They seem to be. And that is a key distinction.

Analyst we spoke to say more and more Democrats seem disappointed, not angry, disappointed that more has not been accomplished under the congressional leadership, the president on domestic programs. That could translate into them sitting at home on Election Day, once again, advantage Republicans.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's go in depth now with CNN's John King. He's the host of "JOHN KING, USA," which begins right at the top of the hour. And our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, she hosts "STATE OF THE UNION" every Sunday morning 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

Candy, if you take a look at this question, among likely voters, their choice for Congress, 75 percent say they have already made up their minds. Only 20 percent are saying they could change their mind. That is not a lot of leeway for Democrats to be playing with.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They have no room for error to limit what's the expected losses, as opposed to win anything.

And the bulk of these people, when you look at the internals, tend to be the conservatives, so these are people who are not going to change their minds. And so, the question is in these remaining days what are the Democrats going the argue to bring over -- and I don't know if it is that much bringing over the 20 percent that has not made up their mind. It is getting them out to vote.

BLITZER: And if you take a look at this, this is the surprising number to me and I assume to you guys as well, among -- are you more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who the Tea Party supports, 50 percent, that the Tea Party opposes, 33 percent.

I was surprised by that.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": It is a huge reflection, Wolf, of the sense out there. Some people, it is angry. Some people, it is frustration. Some people, it is disgust that Washington can't get its act together, Washington won't deal with the big issues facing the country.

And the Tea Party is identified as the send in the people who are anti-Washington, anti-establishment, stir things up, especially if you look closely into the polling in the suburbs and rural areas. And if you overlay the suburbs and the rural areas with a map of where the congressional -- the most contested congressional districts are, guess what? They are in the suburbs and the rural areas.

Democrats tend to hold the urban districts. And so anywhere you look in these numbers, more and more bad news.

CROWLEY: In some ways, the Tea Party is to 2010 is what President Obama was to 2008. He was the change. He was the hope. He was the guy that was seen to be fighting the insiders. Now he is one.

COOPER: And look at this poll number about enthusiasm, which is so important, John. Are you extremely or very enthusiastic about voting this year?

Back in July, 42 percent of the Republicans said they were extremely or very enthusiastic. Now it's 53 percent. For Democrats in July, 27 percent were extremely or very enthusiastic, now 30 percent.

The Republicans have a 53-30 percent advantage over this.

KING: And Democrats keep saying, there is time, there is time, there is time.

But, Wolf, in 2006 and 2008, the Democrats had numbers just like that, saying that they had the intensity gap, that by far, by huge margins, Democrats were more excited, more enthused, more intense about voting and getting involved in the campaigns.

Republicans have it this year. There is a big debate in this town about whether the cake is already baked. Most people who have done this for a long time will tell you, yes, are there five or six or eight races you can play with around the margins? Yes. But, largely, the cake is baked.

BLITZER: There's a limited amount of -- even as charismatic and as excellent a campaigner as president is, to get that base out there, that enthusiasm rising, that is not going to be easy.

CROWLEY: No, it is not going to be easy. And the president is not at this moment his best salesman. There are areas they don't want to take him into or, rather, where congressmen don't want him to come in. And, look, let's face it. This is it. It is about how enthusiastic you are, because you wake up on Tuesday morning, and it is pouring down rain, if you are not enthusiastic, you roll over and go to sleep.

BLITZER: And voter turnout in a midterm election is never what it is in a presidential year election, so to get out that vote is going to take a lot of work. And if you're enthusiastic, you will go vote. If you're not enthusiastic, maybe not.

KING: If you're motivated to change, you will be there.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys.

We will see you at the top of the hour, John, on "JOHN KING, USA."

KING: I will be there.

See you Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. on "STATE OF THE UNION."

We're following the breaking news out of California, that state now poised to resume executions next week, after a four-year break. We are getting new details.

Plus, the comedian Stephen Colbert appearing before Congress on a very serious subject. You will hear some rather unusual testimony.


BLITZER: The American president is firing right back at the Iranian president for his controversial comments about 9/11. In a speech at the United Nations yesterday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested the U.S. government orchestrated the terror attacks.

Today, Mr. Obama reacted in an interview with BBC Persian.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it was offensive. It was hateful. And particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just -- just a little north of Ground Zero, where families lost their loved ones, people of all faiths, all ethnicities, who see this as the seminal tragedy of this generation, for him to make a statement like that was inexcusable.


COOPER: The American hiker, meanwhile, recently freed by Iran after more than 14 months in a prison met today with the Iranian president in New York City.

Let's go to New York.

CNN's Mary Snow has details.

Mary, what do we know?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Sarah Shourd went to that meeting with her mother, Nora.

She just released a statement. And in it, she says -- she calls it a very gracious gesture and a good meeting. She says, "While I was in prison, I pleaded for the chance to speak with President Ahmadinejad in order to clear up any misunderstanding that led to our detention."

Now, this meeting comes 10 days after she as released from prison. Earlier today, I spoke with her about her ordeal.


SNOW: Here we are in Central Park. You are a free woman. Does this feel surreal to you?

SARAH SHOURD, FREED AMERICAN HIKER: Yes, that is a good word. I still feel numb. It feels like a big disappointment. Of course, freedom is everything I dreamed it would be, but it is the most -- the most important part of it is taken out of it, not to have my fiance and my friend Josh here with me.

SNOW (voice-over): Sarah Shourd's finance, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal remain in Iran's Evin Prison, accused by Iran of spying. Sarah had been living with Shane in Syria when Josh came to visit them.

Their lives changed on July 31, 2009, when they went hiking in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Sarah says they didn't know they were close to the border with Iran.

SHOURD: No. I mean, if we had any idea, we would have stayed far, far away. We would never have risked our safety. We were not there to take any risks whatsoever. We were there to enjoy the green mountains, so northern Iraq was kind of an obvious choice. And I had a couple of friends of mine from Damascus that already made this trip, Westerners, and had absolutely no problem. People go there from all over the world.

SNOW (on camera): You were hiking for a few hours. What happened?

SHOURD: We were hiking on a small trail, and there was no indication of a border. There wasn't a sign. There wasn't a flag or a fence. And all of a sudden, we saw some soldiers. And we, of course, assumed that they were Iraqi soldiers. And when we found out they were Iranian soldiers, we were baffled, mystified, confused. And they just -- they took us, you know?

SNOW (voice-over): Taken to Iran's notorious Evin Prison, where Sarah was put into solitary confinement. She says she was blindfolded, even to go into the bathroom. SHOURD: In the beginning, I would scream cry a lot. And sometimes I would bang on the walls, but eventually, you realize that that resistance is futile. Like, no one listens. No one cares. I mean, Shane and Josh were the thing that kept me going.

SNOW: Eventually, Sarah, Shane, and Josh were allowed to spend up to an hour together each day. The two men share a cell.

(on camera): How small is the space?

SHOURD: It is about 10 feet by five feet. It is the same space that I had, but there is two of them. So, the space that they exercise on, it is like about the size of a towel.

SNOW (voice-over): It is those images that keep Sarah fighting to gain release of Shane and Josh, a mission she now shares with their families, including Alex Fattal, Josh's brother. He now considers Sarah a sister.

ALEX FATTAL, BROTHER OF DETAINED AMERICAN: It is bittersweet. It's great to see Sarah. It's great to hold her hand and feel more a little bit connected to Josh. But I really want to give Josh a hug, get out on the basketball court with him, get Shane home, too. All three families, this has gone on for way, way, way too long.


SNOW: And the families are organizing their efforts on the Web site -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much. We wish her only the best and we hope her two friends are released soon from Iraq.


BLITZER: We have more on the breaking news this hour. A judge clears the way for executions in California after a four-year moratorium -- details coming in from L.A.

And we will have the latest wrinkle in the battle over plans for an Islamic center near Ground Zero.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

All right. Let's get some more on the breaking news we are following out of California. A federal judge has cleared the way for the first execution in that state by lethal injection in four years.

CNN's Casey Wian is joining us from L.A. right now.

All right, tell us how this unfolded, Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I have got the ruling right here in my hands, and I have just finished reading through it.

This involves the case of a gentleman named Albert Greenwood Brown, who was convicted of raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl who was on her way home from school back in 1980.

Now, executions in the state of California have been on hold since another court ruled that the state's cocktail of drugs used to execute death row inmates had the potential to cause pain before they were put to death. Specifically, the first drug was considered in some cases that some of the patients were still awake.

So, those executions have been on hold since that ruling was issued. In the meantime, the state of California has come up with a new execution protocol that involves a different combination of drugs.

Also, other states have in the meantime executed prisoners using just one drug. So, what this court has ruled, that the execution can go forward on Wednesday with the -- with certain conditions, and that is that the inmate -- his name, Albert Brown -- has to choose which method of execution he would like, and that is the single drug or the new three-drug cocktail.

The court also ruled that if he chooses the single drug, the state has the option to put the execution on hold again, because it has not done a single-drug execution in the past.

This is all also pending another state court's hearing, which is scheduled on Monday that is going to look at some of these same issues, but this is another hurdle in -- in the way of California executions, which have been on hold for more than four years. They could go forward starting on Wednesday, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Casey, thanks very much.

Let's get some legal analysis from Sunny Hostin right now from truTV's "In Session." She is a former prosecutor and analyst.

Sunny, there are hundreds of inmates on death row in California right now. Should we expect to see a wave of executions now?

SUNNY HOSTIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, that certainly could happen, Wolf. It depends on where they are in their appeals process.

This really has paved the way for the death penalty to go forward in California, but there still are hurdles. There still are hurdles, and so I think it is too soon to say that these executions will all go forward, but certainly one hurdle is clearly, clearly over now.

BLITZER: And so barring some other court intervention, we could have the first execution in four years in California as early as next Wednesday?

HOSTIN: That is right, as early as next Wednesday, but, of course, his lawyers have asked a Marin County judge to block the execution on other grounds, sort of saying that the state's new procedures fail to address problems of poor training, supervision.

And also his lawyers have noted that although a new death chamber at San Quentin was put in place because of this judge's ruling, no one has seen that death chamber. So, they're arguing that perhaps that should be seen prior to any execution being held on Wednesday.

BLITZER: Sunny Hostin, thanks very much.

We will stay on top of this story for our viewers.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton's dramatic weight loss, he spoke about it with me about earlier in the week, sparking huge buzz about how he did it. Coming up, I will speak to the doctors behind the diet that helped the former president lose 24 pounds.


BLITZER: When I sat down with former President Bill Clinton this week in New York City at the Clinton Global Initiative, we spoke about the U.S. economy, the election, world affairs.

But the part of the interview that grabbed so much attention was about his dramatic weight loss and the diet that helped him shed two dozen pounds.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I live on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit. I drink a protein supplement every morning. No dairy. I drink almond milk mixed in with fruit and a protein powder. So I get the protein for the day when I start the day out.

And it changed my whole metabolism, and I lost 24 pounds, and I got back basically what I weighed in high school. But I did it for a different reason. I mean, I wanted to lose a little weight. But I never dreamed this would happen.

I did it because, after I had this stent put in, I realized that, even though it happens quite often that, after you have bypasses, you lose the veins, because they're thinner and weaker than arteries, the truth is that it clogged up, which means that the cholesterol was still causing buildup in my vein that was part of my bypass. And thank God I could take the stents. I don't want it to happen again.

So I did all this research, and I saw that 83 percent of the people since 1986 who have gone on a plant-based, no dairy, no meat of any kind, no chicken or turkey, and I eat very little fish. Once in a while, I will have a little fish, not often. But if you can do it, 82 percent of the people who have done that, they've begun to heal themselves. Their arterial blockage cleans up. The calcium deposits around their heart breaks up.


BLITZER: Let's discuss what the president -- former president said with the doctors behind the diet that helped Mr. Clinton change his life.

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn is the author of "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease," and Dr. Dean Ornish is the author of "The Spectrum." Let me go to Dr. Esselstyn first.

He mentioned both of you for inspiring him to begin this diet. Walk us through this diet, Dr. Esselstyn, why is this diet so good, especially for those individuals who have a history of heart disease?

DR. CALDWELL ESSELSTYN, AUTHOR, "PREVENT AND REVERSE HEART DISEASE": Well, thank you, Wolf, for having me on this evening with my good friend, Dean Ornish. There's no question that, if the truth were known, that coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never exist, and if it does exist, it need never, ever progress.

What we've heard from President Clinton is the remarkable change that he has been willing to make to remove completely from his -- his nutrition those foods which we know will devastate and injure the inner lining of the arteries.

And the remarkable thing is the capacity that the body has to heal itself. And when you do what President Clinton has done, where you completely try to remove any foods that are going to injure your vessel, the body has this remarkable capacity to begin to heal itself.

And I'm afraid that, as a medical profession, we perhaps have fallen down and really emphasized too much the drugs and the procedures and the operations which really treat the symptoms. They do not treat the causation of this illness. This is few times since Hippocrates that we have not told patients about the causation of their illness.

BLITZER: And Dr. Ornish, are you on the exact same page as Dr. Esselstyn is?

DR. DEAN ORNISH, AUTHOR, "THE SPECTRUM": Yes, I want to just say, I love and respect President Clinton, and so I was thrilled to hear that he's making these changes, because I want him to live a long time, like so many people do. And whatever your politics, he can inspire many people to make these changes.

And what we've shown, you know, we tend to think it has to be a new drug or new laser or something really high-tech and expensive to be powerful, and what we've done in more than 33 years of research is show that the simple changes that we make in our lives, like what we eat, how we respond to stress, how much exercise we get, and how much love and support we have, can actually begin to reverse, not just prevent, but actually reverse chronic illnesses like heart disease and so on.

And we found that almost more than 82 percent of the people who made these changes, as President Clinton indicated, were actually able to reverse the disease. So getting -- rather than getting a quick fix like a bypass or a stent does, which doesn't treat the underlying cause. It's a little like mopping up the floor around the sink without turning off the faucet. It will keep coming back unless you change what caused it.

BLITZER: Is this diet, Dr. Esselstyn, no dairy, no meat, no chicken, basically no fish -- is this diet for everyone or only for those who have heart disease or history of heart disease?

ESSELSTYN: One other thing I would add and no oils. No processed oils.

BLITZER: When you say, olive oil? Even olive oil which supposedly is pretty healthy?

ESSELSTYN: I am afraid I am going to have a divergence of opinion there. Yes, I would include absolutely olive oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil, and corn oil, soybean oil, they're out.

Now, you know, since we know that these foods are injuring people, why would we ever want to have them on the menu of our schoolchildren? When you say -- you question why wait until people do have heart disease?

We know, for instance, if we do autopsies on our G.I.'s who died in Korea and Vietnam, that roughly 80 percent of these young G.I.'s will already have gross evidence of coronary disease you can see without a microscopes. If we are going to ever make a breakthrough in this epidemic of cardiac disease, we really have to start when they're young.

BLITZER: You're saying that young -- young kids should not drink milk? Is that what you're saying, Dr. Ornish?

ORNISH: No, I'm not. I'm saying that there's a spectrum of choices. And what President Clinton is doing is what you might call the pound of cure. If you're trying to reverse a chronic disease like heart disease, we also show that these same changes can stop, and reverse the progression of prostate cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol.

Then you need to make bigger changes. But if you're just trying to lose a few pounds or get your cholesterol down, you can start by making moderate changes, and if that's enough, great. If not, you can do more. What matters most is your overall way of eating and living, so if you indulge yourself one day, you eat healthier the next.

BLITZER: Doctor Esselstyn, is this the diet that you personally live on?

ESSELSTYN: The one that I describe, yes, I most certainly do. My dad had his first heart attack at age 43, and I've been eating this way for over 26 years.

BLITZER: And Dr. Ornish, is that the way you live? No chicken, no meat, no dairy, no I guess, some of the fun things in life? Is that what I'm hearing?

ORNISH: The old joke is am I going to live longer or is it just going to seem longer if I eat this way? And it's not all or nothing, which including your diet is as important as what you exclude. There are hundreds of thousands of protective substances.

I also recommend that people take three or four grams a day of fish oil, because of the omega 3 fatty acids can be so protective.

BLITZER: Well, I heard him say no oil.

ORNISH: Well, we're slightly of a different opinion on that particular one. I think the omega -- studies have shown that this three or four grams a day officially can reduce your incidence of sudden cardiac death by up to 80 percent. It can reduce your risk of prostate and breast cancer. If you have a -- if you're a pregnant woman or breast feeding, it can raise your child's I.Q., and so I think the evidence there is pretty compelling.

BLITZER: I take fish oil, Dr. Esselstyn. Is that a bad idea?

ESSELSTYN: Well, I'm not going to really wrestle with Dean over fish oil. We have so much that is in common, and we're striving to get it and really make the basic -- the basic point here, really is that, by eating the whole foods and getting away from the processed foods, getting away from the -- really, the dairy, anything with a mother, anything with a face -- meat, fish, and chicken.

It is really -- it's so incredible how powerful a body can be. And if we're going to have a seismic revolution of health in this country, which is really right at our fingertips, when the major behavior that has to change is, interestingly enough, our food. That is the absolutely key card. It trumps everything.

ORNISH: I agree. And let me just say this, when you make these changes, because these mechanisms are so dynamic, your brain gets more blood. You think more clearly. You have more energy. Your skin gets more blood so you don't age as quickly. Even your sexual organs get more blood in the same way that Viagra works.

So, yes, you'll probably live longer, but you'll also feel better. And what's sustainable is joy and pleasure and freedom. And when you make these changes, most people find they feel so much better so quickly it reframes the reason for change from fear of dying to joy of living, and that's what's sustainable.

BLITZER: Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, you got a good shout-out from President Clinton. He's on your diet. He's doing the best he can. He's very happy. I saw him in action eating some of those beans and vegetables, away from some of the other fun foods, as we like to say. Let's hope he lives a long and healthy life.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


ESSELSTYN: Thank you.

ORNISH: And thanks, Caldwell. You're doing great work.

ESSELSTYN: Absolutely. Thanks, Dean. Keep it up. BLITZER: All right, guys.

If you throw a sitting president and a predecessor together, you put them together, they're usually talking about some pretty weighty stuff. What did President Obama say to make former president Bill Clinton, though, laugh so hard? We'll tell you.


BLITZER: All the controversy over the proposed Islamic center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero may be moot. In-fighting amongst some key proponents may be putting the entire project in jeopardy right now.

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is in New York. He's getting new details.

I guess the bottom line question, is this center going to be built?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, people watching this situation closely are wondering just that, because the project's developers are in conflict.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): Veterans of real-estate development in New York say there is so much conflict surrounding the planned Islamic community center near Ground Zero that developer Sharif El-Gamal has his work cut out for him raising funds.

GEORGE ARTZ, COMMUNICATIONS AND REAL ESTATE ADVISER: Extraordinarily amateurish. Just extraordinary. They really didn't have an idea of what they were doing.

CHERNOFF: Asra Nomani is co-founder of a women's organization called Muslims for Peace. She says her group Muslim was approached by developer El-Gamal, asking to use the nonprofit status of her organization to raise funds for his project, called Park 51, which is still seeking its own nonprofit status.

ASRA NOMANI, MUSLIMS FOR PEACE: One of the developers in the project, Sharif El-Gamal, wanted to use the 501(c)3 status of Muslims for Peace to raise funds for this Islamic center. I thought that was just maybe a little bit inappropriate.

CHERNOFF: Nomani says El-Gamal raised just a few thousand dollars. Today, the donation link on the Park 51 Web site is inactive.

A spokesperson for Park 51 says the nonprofit fund-raising effort has yet to be launched, but El-Gamal has asked worshippers for donations at prayer services being held at the existing building.

Already, the developer is at odds with one of his major investors, Hisham Elzanaty, who tells CNN he has a controlling interest in the project and might sell off his portion for a profit. He would not speak on camera, but his attorney did.

WOLODYMYR STAROSOLSKY, ATTORNEY FOR HISHAM ELZANATY: Well, he does have the majority control, and according to the agreements, he is the person who is going to decide how that -- who's going to make decisions with respect to this property.

CHERNOFF: El-Gamal says that's dead wrong, claiming he has control. Meanwhile, El-Gamal, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the religious visionary of the project, are presenting different concepts to the public.

Imam Feisal refers to the project as Cordoba House after his nonprofit group, the Cordoba Institute, but the developer calls the project Park 51, saying Cordoba House is the mosque within the larger center.

And while the developer has described a community center open to all, but a prayer space just for Muslims, the imam told CNN something different.

FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, IMAM: There is a prayer space for Christians and for Jews.

CHERNOFF: There has even been conflict within the Muslim community. Islamic leaders who complained they'd never been consulted last week peppered El-Gamal with questions as to whether Park 51 would be only for elite wealthy Muslims.

MAHOI BRAY, MAS FREEDOM: None of our organizations is capable or is putting money into this.

CHERNOFF: Money is now the critical issue.

RAUF: We have not raised any money for it yet.

CHERNOFF: While seeking funding from banks and private individuals, El Gamal is determined to carry the project through.

SHARIF EL GAMAL, CEO, SOHO PROPERTIES: We have the building, and we're doing it there, God willing.


CHERNOFF: If El-Gamal is unable to raise money domestically, he may have to turn to foreign sources in the Islamic community, and that is yet another controversial issue that has surrounded this project.

El-Gamal's Soho Properties sent a statement to CNN late this afternoon, saying there now are plans to include an interfaith prayer space at the community center -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And foreign sources you mean, like, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates, some of the countries in the oil-rich Arab world? Is that what you're thinking?

CHERNOFF: Exactly. In the Arab world. But, of course, we'll see how he does here in the U.S.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Allan.

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert up on Capitol Hill today, appearing before Congress. We have details of the hearings very serious subject, and the comedian's unusual testimony.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "COLBERT REPORT": ... the congresswoman first. Excuse me.



BLITZER: An aide to a U.S. congresswoman from California says the state has done -- the Democrats should have no regrets about inviting comedian Stephen Colbert to testify on migrant workers before a subcommittee of the House.

The host of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" appeared the day after his show aired video of him packing corn and picking beans on a California farm on a dare from the United Farm Workers union. Colbert's appearance has met with no small amount of criticism. The host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" dished out a healthy dose of sarcasm, though. Listen to this.


COLBERT: As part of my ongoing series, "Stephen Colbert's Fallback Position," where I try other jobs and realize that mine is way better, I participated in the UFW's Take Our Jobs campaign, one of only 16 people in America to take up the challenge, though that number may increase in the near future, as I understand many Democrats may be looking for work come November.

Now I -- I'll admit that I started my work day with preconceived notions of migrant labor, but after working with these men and women, picking beans, packing corn for hours on end, side by side in the unforgiving sun, I have to say -- and I do mean this sincerely -- please don't make me do this again. It is really, really hard.

For one thing, when you're picking beans, you have to spend all day bending over. It turns out -- and I did not know this -- most soil is at ground level. If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we make the earth waist high? Come on. Where is the funding?

This brief experience gave me some small understanding of why so few Americans are clamoring to begin an exciting career as seasonal migrant field worker.

Now I'm not a fan of the government doing anything, but I've got to ask: why isn't the government doing anything? Maybe this ag jobs bill would help. I don't know. Like most members of Congress, I haven't read it. But maybe we could offer more visas to the immigrants who, let's face it -- maybe you could offer more visas to the immigrants who, let's face it, will probably be doing these jobs anyway. And this improved legal status might allow immigrants recourse if they're abused. And it just stands to reason to me that, if your co-worker can't be exploited, then you're less likely to be exploited yourself. And that itself might improve pay and working conditions on these farms. And eventually, Americans may consider taking these jobs again.

Or maybe that's crazy. Maybe the easier answer is just to have scientists develop vegetables that pick themselves. The genetic engineers over at Fruit of the Loom have made great strides in human- fruit hybrids.

The point is, we have to do something, because I am not going back out there. At this point I break out into a cold sweat at the sight of a salad bar. I thank you for your time.


BLITZER: Stephen Colbert testifying today before Congress.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama appearing together. But what did the current president say that made the former president laugh so hard?


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots."

At a relief camp in northwest Pakistan, a boy is silhouetted behind a clothesline.

In Melbourne, Australia, a man lights himself on fire before jumping into water at an annual high-diving entertainment show.

Another type of fire is seen in Naples, Italy, as a man walks by two garbage trucks engulfed in flame during protests against a new trash dump (ph).

And in Paris, take a look at this: a dog watches the sunset with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

What did President Obama say to make former President Clinton laugh so hard? What if I tell you it was a joke about their wives? That's next.


BLITZER: We want to leave you this week with this: President Obama saying he's the luckiest guy in the world, but it has nothing to do with being president of the United States. Listen to his humorous and heartfelt tribute to the first lady, Michelle Obama, this week as they both attended the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bill Clinton understands where I'm coming from here. He knows what it's like to be married to somebody who's smarter, somebody who's better looking, somebody who's just all around a little more impressive than you are. All right?

It's -- this is not news to people. Since Michelle and I first started dating 22 years ago, pretty much everybody I know who's met her at some point comes up to me and says, "You know, Barack, you're great and all. I like you. But your wife, now she's really something. And I, of course, agree. They're right. And I feel grateful that Michelle, so far at least, has not run for any offices I've been running for. She would beat me thoroughly.

And while I get plenty of good advice from a lot of people during the course of the day, at the end of each day, it is Michelle, her moral voice, her moral center that cuts through all the noise in Washington and reminds me of why I'm there in the first place.

And while I'm tremendously proud of the first lady that she's been for this country, at the end of the day, I'm most grateful that she's been such a partner to me and the best mother that I know.

Every moment that I spend with my daughters, I'm thankful for all that she's done to make them who they are. Every day, I see her strength and her kindness and her character reflected in the two of them, and there's no greater gift. And I know Bill feels the same way, about when he looks at Chelsea, he sees this incredible force that -- that a mother can bring.

To this day, I still don't know how I talked her into marrying me, but I know that I am the luckiest guy in the world that she did.


BLITZER: President Obama clearly speaking from the heart about his wife, Michelle Obama. That was at the Clinton Global Initiative this week.

By the way, tomorrow, 6 p.m. Eastern, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, my full interview with the former president, Bill Clinton. Six p.m. Eastern, in THE SITUATION ROOM, the full interview with Bill Clinton. I think you'll want to see it.

Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts rights now.