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National Security Adviser Steps Down; Freeze on Foreclosures Spreads

Aired October 8, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: The White House revolving door takes another turn. President Obama's national security adviser becomes the latest high-profile departure, with his deputy now stepping into that critical role.

Also, a freeze on foreclosures is spreading, as one of the biggest U.S. banks halts proceedings amid concerns some people may be unjustly losing their homes.

Plus, my interview with Florida's Governor and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist, and the Republican turned independent answering critics who accuse him of flip-flopping on issues from immigration to abortion to gay marriage.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Another Friday, another shakeup inside the White House, this time the critical position of national security adviser, stepping down the retired Marine Corps General Jim Jones whose tenure was marked at times by discord. Stepping up is deputy Tom Donilon, a Washington insider well-known in the West Wing.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is joining us now. He has details.

Dan, this certainly did not come as a surprise.


Mr. Jones had said for quite some time that he would leave after two years, but that aside, he also seemed not to gel with Obama's inner circle and some administration officials didn't think that he had the right management style.

Well, today in the Rose Garden, President Obama made the announcement official.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): All President Obama had to do was to swivel his chair around in his inner circle to find new National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the last two years, there's not a single critical national security issue that has not crossed Tom's desk.

LOTHIAN: Donilon, who served as Jones' top deputy and has worked in three administration, brings a sharp foreign policy mind to the new job. And while leading Democrats were quick to heap praise on the president's choice, journalist Bob Woodward suggested in his most recent book that Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn't consider him right for the job, because he didn't understand the military.

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He said it would be a disaster.

LOTHIAN: But a senior defense official called that characterization outdated, and no signs of tension now from Secretary Gates himself.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I have and have had a very productive and very good working relationship with Tom Donilon, contrary to what you may have read. And I look forward to working with him.

LOTHIAN: The White House exit door has not stopped swinging in recent weeks, out, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and top economic advisers Larry Summers and Christina Romer.

Jones' allies say his military background gave him credibility, but he clashed with top White House officials and was never part of the inner circle.

While the national security adviser is not a household name...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do not know his name.



LOTHIAN: ... President Obama said the job is one of the most difficult in government.

OBAMA: We remain a nation at war and we will not rest in our efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.


LOTHIAN: Now, in Woodward's book, General Jones was also critical of Donilon. At one point he's quoted as saying that he was prone to making rash decisions.

But today at the ceremony at the Rose Garden, he said nothing but good words for his deputy and he is expected to step down some time later this month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thanks very much.

And Bob Woodward spoke just a little ago with Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." Listen to this.


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But here is a book in which you say that Jones, who's kind of an uneasy fit at the White House, had said of Rahm Emanuel, of David Axelrod, top aides there, he called them water bugs, likened them to the politburo, to the mafia. This must have ticked some people off when this was published.

WOODWARD: It is quite possible. There are lots of things in there. This is as we say close to the bone. This is a total universe portrait. In the nature of the relationships and the attitudes, Jones, was, you know, somebody who was not part of the campaign team, very senior general, and, you know, he didn't fit. I think everyone has noted that as he resigned.


BLITZER: You can see the full interview with Bob Woodward Sunday morning 10:00 a.m. Eastern on "RELIABLE SOURCES," Howard Kurtz's interview with Bob Woodward.

Let's get some more now is what is going on.

Joining us, our CNN national senior contributor, Fran Townsend.

She is an external board adviser to both the CIA and the Homeland Security Department. Also joining us, our chief political correspondent and the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Two very different people, General Jones with a military background of almost 40 years in the Marine Corps, and Tom Donilon, a lawyer, a political operative, worked at the State Department during the Clinton administration, but you have very different men.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, while we like to sort of try to read the political tea leaves here in town, a president needs change over time.

Let's remember, when the president came in, there were questions about his ability to be commander in chief. He had very little experience with the military. And General Jim Jones, because of his 40 years of experience, served an important role in giving the president credibility.

In that two years, he has made very big, important decisions, agree or not, on Iraq, on Afghanistan. And he does not really need anybody else's credibility anymore. And, frankly, while Tom Donilon is not a household name, my understanding is he has played a very critical and important role not only in politics, but in the White House in the disruption of the threats.

BLITZER: It is the latest, Candy, in series of exits from the White House. And what I see is a pattern that whenever someone leaves, the president moves someone else up from within the Obama administration. He is not bringing new faces in. He is moving people up.

CROWLEY: No, all those Democrats, Blue Dogs in particular, who are looking for some sign that the president is going to have a course change in the second half of his first term are likely to be disappointed by this, as they were to the replacement of Christina Romer, an insider Austan Goolsbee, and as they were to others that the president has now replaced.

Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel leaves and we get Pete Rouse in there, also an insider. Look, presidents revert to their comfort zones when they are uncomfortable. They like people around them that they trust. They like people around them who they think have their backs. And especially when you're a president who is a little bit down -- and let's face it -- he has got two years to go and he can go way up and way down in that time period -- but you like somebody there that you know that. And that is what he has gone for.

BLITZER: Let's be honest. And you worked in the Clinton White House, so you understand what is going on two years into a first term.

Is all of this about getting reelected?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the president's first job as a politician, but he's got a job that comes ahead of that, which is keeping America safe.

And this is a national security job. The truth is, the politics of national security are the same as the policy. In other words, you do a good job, you keep America safe, you advance our interests around the world, you are going to be fine politically, so this president obviously is a politician. Tom Donilon who is an old friend of mine has a political background, but as you point out a longtime State Department and national security veteran as well.

I think it is a terrific choice. And I think it's driven by the politicians of reelection, because as I say he has got to do what is best for America to advance his reelection.

Now, on the economic side, I do hope he reaches out beyond his comfort zone.


BLITZER: He has not done that yet.


BEGALA: He hasn't yet. His economic team represents all sectors of the economy, except business and labor. No, seriously, it is all politicians and professors. Many of them are friends of mine. But he's got to get outside that comfort zone. You're hearing Democrats and Republicans saying that. This will probably get me in trouble with my friends in the White House, but I think he has got to reach out on the economic side.

BLITZER: Fran, you were a homeland security adviser to President Bush. This job of national security adviser, a lot of us remember when Henry Kissinger was the national security adviser to President Nixon and President Ford, and then Zbigniew Brzezinski was the national security adviser to Jimmy Carter. And they go on and on.

How important is this job? It is really necessary nowadays, when you have a secretary of state like Hillary Clinton, a secretary of defense like Robert Gates, a CIA director like Leon Panetta? What is the point?

TOWNSEND: No, now more than ever, actually, Wolf, because what you are finding is to be successful in a place like Afghanistan, you don't just need diplomats and the military, but you need a whole strategy that addresses the economy and education.

You need a whole intragovernmental strategy to be successful. And that is the role of the national security adviser. Tom Donilon has played a very critical role in the policy review of Afghanistan. Remember, you've got another one coming up.

The interesting thing about the timing in this we should mention, Wolf, is, General Jim Jones was NATO's supreme allied commander just earlier in his career. President Obama is going for a big conference on NATO in November, and so a little odd. Jim Jones has been very deeply involved in the preparation for that. He obviously will no longer be attending.

BLITZER: Yes. I thought he would be leaving, Candy, but I didn't think he would be leaving this month. I thought he would wait a couple of months and see what happens.

But you are going to have a lot more on this, I know, Sunday morning on "STATE OF THE UNION," 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

CROWLEY: We will talk about it. It's a deal.

BLITZER: Totally confident.


BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

A reprieve for thousands of U.S. homeowners facing foreclosure. Bank of America says it is extending a freeze on foreclosure sales to all 50 states.

CNN's Mary Snow is in New York. She's watching this story.

Mary, what is going on? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this halt comes as pressure mounts on several banks about whether their foreclosure documents are accurate and properly reviewed.

Now, in one case we reported on earlier this week, a bank employee admitted signing 7,000 to 8,000 foreclosure documents a month without reading them. A week ago, Bank of America, the nation's largest bank, announced a halt in foreclosures in 23 states where courts must approve them.

Today, it extended the freeze on foreclosure sales nationwide as it widens its investigation into flaws in the process. Here is what Bank of America's CEO, Brian Moynihan, had to say about it during a National Press Club event earlier today. Take a listen.


BRIAN MOYNIHAN, CEO, BANK OF AMERICA: What we're trying to do is clear the air and say, we will go back and check our work one more time.

But we have not found any errors. And if there's technical issues, we are checking our homework again, and we're making sure we get it right after it has been checked multiple times. And as soon as we do, we will continue the process.


SNOW: As for how long this will last, Bank of America's CEO says he expects the freeze to last a few weeks.

The bank says the foreclosure process will continue for delinquent borrowers, but, at this point, it won't proceed to a foreclosure sale. Now, this is not the only bank involved. J.P. Morgan Chase and Ally Financial have halted foreclosure sales in 23 states. Neither commented on the Bank of America's expanded freeze -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As this problem grows and it's clearly growing, what does it mean for the housing market out there, because a lot of Americans, they are worried about the value of their homes, the value going down and down and down.

SNOW: Yes. and there are some mixed opinions about this. Some economists are saying, if there are significant delays, it could mean home prices will be weaker.

Others don't think, don't see a big impact. We spoke earlier today with Susan Wachter. She's a professor of real estate and finance. Take a listen to what she had to say.


SUSAN WACHTER, WHARTON SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: From my perspective, the housing market and the overall economy, this is not a game- changer. The housing market is very fragile in any case. I don't think that this one way or the other changes that.


SNOW: Now, as far as how many homes are affected, it is not really clear. The only bank so far that has given a number is J.P. Morgan Chase. It said that 56,000 are affected.

It is likely that hundreds of thousands of foreclosures are in limbo right now and other banks could put a freeze on foreclosures. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today called on major mortgage servicers to consider halting foreclosures in all 50 states. Attorneys generals in several states are investigating. And also Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, the Senate Banking Committee chairman, announced that his committee will be also holding a hearing on November 16 to investigate the problem -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you.

He survived multiple Taliban assassination attempts. Now an outspoken anti-insurgent governor is among 20 people killed in the bombing of an Afghan mosque.

CNN's Ivan Watson is in Kabul with the latest -- Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was a particularly brutal bombing even by the standards of a country that has been at war for more than 30 years.

A bomb ripping through a packed mosque in the Northern Afghan province of Takhar during peak Friday prayers. The Afghan government says 20 people were killed, at least 35 wounded. Among the dead, the cleric, the Muslim cleric who was leading prayers and the governor of the neighboring province of Kunduz, a man by the name of Mohammad Omar.

His aides say that he has survived no less than five previous Taliban assassination attempts. We spoke to him just last Sunday by telephone. And in that interview, he made a desperate call for help. He claimed that Taliban insurgents controlled at least 40 percent of his province. He said he did not have enough Afghan national police to beat back the insurgent.

Certainly the Taliban are among the chief suspects in this bombing attack, which highlights the increasing instability in the north of the country, an area where you or I could have traveled through quite safely just three or four years ago. It has been going downhill. A German soldier was killed in another northern province in a suicide bombing just yesterday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan, thanks very much.

Ivan is on the scene for us.

An explosive slur caught on tape during a campaign huddle, now it's rocking the California governor's race, as everybody braces for the fallout. Also, they have been trapped deep underground for more than two months. Now rescue for those 33 miners in Chile could be imminent.

And dash-cam video provides a new twist in the case of a man whose wife says he was killed, killed by Mexican pirates.


BLITZER: The ugly race for California governor is getting even uglier, after someone in the campaign for Democratic candidate Jerry Brown was caught on tape using a very unflattering word to describe Republican rival Meg Whitman.

CNN's Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He has details on what happened.

What happened?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was a conversation that was inadvertently taped. It is not clear whether Jerry Brown made the comment or whether one of his aides did, but analysts say it represents a ratcheting up of the nasty campaign attacks this year.


TODD (voice-over): A conversation that was never meant to be heard publicly. Jerry Brown, Democrat running for California governor, talks with his aides about support his opponent, Meg Whitman, might get from police unions.

JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: They know Whitman will cut them a deal, but I won't. What about saying that?


TODD: It is not clear who made the "whore" comment. The Brown campaign later apologized.

That conversation was inadvertently taped. But other personal attacks in campaign ads are proliferating on the air.

(on camera): Darrell West of the Brookings Institution has written a well-known book called "Air Wars" about campaign ads. He says, this year, unlike in previous election cycles, candidates are just not holding back on vicious personal attacks on their opponents. We are going to go over some of these ads with him now.

CARL PALADINO (R), NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: When somebody went after my 10-year-old daughter, I got angry.

TODD (voice-over): New York Republican gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino rails on the media for tracking his young daughter, then for reports about his extramarital affair, then the kill shot on the sex life of opponent Andrew Cuomo.

PALADINO: Andrew's prowess is legendary. TODD (on camera): Have you ever seen anything like that in an ad talking about someone's prowess?

DARRELL WEST, VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF GOVERNANCE STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This is such a cheap shot. It is hard to imagine voters are going to be affected positively by this. They are going to view this as unfair, going beyond the grounds of fair play.

TODD (voice-over): Cuomo's response, a statement from a spokesman saying of Paladino, "New Yorkers know he is unfit to be governor with his unstable outbursts, smears, and total lack of substance."

(on camera): Some political experts, though, argue that that actually does work, that going negative is effective.

WEST: Going negative works in the sense of you can raise the negatives of your opponent, but if voters tune out and people stay home, you may end up losing support from people who otherwise might have cast votes for you.

TODD (voice-over): No one is insulated. Right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh levels this broadside on President Obama during his radio show.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He is a jackass. He's an economic illiterate. He's an economic ignoramus.

TODD (on camera): Does it reflect a certain mentality on the campaign trail and on the political discourse overall this year?

WEST: It reflects a mentality of mean-spiritedness, that people are not focusing on the issues. They're insulting the opposition.


TODD: Why is the nastiness at such heightened levels right now? Darrell West says a few factors are unique to this year. Candidates commentators clearly sense the voter anger out there and they want to tap into it.

They realize the stakes are especially high for the balance of power this year. And he says candidates sense the media is not doing as much fact-checking on their ads and public statements. They don't think they are going to be held accountable, Wolf. Maybe we bear some of the responsibility for this.

BLITZER: Does he think it's going to get even worse in the next campaign cycles?

TODD: He says he doesn't think it's going to get worse.

He says, as the economic situation recovers, then voters' moods are going to recover. And candidates are not necessarily going to have the incentives to play into that anger. He thinks it might get a little bit better the next cycle. BLITZER: Well, let's hope the economic situation gets better, not worse. Let's just hope for that. Thanks very much, Brian.


BLITZER: Florida's former Republican governor now turned independent Senate candidate answers questions about flip-flopping on the issues. My interview with Charlie Crist is just ahead.

And it is the moment everyone has been waiting for in Chile. A drill is just hours, hours away from breaking through to the trapped miners.

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



BLITZER: The Florida governor, Charlie Crist, he is seeking out some middle ground in his independent bid for the U.S. Senate.


GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA: If you ask me, what about tax cuts, hell yes. What about government in the bedroom? Hell no.


BLITZER: Well, what about charges he's flip-flopped since leaving the Republican Party? I will ask him -- the interview coming up.

Plus, the drama and the tension reach new heights in Chile, where rescue crews are just hours away from reaching those trapped miners.


BLITZER: There are new poll numbers out on Florida's closely- watched three-way Senate race, and they don't necessarily look all that good for the Republican-turned-independent Governor Charlie Crist.

He is joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about what is going on in the Sunshine State.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

CRIST: Wolf, always good to be with you. I hope you are having a great evening.

BLITZER: We are.

Let's talk a little bit about this new Mason-Dixon Research poll. Likely voters, Marco Rubio, your Republican opponent, 42 percent. You are at 27 percent, Kendrick Meek, the Democratic nominee, 21 percent. How do you turn this around in these final three-and-a-half weeks?

CRIST: Well, I think you -- you know, polls are going to be all over the place.

There was a Florida Chamber poll that came out last Friday, had the split between Marco Rubio and myself at 7 points. Then Zogby, a very well-respected poll, came out a couple of days ago, had the spread at only 6 points.

So the reality is I think that it's closing. I really do. And you're going to see these things bounce back and forth. What I think's important to do is to directly talk to the people of Florida, talk about a commonsense candidate instead of a far-right extreme Tea Party candidate, which really, Marco Rubio is. I mean, he was on the cover of "The New York Times" magazine earlier this year. You know, would he be the first Tea Party senator?

And I think when you start to analyze the issues here in Florida, issues like Social Security, where he literally, you know, talks about raising the age of eligibility, changing the COLA benefits, and cutting benefits for our senior citizens in Florida. He also talks about, in terms of women's rights, that he wants to overturn, overturn Roe v. Wade and take away a woman's right to choose as it relates to personal decisions about her body. You know, you talk about these commonsense issues, and I think you'll get a much different result on election day.

BLITZER: I want to go through some of those issues in a moment, but let me read to you from a story in the "Wall Street Journal" on Friday: "Republican leaders in the Sunshine State are fretting that a deal may be in the works to get Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek out of the Florida Senate race in order to boost Charlie Crist's flagging chances of beating Republican Marco Rubio."

Do you believe that's true?

CRIST: Well, No. 1, I think we're going to beat him anyway, because of the issues I just talked about. And as you know, Wolf, those are issues that are incredibly important to our senior citizens in Florida, as well as women.

But beside that point, I think what they really want in Florida and, frankly, America is a commonsense, you know, person who wants to have consensus be able to be made, make progress in Washington, D.C., you know, cut through the partisan fog, if you will, that exists between the Republicans on the hard right, the Democrats on the hard left and come and say, "You know what? Republicans have good ideas about cutting taxes, reducing our deficit, and I embrace that and I always have."

But also recognize and be big enough to say the Democrats have good ideas, too, about creating jobs by making, you know, investments and clean and green energy and creating a new source of job creation that our people need. BLITZER: All right. Let -- let's talk about the joint criticism you're getting from both Kendrick Meek on the left, Marco Rubio on the right, that you're flip-flopping on a lot of these issues. Andy Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union wrote this on Huffington Post about you: "He said he was against health-care reform before he was for it, before he was against it. Crist claims he fights for workers while promising to continue tax breaks for corporations that shipped Florida jobs overseas. He has switched his stance on a wide range of important issues from gay marriage to immigration reform and from a woman's right to choose to offshore oil drilling. Why would the voters and people in Washington not think he wouldn't just switch on anything else if he thinks it is to his political advantage?"

You want to respond to Andy Stern?

CRIST: I'd be delighted to. You know, when it comes to the important issues to the people of Florida, people in Florida know where Charlie Crist stands. And I just cited a couple of them.

Let's talk about education for a second. The far-right wing of the Republican Party in Florida wanted to literally punish teachers in our classroom. I used my veto pen, put my foot down and said, no, it's too far to the right. It's not right for the people of our state.

We talked about women's issues a few minutes ago. Again, the hard Republican right in the Florida legislature just this year said that they wanted to force a woman to get an ultrasound, force her to pay for it, force her to be lectured on it after taking the ultrasound and really stripping her of the opportunity to make a decision about a right to choose. I used the veto pen as a governor of the state of Florida to stop it.

BLITZER: Do you support a woman's right -- do you support a woman's right to have an abortion?

CRIST: Yes, I'm pro-life, Wolf, but I also believe it's not right to impose my will on other people. I mean, I've always been a live and let live kind of guy on these issues. They are fiscal conservatives, social moderates. They really want us to reign in spending. We've done that in Florida. I've reduced spending as the governor of Florida.

BLITZER: I just want to...

CRIST: More than any other.

BLITZER: I want to be just precise. Personally, you oppose abortion, but you think women should have the right to have an abortion if they want to have an abortion. Is that what you're saying?

CRIST: Yes, I'm saying that I would not impose my will on women. As I said when I ran for governor of Florida, I would rather change hearts than change law. My Republican opponent, Marco Rubio, literally says he wants to overturn Roe versus Wade if he gets to the United States Senate and has a chance to confirm, you know, those nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. I think that's dead wrong. And I think most women in the Sunshine State feel that way, too. I also think it's wrong, what he wants to do to raise the age of eligibility for seniors on Social Security and cut their benefits. It's just not the right way to go.

And Kendrick Meek, my Democratic opponent, wants to punt that issue, Social Security, to a commission. And we all know what happens when you punt it to a commission. They raise the age of eligibility, and they cut benefits. I think what they want is a commonsense U.S. senator that understands that we've got to stop this partisan bickering. We've got to work in a bipartisan way to move America forward, and I'm the only candidate in this race who can offer that. My two opponents are in clubs that they're locked into those talking points from the party bosses.

BLITZER: Wind it up with a little lighter note. The opening pitch that you had the other day, the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, we'll show it to our viewers. It was a little, shall we say high, and outside. You're getting some grief.

A "Washington Post" headline, "Charlie Crist's first pitch strong on comedy if not accuracy." The "Broward-Palm Beach New Times" headline: "Charlie Crist sends pitch sailing in giant metaphor of his campaign." Politico's headline, "Charlie Crist tosses wild pitch."

You had a good arm, but it was a little wild.

CRIST: Well, I'm an old quarterback. I never did play baseball. But I sort of felt like -- what's that movie, "Major League," with Bob Uecker and Charlie Sheen? A little outside to the right, probably more symbolic of my Republican opponent and going right down the middle, which is what I'm trying to do here in Florida for my fellow Floridians.

BLITZER: At least you didn't do what a lot of people do. They have a one-bouncer or two-bouncer to home plate. You made it sail all the way.

CRIST: There was plenty of heat behind it.

BLITZER: Charlie Crist is the governor of Florida. He wants to be the next senator from Florida. Thanks very much, Governor, for coming in.

CRIST: Great to be with you, Wolf. Thanks so much. Please say hello to Mom again.

BLITZER: Will do.


BLITZER: And we're inviting Marco Rubio to join us, as well, the Republican candidate in Florida. Kendrick Meek joined us just the other day.

Let's go Chile right now, where the drill teams could be only hours away from breaking through to the chamber where 33 miners have been trapped since early August. CNN's Karl Penhaul is on the scene for us.

All right, Karl. Tell us what's happening right now.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the latest we know from rescue experts just as the sun is going down here over the desert, and over the rescue site behind us is that the drill bit is now just about 120 feet from the tunnel where the miners have been now for 64 days. The experts, the rescuers say the breakthrough could come in the next few hours.

Now, whether that's tonight or in the wee small hours of tomorrow, but certainly nobody is predicting that this will go beyond tomorrow, though. So, tomorrow, it could be a breakthrough.

And also kind of a hint that something is about to happen, Chile's first lady has arrived here, as well. She says that she's come to spend some time with the families, but of course, it would be great for her if she could be here when breakthrough happens.

And we've heard just now, she's just been talking to journalists, saying that she's met with the families, and she's told them, she's given them a bit of touchy-feely advice. She's said to them, you know, "When your husbands, when your loved ones start coming back to the surface in the rescue capsule, breathe deeply, breathe deeply."

But I'm sure that, having gone so long and been so patient for so long, it's going to take more than a few deep breaths for these families to stop getting overexcited about the prospect that their men folk are finally about to come home, Wolf.

BLITZER: Karl, what are the biggest medical concerns that the rescue workers have?

PENHAUL: Well, of course, they've been down there a long time in semi darkness, even though there's been an effort helped along by the experts from NASA that came to introduce some differentiation between nighttime lighting and daytime lighting.

What the medics say is, as soon as those miners get to the surface in bright sunlight, there could be a huge risk of damage to their retinas. So they've got to shade their eyes, maybe even blindfold them until they get them to a field hospital here at the mine site, whether they can go through a process of stabilization.

And then, when that happens, they may then have their first reunion with one or two family members here at the mine site, and then they will be flown by military helicopter 15 minutes to the nearest city, and they'll be held there for at least two days for stabilization to make sure at least physically they're OK.

But of course, the process of checking them out psychologically to make sure they don't get flashbacks or nightmares, that process could go on for absolutely months, Wolf.

BLITZER: Millions of people around the world are praying for those 33 miners, Karl. Thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch with you. Karl is Penhaul on the scene.

A videotape is the latest clue of the mysterious disappearance of a Texas man who was reportedly attacked by Mexican pirates while boating. We'll update you on the latest.

And Sarah Palin drops a clue of whether or not she's gearing up for a presidential run. John King is going to break it all down for us. That's coming up next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The "Palm Beach Post" is reporting Sarah Palin answered questions about her presidential ambitions at a taping for a conservative magazine, "Newsmax." She reportedly told a live audience, and I'm quoting now, "I'll run for president if the American people want me to."

Let's discuss with CNN'S John King who has "JOHN KING USA." That's coming up at the top of the hour. Lots of people are wondering is she going to run? Is she not going to run? That's a tantalizing little tease she has there.

KING: It is, and it's not the first time she has said this. She essentially has left it out there posing it as a question. "If drafted, I will serve" is essentially how Sarah Palin puts it.

The question, the big question is, obviously, she'll wait to see what happens after the midterm elections, as all Republicans will. Several of the Republicans are moving around the country.

She certainly has had a pretty good year in terms of the rise of the Tea Party, with whom she's very popular. Many of the candidates she has endorsed, not all but many have done quite well. The question is what will the voters say on November 2, and then more importantly, what is her definition of the American people? Is it the broader electorate in which when you look at the polling, at least, she doesn't do terribly well. She does OK, not great.

Or is it the Republican primary electorate, where she has a much more significant base of support? And many say one of the reasons she's been so active and busy this year is to keep open that possibility. And when you talk to any leading Republican, they will say they view it as more likely now than they did six months ago that Sarah Palin will look at the field and say why not try?

BLITZER: If someone wants to win a Republican caucus in Iowa, how early do they have to start going to Iowa, organize a staff and start working, because shortly after the November 2 elections, it's only going to be about a year before the Iowa caucuses?

KING: It's a fascinating question, and it certainly depends on who you are and your national name identification. Rick Santorum, the former conservative senator from Pennsylvania just this past week, excuse me, opened a PAC in Iowa. He's not as well known. He might be known by name, but he needs to make friends. So he's doing it the old-fashioned way. He's going to spend money on state legislature candidates, governor candidates up right there, make some friends he hopes that can help him.

They all know who Sarah Palin is in Iowa, but remember, she came in relatively late. She was picked as the vice-presidential nominee. So did not have to organize on the ground in Iowa. Does she have a firm base of support among Christian conservatives? A lot of them in Iowa. Of course she does. Does she have a firm base of support among Tea Party people? Of course, she does.

But in terms of actually building an organization that knows how to go out and get new friends and new voters, she could start later than most, but you'd have to make that decision pretty quickly after the 2010 midterms. By early 2011, you better be in there putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

BLITZER: If you want to win the Iowa caucuses, you spend a lot of time, like we have, in Iowa.

KING: It's a great place. Why not?

BLITZER: Wonderful place. John, see you at the top of the hour.

KING: All right.

BLITZER: Police dash cam video emerging right now that may provide new clues in the serious case of a man who's wife says he was killed by Mexican pirates.

Plus, one of the biggest TV stars of the '70s arrested; arrested in a stock sting. We're learning new details.


BLITZER: There are new developments right now in the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Texas man. His wife says he was shot and killed by Mexican bandits as they Jet Skied on a lake that straddles the border. Here is CNN's national correspondent, Gary Tuchman. He has the latest -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm standing in front of the Mexican consulate here in McAllen, Texas, where some of the investigation into this horrifying incident is taking place.

A woman from McAllen, Tiffany Hartley, says she and her husband were Jet Skiing last week on a lake between the United States and Mexico when her husband was shot in the head by bandits, and she escaped with her life.

Now, the Mexican half of that lake is said to be controlled by drug cartels. However, some government officials in Mexico, while sympathizing with the situation, have said they're not 100 percent comfortable with the woman's words about this incident. They know she said this happened, but there's no evidence. There's no body. There's no Jet Ski.

Nevertheless, today the Mexican government explained it is continuing in bolstering its efforts to search its side of the lake. We have some interesting video that came in today, interesting because it shows a traffic stop three hours before she made a 911 call to officials.

And it shows the traffic stop with expired tags. The Hartleys apparently had expire tags on their trailer. And on that trailer -- here's what's interesting -- two Jet Skis. They're right near the lake, and according to police, Mr. Hartley told the police that they were going for a day on the lake with the Jet Skis. The reason that's significant is that portion of her story certainly appears to be true that there were two Jet Skis in the water.

What happened in the water we're not 100 percent sure just yet. The local sheriff here says he is 99.9 percent convinced that she is telling the truth about the story, but the fact is they are still searching for evidence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Gary Tuchman on the scene for us. Thanks, Gary.

Otto -- Otto is upgraded to hurricane status. We're going to tell you where the storm is now heading.

And Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell airs an ad denying she's a witch, and now it's become the latest fodder for the late-night comedians. We're going to show you some of the jokes and more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A tropical storm grows into a raging hurricane. Mary Snow is monitoring that and other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Mary, what's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the National Weather Service is reporting that Otto is now a hurricane, the eighth of the season. The storm has sustained winds of 75 miles per hour with higher gusts. It's located over the Atlantic about 400 miles south of Bermuda and is moving eastward. It poses no threat to the United States.

And in Hollywood, Florida, rescuers have saved two workers trapped inside a water tower. Rescue teams put the injured workers on back boards and attached them to harnesses before lowering them 150 feet to the ground. Officials say the workers were sandblasting the inside of the water tower this morning when scaffolding collapsed on them.

And finally, Wolf, remember this?


SNOW: For one of the stars of the 1970s hit television show "CHiPs," it's time to call for backup. Larry Wilcox played police officer John Baker of the California Highway Patrol motorcycle squad. Now he's been arrested in a sting by Securities & Exchange Commission investigators. He's one of 12 people being accused of illegal stock trades and kickbacks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember the show. Don't remember him that much, but I do remember the show. Thanks very much, Mary, for that.

Christine O'Donnell is providing a lot of fodder for the comedians out there. Bill Maher will join John King at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA." He'll talk about which old video of O'Donnell he'll pull out of his vault later tonight.

But first some of this week's funniest moments from other late- night TV hosts.


CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), DELAWARE SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you.

JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW": You're me? Because I don't recall the last time I had to deny I was a witch.



BLITZER: With the midterm elections only about 3 1/2 weeks away, the political season is certainly in full swing, and so is the political comedy season. Here's a look back at some highlights from the week in late-night TV.


O'DONNELL: I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you.

STEWART: You're me? Because I don't recall the last time I had to deny I was a witch.

That's Christine O'Donnell, the Republican candidate for senator in Delaware. She's currently about 16 points down in the polls, probably because she exhibits the type of judgment that has her denying she's a witch while standing in front of what appears to be steam from a bubbling cauldron.

"Hey, where we going to shoot Christine O'Donnell's commercial where she denies a witch?"

"Hey, Elvira's set is available."

JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Bob Woodward told CNN yesterday an Obama/Hillary ticket is on the table for 2012. Though some insiders say Obama doesn't feel he needs Hillary on the ticket. At this point, I don't think Hillary feels she needs Obama on the ticket. DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Oh, you know who's running for president? Donald Trump. Yes. And he's already got a short list of presidential running mates, vice-presidential candidates. He's thinking about Cyndi Lauper, Hulk Hogan, Melissa Rivers, Sharon Osbourne. He's ready to go.

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC'S "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Hey, did you guys see this last night? President Obama was giving a big speech, and the presidential seal fell off his podium. They tried to put it back on, but Hillary had already grabbed it and run away.


BLITZER: Very funny.

Remember, you can always follow what's on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at, @WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

You can also follow us THE SITUATION ROOM on Facebook. Go to to become a fan.

I'll see you tomorrow, 6 p.m. Eastern for THE SITUATION ROOM on Saturday. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.