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THE SITUATION ROOM
Southern Sudan To Split With North; U.K. Reviews Lockerbie Bomber Release; Protesters, Journalists Targets of Police Brutality in Egypt; 'Strategy Session'; Drugs Smuggled on Flights
Aired February 7, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Brooke, thanks very much.
Happening now, protesters refuse to budge from Cairo's main square two weeks into the revolt that's shaking Egypt to its core. But the Mubarak government is trying to move forward with a new cabinet and a very uncertain future.
Also this hour, the agony and the brutality -- disturbing new stories about protesters, human rights activists and journalists have suffered at the hands of Egyptian police.
And what's the worst part about being president of the United States?
President Obama may wish he could take another stab at answering that question and talk a little bit less about himself.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The Obama White House is warning Egypt that words are not enough -- no more -- and that the Mubarak government must take concrete steps toward greater freedom and democracy.
Let's go straight to the White House.
Our correspondent, Dan Lothian, is joining us with the latest -- sensitive times, Dan, for the president, but these are critically important issues.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And all of the energy here at the White House right now is focused on strongly encouraging this transition process along, realizing that it is not easy because, as one official pointed out here at the White House today, the situation on the ground in Egypt changes from hour to hour. So as Robert Gibbs says, it's going to be a bumpy road.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Strolling back to the White House from his U.S. Chamber of Commerce speech, President Obama struck an optimistic tone on the process to resolve Egypt's crisis.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, we just have to negotiate a path. And I think we're making progress.
LOTHIAN: But in what has been a fluid situation, even the message from the White House is in transition -- the push for a swift exit by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appears muted by calls for an orderly transition led by Vice President Omar Suleiman.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: That it be a transparent, inclusive process that sets forth concrete steps.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: And Mr. Obama's special envoy to Egypt, Frank Wisner, said since President Mubarak's leadership is critical in that process, he should not step down.
The president must stay in office in order to steer those changes through.
LOTHIAN: But that comment apparently went too far, since the White House has stayed away from publicly pushing President Mubarak either way.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His views on -- on who should or shouldn't be the head of Egypt don't represent the views of our administration. The views of our administration are that those are decisions that will be made by Egyptians.
LOTHIAN: As the president talks about progress, the crisis remains unresolved and questions about what the new government in Egypt will look like present new challenges, as Mr. Obama admitted in an interview with Fox News.
OBAMA: I think that the Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt. And they don't have majority support in Egypt. They are well...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But they're a threat, aren't they?
OBAMA: -- but they are well organized and there are strains of their ideology that are anti-US.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LOTHIAN: Now, I asked Robert Gibbs if the White House would be comfortable with the Muslim Brotherhood having a -- a leadership in Egypt. And he did not answer that question directly, but pointed out that the White House obviously disagrees with a lot of their rhetoric. But he also stressed that it's -- it would be inaccurate to look at this as just two options, that there are a lot of voices out there in Egypt -- different elements looking to be part of the government -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Robert Gibbs also made a personal announcement about his future today.
Tell our viewers what he said.
LOTHIAN: That's right. This is his last week at the podium. He will be stepping down officially on Friday, as he announced back in January that he would be doing from the outside, working to promote the president's policies, especially going into the critical 2012 elections.
And then, of course, Jay Carney, who is the communications director for the vice president, will be stepping up.
BLITZER: Dan -- Dan Lothian, thank you.
Beyond the human chain of protesters, you can see some glimmers of normal life in the Egyptian capital today. But don't be fooled at all. The two week old uprising still is playing out in the streets and behind closed doors. And any -- let me repeat -- anything can still happen.
Let's go to CNN's Hala Gorani.
She's joining us now from Cairo -- first of all, Hala, tell our viewers, a major Google executive who had been held by the Egyptian police, what, for three weeks, finally was released today.
What do we know?
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wael Ghonim is a Google executive based in Dubai who was here in Egypt on personal business. He was taken 10 days ago and held by the government -- by government authorities. And he was incommunicado. People didn't know where he was. There was, on Twitter and all these Facebook sort of activist pages, a call for the government and authorities to free him. He admitted he was the administrator of the "We Are All Khaled Said" Facebook page. Khaled Said is a young man who was tortured to death last year in Egypt.
Well, he told a harrowing account of his detention and how he was taken while he was driving in a car by four sort of Interior Ministry police officers. He was held and liberated today.
And, Wolf, what's interested about -- interesting about this is he has become, in many ways, an emblem for this young revolution. He was asked on an interview on a private Egyptian channel, "Are you a hero?"
And he responded -- and I think our viewers will find this interesting because of the social networking aspect of all of this. He said: "This is the revolution of the Internet youth. It later became the revolution of Egyptian youth then became the revolution of all of Egypt. And there is no one hero in it."
And, really, here in Egypt it's been the buzz, the release of Wael Ghonam -- Ghonim, that Google executive.
BLITZER: And we're going to try to speak with him ourselves, if we can, Hala.
But talk a little bit about what the Egyptian government is doing. Now they're speaking, actually, to some of the opposition leaders, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
What do we know about this?
GORANI: Well, the Muslim Brotherhood participated in talks. But they sort of took a step back and said we're not really negotiating, we're there more sort of in a -- we're observing the process. We're observing the talks. And there were a few representatives of other opposition groups.
But overall, it wasn't as all inclusive as the government would like all of us to believe. And the promises made didn't include a timetable. And that is essential here, because people on the streets in Tahrir Square are saying, we want change, we want it now, we want to know by when you are going to implement changes and change the constitution to make sure that elections in September are free and fair.
So many observers here on the ground are saying, look, it looks like the government is stalling for time right now, hoping, perhaps, that the world's attention will be diverted away from Egypt and not implement fundamental changes.
But, they say, if the government does that, if the regime doesn't deliver on promises, then you can be pretty sure there is a very high chance that there will be more bloodshed in Egypt -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Hala, how are you doing now?
A lot of our viewers have been Tweeting me, e-mailing me, asking, how are our reporters, because they're deeply concerned about what the government has done to journalists?
But what about you personally?
What's it like today, as opposed to last week, when it was horrendous?
GORANI: Well, it's night and day, really. I mean we were able today, for the first time, to go out, actually, with a real big television camera, you know, show these things outdoors, broadcast on a balcony with lights on. We were able to do sort of a traditional satellite live shot, as we call it, in television.
So it's a very, very different atmosphere. There's still some neighborhoods where we have to be careful. But the difference between today and last week, when journalists were being deliberately targeted, assaulted, detained, and, in some cases, severely beaten, is stark, Wolf. It's really, really a different scenario today.
BLITZER: All right.
Let's hope it stays like that.
Hala, thanks so much.
There's a lot of debate about whether the U.S. should consider ending or eliminating over $1 billion in aid to Egypt every year. A dramatic move like that could encourage Hosni Mubarak, potentially, some believe, to give up power sooner rather than later. On the other hand, it could backfire, with serious consequences for the U.S., specifically right now for the Obama administration.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is taking a closer look at how Egypt is spending all those U.S. dollars.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The United States built and bought a lot of Egypt's military arsenal, selling them hundreds of F-16s, co-producing 1,000 Abrams battle tanks and this year, scheduled to deliver coastal patrol craft, air defense missiles and surveillance drones. One Congressional report estimates the U.S. pays for up to 80 percent of Egypt's weapons.
We will evaluate the actions of the government of Egypt in making and reviewing decisions about aid.
LAWRENCE: There's a chorus in Congress that argues if the U.S. is holding the purse, it's time to pull the strings. The head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the U.S. must leverage its longstanding assistance to press Mr. Mubarak to let the voice of his people be heard. Others say don't cut the aid.
Please consider the consequences of such an action.
LAWRENCE: Like the impact on American workers. The U.S. government gives Egypt more than $1 billion for weapons. But most of that cash gets spent with U.S. defense contractors. That meant $200 million to companies in Texas, nearly $50 million each to Florida and Pennsylvania, and $25 million to Arizona and Missouri, just in the last year. And a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks says Egypt's military leaders consider the $1.3 billion as untouchable compensation for keeping the peace with Israel.
Some analysts say the U.S. does need to better account for its money.
But trying to suspend aid in the middle of this crisis will -- will further damage U.S. standing with the Egyptian military as this moves forward.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence reporting for us from the Pentagon.
I'll be asking, by the way, the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, about U.S. military aid to Egypt in the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be speaking live. Lots of questions for the State Department right now. They are faces in the crowds of protesters in Egypt -- one of the people behind the revolution explains why he's so determined right now to fight for freedom, even if it costs him his life.
And we're looking into President Hosni Mubarak's vast personal fortune and allegations he stole it -- stole it from the Egyptian people.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I suppose it was only a matter of time before we heard from Sarah Palin on the events unfolding in Egypt. The half term I quit Alaska governor, who badly bungled her response to the Arizona shootings, had managed to keep quiet on the crisis in Egypt for about two weeks, right up until her interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, where Palin highlighted her lack of foreign policy experience, as well as her lack of understanding.
She blasted the Obama administration on Egypt, saying the crisis was the president's 3:00 a.m. phone call which, quote, "went right to the answering machine," unquote.
Sarah Palin says the administration has not yet explained to the public what it knows. She says she is, quote, "not really enthused about what's being done in Washington" and called for strength and sound mind in the White House.
When Sarah Palin talks, it's usually a lot of feathers and not very much chicken.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who is going to fill the void?
Mubarak, he -- he's gone. One way or the other, you know, he -- he is not going to be the leader of Egypt. That -- that's a given. So now the information has to be gathered and understood as to who it will be that fills now the -- the void in the government.
Is it going to be the Muslim Brotherhood? We should not stand for that, or with that or by that. Any radical Islamists? No, that is not who we should be standing by. So, we need to find out who is behind all of the turmoil and the revolt and the protests so that good decisions can be made in terms of who we will stand by and support.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Palin's words as per usual amount to a whole lot of not very much. She criticizes Obama. She doesn't offer any solution of her own. We should be used to this by now. A lot of feathers, no chicken.
Here's the question. How much do you trust Sarah Palin's opinion on Egypt? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog. You know, that clip was reminiscent, Wolf, of the Katie Couric sit-downs.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. That was not a very high point in her political career, as you remember, Jack.
CAFFERTY: I recall.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks.
For two weeks now, the world has watched protesters in Egypt fight for greater freedom, but who are these people who've been risking their lives in Cairo's Liberation Square? CNN's Ivan Watson introduces us to one of the new revolutionaries.
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Morning for the men of the barricades in Tahrir Square. Cold, battle scarred, and filthy, they fought and bled to protect this symbol of Egyptian defiance.
It was raining. It was cold year last night.
ABDUL HAMID DAOUD, PROTESTER: Yes, yes, yes, and we will stand and tired, and we will continue forever until that system removed.
WATSON: Abdul Hamid Daoud suffered head wounds during last Wednesday's furious battle between opposition demonstrators and President Hosni Mubarak supporters. How did you feel fighting other Egyptians?
DAOUD: Fighting other Egyptians?
DAOUD: They are not Egyptians. They are criminals.
WATSON: Daoud says he's fighting for his country's freedom.
DAOUD: We want to make democracy systems with organizations, not tumultuous country, not fascistic system. We want to make it Democracy.
WATSON: Daoud and thousands of his colleagues established improvised lines of security.
DAOUD: Anybody has to go inside. They have to make a check.
WATSON: And an alarm system of clangs and whistles that sounds at the first hint of a threat. The result, an enclave in the heart of the Egyptian capital that's largely out of state control.
Here, Egyptians can sing, dance, give political speeches, and even make street art.
DAOUD: And this is art. Our art.
WATSON: Anti-Mubarak messages made from the stones protesters once hurled at the president's men.
DAOUD: My friend is leaving.
WATSON: Daoud is a father of two, an engineer who worked for an American I.T. company, and a devout muslim Who admirers the Muslim brotherhood party.
DAOUD: The Muslim brotherhood is one of the best (ph) of the Egyptian. And we have also Christians.
WATSON: On Sunday, Egyptian Christians stood shoulder to shoulder with Muslims holding a cross and the Koran demanding Mubarak's resignation.
What do you call this? Do you have a name for this?
WATSON: It's a revolution.
WATSON: But a day earlier, these Egyptian revolutionaries shifted their tactics to face a new far more dangerous threat.
You have people sitting outside your barricades.
DAOUD: To face the tanks.
WATSON: And why do you have to face the tanks?
DAOUD: To stop them.
WATSON: The men of the barricades fear Egyptian soldiers may use force to kill their revolution. To prevent that, they say they're ready to pay the ultimate price.
Ivan Watson, CNN, Cairo.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the situation in Egypt, including just what is the Obama administration's position on what President Mubarak should do? Should he step down? if yes, when? I'll ask the state department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He's standing by live. He'll join us here in the SITUATION ROOM.
Plus, the first on-camera interview with a Google executive who is just freed after nearly two weeks in detention.
BLITZER: We'll get back to Egypt shortly, but there's other important stories we're following including in Southern Sudan. It's now on its way to becoming the world's newest nation. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, this is an interesting story. According to the results from last month's referendum just announced today, an overwhelming majority of Southern Sudanese voted to split from the north. The north and the south, they have been at war for decades, a conflict that has left some 2 million people dead. Barring any obstacles, the new country will be official in July.
The families of two American hikers charged with spying in Iran say they are pleased the two men were able to defend their innocence in court. A trial for the hikers had been held in Iran since July 2009 began yesterday and could resume in the next few weeks. A third American, Sarah Shourd, was released on bail due to a medical condition and hasn't responded to a court summons.
An internal review ordered by British prime minister, David Cameron, has concluded that the previous British government did not pressure Scottish officials to release convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, but it did find that the UK officials advised Libyan authorities on how to get him released. Decision Cameron now calls flawed. Megrahi was freed from prison in 2009 after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is still alive today.
An astronaut, Mark Kelly, resumes training today for his upcoming shuttle mission to the international space station. Kelly, whose wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was wounded during the January Tucson shooting, announced Friday that he was proceeding with plans to command the flight. "Endeavour" is set to launch in April. So, he's going ahead, he decided, and you know, he said that Congresswoman Giffords, it was something that she would want him to do.
BLITZER: Yes. That's what he said. And let's wish the best for him, the crew, and for everybody else and a certainly a speedy recovery for her as well. Thanks, Lisa.
In Egypt, activists and journalists beaten, bloodied, and bitter. Stand by. We're going to hear some of the graphic stories of being targeted by the Egyptian police.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Touched my head and (INAUDIBLE) started shouting. I'm literally screaming for my life, really. There was no stopping them. It's a blind mob.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Still lots of questions for officials in Egypt about brutal attacks by police during the height of the anti-government protests. A warning. The next report contains a graphic image that many viewers may find disturbing. CNN's Arwa Damon reports on opposition figures, including human rights activists and some journalists who have been targeted, along with some citizens who may simply have been at the wrong place at the wrong time.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "I went to all the morgues. I went to all the hospital." Nadia sobs hysterically. "Where is my son? His name is Mohammed, and he worked at the pyramids." The 15-year-old disappeared on his way home on the first day of the uprising. Clutching his picture, Mohammed's younger brother hopes someone in Tahrir Square might recognize him. Just one of many Egyptians unaccounted for since these demonstrations began.
NADIA, MUSSING PERSON'S MOTHER: I hope you come back, Mohammed. I hope you come back.
DAMON: His mother cries in agony. The family hopes but also fears that he has been detained. Even before the recent unrest, Human Rights Watch has long accused Egypt of oppressive police state tactics against dissidents and has been trying to document missing persons cases that may be politically motivated. Last summer, 28-year-old businessman, Khaled Said, was dragged out of a cafe, witnesses say and beaten to death by plain clothes police.
HEBA FATMA MORAYEF, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: The police brutality when, you know, Khaled was crying, you're killing me, you're killing me, and yet, he was still banging his head against the steps and the marble steps and the metal door.
DAMON: Hundreds took to the streets in Alexandria to protest the killing. Their horror over such brutality overcoming any fear of reprisal. The government initially claimed that Khaled, who according to supporters, had evidence of police corruption, died of asphyxiation after trying to swallow a packet of drugs but has since acknowledged he was beaten to death.
A Facebook page started by human rights activists was bannered, "We are all Khaled Said" using cell phone photos from the morgue to give witness to the type of brutality later used against anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square that has captured the attention of the world.
MORAYEF: I think what this recent crisis has really highlighted is the very repressive nature of the police state that we've had under Mubarak since he took over. There are really no limits to how far the security services in this country will go to protect the status quo.
DAMON: Human Rights Watch says attacks against the media during the protests show the government is deliberately trying to create a sense of paranoia by blaming western elements for wanting to create chaos. MORAYEF: This seems to be a strategy to try and limit the international coverage which has been very sympathetic to the demands of protesters.
DAMON: Two "New York Times" correspondents reported Sunday on how they were taken into custody by Egyptian authorities, turned over to secret police, and interrogated in a cold, padded room. "The worst part had nothing to do with our treatment," they wrote. "It was seeing, and in particularly hearing, through the walls of this dreadful facility the abuse of Egyptians at the hands of their own government."
The reporters were held overnight and released. But as they told us, the treatment is not always so benign for Egyptians.
This protester, a (INAUDIBLE) economist and active blogger whose name is Mohamed, was stopped on the way home one day last week at a civilian checkpoint in a neighborhood hostile towards the ongoing protests. He said his laptop was taken and he was accused of being a foreign agent.
MOHAMED, BLOGGER AND PROTESTER: The first slap on the back of the head was like their -- everybody started pummeling (ph) the back. So it was a little insane. So I was getting kind of hit from all sides. Mostly to the head for some reason.
I actually touched my head and (INAUDIBLE) started shouting, screaming for my life, really, because, I mean, there was no stopping them. It's a blind mob, and people behave very differently in a mob.
DAMON (on camera): But was this happening within eyesight of the military?
MOHAMED: Within, you know, four yards of an officer and two soldiers.
DAMON (voice-over): He said the soldiers told him they have orders not to interfere. Just one of many scarred by recent events in a nation that still must heal from its past.
Arwa Damon, CNN, Cairo.
BLITZER: And this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. For the first time, we're now hearing from the Google executive who was released today in Egypt after going missing during last week's protests in Cairo. He's been missing for nearly two weeks, believed taken into captivity by Egyptian secret police.
Here's what Wael Ghonim told a private Egyptian television network, Dream TV, just a short while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAEL GHONIM, FREED GOOGLE EXECUTIVE (through translator): I was kidnapped Thursday night, about 1:00 a.m. at night. I was with one of my friends. He was my colleague at work and he was coming to visit Egypt. After I finished visiting him I left the place.
I was going to get a taxi, so I went one way, and I was walking down a straight road, and I found all of a sudden, four people surrounding me. They were kidnapping me. And I yelled, "Help me!" But, of course, I knew these were security forces.
The thing that tortured me the most when I was in detention was that people would find out that I was the admin of the page that was calling for protests. I didn't want people to find out that I was the admin, because I am not the hero. I was writing with a keyboard on the Internet, and my life was never exposed to any danger.
Oh, I'm not a hero. I slept for 12 days. The heroes were in the streets.
The heroes are the ones that went to the demonstrations. The heroes are the ones that sacrificed their lives. The heroes are the ones that were beaten. And the heroes are the ones who were arrested and exposed to dangers.
I wasn't a hero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We'll have more on this part of story coming up in the next hour.
Meanwhile, the revolt in Egypt seems to have caught the Obama administration off guard. Should the president have been more plugged in? James Carville and Ed Rollins, they are both standing by. We'll discuss that and more in our "Strategy Session."
And a new test of an aircraft that could -- could change the way America fights wars.
BLITZER: New evidence that tensions could be easing between President Obama and the business community.
Lisa Sylvester is back. She's monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
What's going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi again, Wolf.
Well, President Obama addressed members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today, a group often critical of his administration and its signature policies. The president emphasized the importance of working together, but he wasn't afraid to acknowledge a rocky relationship in the past.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tom, it is good to be here today at the Chamber of Commerce. I'm here in the interest of being more neighborly.
I strolled over from across the street. And, look, maybe if we had brought over a fruit cake when I first moved in, we would have gotten off to a better start. But I'm going to make up for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: No fruit cake for now.
Well, the president also made the case that increased spending on education and infrastructure is needed to put the economy back on track.
Longtime California Congresswoman Jane Harman is retiring from the House of Representatives. Sources say the 65-year-old Democrat is expected to replace former Congressman Lee Hamilton as head of the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank here in Washington. No word yet on when Harman will officially resign, but she is not expected to serve out the rest of her term.
A two-day extradition hearing for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is under way in London. Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning in connection with sexual misconduct allegations unrelated to that controversial diplomatic document dump. His lawyers argue that if he is extradited, he could ultimately end up at Guantanamo Bay or be executed. Assange denies the allegations, and he is currently free on bail.
And this could change the future of naval air combat as we know it. The unmanned aircraft known as the X47B is designed to fight battles at sea without a pilot. It reached about 5,000 feet in its first test flight before landing. The aircraft will reportedly be tested on carriers starting in 2013, so the key thing here is there is no pilot there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, more of these pilotless drones, if you will, that are going up there, these remotely piloted aircraft. I guess if you want to be a pilot, that's not necessarily a growth industry right now, at least in the Air Force or the Navy.
SYLVESTER: But it's safer. It's safer for everyone around.
BLITZER: It's a lot safer. If this goes down, nobody -- at least none of the crew members -- get killed.
All right. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.
We're going to have much more coming up on the situation in Egypt. We're watching the latest developments, including new questions right now over whether the crisis caught the Obama administration off guard. We'll discuss that in our "Strategy Situation." That's come up.
Plus, what President Obama says is the worst part of his job and why some are now taking issue with what he said it is.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's talk about the U.S. and Egypt in our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, our two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, James Carville, and the Republican strategist, Ed Rollins.
Ed, I know you've given the president relatively high marks as far as Egypt, the way he's handled Egypt over the past two weeks is concerned. Are you still sticking by that?
ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it's a complicated issue. I mean, emotionally, we're all for the democracy movement. That's what we believe in as a nation. Intellectually, Mubarak has been a longtime ally. And I think we need to have stability in that country because it's very important whoever ends up as president and as leader of that country six months, eight months from now.
We need them to be our ally because they control much of the peace in the Middle East. So there's no easy answer. And I think the bottom line here is that you watch it closely.
Mubarak didn't -- wasn't prepared for it. It's hard for Obama to be prepared for it. And I don't like presidents being second-guessed.
BLITZER: Well, that's a fair point.
James, a lot of Egyptians say, especially the protesters, some of the elites, some of the influential folks over there, they are totally confused by what the U.S. policy is right now. They don't understand.
I'm sort of confused. Does the U.S. want Mubarak to step down now, or wait until elections that are scheduled for September? Do you understand what U.S. policy is?
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, yes, I understand. And I agree with Ed. I mean, the president is going to get criticized. That doesn't bother me. But I think on a whole, they are dealing with a rather sticky wicket there.
And they got an absolute top hand in this fellow Wisner, who people tell me is one of the premier diplomats that we have. And I think that their policy is they are trying to get Mubarak to leave as soon as possible without having the country collapse.
And it's kind of -- it might be slightly confusing, but if you push people out, or the infrastructure of the country deteriorates, you have chaos. And, I mean, no one knows that.
And by the way, the banks are back up and things are kind of up and running, and they have got a date certain. I mean, there's been a lot of things that have happened in Egypt, and it's never going to go back to the way it was. I actually think the president has done a commendable job so far.
BLITZER: So you understand what the administration wants. You're not confused, James? CARVILLE: Well, I mean, look, I'm kind of extrapolating here. I think they want him to leave as soon as possible without the country collapsing, which seems to be a reasonable thing to want.
BLITZER: Are you confused, Ed?
ROLLINS: I'm confused. The only issue that I take with James, Wisner has had a very long and distinguished career, but as I read in "Foreign Affairs," that he is now working for Patton Boggs. It's big lawyer lobbyist firm who represent Mubarak. I think you undercut the ambassador that's there by sending someone else in to be the dealer.
BLITZER: Yes, but the problem is that the ambassador who is there probably couldn't get in to deliver a message to President Mubarak, and they needed someone to come from Washington. Wisner is well connected in Egypt, he does serve as an adviser to Patton Boggs, the huge Washington law firm.
Some have said that he's got a conflict of interest. We're going to get into that a little bit more in the next hour. But he did deliver a message from the president of the United States, and President Mubarak seemed to have responded to it.
ROLLINS: Except we then gave conflicting -- the administration, the president, the secretary of state are on one side, and he comes out and he basically says he's going to stay there until the end of his term. So I think to a certain extent, who speaks for the administration? And whenever you send a special envoy, you better make sure they understand when they come back that they are not a free agent, they've got to basically say --
BLITZER: No, he's a retired U.S. diplomat, James. And he does work at Patton Boggs right now. He's got a lot of other boards and interests, commercial interests in Egypt right now.
Was that a mistake, for the president to call on him and send him over there, knowing there potentially could be a conflict?
CARVILLE: Yes. You know, I would like to hear the president's answer to that. I'm sure that he knew about all of this.
And again, from everything that I hear from people that tell me, that this is an absolutely knowledgeable top hand, and he can get in and see Mubarak, he has a relationship. And, again, I think they are trying -- they are pretty clear that they want Mubarak to leave as soon as possible.
And, you know, by the same token, if the country collapses or disintegrates into something that nobody wants, it's not good for anybody, including the Egyptians. I have some sympathy with him. You know, probably not a great answer to any of it, but it seems like they are managing it fairly well.
BLITZER: Listen to this exchange on a different issue, but involving the president of the United States, that the president had with Bill O'Reilly yesterday just before the Super Bowl on Fox broadcast. Bill O'Reilly asking the president what he thought the worst part of his job is. And listen to this exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The worst part of the job is, first of all, I've got a jacket on, on Super Bowl Sunday.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: That's --
OBAMA: If I wasn't president, that would not be happening.
O'REILLY: But I have a tie. You don't have a tie.
OBAMA: The biggest problem for me is being in the bubble. It's very hard to escape. You can't go to the corner --
O'REILLY: So everybody watching every move you make.
OBAMA: Every move you make. And over time, you know, what happens is that you feel like -- that you're not able to just have a spontaneous conversation with folks.
O'REILLY: You can't.
OBAMA: And that's -- that's a loss. That's a big loss.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Now a lot -- not a lot -- some conservative critics of the president, James, are saying, you know what? The answer should have been from the president, what's the worst part of your job? The worst part of the job is signing letters and writing parents knowing that their sons and daughters have been killed in war in Iraq and Afghanistan or elsewhere. That's the worst part, sending young men and women into battle and not seeing them come home.
CARVILLE: Well, you know, they criticize the man for the kind of mustard that he put on his hamburger. I'm sure you get asked a question and it kind of comes to your mind.
And, you know, President Clinton and every president I think I feels that at some level, what used to refer to the White House as a crown jewel in the federal penal system. I mean, in essence, you are sort of in there. And, you know, maybe you kind of are divorced from things.
But the answer seems -- you know, maybe there's a better answer, but it's hard. They criticize him no matter what he does.
BLITZER: Because the criticism -- the criticism, Ed, goes further, that he was very egocentric, self-centered with his answer, as opposed to giving what a lot of other presidents have said, you know, when you make a decision sending young men and women off to war, that's the worst part of the job. ROLLINS: Obviously, if he could have a do-over on that particular question he would say something like, I wish -- when I went to Ft. Hood and saw those troops that were murdered, when I went two weeks to Tucson, or two weeks ago, and saw the tragedy, those are the things that bother me. Every president feels like they are in a bubble, but, you know, unfortunately, spontaneous answers sometimes, whether it's James or I doing it, sometimes don't always come out the way we want it.
BLITZER: Yes. You know what?
BLITZER: When I heard that question I thought he was going to talk about young men and women who die in war on behalf of the United States, because he's given that answer before. You know, he's said that before, he's expressed that deep, deep regret. And so I was a little surprised when he talked about, you know, he couldn't go to the corner and do certain things because he's in a bubble, blah, blah, blah, and all of that.
But very quickly, James?
CARVILLE: You know, Wolf, if I had a dollar for every time I left this show and I said, "You know, I wish would I have said that when Wolf asked me," but it's kind of the first thing that comes to your mind. I mean, it wasn't a terrible answer. It was a fine answer. There was a better answer.
ROLLINS: They're always ringing (ph) about 30 minutes after we leave the set.
BLITZER: I think the president himself probably says, you know, I wish I would have said something else, but that's -- that's another -- I totally agree, we can all relate to that.
All right. James, Ed, thank you.
ROLLINS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is asking, how much do you trust Sarah Palin's opinion on Egypt?
And protesters in Egypt want President Hosni Mubarak to step down before the scheduled September elections. Is the State Department here in Washington willing to back them up? I'll speak live with the State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He's standing by.
BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. CAFFERTY: So the question is: How much do you trust Sarah Palin's opinion about Egypt?
Vicki writes, "Sarah needs to disappear for a few months and study up if she ever wants to get anywhere in the political arena. Her responses always seem to show a complete ignorance of what's happening. Her main objective is to criticize Obama no matter what he does."
John in Alabama, "Sarah Palin's the lady who could see Russia from her house in Alaska. I don't think this qualifies her as an area expert on the Middle East or Egypt. I believe her areas of expertise are bears, fishing, shooting wolves from helicopters, and quitting jobs."
Wayne in Orlando, "Sarah Palin's no longer relevant. She needs to be ignored by the press and frankly, by the Republican Party. It's painful to watch this woman embarrass herself."
Ikahn (ph) in Nevada, "Egypt is a serious geopolitical issue for the United States, far beyond the grasp of the likes of Sarah Palin. She can't be trusted with anything remotely this serious."
Calvin writes, "I trust Sarah Palin's opinion on Egypt as much as I trust my parrot to drive my Bolens Hydro lawnmower. The parrot's intent isn't knowable, but the outcome is certain."
Erin in Dayton, Ohio, "Sarah's constant heckling is getting old. It's like a game to Ms. Palin, and I just wait for when she is called out and asked to explain her remedy, and then we only hear the crickets chirping."
"Attacking without a solution allows her to be on the offensive because it's her defense that's lacking. America needs to be on the same page right now, and she's doing nothing productive. She's only helping to divide us. Put up or shut up."
Lynsey writes, "Sarah can't see Egypt from her house, so she is completely clueless about what's going on there."
And Bob in Florida, "She may have something, you know. Egypt is one of the biggest cities in the country of Africa."
If you want to read more on this -- she has retired the trophy, Wolf, in terms of e-mail on this program. No one generates the kind of e- mail that Ms. Palin does. Most of it isn't any good, but they write in just to bark at her a little bit.
Anyway, go to the blog. There's some funny stuff there.
BLITZER: I will. All right, Jack. Thanks very much.
Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."
All right. We're looking into the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's money. Apparently, there's a lot of it. The question is, if he steps down, what happens to his personal fortune? And an exclusive look at how drug traffickers allegedly operated out of one of America's busiest airports.
BLITZER: It's a problem affecting airports around the country, drug cartels allegedly using commercial planes to smuggle narcotics.
CNN's Deborah Feyerick is joining us now with a CNN exclusive.
What have you learned, Deb?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the ultimate inside job, a sophisticated internal conspiracy timed perfectly. Drugs come in, money goes out, often in the time it takes to turn a plane around between flights.
Now, an alleged drug trafficker who worked as a baggage handler at New York's JFK Airport is set to go on trial, accused of smuggling more than $300 million worth of narcotics into the U.S.
Here's how he did it.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's in crew seats, food carts, control panels, toilets, drug traffickers using commercial planes to smuggle hundreds of millions of dollars of narcotics into the United States from places like South America and the Caribbean.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all the flight controls, flight computers. We've discovered narcotics underneath the floor in here.
FEYERICK: These special agents are with Homeland Security Investigations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this covering is easily removed.
FEYERICK: They work intelligence, intercepting drugs like cocaine and other contraband.
(on camera): If they can bring in drugs or they can bring in guns, they could hide potentially bomb components anywhere in here.
JAMES MODICO, CHIEF OF HOMELAND SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS, JFK: Yes. That's the most troubling thing to me.
FEYERICK: What makes an internal conspiracy so complicated is that the people involved work for the airlines.
MODICO: Primarily baggage handlers. We've also arrested mechanics, flight attendants, security guards.
One of the first places we go to is generally the cockpit.
FEYERICK: That's a pretty gutsy thing, to be putting narcotics in the cockpit.
MODICO: Absolutely. I mean, you're sitting right next to the first officer and the captain. The organizations will actually construct bricks to fit in these locations.
FEYERICK: You could be a passenger sitting on drugs and you would never know it.
MODICO: At New York street prices, you could be sitting on $100,000 worth of product.
FEYERICK (voice-over): And timing is everything.
MODICO: You have an hour and a half to get the passengers off the plane, to get the bags off the plane, to get all of the narcotics, and to get that plane prepared for its outbound trip.
FEYERICK: Some 200 corrupt airline workers have been arrested since 2003.
JAMES T. HARRIS, SPECIAL AGENT-IN-CHARGE, ICE, NY: With our investigations, the goal is to stop it.
FEYERICK: Now, since 2003, these investigators at JFK have seized 2,600 pounds of cocaine, 150 pounds of heroin, and more than 12,000 pounds of marijuana. And as far as airplane safety, Wolf, the integrity of the plane isn't necessarily compromised, however, there have been cases where life vests have been removed.
BLITZER: Deb Feyerick, Thanks very much.