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Gadhafi Urges End to NATO Air Strikes; Majority Leader Harry Reid Addresses Congress; Making Millions Off Gadhafi

Aired April 6, 2011 - 18:00   ET



Happening now, a letter from Moammar Gadhafi to President Obama. He calls the president and I'm quoting him now, "our son," and he urges an end to NATO air strikes. We have the Libya leader's personal plea and the Obama administration's answers, standby.

A former U.S. congressman shows up in Tripoli, all of a sudden, for a meeting with Gadhafi. Can he convince the Libyan leader that it's time to leave?

And making millions and millions of dollars off of Gadhafi. How Libya's leader turned out to be a gold mine for some American firms. Which ones? You're going to find out. A SITUATION ROOM investigation coming up.

All that, plus the latest on the looming government shutdown.

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

Not much is going well for Libya's rebels lately, but today, they scored one success, a tanker carrying crude oil left the Eastern port of Tobruk, the first known export shipment by the opposition. However on the battlefield, the opposition has been knocked back on its heels. Each advance is followed by a retreat.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Eastern Libya.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anti-Gadhafi forces continues to take a pounding in Eastern Libya. Yesterday, we saw them being pushed back 40 kilometers, 25 miles from Brega to about half way between Brega and Ajdabiya.

They say it's been days now since there was any sort of coalition or NATO air strike against Gadhafi's forces. This, despite the fact that Abdel Fatah Younis, the head of the opposition army, says that they give NATO regular updates on the positions of Libyan forces in this part of the country.

NATO says one of the problems is the weather is not ideal for air strikes. But, even though today is cloudy, the by-and-large, visibility is good. Another worry of NATO is that many forces are hiding among civilians, but the opposition argues there's still the supply lines that are easy targets for those aircraft.

And of course, you'll point to think like this. This is a tank outside of the town of Ajdabiya that was hit two and a half weeks ago by French aircraft.

And this area is scattered with similar examples of what NATO could do if it had the will to do it, but the Libyan opposition is saying they're worried that will just isn't there.

I'm Ben Wedeman reporting from outside Ajdabiya in Eastern Libya.


BLITZER: Now, a stunning back and forth between Gadhafi and the Obama administration. The Libyan leader writes directly to President Obama with a personal appeal. Let's go straight to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, she's working this part of the story for us -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, there's a certain surreal quality to all of this. In the midst of a war with the international community demanding that he stop the violence and step down, Moammar Gadhafi writes a bizarre letter to President Barack Obama.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): In his rambling three-page letter to President Barack Obama, the Libyan leader says regardless of the hurt the U.S. has caused Libya, quote, "You will always remain our son whatever happens."

Gadhafi urges Mr. Obama to stop the NATO air campaign which he calls an unjust war against a small people of a developing country.

Libya, he says, has been morally damaged by the NATO campaign more than physically, but Gadhafi makes no offer to step down or to negotiate in that letter.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed the message saying Gadhafi knows what he must do, leave power and leave Libya.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think there is any mystery about what is expected from Mr. Gadhafi at this time. That is an international assessment, and the sooner that occurs and the bloodshed ends, the better it will be for everyone.

DOUGHERTY: State department officials say there have been other similar letters from Gadhafi before. This one was passed from Gadhafi to senior state department official, Jeffrey Feltman, and then, passed on to the White House.

In defiance, Gadhafi says you can't build Democracy with missiles and aircraft or by supporting the opposition which he calls, quote, "Armed members of al Qaeda."


DOUGHERTY: And in another odd moment from this Gadhafi letter, he tells President Obama we still pray that you continue to be president of the USA -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very weird. What else do we know the letter? Was it handwritten, by an chance?

DOUGHERTY: No, it was actually typed or, you know, could have been on a computer. How did it get here? Well, we believe, we do not know, but the indications are that the way other letters have come from senior officials from the Gadhafi regime, which is usually by fax to the state department.

BLITZER: Well, they can have a fax machine in Tripoli to the state department. Very cool. All right. Thanks very much for that. >

A former U.S. lawmaker whose developed close ties to Libya over the years is in Tripoli right now at the invitation of Moammar Gadhafi. The ex-congressman from Pennsylvania, Curt Weldon, plans to meet with Libya's leader. He says, he'll propose a cease fire and I'll tell Gadhafi face-to-face, his words, that it's time for him to leave.

Let's bring in a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and "New York Times" columnist, Nicholas Kristof, to discuss this and more. You read that op-ed by Curt Weldon in your newspaper, "The New York Times" today, what did you think?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: I don't think that there is a very good chance that Weldon will be able to persuade Gadhafi to go. I think that what we're seeing is the Gadhafi family is desperate, and they're really trying a bunch of different avenues to try to figure out what they can do to work out a deal, and one is inviting Weldon in.

One is sending his son, Saif, his aid to London to try to work out a deal, trying to work out a deal with the Greeks and then sending this extraordinary letter to President Obama, which it sure felt to me was actually really written by Moammar Gadhafi, himself.

BLITZER: It sounds like Gadhafi given the weirdness of it referring to him as my son. I hope you got re-elected. You're killing me, but I hope you're doing an excellent job, forget about all that.

KRISTOF: Yes. I mean, Gadhafi did learn English as a young man. He speaks English, not very well, and I'd say, you know, his English is about the caliber of that letter, and it didn't seem that it was really proofread by anybody who spoke English well or else the proofreaders didn't have the guts to say to Gadhafi, you might want to correct your spelling and your grammar. So, it felt to me like it was really coming directly from Gadhafi.

BLITZER: On this Curt Weldon visit, I've been in touch with him throughout the day. I haven't spoken directly to him, but I have spoken to some people close to him. You know, I think, he's had a long-standing relationship for years now as a former congressman while he was in Congress with Gadhafi. He's proposing, he proposed it at "The New York Times" that Saif al-Islam Gadhafi take over really, Moammar Gadhafi step down, and Saif al-Islam work out a deal with the opposition.

Is that, at all, realistic?

KRISTOF: I don't think it's realistic that Saif stay on, but I do think that there is some real chance of a negotiation, some of kind a deal. I think that it is plausible, for example, that the Gadhafi family take $10 million and move off to Uganda, to Mali, and then, for example, maybe not members of the Gadhafi family, but the nominal head of state is actually a very close Gadhafi friend who is the head of the parliament. And if that person were to remain in charge, you know, maybe that would be OK with the rebels.

BLITZER: And this notion of partitioning Libya, whether now calling a two states (INAUDIBLE). We're not talking about Israel and Palestine. We're talking about two parts of Libya, and some people are floating that idea out there right now. What do you think of that?

KRISTOF: I don't think that Libyans will go for that. I don't think that is viable, but I think that it is good that Weldon is there. And I think it's important that we have as many channels as we can back and forth and have people who are telling Gadhafi the truth, that he's not going to able to stay on.

One of the real problems is with dictators, and we also saw that in Ivory Coast is that dictators don't get good information because they're surrounded by defense (ph), and I hope that that will message get to Gadhafi that he has no future in Libya.

BLITZER: What do you make of the rebels now bitterly complaining that NATO is missing in action? Where is NATO? They keep saying now that the United States has handed over complete responsibility to NATO. They're not seeing the air strikes. They're not seeing the tomahawk cruise missiles, and they're bitter about it, at least, our reporters in Benghazi are telling us that.

KRISTOF: Well, if I were a rebel, I'd be complaining, too, and it does seem to be working in the sense that NATO does seem to be stunned by this criticism, and it says that it had more sorties today that it will have even more tomorrow. Clearly, the weather is one constraint on them. It is harder when it's cloudy.

Another constraint is that there are fewer tanks being used by the Gadhafi forces, and in a more mortars, for example, it's a lot harder to hit a mortar than to hit a tank. But, I mean, frankly, I share the rebels sort of bewilderment that around Misrata. Why isn't there more pressure on the Gadhafi forces that are moving in to Misrata? I think it's a valid question.

BLITZER: I loved your column the other day about the inconsistency in U.S. policy. It's better to be inconsistent and save at least some lives than to be consistent and let a whole lot of innocent people die. In a nutshell, tell our viewers what you wrote.

KRISTOF: Well, I think that, you know, a lot of people say, we're not intervening in places in Africa, in Darfur, in Ivory Coast, and there's a real inconsistency here. And, I think, you know, absolutely, we have to plead guilty, but at the end of the day, I don't think Libyans should suffer because we made Rwandan suffer. You know, that fundamentally, it's better to inconsistently save some lives than to consistently save none.

BLITZER: Nick Kristof, if you want to follow him on Twitter, more than a million people are following you on Twitter, Nick. You got a lot of followers, a lot of fans out there.

KRISTOF: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch with you, and we'll obviously follow you on Twitter and read your column in the "New York Times."

KRISTOF: Thank you.

BLITZER: An emotional reunion between the Libyan woman who says she was raped by Gadhafi loyalists and her mother. The reunion happened on CNN.

Also, the U.S. companies that made huge profits from Moammar Gadhafi. Our SITUATION ROOM investigation coming up.

And a government shutdown then and now. I'm with CNN's White House correspondent. The last time it happened. We'll take a closer look at the budget battles, 1995 versus 2011.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is thinking about the debt crisis in this country. He's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's very depressing. The clock is ticking. The federal government might shut down Friday night if Congress doesn't agree on a 2011 budget, something they should have done last October. Republicans in the House, Democrats in the Senate, billions of dollars apart, there is no deal anywhere in sight. It's pathetic. Oh, and President Obama, he spent a day fund raising in Pennsylvania and New York.

Now, apparently, they're going to all try to get together at the White House later tonight when the president returns to Washington. Our problems with debt and spending are staggering. And our lawmakers failure to address the issue in any meaningful way borders on being criminal. Try this on. According to the Treasury Department, the federal government spent more than $1 trillion in the month of March, more than eight times as much money as it brought in. Eight times.

By the end of this fiscal year, that's September 30th, the national debt will exceed $15.4 trillion. How did we get here? Well, for one, the size of government s completely out of hand. More people now work for the government than work in the manufacturing, farming, fishing, forestry, mining, and utilities industries combined. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, says the United States is now at a tipping point in this debt crisis.

He says the Congressional Budget Office predicts that our economy will simply be unable to continue past the year 2037 if something serious isn't done soon.

Here's the question. What does it mean that the U.S. government spent eight times more money than it took in in the month of March?

Go to and post comment on my blog. Very sad.

BLITZER: You've been passionate on this issue for a long, long time, Jack. I know a lot of voters out there are passionate, but you've been in the forefront.

CAFFERTY: You know, I mean, but this is a train that's been coming down the tracks right at us for a long, long time. You know, I'm a college drop-out and I figured out we're going broke a long time ago. It's these morons that are not running the country, are not running the government. I mean, it's criminal what they're doing, and they play games. Well, if we do this, then that side will win, but if that side does this, then we can claim victory.

This isn't some high school game. This is arguably the best country that we ever put together on this planet, and it's going right down the toilet if they don't get off their cans and do something that makes a little sense here one of these days.

BLITZER: Yes. The president is going to meet, as you say, with the Republican and Democratic leadership around 9:00 p.m. later tonight when he gets back from Pennsylvania to see if they can work out a deal. Not on the next year's budget but on the current budget on last --

CAFFERTY: This was due October 1st of 2010.


CAFFERTY: The Democrats under Miss Pelosi at the time refused to even do a budget, which is one of their mandates that they've supposed to do in Congress.

BLITZER: The Senate Majority Harry Reid, we expect him to speak on the Senate floor. We'll listen in to hear what he has to say.

CAFFERTY: That will be compelling, no doubt.

BLITZER: Standby for that. In fact, is that Harry Reid? No, that's the floor of the Senate. Harry Reid, the leader, he's going to be speaking there fairly soon, we're told, responding to what Speaker John Boehner said a little while ago. Then all of them are going to the White House later tonight and see if they can avert a government shutdown. We'll monitor that and see what's going on.

In Libya right now, for the first time since her ordeal began, Eman al-Obeidy, the Libyan woman who said she was raped by Gadhafi loyalist has spoken with her mother, that emotional reunion via telephone. It happened last night right here on CNN on "AC 360." Let's go straight to CNN's Reza Sayah. He's in Tobruk, Libya with more of what's going on. You spoke earlier with al-Obeidy's mother. What did she have to say, Reza?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a mother that's going through an extremely difficult time. We've kept in touch with her for more than a week now ever since this ordeal started for her daughter. We came here last week and met with her. We met with her today. I don't think we've seen her look this poorly or feel this poorly in this span of time.

Obviously, she spoke to Eman last night, but I think the anguish she heard made her feel even worse, Wolf. It was difficult for her to speak with us. She was gracious to do so. Here's what she had to say.


SAYAH: You finally spoke to your daughter, Eman. What was that like?

AISHA AHMAD, MOTHER OF ALLEGED RAPE VICTIM (through translator): It was a feeling any mother would have after talking to her daughter after a very long time.

SAYAH: Did it make you feel better or worse?

AHMAD: Of course, I felt worse.

SAYAH: Why did it make you feel worse?

AHMAD: Because she was crying. I couldn't understand a word because she was crying. She even made me cry.

SAYAH: What did she tell you?

AHMAD: She told me she was trapped. She said they're taking me back and forth, interrogating me, hitting me. She said, they want to kill me. Help me. Come and get me, she said. Where are the human rights groups?

SAYAH: How do you cope through these days? What keeps you going?

AHMAD: God willing. Our hope in God is very strong.

SAYAH: Is there a message you have for anyone who's listening?

AHMAD: I want Obama and all the western world to get involved and bring me back my daughter. Just bring her back to me. I would like to tell the mothers all over the world and the Arab world that if something happens to someone, they need to speak out. They just need to speak out.


SAYAH: Of course, Eman al-Obeidy did speak out in a very dramatic and courageous way. I think her family, her mother and father and a lot of people around the world, Wolf, are waiting to see if that courage is rewarded.

BLITZER: Has this story really -- it's dramatically resonated here in the United States, Reza, but what about among the opposition in Eastern Libya where you are? How is it resonated there?

SAYAH: It has. It's making headlines here as well, of course. Not as much as the conflict itself, but it's something the opposition says has humanized this conflict. They say it's an example of the brutality, of the oppression, not just women but men here in Eastern Libya and throughout Libya have put up with, and they say it's justification for this uprising, Wolf.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah for us in Tobruk, Libya, the Eastern Libya, thanks very much. We'll have more on Libya coming up later.

But here in the United States, the focus right now on politics with a possible government shutdown looming. The president is re- launching his re-election bid at the same time, but he may have to do it without a key group of supporters. Standby for that.

And it happened in Reagan National Airport, now, a word of another air traffic controller asleep on the job.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is getting ready to make a statement on the looming budget shutdown. He and the House Speaker, they're going to be going over to the White House with some other leaders to meet with the president after 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight when the president gets back from his trip to Pennsylvania.

Here is Harry Reid right now. He's speaking.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The budget that we talked about so much -- Mr. President, this budget we spent so much time talking about is really about making tough choices, hard choices, difficult choices. The American people understand this. They understand tough choices. They have to make them every day, especially now with the economy being in the shape it's in, so should their representatives in Congress make tough choices.

We're being honest with ourselves over here, Mr. President. We know that we can't get 100 percent of what we want. That's what this negotiation is all about. That's why this is a negotiation. It's not a win or take all. Democrats have made tough choices because we want to get this agreement finished. We want it completed. We want to keep the country running and keep the momentum of economy that's now creating jobs. We want to avoid a shutdown and the terrible consequences that would follow. The only thing Republicans are trying to avoid is making the tough choices we need to make. We've been more than reasonable, Mr. President. More than fair. We meet them half way, they say no. We meet them more than half way, they still say no. We meet them all the way, they still say no.

If Republicans were serious about keeping the country running, all they would have to do is say yes. Now, we learn that House Republicans are going to make another excuse, create another diversion and avoid another tough choice. Instead of solving the crisis the way we should, instead of saying yes, they're saying, in fact, what they're going to do is pass what they'll call another short-term stopgap measure.

They'll say it's short-term, but what that really means, it's a shortcut. A shortcut around doing our jobs. Instead of solving problems, they're stalling, they're procrastinating. That's not just bad policy, it's a fantasy. We all heard the president of the United States say yesterday and he won't accept anything short of a full solution. And why should he? We're six months into the fiscal year now, Mr. President.

President Obama is right. We can't keep funding our great country with one stopgap after another. The United States of America, this great country of ours, shouldn't have to live paycheck to paycheck. We're not going to give up. We're going to keep talking and keep trying to find middle ground. The speaker and I will go back to the White House tonight, two hours and 20 minutes.

Meet with him again, continue the conversation we've been having for weeks with this administration. We know the Republicans are afraid of the Tea Party. That's been established, Mr. President. Now, it looks like they're also afraid of making the tough choices we have to make. A tough choices are what governing is all about. They're what leadership is all about. It's time for my friends in the House of Representatives to stop campaigning and start governing.

And remember what one of the greatest speakers of all time said. In fact, he was speaker three times Mr. President from the state of Kentucky, Henry Clay. He was known as the great compromiser. He said that all legislation is based on mutual consensus. That's what this is all about, but remember, let's focus on the word mutual. It takes both of us.

Mr. President, it's time to lead.

BLITZER: All right. So, there you have it. Majority Leader Harry Reid making a statement responding in-effect to what the Speaker of the House John Boehner said a couple of hours ago. We had that live here on CNN, as well.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is all over the story. She's joining us from Capitol Hill.

Does it look, behind the scenes, at least, I'm hearing, I'm getting little hints that behind the scenes, the staffers who are working for Harry Reid and working for John Boehner, the speaker, they aren't making some progress, and they seem to be moving in the right direction? I don't know if it's what you're hearing, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's what we've been hearing all day long since this morning that they are making progress. The question is how far along are they getting and at what level because there are so many different levels to finding this deal. First of all, they have to decide how much to cut. Second of all, they have to decide what to cut. There are still differences, major differences, on those issues. And then, there are -- these policy differences which we can't emphasize enough.

I'm hearing from Democrats and Republicans policy differences over what the house Republicans passed taking away funding for the president's health care plan, making clear that the EPA can't deal with greenhouse gases. Things like that. The Democrats say are nonstarters. Republicans say we have to have things like that in there. Those are some of the really big issues that they are not there yet on.

And, they all kind of, you know, come together. They are all related. So, that is why they're saying that they're making progress, but they're not there yet, and why they, again, need the help of the president and really need to sit in a room together with the president, the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader because that has not happened since yesterday.

BLITZER: All right. Dana, stand by. We're going to have much more on this story, a looming government shutdown. We'll see if that happens.

The president is getting ready to meet tonight with the leadership up at the White House. Much more of our coverage on that. What's going on in Libya right after this.


BLITZER: For years from the point at which the U.S. declared that Moammar Gadhafi had changed almost until the point when the U.S. and its allies started bombing Gadhafi's regime, a number of U.S. companies were reaping huge profits from the Libyan leader.

Brian Todd has been digging into the story for us. He's got a special SITUATION ROOM investigative report.

What have you learned?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, according to federal records, the Libyan regime spent more than $8 million over the past three years in lobbying in the U.S. Libya's oil wealth was a potential gold mine during that period, and there were plenty of people in the U.S. more than willing to take Moammar Gadhafi's money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Every day, there are accounts from Libya of the viciousness and brutality of this man, but before this war, Moammar Gadhafi had renounced terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and had really improved his image with the west. Thanks in part to lobbying, consulting, and law firms in the U.S. who made millions off him.

(on camera) One of them is the Livingston Group, which works out of this building. It's headed by former Republican Congressman Bob Livingston. Federal records show the firm made about $2.5 million over less than two years setting up meetings with congressmen and looking after Libya's interests in Washington. A Livingston aide said he wouldn't go on camera with us. But both the aide and Livingston himself have acknowledged the firm's work with Libya.

(voice-over) Livingston and his aides say the firm stopped working for Libya's government in 2009 to protest the release of the accused Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish prison.

Another firm called the Monitor Group made several million dollars in its dealings with Libya. According to documents posted online by a Libyan opposition group, the Monitor Group charged the Libyan government $250,000 a month between 2006 and 2008. In return, according to the documents, the firm sent academics from Harvard and elsewhere to meet with Moammar Gadhafi. Some of them wrote positive articles about the Libyan leader. They advised Gadhafi's son, Saif, on the thesis for his Ph.D.

The Monitor Group offered to produce a glowing biography of Moammar Gadhafi for nearly $3 million, which the firm now calls a mistake.

The group even proposed helping Gadhafi set up his own National Security Council.

Did the Monitor Group skirt U.S. law in its dealings with Libya? The documents say one person who went to Libya for the Monitor Group, former U.S. defense official Richard Pearl briefed Vice President Dick Cheney after returning. Contacted by CNN, Pearl wouldn't go on camera but denied ever briefing Cheney. We couldn't get comment from Cheney's office.

Paul Blumenthal of the nonpartisan watchdog group the Sunlight Foundation says if Pearl briefed Cheney, that part of the Monitor Group's work in Libya could be illegal, because it's not a registered lobbying firm.

(on camera) What did the Monitor Group do that was deceptive, in your opinion?

PAUL BLUMENTHAL, SUNLIGHT FOUNDATION: Well, the Monitor Group, just by not being a traditional lobbying organization, really should have registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which has a much broader definition of who is a lobbyist and who should register than the traditional lobbying law. And in this case, they were working to bring intellectuals to Libya who had foreign policy ties in America to elites, whether it was Dick Cheney or people in the State Department, the Defense Department. And they really wanted these intellectuals to be able to influence policy on Libya.

TODD (voice-over): We spoke with Eamonn Kelly, a partner with the Monitor Group who's leading an internal investigation into the firm's dealings with Libya.

(on camera) What do you say to the critics who say you not only made a lot of money off a brutal dictator, but you did indirect lobbying for him, and you should have registered and didn't do that?

EAMONN KELLY, PARTNER, MONITOR GROUP: First of all, we were working in Libya at a very different time in history. The international community at the time we were undertaking that work believed, as did we, that there was an important possibility that serious and significant reform could take place. And we believed we could support that.

We were not working for Gadhafi. We were working for Libya. If we discover that there was anything inappropriate that we did, we will take all appropriate measures to remedy it.

TODD (voice-over): Plenty of others made millions off Gadhafi. Randa Fahmy Hudome's lobbying firm got more than $1 million a year for three years to push for Libya to be taken off America's list of terrorist sponsors. It was all registered and above board.

(on camera) But critics say you knew about his history and you knew about the chance he could maybe never change and you made a deal with the devil.

RANDA FAHMY HUDOME, LOBBYIST: I didn't make the deal with the devil. The Bush administration made the deal with the devil. I didn't do that agreement. The Bush administration did it. I only implemented that policy.


TODD: Hudome says her contract with Libya was not about money; it was national security: working with Libya to renounce terrorism, keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of a dictator. She says if Gadhafi had those weapons now, he would be using them on his own people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as far as this Monitor Group is concerned, the suggestion that we're dealing with another unsavory character behind -- beyond Gadhafi.

TODD: That's right. The records show that a key contact with the market group in Libya was Abdul al-Senussi. He is Moammar Gadhafi's brother-in-law. He is linked to the Lockerbie bombing, to the massacre of hundreds of prisoners at Abu Salim Prison in Libya in 1996 and also to the bombing of a French passenger jet over Niger. Eammon Kelly of the Monitor group, I asked him about that. He said, look, at the time, we thought that things were different. Things were different at the time we were dealing with them -- with them. Libya's leadership had renounced its past. He said that, look, "We had to deal with the leadership we were presented." He did say they regret that the work they did did not produce the reforms they hoped.

BLITZER: Let's not forget that the Bush administration and the Obama administration, they encouraged an effort to try to improve ties between the U.S. and Libya...

TODD: They certainly did.

BLITZER: ... throughout all of these years.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

The clock is ticking toward a government shutdown. And it's looking a lot like what we saw 16 years ago. I have the proof. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: Lots of rhetoric but still no budget as the clock ticks toward a government shutdown scheduled to begin at midnight Friday. A late-night meeting is planned over at the White House tonight between President Obama and the congressional leadership. Today, the president spoke to the House speaker, John Boehner, briefly by phone. Later they had this to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After weeks of negotiations, we've now agreed to cut as much spending as the Republicans in Congress originally asked for. I've got some Democrats mad at me, but I said, "You know what? Let's get past last year's budget, and let's focus on the future."

We've agreed to compromise, but somehow we still don't have a deal, because some folks are trying to inject politics in what should be a simple debate about how to pay our bills.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You know, I have -- I've got to tell you all, I like the president, personally. We get along well. But the president isn't leading. He didn't lead on last year's budget, and he clearly is not leading on this year's budget.

Republicans have no interest in shutting down the government. Shutting down the government, I think, is irresponsible and I think it will end up costing the American taxpayers more money than -- than we're already spending. And I believe that our members want to support our troops, want to pay our troops, and we're going to do the responsible thing tomorrow. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, you know there's so much of what's happening now that sounds so familiar. I was the White House correspondent for CNN back in 1995 during that last government shutdown. Listen to a much younger Wolf Blitzer with his report from back in '95.


BLITZER (voice-over): The White House says 800,000 federal workers around the country will have to be temporarily laid off next Tuesday if the Republican-led Congress doesn't pass acceptable short- term legislation to avoid a government shutdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't put a gun to the head of the president, the head of the country and say, "You don't accept our priorities. You don't accept what we want to do to Medicare and Medicaid or what we want to do to education. We're going to blow you apart." That's a form of terrorism. We are not going to accept that.

BLITZER: At the same time, the administration is warning that unless Congress increases the nation's $4.9 trillion debt ceiling in the coming days, the government may have to default on its outstanding loans. Officials warn of higher interest rates for the government and American consumers for years to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten, 15, 20 years from now, we would pay more for money by virtue of having tainted our financial reputation.

BLITZER: Republicans say interest rates will come down in the long run if there's a balanced budget. They say Mr. Clinton is stalling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, as the saying goes, the time has come to fish or cut bait. The sign in front of the White House, though, still reads "Gone fishing."


BLITZER: Now, that was back in 1995. You change some of the characters, but you're hearing exactly the same thing right now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The more things change, the more they remain the same. I mean, obviously, the Republicans right now are in the same position the Republicans were in then. The White House is saying, "Let's move to the future. This is about the past." But again, they're haggling over a small amount of money, but it's symbolic.

Back in 1995, I was a reporter at "U.S. News and World Report." I covered this from the Hill perspective. And the big issue for Newt Gingrich and his Republican revolutionaries at the time, who had just taken power, was the issue of Medicare. And of course, cutbacks in Medicare, and that's where President Clinton drew the line.

Here you have the same fight over spending and repeal of health- care reform, the environment, education, those kinds of issues. So again, it's the same battle, 16 years later.

BLITZER: You've just written a column on saying, you know, this little debate that's going on right now really avoids the big issue.

BORGER: Yes. It does avoid the big issue. And both sides are to blame on this. The president, you know, very conveniently says we need to get to the big things here. And he's 100 percent right about that, Wolf.

But when you look at what the president has done, where has he been on the budget issue? He had a deficit commission. He didn't endorse what his deficit commission came out with. He hasn't proposed ways to save Medicare, Social Security, et cetera, the big entitlement programs.

The Republicans yesterday, the chairman of the House Budget Committee came out with a far-reaching budget. But we know that's going to be pretty much dead on arrival.

So, the question is, where are both of these sides going to find some common ground if we're going to get this deficit down? And we have another fight coming on the debt ceiling, just like they had in 1995.

BLITZER: The difference then was the debt ceiling was $4.9 trillion. Now, it's $15 trillion.

BORGER: Yes. Just a little higher. And Wolf, there's another part of this story that we just saw that we didn't show you. So I want our viewers to take a look at it.


BLITZER: So, a very high-stakes game of chicken is at hand with neither side yet signaling any readiness to blink.

Wolf Blitzer, CNN, the White House.


BORGER: I like the raincoat.

BLITZER: You like the raincoat? You like the round glasses?

BORGER: No, I like these better.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't like the round glasses either.

BORGER: You're much hipper. You're much hipper today.

BLITZER: The beard, you know, that's... BORGER: Right. And the hair, a little different.

BLITZER: All right. I want to see Gloria in 1995. Where is that picture?

BORGER: We've hidden it. It's embargoed.

BLITZER: Thank you, Gloria.

It's a busy day in the SITUATION ROOM. Japan is certainly on our radar, as well. Mixed news out of that crippled nuclear plant as concerns increase right now about food safety.


BLITZER: In Japan, radioactivity levels of the ocean near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are falling, but they're still almost 300,000 times higher than the legal limit. And now, there's concern about a possible build up of explosive hydrogen in reactor No. 1.

Let's go to Tokyo. CNN's Kyung Lah standing by with more. What else are you hearing out there, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with the biggest news. About six hours ago, Wolf, they started focusing on that build up of hydrogen in reactor No. 1. And so what TEPCO is doing is that they're starting to pump nitrogen into that reactor. The concern is that if you have a build-up of hydrogen you potentially could have an explosion.

TEPCO being very clear here, they're doing this as a preventative measure. They don't believe that there is an imminent threat of an explosion. But this is going to be happening over the next two days, as far as this nitrogen.

And TEPCO did have some good news to share, though, saying that they did manage to plug a five-inch leak. Out of that hole was highly radioactive water that was just pouring into the ocean. They stopped that. TEPCO still saying this is an emergency situation at the plant. That's why they're still dumping purposefully lower-level radioactive water still into the ocean -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suppose there's a huge amount of concern about Japan's crucial fishing industry as a result of all of this.

LAH: Absolutely. It doesn't matter who you talk to in the fishing industry, whether it's the merchant, whether it's the fisherman or the sushi chef, they all say they are simply getting hammered.

I went to Skiji (ph) fish market. And I can tell you, Wolf, I go there all the time. This is one place in Tokyo where you can always see an American tourist. We didn't see anybody. Business is down there some 80 percent. The fishermen faced off with TEPCO yesterday, expressing rage, something very rare in Japan, saying that TEPCO is killing the nation's fishing industry -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah reporting for us in Tokyo. Thanks very much for that. We'll stay in close touch.

Flood -- food concerns, I should say, are spreading across the United States, as well, including at some top restaurants. Coming up at the top of the hour on JOHN KING USA, what one chef is doing to keep radioactive food off your plate.

Plus, concerns President Obama may lose support for his reelection from a big-name group with lots of money.


OBAMA: Thank you, everybody. Thank you.



BLITZER: Right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: This is stunning. What does it mean that the United States government spent eight times more money than it took in in the month of March? They spent over a trillion dollars.

Roger in Pennsylvania: "It means the Democrats in charge still haven't processed the shellacking they got in the last election. They're still supporting the socialistic agenda that is the biggest vote buying scam in history. They still don't understand that the people are wise to them."

Carla writes, "It means that we're still in Iraq and Afghanistan when we were promised we wouldn't be. It means we bailed out banks and big business so they could party hardy and hand out huge bonuses. It means we don't tax the richest people in the country. We don't tax the big corporations. And we give perks to companies that send their business overseas. It means we're spending a fortune to fight drugs on the streets, while our borders leak like a sieve, thus assuring the drug dealers a constant supply. And it means that we're all, all of us, Jack, stranded on the bridge to nowhere."

Larry in Ohio says, "It means that Paul Ryan seems to be the only person in Congress with a functioning brain."

Ichiro writes, "It means the government needs to get serious about collecting taxes from giant corporations like G.E. and Exxon. It's obvious the money needs money to do its job. I believe most of the money is spent for worthy causes. It is highly irresponsible for the Congress to argue over minuscule spending cuts without addressing the revenue side."

Ruth in Georgia: "It means politicians in Washington have led the American people to the point of no return. They get elected, choose sides, and then play games like it's the World Series or the Super Bowl. Winning is all that matters to them. So they can run the race again and start all over."

Pat in Michigan says, "They're out of control. Our country's going to hell in a hand basket. How much of the money spent last month went to the wars?"

And James in Greenville, North Carolina: "It means the Democrats are still having their way."

You want to read more on this, go to my blog: File -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you tomorrow. Appreciate it very much.

Possible -- possible - trouble for President Obama's re-election bid. Hollywood celebrities supported him three years ago. Why it might not necessarily happen again in 2012.


BLITZER: A look at some "Hot Shots" from today.

In China, look at this, the singer Bob Dylan performs with his band at his first concert ever in the communist nation. Love Bob Dylan.

At the Vatican, a member of the Swiss Guard stands alert as the pope greets visitors nearby.

In Augusta, Georgia, a golf fan at the Masters tournament displays a hat full of past years' tickets.

And in London, a butterfly lands on a young girl's nose during an exhibit at the Natural History Museum.

"Hot Shots," pictures from around the world.

President Obama's re-election campaign is officially under way, but one of its strongholds may not be quite as strong as it was back in 2008. CNN entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson explains.


LUDACRIS, RAPPER: I'm for Obama. That's what I'm -- that's what it comes down to. I'm all about Obama.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 2008, Hollywood was all about Obama. Stars saluted him in song.

(MUSIC:'s "Yes, We Can")

ANDERSON: And adopted his talking points.

MATT DAMON, ACTOR: This change that we're all working for and that we all believe in cannot come fast enough.

ANDERSON: But as 2012 approaches, the president's Hollywood support may be softening.

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Are you happy with the way that Obama has been running the country?


ANDERSON: Matt Damon was an early and active backer of candidate Obama. But recently, he told CNN's Piers Morgan he's become disappointed.

DAMON: I really think he misinterpreted his -- his mandate.

ANDERSON: Some stars believe the president's been too timid.

DAVID ALAN GRIER, ACTOR: Be bold in thought and deed.

ANDERSON: Others don't like his Mideast policies.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: We didn't want another war president.

ANDERSON: Singer, who was so jazzed about Obama in 2008 he created a video to celebrate him...

OBAMA: The destiny of the nation. Yes, we can.

ANDERSON: ... is dismayed over the president's handling of Libya. He tweeted last month, quote, "We can't and shouldn't fix anyone's problems until we fix our own. We learned that from Iraq. Ahhh. What are we doing?"

MOORE: We say we're going to close Guantanamo. We don't.

ANDERSON: Michael Moore didn't use Twitter, but Joy Behar's show on HLN to voice his complaints. He suggested Obama has lost his moral compass.

MOORE: I wish he'd start listening to himself and his wife.

ANDERSON: For environmentalist Robert Redford, the issue that got him upset was the Gulf oil spill. He spoke out last year.

ROBERT REDFORD, ACTOR/DIRECTOR/ACTIVIST: The administration's caught off guard because they had bought the song to so many decades. Now they're trying to scramble to take the leadership role.

ANDERSON: "Variety's" Ted Johnson notes the criticism of Obama from some stars only goes so far.

TED JOHNSON, "VARIETY": They are stopping short of saying, "I'm not going to vote for him."

ANDERSON: In fact, we found plenty of support for the president among stars we spoke with. (on camera) How do you think he's doing?

REESE WITHERSPOON, ACTRESS: I think he's doing a great job. I mean, I can't imagine the difficulty of being a president in this day and age, where our country's going through so much and the world is going through so much tumult.

SARAH SILVERMAN, COMEDIAN: Schlep over to Florida...

ANDERSON (voice-over): And comedian Sarah Silverman, who made a video on behalf of Obama in 2008, defended him on CNN's "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT."

SILVERMAN: Let's not forget that he inherited a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) storm. Can we remember that for two seconds?

ANDERSON: Johnson notes it's unlikely Hollywood liberals will suddenly leave the Democratic fold.

JOHNSON: They still see Obama as kind of the defense against a Republican Party that has gone even further to the right.

ANDERSON: What remains uncertain is whether the president can unleash the kind of enthusiasm in Hollywood that greeted him in 2008.

Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


BLITZER: I suspect once the Republicans do settle on a candidate, those Hollywood liberals will be strongly in favor of the Democratic candidate. That would be the president of the United States.

That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.