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Gingrich's Messy Private Life; Libyans Who Fled Return to Fight; What Libyan Rebel Leaders Want From U.S.; Bracing for Wrath of Mississippi; 'Strategy Session'

Aired May 12, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, new information about Osama bin Laden's support network in Pakistan and how the Al Qaeda leader let his guard down.

Also this hour, big oil executives are hauled before Congress and plea to keep their tax breaks, even as they rake in huge profits.

And an exclusive look inside a brigade of Libyan rebels who fled Moammar Gadhafi's regime and now are back inside the country training to fight him. We'll talk with a rebel leader on his first official visit to Washington.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Up first this hour, U.S. officials are getting a better idea of why they were finally able to find and kill Osama bin Laden after almost 10 years of searching.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been uncovering brand new details for us every day, as investigators pore over the evidence from bin Laden's compound.

Barbara is joining -- joining us once again now with more.

What are you learning. Today -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, the Obama administration may be absolutely thrilled that it got Osama bin Laden, but they want to figure out how they did it from the standpoint, what was Osama bin Laden up to?

How did he let himself get caught, even with good U.S. intelligence?

What U.S. officials are beginning to understand is that bin Laden got complacent at that compound. He felt protected. He felt safe. As they look at these details, the assessment that we're learning is this, that, first, bin Laden lived in the same location for five years.

Why did he stay in this compound and not move?

He -- when the SEALs were approaching the compound, when they were beginning to attack, basically, he had no ready escape route. There was no effort by bin Laden or the others, apparently, to destroy the mountains of data and intelligence that the SEALs grabbed.. And bin Laden's entire defense there, besides not having an escape route, he had three other guys -- a courier, a brother of the courier and bin Laden's son. They were the only other men at the compound. You know, he wanted to maintain a low profile, but you only have three other guys when U.S. Navy SEALs are coming through the compound walls?

That's not a lot of firepower, even on a good day.

What does this mean?

U.S. officials say they believe it means that bin Laden was complacent. They believe that he thought he had a network in place that would protect him. That does not go to the issue of whether there was official Pakistani government support of him. But he at least had a network in the region that he believed would keep him safe.

He betted wrong -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, what else are we learning about all the stuff that the Navy SEALs took out of that compound and what they're doing with it, the U.S. intelligence community, right now?

STARR: The U.S. intelligence community, of course, is continuing to review it. But you might wonder, how did the Navy SEALs, as they have weapons in their hand, tons of gear with them, how is it that they dragged enough stuff out of there, enough to fill a small college library, whether it was the handwritten documents, the journal that we have talked about or those dozens of computer thumb drives or other computer material?

Well, U.S. officials now say that the Navy SEALs have very large bags with them, something akin, Wolf, to trash bags that you and I would be familiar with. And they were attached to their bodies, obviously. The SEALs filling them up with whatever they could grab along the way, as they were fighting their way through the compound. Of course, they had to have them attached to their body because no Navy SEAL is going to put down his weapon while in the middle of assaulting a compound to gather up computer gear. So it was all attached to their bodies. And they dropped it in these bags along the way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Well, amazing stuff.

Barbara, thank you.

A new -- a new move today by President Obama to keep some of his terror fighting team intact. He's asking Congress to let the FBI director, Robert Mueller, stay on the job for an extra two years. Mueller's 10 year term is due to run out in September.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed, why did the president ask for this extension?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this ties right back to what Barbara was just reporting about the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden, all the intelligence coming in, showing that the threat from Al Qaeda and other terror groups is still out there.

Let's not forget, Bob Mueller is pretty remarkable. He was sworn in office exactly one week before 9/11.. So for almost 10 years now, he has been at the forefront of trying to keep America safe from all these terror threats.

So what the president is saying publicly is this was all about continuity and making sure that he had some stability, somebody like Bob Mueller with these impeccable security credentials staying in place.

What the president is not saying publicly, but we know privately from our reporting, is that he was having a hard time finding someone both with the credentials to replace Bob Mueller, but also someone willing to take on a 10 year commitment. It's a 10 year term as FBI director, back-breaking responsibilities now overseeing all of this counterterrorism. And so what the president found out, at the end of the day, is that Bob Mueller is the best candidate to stay on the job.

Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bob has set the gold standard for leading the Bureau. He's improved the working relationship with local law enforcement across the country. And I hope that Democrats, led by Judiciary chairman, Pat Leahy, who is here, as well as Republicans in Congress, will join together in extending that leadership for the sake of our nation's safety and security.


HENRY: Now the president mentioned the Judiciary chairman in the Senate, Pat Leahy, for a reason. This is going to require a legislative fix for both chambers of Congress to pass a two year extension for Bob Mueller to stay on the job.

So far, there's been wide bipartisan reaction suggesting he does have the support to stay on the job. One top Republican, Chuck Grassley, has raised a concern about the precedent this may set. You've got to remember, the whole reason an FBI director has a 10 year term is because J. Edgar Hoover was on the job for decades, abused his power. So Grassley is just raising a question about setting a new precedent here.

But at the end of the day, the betting on the Hill is that Bob Mueller will get two more years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of bipartisan support among key members. Thanks very much for that, Ed.

Senate Democrats today are seizing on public anger over high gas prices and they're taking on the people most Americans blame. We're talking about the big oil company executives.

It's a new round in a political battle over tax breaks, profits and fairness.

Let's go to Capitol Hill.

Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, standing by.

How did it go today -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, one Democratic senator told these big oil executives he thought that they would come before Congress and agree to give up at least some of the $2 billion a year they get in tax breaks, do it for the greater good.

Boy, Wolf, did that not happen.


BASH (voice-over): This is the picture Democrats envisioned for this hearing -- five big oil executives hauled before Congress to answer this question.

SEN. SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT), FINANCE CHAIRMAN: Now, businesses should, of course, make a profit.

But do these very profitable companies actually need these taxpayer subsidies?

BASH: Their answer?

Yes. The big oil chiefs came out swinging, calling the Democrats' plan to eliminate their tax breaks and no one else's unfair, counterproductive and worse.

JOHN WATSON, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, CHEVRON CORPORATION: Such measures are anti-competitive and discriminatory.

REX TILLERSON, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION: By undermining U.S. competitiveness, they would discourage future investments in energy projects in the United States and therefore undercut job creation and economic growth.

BASH: Democrats are trying to capitalize on anger about high gas prices by arguing these highly profitable oil companies, which made $36 billion in the first quarter alone, don't deserve tax breaks.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I think you're out of touch, deeply, profoundly out of touch and deeply and profoundly committed to sharing nothing.

TILLERSON: First, Senator, I want to assure you, I'm not out of touch it at all. And we do understand the big picture. And we understand the enormous challenges confronting the American people.

BASH: Democrats admit eliminating these tax breaks for five big oil companies would not reduce gas prices. Instead, they insist this is about fairness. Democrats say taking away subsidies would save $21 billion over 10 years and that would go toward reducing the deficit.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Do you think that your subsidy is more important than the financial aid we give to students to go to college?

Could you answer that, yes or no?

JAMES MULVA, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, CONOCOPHILLIPS: Well, that's a very difficult question for me. They're two different -- totally different questions.

SCHUMER: But we have to weigh those two things, Mr. Mulva. We have to weigh it, because we have to get the deficit down to a certain level.

BASH: Oil executives got some help from Republicans, who not only blasted Democrats for wanting to raise their taxes, but mocked the hearing as a dog and pony show.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: And there you go. That's a really nice picture. I think that's pretty good myself.

Who is the horse and who's the dog?

I think we both know. I know who the horse's ass is, I'll put it that way.


BASH: Now, here's a reality check. This bill has virtually no chance of passing Congress. Not only do most Republicans oppose the idea of raising taxes just on the five big oil companies, many Democrats from oil-producing states agree. They call what their party is doing a, quote, "gimmick."

But politically, Wolf, for Democrats, whether or not this will pass, it's almost besides the point. They are relishing the idea of putting Republicans in the position of voting against helping out tax -- protecting taxpayers, I should say, and not dealing with the deficit.

BLITZER: It's going to be a huge political debate in the coming weeks and months.

Dana, thanks very much for that report.

Many Libyan citizens found a good life in other countries. And now some are returning home to go to war against Moammar Gadhafi. We'll have an exclusive look at their training and I'll talk to a top rebel leader about the state of the war. He's now an official presidential candidate -- will Republican voters, though, buy Newt Gingrich's explanations for his past affairs and divorces?


BLITZER: A day after Newt Gingrich announced his presidential campaign, the Republican is taking a familiar next step. He is going to Iowa next week. The former House speaker is scheduled to visit 17 towns and cities in that state that will hold the first presidential contest of 2012. And he'll be taking a good deal of personal baggage with him.

We asked Joe Johns to take a closer look at Gingrich's controversial private life.

What have you come up with?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, political insiders we've talked to say the former speaker has plenty of obstacles in front of him in his run for the Republican nomination. And this is only one of them. The question is whether, with his complex marital history, he can win the trust of conservatives and Evangelical voters, especially women, who say family values matter a lot.


REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.

JOHNS (voice-over): Newt Gingrich's private life has been messy. He's on his third marriage. He's had two divorces. He's also had affairs. He admits one of those affairs was going on right around the time he, as speaker of the House, was helping impeach then President Bill Clinton for lying about cheating on his wife with Monica Lewinsky.

At the time, Gingrich and others accused Clinton of trying to hide the truth.


GINGRICH: The most systematic, deliberate obstruction of justice, cover-up, an effort to avoid the truth, we have ever seen in American history.

JOHNS: Now the former speaker wants Clinton's old job and Gingrich is seemingly an open book. He's confessed his cheating, endured a series of excruciating interviews about his private life and spent long hours talking to conservatives, especially in places like Iowa, about how and why he's a different man.

He's talked about it on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY CBN.COM) GINGRICH: There's no question that at times in my life, partially driven by -- by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate.


JOHNS: He even brags now how great his third marriage with his you are current wife, Callista, who he's been married to for about a decade. He even became a Catholic for her.

But conservatives like Richard Land of the influential Southern Baptist Convention say the skeletons in Gingrich's closet have not been cleared out.

RICHARD LAND, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: There is an implacable wall of opposition among Evangelical women. A large percentage of the men are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say, you know, OK, he's changed. You know, we believe in forgiveness and redemption. And the women say, well, we may forgive him and we believe in redemption but we don't trust him.

JOHNS: Rich Galen, who worked for Gingrich for years, says the big challenge would come in a place like South Carolina, one of the very first primary states, where committed Evangelicals and other social conservatives have seen plenty of political scandal and don't like it a bit.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If he wins or loses an important state like, let's say, South Carolina, by a very little bit, then I think you can say, well, if it hadn't been for that, he would have won.

JOHNS: Lands says Gingrich needs to give a big speech early on to try to put the issue to rest.

LAND: He's got to imagine that the -- that the person he's talking to is an Evangelical woman who's sitting cross from him. And he's going to have to convince her that he's truly sorry.

JOHNS: A tough crowd, a tough hill to climb for a former speaker of the House with a messy record in marriage.


JOHNS: Rich Galen does not think the Newt Gingrich candidacy will rise and fall on his personal life, but that it could be a factor. He says he think Gingrich's lack of message discipline, in other words, his tendency to talk too much, could be a much bigger issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He has had had that tendency, as you and I know.

JOHNS: Right.

BLITZER: We've covered him for a long time. I just recently went through a transcript. I interviewed him on an old show I did back in 1995 called "INSIDE POLITICS WEEKEND" here on CNN. The first interview I had on that show was with Newt Gingrich. I just read the transcript.

And even then, we were discussing you the possibility of him throwing his hat in the presidential ring. He has waited until now, but he is now getting into that. He is in that presidential ring.

JOHNS: Amazing. Yes, and he'll just talk and talk and talk and sometimes you will get new iterations and that's when he gets into trouble.

BLITZER: Sometimes, but he's very, very smart guy.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

A major New York City police sting uncovering alleged plans to attack a synagogue in New York and the Empire State Building. We will have the latest for you.

Plus, some are calling it a classic case of Washington's revolving door at work. Why an FCC commissioner's controversial move to a multibillion-dollar corporation raising some serious questions.


BLITZER: Dramatic new developments in an alleged New York City terror plot. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What is the latest on this plot?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, New York City police have arrested two men suspected of planning attacks on a Manhattan synagogue and the Empire State Building with the intention of killing Jewish people.

Police say the men, both of north African descent, were nabbed after purchasing ammunition, and appear to have been acting as lone wolves. The sting was part of a New York police undercover investigation predating bin Laden's death.

Jewish groups are hailing the conviction of a 91-year-old former Ohio autoworker of Nazi war crimes. A German court ruled John Demjanjuk was an accessory to almost 28,000 murders at a Nazi concentration camp in Poland during World War II. He has been sentenced to five years in prison but is free pending appeal.

And it's a royal milestone for Queen Elizabeth II, who is now the second-longest reigning British monarch in more than 1,000 years. The 85-year-old Elizabeth has been on the throne almost six decades, second only to Queen Victoria. Buckingham Palace isn't marking the occasion, saying it is just business as usual there. One Oklahoma school is marching to the beat of its own drum, literally, despite state budget and program cuts. They were unable to afford equipment, and so the school put together a drumline made up of students using bar stools and trash cans for instruments. Pretty cool there. It's now getting national attention, this last month winning a state contest.

Meanwhile, this Sunday, our Soledad O'Brien is going in depth on the public education crisis. It's called "DON'T FAIL ME: EDUCATION IN AMERICA." It airs Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And that's pretty cool a nice thing those kids are doing, huh?

BLITZER: Don't got the money, got to do something, pretty creative. I'm looking forward to Soledad's special, she does excellent work as you and all of our viewers know.

Thanks -- Lisa does, too.

Standby for an exclusive look at the Libyans who left the good life in other countries to go home and fight against Gadhafi. I will ask a top rebel leader if the opposition wants Gadhafi taken dead or alive.

And high-profile targets and failed plots to attack the United States, we are learning more about the secrets revealed by terror suspects.


BLITZER: New images from the battle for Misrata. Libyan rebels on the ground say Moammar Gadhafi's forces still control some strategic parts of the city, contradicting an opposition spokesperson who says Misrata has been liberated.

As this bloody civil war drags on, reinforcements are arriving from all over the world to join the rebels.

CNN's Sara Sidner got exclusive access to their training.


SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the beaches of Benghazi, this unit is the latest weapon in the revolution. These masked men have traveled thousands of miles to prepare for a fight in the capital, Tripoli, to end Gadhafi's regime once and for all.

They arrive from Ireland, Spain, France, Poland, Greece, Italy and Canada, more than 85 strangers originally from Tripoli now form the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had a perfect life. I couldn't complain. I had a good salary, I had a good job, but the situation demands this. I mean, we can't rely on other people to come and do our duty for us. SIDNER: A few weeks ago, 28-year-old Bashir (ph) traded in his life as a well-paid software developer in Canada for a rough existence in the revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tried to stay there and live with it, you know, just send money or collect donations and go on protests and stuff, but I realized that's not enough and I couldn't sleep, I couldn't work.

SIDNER: Now, day and night, he and the others are working hard to learn the mechanics of war.

(on camera): These fighters are learning all sorts of different weapons on all sorts of different terrain. We are here on the beach in Benghazi and they are learning right now how to set up a mortar.

(voice-over): The rebel stronghold is the second largest city in Libya, but it still operates like a village. Word of mouth can lead you to what you are looking for, and that's how this group of men found each other. They say they have no agenda beyond ousting Colonel Gadhafi.

(on camera): There are people who are worried about terrorism when they see guys with their faces covered and with guns. But are any of you involved in that sort of activity?


SIDNER: Had you ever held a gun before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. My first time in my life ever I had a gun. But we are not a part of any terrorist group. Like I said, we are a mix of everyone.

SIDNER (voice-over): Their fight is deeply personal. They fear for their family members who still live in the capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are just civilians. And we are just here to get them out and that's it. I'm going throw my gun.

SIDNER: But not before the job is done.

So, day and night, these men train together, they live together and they pray together, patiently waiting for the chance to put their plan into action.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Benghazi, Libya.


BLITZER: Libyan rebel leaders scheduled to visit the White House for the first time tomorrow to meet with the president's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, and other senior administration officials.

Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, the president of the Transitional National Council's Executive Bureau, Mahmoud Jibril.

Mr. Jibril, thank you very much for coming in.


BLITZER: So who invited to come to the White House tomorrow? I know you are going to meet with Tom Donilon. Did the president, the secretary of state -- I know you met with her in Paris. Who actually said, Mr. Jibril, you are the opposition leader, come to the White House?

JIBRIL: Well, the invitation came from Senator Kerry, you know.

BLITZER: Senator John Kerry?

JIBRIL: Yes, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

BLITZER: And that's why you came to Washington, to meet with Senator Kerry. And then Tom Donilon said come over to the West Wing of the White House to meet with him tomorrow?

JIBRIL: That's true.

BLITZER: So what will be the main message? What do you want to hear from the White House?

JIBRIL: Well, to be honest with you, there are several misperceptions and several concerns circulating around the media regarding the TNC, regarding --

BLITZER: That's the opposition leadership?

JIBRIL: Yes -- regarding the revolution in Libya, some concerns about some extreme elements infiltrating the opposition, you know. These misperceptions should be clarified.

BLITZER: So you will clarify that, you will tell them what we just heard in Sara Sidner's piece, no terrorists are involved in the opposition?

JIBRIL: This revolution has started peacefully. The young kids, you know, running into the streets, asking for legitimate rights to be met. They are asking for employment. Our employment rate in Libya exceeds 30 percent in a country which has 6,300,000 people. This is hilarious, you know, that this cannot be imagined.

BLITZER: So what specifically do you need from the United States? Do you need money, weapons, recognition? What do you want to get from this meeting?

JIBRIL: We need the recognition.

BLITZER: You want the United States to recognize your organization as what, the legitimate government of Libya?

JIBRIL: As the sole legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people.

BLITZER: Because other countries have done that like France and Qatar, Italy.

JIBRIL: Italy, yes. And some African countries, too. Other countries are in the pipeline in the next few days.

BLITZER: Which other countries?

JIBRIL: Probably Jordan, I think, is going to be recognizing us in a matter of three, four days.

BLITZER: So you'll ask the United States for formal recognition?

JIBRIL: That's true.

BLITZER: Will you ask for money?

JIBRIL: To be honest with you, we want our money to be de- frozen. We have about $34 billion here frozen in the United States.

BLITZER: Because that idea came up. Have they given you any of the Gadhafi frozen assets yet?

JIBRIL: No they did not, but they are thinking of some ways, some legal twice to de-freeze this money.

BLITZER: I have had this idea for a while. I wonder -- Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, agrees, he think it's a good idea. Also use some of that $34 billion in frozen Libyan assets to reimburse American taxpayers for whatever it costs to liberate Libya from Gadhafi's rule.

JIBRIL: Well, that's one of the ideas which have been laid down today by some members of the Congress.

BLITZER: Is that a good idea?

JIBRIL: We did not rule anything. But our immediate concern now is how to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of our people. We have (INAUDIBLE) on the Tunisian/Libyan borders. Our refugees exceeded 40,000 people in those camps. The United Nations' report yesterday, which was just released yesterday, estimated the number of Libyans who fled the country, over 750,000 people.

BLITZER: All right. So let's recap.

You want U.S. recognition of your opposition as the legitimate government. You want money from the frozen assets to help your struggle. And you're open to the idea of using some of that money to reimburse American taxpayers for whatever it costs to liberate Libya. Right?

JIBRIL: We have with the resources. All we need now is for the world to understand our cause and help us get our legitimate rights realized. BLITZER: Is NATO doing enough to bomb Gadhafi's positions?

JIBRIL: Well, we are talking about protecting civilians.

BLITZER: Are they doing enough?

JIBRIL: I think lately, NATO is very active, and what they are doing has been very effective lately. You know, protecting the civilians was a job that has to be carried out against this genocide that's taking place day and night.

BLITZER: So Gadhafi is engaged in genocide, you're saying?

JIBRIL: I think so.

BLITZER: So the question comes up, do you want Gadhafi dead or alive?

JIBRIL: Look, Gadhafi is not a problem for me. My real problem is the day after, that Libya is facing a critical crisis right now, not because -- this devastating destruction that hit every part of the country hurt the people. I'm worried about the future of Libya, the aftermath.

BLITZER: Are you open to letting Gadhafi leave and go into exile, live in some other country?

JIBRIL: I think this idea has been discussed. Everything that can save Libyan blood and Libyan people from this genocide and this manslaughter can be negotiated and discussed.

BLITZER: So you are ready to let him survive. In other words, you don't want him killed right now?

JIBRIL: Well, we are talking about two types of a crimes here. If it's some sort of a crime against some individuals, it's for the individuals, you know, to forgive or to pursue him. But we are talking about our civil right against Gadhafi as people. This is another thing.

BLITZER: What about his son, Saif al-Islam, and the others? What do you want to happen to them?

JIBRIL: I cannot judge anybody, but this is for the ICC to judge. The ICC --

BLITZER: The International Criminal Court.

JIBRIL: Yes. Their verdict is going to be out soon. And they are pursuing, at least for the time being, three personalities. We don't know who they are.

BLITZER: We'd like to speak to you after you wrap up your meetings here in Washington and continue this conversation, if that's OK with you?

JIBRIL: That's very much OK with me.

BLITZER: Mahmoud Jibril is the opposition leader who is visiting Washington.

How many more days are you going to be here?

JIBRIL: Well, I think it's a matter of two, three days.

BLITZER: Two, three -- then you go back to Benghazi?

JIBRIL: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: Good luck. I know you studied at the University of Pittsburgh. So this is almost like coming home, to a certain degree, for you as well.

JIBRIL: That's true.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

JIBRIL: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Mahmoud Jibril, the opposition leader.

And one final question, before I -- do you want to be the leader of Libya after Gadhafi?

JIBRIL: No. No. All the people who are involved within the council made the statement that everybody is committed not to run for office after this ordeal is over.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. Next time we'll talk about what happens after Gadhafi. Don't leave yet.

U.S. officials are seeing a spike in threats on the Internet after bin Laden's death. We are taking a closer look at who may be plotting a revenge attack right now.

And the chilling secrets revealed by detainees at Guantanamo Bay about failed plots to attack the United States.


BLITZER: The Army Corps of Engineers is furiously working to ward off a swelling Mississippi River as residents of New Orleans, all too familiar with natural resources, are bracing for a potential mass flooding.

Meanwhile, the floodwaters are already wreaking havoc upstream.

CNN's Martin Savidge is joining us in Memphis with more -- Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're in north Memphis here, and take a look at this community.

This is a pocket of water. This is not to give you the impression the whole city looks like this, but certainly this part of north Memphis does. It's one of the hardest hit areas.

It's a mobile home community, about 100 to 150 homes here. Every single one of them is under water.

The good news, of course, because it's a traditional flood, there was plenty of warning, everyone made it out safely. But in some areas, there are people who chose to stay. And now, a week later after the water rose, are beginning to have second thoughts, so emergency crews have to go and check on them.

We went with one team today that was doing just that.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): Into the unknown. A search and rescue team heads back into the floodwaters north of Memphis.

(on camera): What exactly are we doing?

BATTALION CHIEF GLEN KNEELAND, SHELBY COUNTY FIRE DEPT.: We are going out and checking these homes as welfare check. A call came in from the sheriff's department for us to check on the people that live in these homes that did not evacuate.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The depth is the easy to measure. First, we pass a half-flooded truck. It was the car that was a little trickier to see. Just one of the many hazards when the water is high.

Days before the waters rose, emergency teams first warned residents to leave, then found themselves going back to get those who stayed. We are in no ordinary boat. It's a specially built amphibious rescue craft bought by the department just three months ago.

For the past two weeks, it has been in near constant use. Approaching homes isn't easy when you don't know what might be in the way.

KNEELAND: Can you tell me if there is a fence line that runs in between these two resident by pechtometry (ph)?

SAVIDGE: They radio another team member who studies the property from an aerial photo and spots the problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The white fence will parallel the side road when the gate -- I don't know if the gate is submerged or not.

SAVIDGE: We go around and then maneuver through a front gate, only to find no one home.

(on camera): So what they have essentially been doing is checking on the welfare. This was a particular house where they heard there might be someone perhaps trapped on the floodwaters. They can haven't been heard from in a couple of days, so they come and check out the address. Now what they do is move on. Plenty more places that have to be searched. (voice-over): Two properties down, we find Phil's farm, and Phil Muth, who despite being cut off, say he and his many animals are fine.

(on camera): And have you ever seen water like this?

PHIL MUTH, FLOODED LAND OWNER: No. This is a record high.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The work is slow and time-consuming, and has to be done.


SAVIDGE: And as you saw there, Wolf, the good news is the fact that nobody had to be rescued. And I suppose given the way things are along the Mississippi River today, that is probably the happiest ending you're going to find.

We should also point out that here in Memphis, there are still about 800 people that had to be evacuated, 400 still in shelters, and about 800 to 1,000 properties -- that's homes and businesses -- that have been affected by the floodwater which you still see here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we're hoping for the best.

Martin Savidge, on the scene for us, as he always is.

Thank you very much.

New conservative backlash against potential presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Just ahead, why he is now being dubbed, at least on the editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal," Obama's running mate.

Plus, a vivid new account of bin Laden's body moments after being killed from someone who just viewed the classified photos. My interview with Senator James Inhofe, that's coming up as well.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and the Republican strategist, Mary Matalin. They're both here in Washington, D.C.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let's talk a little bit about this whole debate over torture, enhanced interrogation techniques, whether they helped, didn't help in the whole effort. I don't know if you saw John McCain's latest piece. He, himself, was tortured, as all of us remember, in Vietnam.

He says the United States is different, we should never be engaged in torture. And even if some useful information came out, it was -- it's a stain on the United States.

You worked for Dick Cheney when he was vice president. He supported these enhanced interrogation techniques. Where do you stand?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Senator McCain has a very credible position here, but what the enhanced interrogation techniques are, they're no resemblance whatsoever to what he was subjected to. They were limited and they were very effective.

Of the thousands of combatants caught, fewer than 100 of them were in the program, and fewer than a third of them were subjected to these techniques, which did -- which were effective. Within a couple of years, they had given us fully 50 percent of everything we knew about al Qaeda.

So it's not -- this is not an open question. They produced. They were limited. They were completely in individual cases --

BLITZER: So you support the enhancement interrogation, including waterboarding? You support that?

MATALIN: -- authorized by the state (ph) director. Three people were waterboarded. And if that's torture, then we torture our own elite corps, because they go through that same regiment.

BLITZER: You disagree with McCain?

MATALIN: I do, respectfully.

BLITZER: Here is what Leon Panetta, the CIA director, said the other day on this whole thing. He took sort of a nuanced position. Listen to what he said.


LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I think some of the detainees clearly were -- you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I'm also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.


BLITZER: As he said, the techniques did help in getting some of that information, but as you also heard him say, maybe other means would have been useful as well.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I think it was just good old-fashioned intelligence work, the written (ph) determination not just for the president, but our men and women in uniform. And yes, we know that this technique was used.

I don't think we should use it. I'm against torture. I agree with Senator John McCain. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was tortured 183 times. He produced --

BLITZER: He was waterboarded. BRAZILE: Waterboarded 183 times. He produced a couple alias, but most of the information he gave us was bad information. And even information he gave us on bin Laden's courier, it wasn't his name and it took us eight years to even track down that information.

So I don't think it has any place, any value for our intelligence work. And here is the one thing, Wolf. This is -- torture is helping al Qaeda recruit people. We don't need that.

MATALIN: Can I just make this point -- that these techniques are not used to get information. They are used to get cooperation.

And once they get the cooperation, then they have produced any manner of information, including getting us -- leading us to UBL. So they are completely effective, and they are only rendered when other forms are resisted.

So this is not the first. And it's not -- and they are not limitless. They're very selective and very -- not used very often. And only in a resistance to others.

BRAZILE: But it's not who we are as a country. It's not part of who we are. We should not lower our standards at all to defeat al Qaeda. And it was not a shortcut to get UBL.

BLITZER: So that's the McCain position. You guys disagree on that. It's interesting.

You agree with the Republican presidential nominee from last time around.

You disagree with the Republican presidential nominee from last time around.

MATALIN: We both like McCain.

BRAZILE: Yes, we both respect him.

BLITZER: He's been very -- on some other issues he's changed his attitude, but on this issue he has been very, very consistent.

Let's talk about Mitt Romney. He wants to be the next president of the United States.

Did you see that editorial in "The Wall Street Journal," which is a very conservative page? Among other things, they went after him because he supported universal health care in his home state of Massachusetts.

They said this in the editorial: "More immediately for his Republican candidacy, the debate over Obamacare and the larger entitlement state may the central question of the 2012 election. On that question, Mr. Romney is compromised and not credible. If he does not change his message, he might as well try to knock off Joe Biden and get on the Obama ticket," in the editorial entitled "Obama's Running Mate." Wow. That's something, going after Mitt Romney like that.

MATALIN: And at the same time, Mitt Romney wrote a piece in another paper with five points on his national health care.

BLITZER: Is "The Wall Street Journal" right?

MATALIN: They are right in that it's a question of not -- you can never, ever justify Obamacare in Massachusetts. It's the unconstitutional mandate. It's not the universality of it. It's how we got to it.

And that ties directly to a principle of governance, because Obamacare has become a proxy for a much bigger issue. But what Romney has laid out in this article, in a speech he's going to give later this week, is five points of market-based, competitive --


BLITZER: He's not backing away from his Romneycare in Massachusetts. And it's interesting that "The Wall Street Journal" may be blasting him for what he did, but the president of the United States praises him and says he did a great job in Massachusetts and we're trying to do the same thing nationally.

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I thought Mitt Romney gave a great speech today because he made the central case for national health care reform. Remember, Mitt Romney was for a national health care reform before he was against it. Mitt Romney's problem is that he has taken so many positions on this issue, that people don't know exactly where he stands. And today, in trying to explain his principal position on individual mandate, which is personal responsibility, he came close to supporting President Obama.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say -- and we've got to leave it here, guys -- fair to say he's going to have an issue with health care just like Newt Gingrich is going to have an issue with some of the personal issues that he has gone through over the years. But it will be fascinating to watch this Republican field.

BRAZILE: Oh, he's going to need more than help.

MATALIN: Obama is going to have his issues. Nobody is issue- free here. That's why it's fun.

BRAZILE: But we won't have issues, because we're friends.

MATALIN: No, that's right. We're perfect.

BLITZER: Good luck in Louisiana. I know both of you ladies have deep roots there right now. We're hoping for the best.

Thank you.

In the days since the death of Osama bin Laden, U.S. officials say his followers are making new and dangerous threats on the Internet.

And she is taking a job with a corporate giant just months after she helped green-light its merger. An existing FCC commissioner is raising questions about ethics and the revolving door right here in Washington.


BLITZER: An FCC commissioner is at the center of a political firestorm for her decision to join the same multibillion-dollar corporate giant she had a hand in shaping.

Let's bring back Lisa. She's monitoring this story. She's got the details -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Wolf, well, you know that this happens in Washington, people going from government public servant one day, to major corporate player the next. And the reasons are obvious. It typically involves a huge bump in pay.

But FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, her trip through the revolving door is raising a lot of questions.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): It was four months ago when the FCC approved the merger between giants Comcast and NBC Universal. The deal, worth more than $13 billion.

Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker voted for the deal and has since has been outspoken, complaining that the FCC's merger review process is cumbersome and takes too long.

Baker is now leaving the FCC. Going where? To NBC Universal as a government lobbyist.

(on camera): Is this a classic case of the revolving door at work?

CRAIG AARON, PRESIDENT, FREE PRESS: Yes, I think this might be one of the most blatant and egregious examples of the revolving door at work, because it's not just that she used to have a job in government and is now going. It's that she had a job in government, a very powerful job, helping to decide the policy shaping all of our media one day, and the next day she is working for one of the biggest companies that she was supposed to be regulating.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Craig Aaron is the president of Free Press, a media watchdog group. They are calling on Congress to investigate what they say is a blatant conflict of interest.

We tried to get a hold of Commissioner Baker, but our calls were not returned. In a statement announcing her resignation, she says, "I am privileged to have had the opportunity to serve the country at a time of critical transformation in the telecommunications industry."

The statement says her resignation is effective June 3rd. But no mention of her new job.

The revolving door happens in Washington. People leave government all the time to work for the private sector. Baker won't be allowed to directly lobby the FCC for two years, although she will be allowed to lobby Congress.

But Baker's immediate turnaround has some saying it's time to reform the rules.

ROBERT WEISSMAN, PRESIDENT, PUBLIC CITIZEN: It's emblematic of the corruption that pervades Washington. You've got someone who comes from industry, goes into the regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, votes on one of the most significant policy decisions affecting the future of telecommunications in this country, the merger of Comcast and NBC, votes for a merger that should have been stopped. And then goes to Comcast, the very company that benefited from her vote.

SYLVESTER: The chairman of the FCC, asked to comment, had nothing but praise for Baker, saying, "Meredith's wonderful spirit, broad experience and deep policy acumen have made the FCC a more effective agency. She's made our decision smarter and our policies better. I wish her well in her new role at NBC Universal."


SYLVESTER: Now, Commissioner Baker isn't the first to leave the FCC for a lucrative position in the private sector. Former FCC chairman Michael Powell is now the president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. That's the main telecommunications lobbying group.

He did sit out for several years before taking that job. But, even still, the cozy ties between regulators and the companies, that is something that many in the public have a problem with -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The revolving door continues to revolve, as we all know.

Thanks very much. Good report, Lisa.