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IMF Chief Charged With Attempted Rape; Pakistan to Return U.S. Helicopter Debris
Aired May 16, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: He's bailed out foreign governments as the powerful boss in a key world agency. But there's no bailout for the chief of the International Monetary Fund. He's jailed on a long list of sex charges.
Pakistan agrees to return the wreckage of a secret U.S. helicopter which crashed during the bin Laden raid. Will that help put relations back on the right track?
And he tantalized the media and the Republican Party by saying he might run for president. Now the world's best-known tycoon says forget it. Was it all just a publicity trick by Donald Trump?
Breaking news, political headlines, Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with a stunning sex scandal involving the chief of a powerful world agency. Here are the latest developments. A New York judge today denied bail for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund. The judge agreed with prosecutors that Strauss-Kahn is a flight risk.
Viewed as a potential presidential candidate in France, Strauss- Kahn was arrested Saturday aboard a Paris-bound airliner. Facing a series of sex charges for allegedly assaulting a hotel employee, he will appear in court on Friday.
He now faces criminal charges that many find shocking. But IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been tied to previous allegations of sexual misconduct.
Our Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story for us.
It's a very shocking story.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is.
BLITZER: What are you learning, Brian?
TODD: Wolf, we have learned that Strauss-Kahn is the subject of one serious allegation that he wasn't even linked to until his arrest on Saturday and another incident in his past where, at the very least, his character and judgment came into serious question.
TODD (voice-over): His attorney and his wife vigorously defend Dominique Strauss-Kahn, saying the IMF's managing director is innocent of the charges. Prosecutors suggest there may be a pattern to his alleged behavior.
JOHN MCCONNELL, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, NEW YORK COUNTY: Some of this information includes reports that he has in fact engaged in conduct similar to the conduct alleged in this complaint on at least one other occasion.
TODD: He could be referring to an alleged incident that Strauss- Kahn's been linked to only since his arrest on Saturday. French journalist Tristane Banon says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her nine years ago in a Paris apartment.
Strauss-Kahn's attorneys in the U.S. and France didn't respond to our inquiries on the allegation and one of them only mentioned it briefly in court.
BENJAMIN BRAFMAN, ATTORNEY FOR DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN: This is an individual with no criminal record. I can't respond to allegations that were made in a foreign country that did not result in any criminal prosecution.
TODD: Tristane Banon did not report the alleged incident to French police at the time. Why not? Her mother told a French TV station what she told her daughter at the time.
ANNE MANSOURET, MOTHER OF TRISTANE BANON (through translator): "There was not a rape, strictly speaking. There was an attack. For the rest of your life, you would have on your resume, you know, Tristane Banon, that is the girl who," well...
TODD: French TV reporter Apolline de Malherbe, who wrote a profile of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in "The Washingtonian" magazine, says this about Strauss-Kahn's wife, a popular TV figure in France, American-born Anne Sinclair.
APOLLINE DE MALHERBE, CORRESPONDENT: She's always beside him. She's really taking his arm wherever he goes. So, yes, there have probably been some ups and downs, but she has been by her -- by his side.
TODD: Even during an affair he had a few years ago.
(on camera): Shortly after joining the IMF, Strauss-Kahn was investigated for what he later acknowledged was an improper relationship with a female employee. An independent investigation found that the relationship was consensual and there was no harassment, favoritism or any other abuse of power by him. But Strauss-Kahn did later apologize to the IMF, to his family and to the employee.
(voice-over): I asked harassment attorney Debra Katz about that case.
(on camera): Does that particular case have any relevance here?
DEBRA KATZ, SEXUAL HARASSMENT ATTORNEY: It's a different kind of standard, a civil standard. The fact that he engaged in an improper relationship with someone at work shows his character and poor judgment, but it may not be relevant legally to this issue of sexual assault.
TODD: But Dominique Strauss-Kahn may have other legal problems in France. The attorney for that young woman, Tristane Banon, now says he's preparing documents against Strauss-Kahn. So, Wolf, if he ever gets clear of this, he may be facing something in France.
BLITZER: He was considered a front-runner for the presidency of France, but I guess this changes all that.
TODD: It changes everything, and in a very dramatic way. He was considered a potential candidate for the Socialist Party against current President Nicolas Sarkozy. He was way ahead of Sarkozy in the polls leading up to this. And analysts say now, even if he's not convicted here, he's just so politically damaged by this that he probably can't run. But he was way ahead. This is very dramatic for the French political scene.
BLITZER: Meanwhile, he's sitting in a New York City jail right now awaiting what is going to happen to him.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.
A top executive, indeed, a potential presidential candidate, accused by a hotel housekeeper. Police have prosecutors of special units aimed at evening the odds in those cases.
Let's go to New York. CNN's Deborah Feyerick spoke with a veteran prosecutor-turned-best-selling crime novelist.
What are you finding out, Deb?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this somebody who really almost created single-handedly the Special Victims Unit. Think about it now. In this particular case, a chambermaid unwittingly triggered an international incident by going up against one of the most powerful men in the world.
FEYERICK: Linda Fairstein, you were head of the sex crimes unit for the Manhattan district attorney's office for 26 years. A very quick check of hotel records would have discovered who was in that room. Still, detectives, investigators, Special Victims Unit, they did not blink in going after him.
LINDA FAIRSTEIN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: They're taught to take every victim -- to start by believing that everyone coming forward is telling the truth.
Are there exonerations? Are there cases that -- where the crime has not happened? Absolutely. And they would be able to work that out, I think, as well.
But, here, the beauty is that this woman reported immediately, which is not always a factor with sexual assault victims. The police were called in immediately. Uniform cops refer it to these very specialized and specially trained detectives. And it seems, from the outside at this point, that everything was done right, most especially crediting the victim.
FEYERICK: You have a hotel worker going up against one of the most powerful men, the head of the International Monetary Fund. What sort of evidence needed to be met for police to believe that something in fact did occur?
FAIRSTEIN: That's a great question, obviously body fluids and where it is. If it's on the bed of the alleged offender, it may not be terrifically significant. If it's on the clothing of the victim -- and I don't know where it is -- that is going to be awfully significant.
Most hotels in this day and age have cameras in corridors. Is there tape of this woman leaving the room? What condition was she in, both in clothing disarray and in emotional distress? What condition was he in when he left the room if these things are filmed?
FEYERICK: Will this lady have to testify?
FAIRSTEIN: Oh, yes. This case is entirely based on the testimony of the young lady who made the complaint. This case could not proceed without her.
FEYERICK: Investigators and police went immediately to the airport to get him off the plane. Is that an extraordinary measure?
FAIRSTEIN: If the Special Victims Unit detectives had probable cause, meaning a witness who they believed who told the truth, made an immediate outcry, found evidence to support it, which is not needed, but icing on the cake, then they did the only thing that they could do, which was to stop this man before he left the country.
FEYERICK: This young lady has to be terrified.
FAIRSTEIN: This is what they're so good at. The detectives whose pictures I saw in the paper today, one of them I worked with for more than 20 years, he's not only a great detective. They're just the nicest guys in this business. They -- they're chosen not only for skilled detective work, but because they have the manner to handhold scared witnesses through this process.
FEYERICK: Now, Mr. Strauss-Kahn is being held at Rikers Island. We're told that he's going to be kept isolated from the general population.
Linda Fairstein, the former prosecutor we just spoke to, well, she says it's likely he will be given a chance to reapply for bail. But right now, he's in that jail, Rikers Island, until the next hearing Friday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick in New York with this part of the story, thank you.
A brilliant economist and a very skillful politician now caught up in the messiest of sex scandals.
Let's learn more about the man at the center of this controversy.
BLITZER: And joining us now from New York, Fareed Zakaria. He's the host of our "Fareed Zakaria GPS."
Fareed, thanks very much.
Let's get right to this man. You know him, Dominique Strauss- Kahn. Were you shocked, like all of us, or did -- is this something that we should have been bracing for?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: No, I was completely shocked.
Look, I know him professionally. He is one of the smartest people you can find in the world really on macroeconomic policy. He was a perfect head of the IMF in that sense, in the sense that his professional capacities were in some ways unmatched. He was a very good finance minister of France, a period of -- presided over a period of growth for the French economy, cut the deficit.
You know, in professional terms, he was highly competent. He was also very articulate and a very charming conversationalist. So, yes, I was stunned.
BLITZER: I read one of the recent interviews you had with him on your show. And you pressed him pretty hard on whether or not he wanted to get back into politics, leave the IMF, run for the presidency of France. He didn't want to get anywhere near any of that.
ZAKARIA: Well, he's very savvy, Wolf. The issue for him was that he could not be seen as using the IMF platform, being managing director of the IMF, and running for a political campaign in France, because, remember, Sarkozy appointed him effectively to that job. So he would have to resign from his position at the IMF.
On the other hand, I had made it -- indicated that I was going to ask those questions. And nobody told me, you know, look, you shouldn't ask these questions. So, he liked the fact that the subject was brought up constantly. He knew the polls. Look, he's -- he's a very political character. He knew that he was leading in the polls. He knew that the French Socialists were in disarray. And he knew that he would -- the greater the speculation, it only served to enhance his stature.
But he also knew he couldn't publicly say anything while he was head of the IMF.
BLITZER: Our Jim Bittermann, our correspondent in Paris, told me something I didn't -- I wasn't aware of, that, recently, he gave an interview to the French newspaper "Liberation" in which he said: "I might be set up. I might be -- there might be some political dirty tricks against me. And I'm bracing for that."
Is French politics that nasty? You know France.
ZAKARIA: I think French politics can be somewhat nasty. And there's a lot of this sort of intra-elite -- it's a small elite of people who run France, all of whom look very much like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, highly educated. They have all gone to the same schools. They live within one square mile of one another, often in government-owned apartments.
But I think it would be tough to imagine that this was a setup. It would involve too many people. Look, of course, everybody's presumed innocent until proven guilty, but this strikes me as unusual.
Now, it is true that he had personally warned Sarkozy -- or so the reports go -- to stop with the dirty tricks. In other words, he had some concern that Sarkozy had operatives who were spreading rumors about him. And, apparently, he's said to have confronted President Sarkozy and said: Stop spreading these rumors about my private life, or I will go to the courts.
So, there certainly is some history of back-and-forth and dirty tricks. It -- but this one seems difficult to imagine as being part of a sting.
BLITZER: Fareed Zakaria, thanks very much.
ZAKARIA: A pleasure, as always, Wolf.
BLITZER: Pakistan has it. The United States wants it. And now it looks like the Pentagon will be getting it back. We're talking about the wreckage from that helicopter that crashed during the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound.
Also, as the U.S. reaches its debt ceiling, some people are saying gold, G-O-L-D, gold, is the answer. They want the United States to sell off its reserves.
And Donald Trump bows out of the race he was never officially in.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's thinking about the war on terror. He's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was in Pakistan today meeting with government and military leaders there in an effort to mend relations between the two countries.
Tensions are running high even three weeks after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. But Senator Kerry says the U.S. and Pakistan have agreed to cooperate on future terror targets, and Pakistani officials are committed, he says, to finding new ways to fight terror within their borders. We will see about that.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scheduled to travel to Pakistan some time in the coming weeks -- it's all part of the Obama administration's careful balancing act, keeping up foreign relations, while staying tough on terror, especially as the president's campaign for reelection in 2012 begins to kick into a higher gear.
President Obama enjoyed a much-needed boost in his personal approval ratings following the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1. But, according to the latest Gallup poll, his approval ratings have now dropped back down to 46 percent. That's where they were prior to the bin Laden raid and right around the lowest levels of his presidency.
Being tough on terror might be a good strategy for winning over some American voters, but it took us 10 years to find bin Laden. And what if there's another attack between now and the 2012 election?
That brings us to the question, which is this: Would a terror attack on the United States make you more or less likely to vote to reelect President Obama?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.
Today is the day the Treasury Department here in Washington has been warning would come. The U.S. hit the debt limit set by Congress, freezing the government's power to borrow money. So, what should the government do now? Some experts think they have the golden answer.
CNN's Mary Snow is in New York. She is working the story for us.
Mary, how serious is this? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Treasury Department is not in any rush to sell Uncle Sam's family jewels, but the talk by some economists to sell U.S. gold and other assets is loud enough that the Treasury Department has addressed the idea, explaining why it is not in favor of it.
SNOW (voice-over): As the United States plowed past its debt ceiling of $14.29 trillion, the treasury secretary maneuvered to allow the government to keep borrowing until August.
Congress is nowhere near an agreement to raise the debt limit. To buy time for lawmakers to negotiate spending cuts, some conservative economists think the U.S. should sell assets, like land in the West leased for farming and ranching, and the federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority.
Chris Edwards of the think tank the Cato Institute, which advocates limited government, thinks the U.S. should even sell its nearly $400 billion worth of gold.
CHRIS EDWARDS, CATO INSTITUTE: I think selling gold would be a good message. It would show that Congress and the White House are willing to consider new ideas to pay down the debt. That shows progress and a reform-mindedness. I think that will calm financial markets.
SNOW: The Treasury Department thinks the opposite would happen. The Treasury Department's assistant secretary for financial markets writes on the department's blog, "A fire sale of the nation's gold to meet payment obligations would undercut confidence in the United States both here and abroad and would be extremely destabilizing to the world financial system."
Even if the U.S. sold its gold, it would only buy a few months' time, since the U.S. borrows about $125 billion a month. And Barry Bosworth, a former economic adviser in the Carter administration, says, if the U.S. sold gold at any other time to cash in on high gold prices, it wouldn't be a big deal, but selling it now would send a bad signal.
BARRY BOSWORTH, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: If people are going to sell assets to try to finance their consumption, like the ongoing budget deficit we have, then I think it's a terrible idea, sort of the notion that you can sell off the family jewels to continue to spend the way you are for a while longer.
SNOW: And, Wolf, the Treasury Department says, if the U.S. wanted to sell its gold, there would need to be public input and oversight and wouldn't be tied to the debt issue -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much. Here is a question: Who was coming and going from bin Laden's compound in the months and years before his death? Our sources now are getting new information.
Plus: details of what caused panic on an international flight and forced the plane to make an emergency landing.
BLITZER: Mending fences after the bin Laden raid -- Pakistan agrees to return the wreckage of a secret U.S. helicopter which crashed in the al Qaeda compound.
And was Donald Trump just playing a publicity trick? He now says he would rather be a tycoon than president of the United States. Jeanne Moos will take a closer look at that.
BLITZER: Relations with Pakistan certainly have been strained more than ever by the U.S. raid on the bin Laden compound. But as a U.S. senator visits Pakistan, there's word of an important first step toward trying to patch up the relationship.
BLITZER: And joining us now from Islamabad, our correspondent Stan Grant.
Stan, Senator Kerry is there in Pakistan, where you are right now. And, all of a sudden, the Pakistanis decide to hand back to the United States a key piece of equipment. Tell us what happened.
STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this has really been a contentious issue, hasn't it, the helicopter that was downed during the raid on the bin Laden compound.
Now, the Pakistanis, initially, there was speculation they were going to hand over part of that to the Chinese. Now they're saying they're going to return the damaged tail of that helicopter to the United States.
This is all about what Senator Kerry is calling concrete steps, Wolf, in trying to get this relationship started again. In his words, he came here to mend some fences, to move the relationship forward, but not without some tough talk as well.
He told the leadership here, the president, the prime minister, the heads of the military and the intelligence that there are those in the United States who are really questioning the value of this alliance. They're really asking some very tough questions about how much Pakistan knew about bin Laden's presence in the country, whether there was any collusion. Now, when I asked him directly about that, he said there is no evidence to suggest that; he didn't want to make any more conjecture; he simply wanted to be able to draw a line in the sand and move the relationship forward.
There's another question here, too, about Pakistan's condemnation of this raid. They're concerned about the secrecy. They believe that it violates Pakistan's sovereignty. And this is what Senator Kerry had to say about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: My goal in coming here was not to apologize for what I consider to be a triumph against terrorism of an unprecedented consequence. My goal has been to talk with the leaders here about how to manage this critical relationship more effectively, about how to open up the opportunities to put this relationship back on track, where isolated episodes, no matter how profound, don't jeopardize the larger relationship and the larger goal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRANT: Now, the bottom line here from Senator Kerry is this, Wolf. He says to the Pakistanis, we're in this together. Pakistanis also losing thousands of people, indeed tens of thousands of people who have been killed during the past ten years since 9/11 as a result of going after the insurgency. He says both countries need to be able to work together and move beyond these differences -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I know one thing that would reassure the U.S. If the Pakistanis return to the United States, let's say, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban, who everyone believes is hiding out someplace in Pakistan. Or Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 al Qaeda leader, if the Pakistanis turn him over, that would be a significant source of reassurance.
Here's the question, though. Did you get in your impressions of your conversations with Senator Kerry right now that he trusts the Pakistanis?
GRANT: I put that question directly to him. I said here is a bottom line question. After all of your discussions, after all of your talks with the leadership here and their reassurances and all the talk about moving the relationship forward, can you trust them? Do you really believe that there was no collusion, that no one in the military or the intelligence or the government was working with bin Laden?
He said that there is no evidence to suggest that. He's going to await any of the various inquiries that are under way at the moment in this country before making any comment. He simply did not want to go there, Wolf, but it is central to this relationship.
And you mentioned Mullah Omar. You mentioned al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 in al Qaeda, and the pressure is on in this country to be able to make sure that they are not found here. If they are here, that they are rounded up and handed over, because this is not just crucial to Pakistan, but it's also crucial to the effort across the border in Afghanistan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Stan Grant reporting for us from Islamabad. Stan, thanks very much.
Meantime, there's new information coming out about bin Laden's activities while he was hiding out in Pakistan. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's working this part of the story.
What are you learning, Chris, about visitors coming to the bin Laden compound during the five or six years he was living there?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that he didn't have many. According to a U.S. official who talked to us, this official says that visitors to this compound where bin Laden was living were few and far between.
Now, why is that news? Because it contradicts and disputes another report out there in which a Taliban leader in Afghanistan says bin Laden did have visitors, that he did have access. In fact, he says, this Taliban leader, that he was one of those visitors, that he came to see bin Laden about two years ago.
Now right now U.S. officials are saying all the intelligence suggests that these visits were very, very infrequent.
But all that said, they did not have 24/7 surveillance on this compound, in part because they didn't want to tip off bin Laden or anyone else living there, that they were watching the place. I mean, think of a drone perhaps buzzing overhead constantly for weeks, months, even years.
But they are sort of sounding the alarm about how much information, that information that came out of the compound, how much has been released publicly about that, saying a lot of sensitive information has walked out the door. They say it's time for officials to exercise some discipline, dial it back on how much they're talking about this information, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon for us.
President Obama, by the way, will make a major speech -- sweeping the Arab world. We're just getting in some details right now. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, once again joining us. She's at the White House.
What are you picking up, the speech Thursday at the State Department?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thursday, right, Wolf. And we got some good information just a couple of minutes ago, from our producer over at the State Department, Elise Lavit (ph). She's been speaking with administration officials. And here's what they're saying.
This speech is going to be a major one. It has really kind of been in the planning stages for quite a while. But the neighborhood, the Mideast has changed a lot. Just imagine: Mideast peace process basically dead in the water, killing of Osama bin Laden, and then also Arab Spring. So a lot has changed.
So here are the main things, three major points that we're going to look for. One would be on the Arab Spring. We are told that the -- the president will be saying there is a change in the region, but that change has to happen by the people themselves, that the U.S. can't dictate it, the U.S. can't impose it.
The next one on the peace process. We expect that the president is going to lay out some markers, as they put it, on the Mideast peace process, where he would like to see the Israelis and the Palestinians going, but there won't be a big major Bill Clinton a la 2000 type of speech. There's simply not the circumstances for that.
And then finally Syria, big issue. And expect him to come out very strong on Syria. In fact, he might even go so far, we're told, as to call for a transition. And that would be very significant, with President Bashar al-Assad.
And then finally, the last one, Osama bin Laden. And you're going to hear something we expect that we've been hearing from U.S. officials, which is the ideology of Osama bin Laden is basically over. He is history. This ideology has nothing to do with what the people who came out for Arab Spring want. They want something else and they want improvement in their lives, not that ideology -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jill Dougherty is over at the White House for us. We'll, of course, have live coverage on Thursday of the president's speech on the Middle East.
Thousands of Louisiana homes sacrificed to floodwaters to save major cities including New Orleans. CNN's John King is there. He's getting a firsthand look with the governor, Bobby Jindal. John is standing by to join us live.
Also is Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich distancing himself from the House GOP plan to replace Medicare with a voucher program? You're going to hear what he's saying that's raising talk of a Republican rift.
And "Saturday Night Live" spoofs us once again. We're going to show you their version of THE SITUATION ROOM and me.
BLITZER: Mississippi floodwaters are inundating thousands of rural Louisiana homes right now in an effort to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Our chief national correspondent John King is in Morgan City, Louisiana. He'll be anchoring his show "JOHN KING USA" from there later at the top of the hour.
John, tell us what's going on right now, because this is an awful situation and an enormous dilemma.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It is remarkable what we're seeing here, Wolf. Essentially, some small communities being sacrificed to protect larger communities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans, as you mentioned.
I'm in Morgan City right now. If you look behind me, this is the city -- the town's flood wall right here. You should be able to walk down there. That's a wharf down there. You should be able to walk along, go to the edge of the water. Instead four feet of water and the water slowly rising there. That is why this state is taking remarkable extraordinary measures to try to keep the water from getting too high here and in other communities.
We flew over today, Wolf. Man Americans have probably heard the term the Morganza Spillway for the first time this weekend. We had an exclusive aerial tour with Governor Bobby Jindal. We flew right over that. And as we were flying over, nine bays were closed on the spillway today and 11 bays then were opened so a net gain of two bays open.
Why are they doing that? They're altering the flow of the water, sending it into these low-lying communities. As a result of that, a lot of farm land is under water and as many as 15,000 homes eventually could be under water. They're hoping it won't be that many. The waters are rising slowly. But they're essentially sacrificing those small low-lying communities to get the water away from other tributaries that would take it to this community, Morgan City, down to Baton Rouge, further south to New Orleans.
And as you fly over, Wolf, you see the water slowly coming up. Not quite as quickly as officials thought it would rise. Because believe it or not, there's been a drought ahead of this flood. So the ground has been dry so some of the water is seeping in.
Something else remarkable we saw, as the spillway sends the water one way, they're worried about back floods in some communities. Improvising is a bit part of this flood relief effort. They've taken a 30-foot barge, crossed it across the river, sunk it down into the water. They're pouring in rocks, pouring in steel, essentially building a makeshift dam to keep the water from coming up into other populated communities. Again, Wolf, the goal being to divert it into marshland, into wetlands, yes, into some smaller communities, but to protect communities with tens of thousands.
I talked to Governor Jindal today. He says hundreds of millions of dollars in damages here, probably 300 to 400 million in crop losses alone. But he believes -- he believes -- they took a phone call from President Obama while we were out on a boat tour today. He believes that there's been very good cooperation between the state, the local and the federal officials. And he believes they're doing -- especially because they had a warning -- they're doing as good as they can so far to mitigate this. But he also warned us, Wolf, that this will be a challenge for Louisiana, not for weeks but for several months.
BLITZER: Yes. Those people have a lot of problems already over these many years. All right. Thanks very much, John.
We'll be watching "JOHN KING USA" at the top of the hour. He's going to have more on this story.
Many of us have done -- have done this at one time or another, but when you're president of the United States, the world watches when you drop your BlackBerry. This happened as the president was arriving in Memphis, Tennessee, today to visit flood victims and deliver a commencement address. Aides scurried to pick it up for him. But the president barely missed a step as he scooped it up himself. No damage apparently done. Good for him.
There are signs of a Republican rift on the House GOP proposal to replace Medicare with a voucher program. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich appears to be distancing himself from the plan.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, to talk about this. How much of a distance is Newt Gingrich doing from Paul Ryan's proposal?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Enough. A lot. And of course, he's not the only Republican doing it. First of all, Wolf, they've gone home to their districts. We know that it passed the House, this plan. They've gone home. It's not popular back home.
Republicans are saying, "Why are we going out on a political limb when we know this plan is not going to go anywhere?" Then there's presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who seems to think the same thing. Listen to him on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Now what Paul Ryan is suggesting, completely changing Medicare.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's too big a jump. I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, not one where you suddenly impose upon -- I don't want -- I'm against Obama care, which is imposing radical change, and I will be against a conservative imposing radical change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: Well, Wolf, you know, when he was asked about the Ryan plan by a reporter for "TIME" magazine, the reporter asked, "Would you vote for the plan if you were -- had been in the House?" And the answer was, "Sure."
So he went from "sure" to this being a radical plan. You know, when you're a presidential candidate you have to have one message and stick to it. We've been talking about Newt Gingrich's discipline problem as a presidential candidate. That may be a really good example of it.
BLITZER: Well, there's another example, too. I was confused because as you know, on health-care reform, President Obama plan with the Democrats wanted to have these mandates.
BLITZER: So many Republicans hate the mandates that you must buy health insurance. But I was surprised to hear Newt Gingrich say, you know, he supports mandates.
BORGER: Supports mandates, which again, is very confusing because the president's plan is all about mandates. Mitt Romney's plan is all about mandates. So today Newt Gingrich had to go and do a Web video clarifying, kind of, where he stands.
Here's another issue for Newt Gingrich. He's used to being a professor. He's used to being a lecturer. He's kind of a policy wonk. And when you're a policy wonk, you can explain these nuanced distinctions taking your time.
When you're running for president, actually, you say mandate, people think, mm-hmm, that's the president's plan. You don't support the president's plan, do you? So these things can become problems for him as a presidential candidate.
Now, I've got to switch -- shift gears on you, Wolf, because I know you work all the time, probably as hard as the presidential candidate, but I didn't understand that you actually still work on Saturday nights, too? When I saw this on Saturday night, it kind of confused me. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JASON SUDEIKIS, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer. And this -- this is THE SITUATION ROOM, which three nights a week also doubles as my bedroom.
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama spoke in El Paso, Texas, and while the topic of the speech was immigration reform, it also seemed as though the president was taking a victory lap after the capture and death of Osama bin Laden. Let's take a look.
FRED ARMISEN, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Thank you. Thank you. Feeling good, El Paso? I'm feeling good, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: He's got the tie wrong, doesn't he?
BLITZER: You know, I think he's pretty good. He's very funny.
BORGER: He is very funny.
BLITZER: I don't mumble.
BORGER: No, you don't mumble. First of all, you have better ties. And secondly, anybody in the crew who's here knows that it's way to cold to be anyone's bedroom. You like to keep this studio 50 degrees. BLITZER: Breaking news -- breaking news, we stay here, we work all the time.
BORGER: Nobody's sleeping in this studio, right?
BORGER: It was great. Great.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Would a terror attack on the United States make you more or less likely to vote to re-elect President Obama? Jack Cafferty has your e- mail. That's coming up.
And new details just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM on what the International Monetary Fund chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is experiencing behind bars.
BLITZER: We're getting some new details on what's going on for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund is In a jail in New York City right now, Rikers Island. Lisa Sylvester is getting those details for us.
What's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this new information is coming in to us. We can attribute it to the New York Department of Corrections, a spokesperson there. And it really gives a sense of what his life is now going to be like.
He will be separated from the general prison population. His cell is only about the size of 11x13. So we're talking a very small space here. He will be woken up in the morning at 6 every day. He'll have an hour of recreation time. He will be allowed to have three visits per week. This does not include his attorneys or any doctors and such, but a very different lifestyle that he will have.
And Wolf, we even have information, if he makes it back in time for tonight, what he will have for dinner. Just a little more information here. Turkey burger, mashed potatoes, steamed carrots, two slices of whole wheat bread. So a very different lifestyle for him as he goes forward, at least for the time being, Wolf.
BLITZER: A bottle of good French wine, too, by any chance?
SYLVESTER: No bottle of French wine there.
BLITZER: No French wine?
SYLVESTER: They're going to have fruit drink or tea. No wine, Wolf.
BLITZER: That doesn't sound too bad. Sounds like a nice -- nice meal.
All right. Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester.
Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is: "Would a terror attack on the United States make you more or less likely to vote to re-elect President Obama?"
Brian in Colorado: "Doesn't matter at all. Remember, recent history shows that Bush was re-elected after the worst terror attack in history on U.S. soil. Obama rejuvenated the search for the world's No. 1 terrorist and was relentless in finding him. Bush had pretty much given up on him. There is nothing this president has to prove when it comes to terror."
Steve in Illinois: "More. He knows how to track 'em down now, and he will."
Cheryl writes, "That would depend on how it was handled. If it's handled like Katrina, no, never. But Obama did the right thing with Osama bin Laden."
Rose write, "I don't plan to vote for Obama no matter what. If there was a terror attack on the United States prior to the election, he'd be the one to blame. It would have happened on his watch. And after the killing of bin Laden, I would say the chances of an attack are now greater."
Duane in Pennsylvania: "I don't think George W. Bush would have been re-elected if not for the attacks of 9/11. It's what you can get the American people to believe after the fact."
M. writes, "Based on his intellect alone, I'm going to vote for him anyway. You may have forgotten which party got us into this debacle, but I haven't."
Bruce writes, "I don't live my life worrying about some nut coming after me. Hell, we have enough of them living here in the United States. And I sure don't vote based on that. They call everything now a terror attack. They want us to live in fear. Well, I'm not going to. What they're doing to the dollar, that's the real terror attack."
And Lou writes, "You could bomb me, chase me with bees or move the bogeyman into the house next door. Nothing you could do to me would keep me from voting for Obama again. It's not just that I have every confidence in his leadership. It's also the risk of having Republicans in control of the House, Senate and presidency that scares me to death."
You want to read more on this, go to the blog: CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thanks. See you tomorrow.
Donald Trump for president of the United States. Was it all just a trick? CNN's Jeanne Moos standing by with the story.
And a slow-moving disaster picking up speed. CNN's John King is live from Louisiana right at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA."
BLITZER: Here's look at today's "Hot Shots."
In Pakistan, a street vendor, a young one, offers a dish of sweet snacks.
In India, dancers perform for a crowd of cricket fans before a match.
In London, take a look at this. A bright green parakeet blends in with leaves in Hyde Park.
And in Florida, photographers set up their equipment before the final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
"Hot Shots," pictures coming in to us from around the world.
He certainly got everybody talking, but was Donald Trump's possible presidential quest all just a trick? Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was breaking news worthy of animated hair. We heard it on TV.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Breaking news right now on "News Nation."
DONALD TRUMP, REAL-ESTATE MOGUL: I will not be running for president, as much as I'd like to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He fired himself.
MOOS: Fired up ourselves, we ran outside to spread the news like a town crier.
(on camera) Donald Trump is definitely not running for president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hooray.
MOOS: Donald Trump is not running.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank God.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank God.
MOOS: Did you hear the big news?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, what?
MOOS: Donald Trump is not running. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, high five, excellent.
MOOS: I'm not allowed to.
(voice-over) Folks could be a little more serious about it. After all, the Donald was.
TRUMP: Well, this is very serious.
I am seriously thinking about it.
I am seriously considering it.
I've never taken it seriously like this.
I think you'll be surprised at what my announcement is.
MOOS (on camera): Donald Trump is not running.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, surprise, surprise.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Surprise, surprise.
MOOS (voice-over): Trump's decision is seriously bad news for the country's comedians.
DARRELL HAMMOND, FORMER CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": This is a great time for this nation's greatest man. Me.
SETH MYERS, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Donald Trump has been saying he'll run for president as a Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke.
MOOS: Trump as a running gag is over.
(on camera) How do you think he came out of this looking?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Silly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ridiculous. Arrogant.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He made a fool of himself. And I kind of like him.
MOOS (voice-over): When Bill Maher went on Letterman...
BILL MAHER, HOST, HBO'S "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Why are we listening to this curiosity...
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Right.
MAHER: ... from the '80s.
MOOS: .,. the two disagreed on whether Trump is serious.
MAHER: But he is really running, Dave.
LETTERMAN: No, he's not really. He's absolutely not running.
MAHER: They even bet on it. Let's wager a week's pay. Mine against yours.
MOOS: Now that probably wasn't serious.
(on camera) Did you have a favorite high point or low point of the Trump non-campaign campaign?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just turned him off whenever -- I put him on mute.
MOOS (voice-over): And it will be a muted presidential race without the Donald throwing his hair into the ring.
Jeanne Moos, CNN...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I put him on mute.
MOOS: ... New York.
BLITZER: I never thought he wanted to release all of his financial records. I think that was a factor in his decision today not to run for the Republican presidential nomination.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.