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U.S. Mayors Seek Early End To Wars; Sources: ATF Acting Director May Resign; Iran's Influence on Syria Crackdown; House Leaders Plan Vote on Libya Funding; Libya: "NATO Behind "Cold-Blooded Murder"; Entire Villages in Slavery; FBI Seeks Clues on TV Talk Shows

Aired June 20, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Brooke.

Happening now, House Republican leaders explore ways to limit U.S. military action in Libya, after President Obama ignores a deadline to get Congressional approval for the military mission. We're learning more about the president's decision and why he rejected the advice of some major administration lawyers.

Plus, what happens now that the U.S. Supreme Court has dashed a massive job discrimination lawsuit against Walmart?

We're going to tell you how the ruling could affect nearly every private employer here in the United States.

And Jon Huntsman sets the stage for his presidential announcement tomorrow, while fellow Republicans and Democrats try to use his stint in the Obama administration against him.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But up first this hour, Syria's dangerous ally in the bloody crackdown on anti-government protestors. There's new evidence coming in right now that Iran is working to influence what's happening in Syria and lay groundwork in case President Bashir al-Assad's regime falls. This after al-Assad unleashed new threats today against protestors while offering some vague promises of reform.

Let's go right to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's learning more about Iran's efforts in Syria.

What's going on here -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, CNN is now learning some of that new emerging evidence. A U.S. official tells us that they now have secret communications, intercepts between Iran and Syria, that show Iran's meddling with this unfolding violence that has gone on for so many weeks now inside of Syria.

What the U.S. believes is this is Iran's strategy -- get involved in the Syrian situation, back a number of regime elements. Just in case al-Assad falls, Iran wants to be able to maintain its influence inside Syria, which, as you know, it basically considers a satellite state.

So we now know that there is communications intercepts that the U.S. has that show evidence of this. The State Department hasn't been very public just yet about the specifics.

Listen to a little bit of what they had to say about all this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In terms of evidence, it's difficult for me to talk about a lot of that evidence from the podium. I would just say, you know, in the -- in the executive order that President Obama signed, I believe on April 29th, he did cite human rights violations by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the so-called Quds force. So we believe there's clear evidence that Iran is actively helping Syria.


STARR: What we now know, Wolf, is what that Quds Force is up to, these intercepts showing that that Iranian high level Quds officials moving in and out of Damascus at various points in recent days and weeks. Their expertise, we are told, training. We have been told there is Iranian riot control gear on the ground inside of Syria -- evidence that they are helping train the Syrians to deal with the street unrest. And this official tells us that Iranian weapons flows into Syria are continuing and are continuing, Wolf, unchecked -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any evidence that Arab countries are helping Bashir al- Assad?

STARR: At this point, I -- I don't think that any has directly emerged. We certainly haven't seen it. We don't have administration officials, at least, telling us about that. What they are watching is this Iranian flow very carefully, because, you know, if Iran is backing various elements in concern that when Assad falls -- if he falls, I should say, that they will still have influence inside of Syria. That could make this whole situation even more unsettling -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Barbara Starr with that new information.

Let's get to the political battle in this country right now over Libya.

Republican sources say House Republican leaders are planning to hold votes this week to use their power of funding to limit the U.S. military mission. That's because President Obama has failed to seek Congressional approval for military action under the War Powers Act. He ignored a Sunday deadline set by the House speaker, John Boehner.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian -- Dan, you're learning more about the president's decision not to seek Congressional approval and the very, very robust internal debate leading up to it.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And during that debate, an administration official telling me that there were a variety of views that were presented to the president; that, in fact, there were disagreements, but that this official describing the process as, quote, "robust and ordinary and healthy. The bottom line, though the president did not follow all of the legal advice that he received.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama's decision to involve the U.S. a part of the NATO mission in Libya without Congressional approval was not interpreted the same way by all the legal counsel he received.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: For me to get up and tell you that by some miracle, every lawyer in this administration was in agreement on that issue, you wouldn't believe me, because it's simply been too contentious for, now, 38 years. So, yes it was not -- it was not a unanimous agreement on it.

LOTHIAN: But aides say the president's decision is on sound legal ground, even though he's getting heat from some liberals. The Constitution Project, a left-leaning legal advocacy group, said it was very concerned by reports the president had gone against his legal counsel. Quote: "We deeply regret that the president has ignored the more considered advice."

And from Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, vocal opposition to the president's legal justification, spelled out in a 32-page document sent to lawmakers last week.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: It's true, the War Powers Act is an infringement on the president's power as commander-in-chief.

So is the constitution, which makes it clear the American people make decisions about going to war through members of Congress.


LOTHIAN: The foundation for President Obama's legal argument is no U.S. boots on the ground in Libya, no involvement in hostilities and, overall, a limited role, notwithstanding deadly air strikes.

And he's finding support among Republicans, like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, even though he criticized the president for doing a, quote, "lousy job of communicating and managing involvement in Libya."


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And I would take the course that conservatives have taken for the last 30 years. The War Powers Act is unconstitutional, not worth the paper it's written on. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: Despite this heated debate, experts say it's unlikely there will be any legal ramifications for the White House decision.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: What makes Obama's legal position so strong here is that the courts don't like to get in the middle of fights between the executive and the legislative branches. So even if Obama is wrong in his interpretation, no court is going to tell him.


LOTHIAN: Now, House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, said that the limited nature of the U.S. engagement gives the president the authority to go forward. But she says she's still reviewing the classified version of that report that the White House sent to Congress last week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: No one denies that the president has the ultimate authority to decide on the legal advice he's getting, who's right and who's wrong. But on an issue involving military matters -- at least it's my sense, it's pretty unusual for the president to reject the advice -- the legal advice of the lawyers at the Pentagon on military matters, and the Justice Department, for that matter -- accept the advice of the State Department and his own White House lawyers.

What are they saying about that?

LOTHIAN: You're right, Wolf. And it is very unusual for the president to do just that. But you might remember, looking back at all the major decisions that the president has made, he has always welcomed sort of the outside advice -- outside of the White House. But certainly, internally, he wants to get that friction with them before he makes up his mind. This is very unusual for the president to do something like this. But nonetheless, this White House believes that the president is standing on solid legal ground and they're not backing down.

BLITZER: The instinct of every president is to reject that War Powers Act...


BLITZER: -- because it restricts the authority, the ability of the president to engage in military operations.

All right, thanks very much.

Dan Lothian at the White House.

Libya is now accusing NATO of cold-blooded murder -- murder of civilians, it says, in recent air strikes. The Gadhafi government says 15 people were killed, including three children, in an attack west of Tripoli early today. NATO now confirms that attack, but says it was targeting a high level command and control site associated with the Gadhafi regime. The Alliance acknowledges it may have caused civilian casualties in a round of air strikes a day earlier. Let's go to CNN's David McKenzie.

He's working the story for us in Tripoli -- David, what's the latest information you're getting?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest information, Wolf, is that we were at that compound. They're calling it a military command and control node. But when we were there, certainly, it looked to us like a residential compound -- a series of houses west of here in an upscale neighborhood.

Now, NATO at first denied that they were even in that area, Wolf, and later admitted that they had carried out strikes. Eyewitnesses in the site that spoke to us said that there were a series of rocket attacks at around 2:00 a.m. this morning. We know that there were civilians killed. We saw them being pulled out of the rubble, including those children. We visited a hospital and hospital staff confirmed that.

Of course, civilian government minders are with us almost constantly here around Tripoli, Wolf.

But, certainly, the evidence points to civilian casualties. And combined with that other strike you mentioned, it hasn't been a good few days for NATO here.

BLITZER: How much evidence is there, David, that the Libyan regime of Gadhafi is placing its so-called military command and control sites near civilians to try to use those civilians as what they call human shields?

MCKENZIE: Well, Wolf, you know, certainly NATO has criticized the Gadhafi regime and pointed to what it says evidence of this. Some weeks ago, they had footage of Gadhafi fighters shooting from inside a mosque.

Now, one thing that is interesting with this particular site, Hamid al-Kuwaiti (ph), who is a senior adviser to Gadhafi, that is, in fact, his house that was targeted this morning. Now, he was not there at the site. It opens up a whole other set of questions on whether NATO is, in fact, trying to target individuals, particularly senior individuals in the Gadhafi regime. They have maintained up to this point that they do not target individuals. But certainly, the people we spoke to there were very suspicious -- was this a hit that went wrong or was this, in fact, someone using a residential compound as a command and control site?

We don't know at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David McKenzie on the scene for us in Tripoli.

David, thank you.

It now looks as though a top federal official is going to pay for a major, major blunder. We're following up on the story of deadly weapons allowed to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. And a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Walmart. It puts the brakes on a discrimination lawsuit that could have included hundreds of thousands -- actually, 1.5 million women who worked for Walmart.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: Twenty-two-year-old Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland won the U.S. Open Golf Championship at Congressional Country Club outside Washington, DC in a stunning performance. The kid is awfully good.

It's too bad the same can't be said about NBC, the network that televised our national championship.

At the beginning of yesterday's telecast, NBC aired a patriotic montage. It featured video clips of national monuments, soldiers raising an American flag.

It was all cut around a group of school aged kids reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Only during the pledge, the words "under God" and "indivisible" were edited out -- twice.

The piece was supposed to play up the whole patriotism theme, with the golf course hosting our national championship so close to our nation's capital and all.

But a lot of people couldn't get past the missing lines. Who does this? Angry viewers immediately took to Twitter bashing NBC, suggesting a boycott of the network. Others called into NBC affiliates around the country and complained. And before the broadcast ended, one of the announcers, Dan Hicks, issued an on air apology of sorts, saying the omission was not meant to upset anyone, and that the network was sorry to those who were offended. It wasn't nearly enough.

Today, NBC went a step further. They released a statement saying, quote, "We are aware of the distress this has caused many of our viewers and are taking the issue very seriously. Unfortunately, when producing the piece, which was intended to capitalize on the patriotism of having our national championship played in our nation's capital, a decision was made by a small group of people to edit portions of the pledge of allegiance. This was a bad decision," unquote.

The network also said that if disciplinary action is taken, it will be handled internally and not be made public. The original Pledge of Allegiance didn't have those words "under God." They were added by Congress in the 1950s. But as a result, they are every bit as much a part of our salute to our flag as the rest of the words in the pledge, and it boggles the mind that a bunch of morons at NBC can take it upon themselves to decide which part to include and which part to omit. Those responsible ought to be fired. Post haste.

Here's the question. Why would NBC edit out part of the Pledge of Allegiance before the U.S. Open golf championship? Go to and post a comment on my blog.

When your political correctness starts getting up my nose, that's wrong -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a major blunder, as we say. You know what, ever since I've been working in television, 21 years here at CNN, whenever we're doing a live event, live coverage of a political convention or anything else and they're playing the Star-Spangled Banner, you don't just start taking the Star-Spangled Banner live and then cut away in the middle of it. You take the whole thing. If you're going to take it live, you take the whole thing. You don't start editing it in any way, and the same with the Pledge of Allegiance.

CAFFERTY: when that happens, do you get up from behind your desk and stand at attention? Absolutely.

BLITZER: At political conventions.

CAFFERTY: Hand over your heart. The whole deal.

BLITZER: Please stand up and do the patriotic thing.

CAFFERTY: Now, this was a major screw-up.

BLITZER: This was a major blunder, as we said.


BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

The U.S. conference of mayors taking a stand today on American military policy for the first time since the Vietnam War. The mayors passed a resolution calling for an early end to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Obama is due to make a decision very soon in the coming days on the pace of the start of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Let's bring in our pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's got the latest for us. What is the latest, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a lot has changed since he made that promise to start bringing troops home in July of 2011. You know, two years ago when he made that promise, he probably couldn't foresee that Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, would be calling the Americans occupiers or that the pressure to cut the budget would be so great that even his Republican presidential challengers are calling for an earlier exit from Afghanistan.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): President Obama has the military options in front of him and the risk of drawing down more troops compared to fewer, but the president is still in the process of deciding how quickly to bring U.S. troops home.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is not over. MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There is no real major consideration of a dramatic reduction.

LAWRENCE: Michael O'Hanlon is just back from Afghanistan. He says no one he's talked to at the White House says they're considering bringing home a majority of the 30,000 troops President Obama deployed as part of the surge.

O'HANLON: That option is not really being actively considered for the near term. It's a choice between probably 5,000 out this year and 15,000 out this year.

LAWRENCE: Some Pentagon officials have argued that Afghan forces still need massive support from American troops and trainers. When I went to Afghanistan and watched them being trained over the last couple years, the Afghans were sometimes lazy, untrustworthy, even high on drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It depends on how much hash they smoked that day.

LAWRENCE: They've improved, but by all accounts are not nearly ready to assume responsibility.

O'HANLON: My preference is to give them a little more time to get bigger and stronger.

LAWRENCE: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has argued to keep the combat troops in country as long as possible.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I also have said that the draw down must be politically credible here at home.

LAWRENCE: A senior defense official says politically credible means the president can't just take out a token number of troops and say, I'm fulfilling my promise to bring them home. the official says both Gates and the president realize the American people have to buy into President Obama making good on his word to start the drawdown in July.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): The official says both the military and the president are looking for what he calls the sweet spot. The specific number that would be sizable enough to represent a true beginning of a drawdown while at the same time not jeopardizing the gains that the military has made. O'Hanlon says current military strategy implies that any of the draw down would be minimal this year, around 5,000, and that the greater draw down would happen at the end of the fighting season next year.

He even says that some of the initial drawdown should be diverted to areas like Eastern Afghanistan, where they have been sort of under sourced for a number of years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I write about this today on my blog at, and the fact that the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, he's pushing very hard for a much more significant withdrawal than some at the Pentagon like General Petraeus and Secretary Gates would like. We'll see if the president decides to side with his vice president this time, especially now that so much money is at stake, $120 billion a year, $10 billion a month to keep 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

A major victory for retail giant, Wal-Mart. Just ahead, why the U.S. Supreme Court says potentially hundreds of thousands of women alleging job discrimination don't have a case.

And new indications from the Pentagon that the U.S. is holding what are described as preliminary talks with the Taliban, but just who are officials dealing with and why? We'll have a closer look at some of the potential players.


BLITZER: The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives expected to resign in the wake of a very controversial gun purchasing program. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. This was, once again, another major blunder.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Federal sources are now saying that Kenneth Melson could step down in the next day or two over operation fast and furious. It's a program that allows the illegal purchase of weapons, some of which ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to meet tomorrow with the head of the ATF field office in Chicago about potentially serving as an acting replacement.

And a major victory for retail giant, Wal-Mart. The Supreme Court ruling today that a massive job discrimination lawsuit brought against the corporation is too big, and therefore, not justified. The class (ph) action status may have potentially involved more than one million former current and former female employees.

And the group charged with overseeing development of the internet voted today to relax the rules for naming websites. The change would allow any combination of letters or numbers to follow the dot rather than just com, dot kids or dot shop, or just a few of the examples. Starting next January, you can start applying for new domain ending. So, we could have a, maybe, a dot Blitzer, perhaps, or dot Wolf.

BLITZER: Dot Lisa.

SYLVESTER: A dot Lisa.

BLITZER: You never know.

SYLVESTER: Yes. So, next January, mark your calendar.

BLITZER: Very cool. Thank you.

The FBI is trying a new tactic to find two high profile fugitives. Stand by for details on the bureau's outreach on TV talks shows and the cost to American taxpayers. And CNN in depth. Exposing the horrors of modern day slavery. Yes, slavery is going on right now.


BLITZER: CNN is marshalling its global resources to expose the horrors of modern day slavery. The CNN Freedom Project highlights growing efforts to stop the trade and exploitation of human beings. This hour, we're focusing in on slave labor in India right now. CNN's Sara Sidner has this exclusive report.


SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An army of brick makers heaving, stacking, balancing, bricks and more bricks from sun up to sun down, but these laborers take home no wage. They are working off a debt. They are bonded laborers, bound to those who gave them an advance or a loan. Human rights advocates say the practice is illegal and call them India's modern slaves.

"I cannot leave here unless I pay my debt." Dirgawasi (ph) tells me she has no idea when that will be.

(on camera): The workers here tell us, generally, here's how it works. The contractor shows up promising them work and giving them a little advance money. Then, they're tractored (ph) in from their far off villages to a place they've never been to, and they're told when they get here that they have to work off their loan and they will not be paid any wages. They're also told they have to live here so the supervisors can keep an eye on them.

(voice-over): It isn't just the adults who are expected to work. Dirgawasi (ph) is a mother of three. Her eldest daughter should not be this skilled at brick making. She is only 5 years old.

Her mother says she took an advance of 1,000 rupees, the equivalent of about $22. She, her husband and her daughter have been working six days a week for two months now. She says no one has told her when the loan will be paid off.

Their small allowance is barely enough to feed the family. Still, they don't dare leave. "They will beat me if I try to leave," Dirgawasi (ph) says.

We want to ask the supervisor about what seems to be a violation of Indian labor law.

(on camera): Is the supervisor -- supervisor?

(voice-over): So when a supervisor shows up asking us to leave, we take our opportunity and he agrees to speak to us.

(on camera): Are they having to pay this loan off now?

(voice-over): "Yes, they have to work and repay the loan. They keep working," he says. (on camera): Is this legal? How is it legal?

(voice-over): "Yes, yes," he says. "We have an agreement."

(on camera): Why are children working here?

(voice-over): "Kids are working here for food. They need food. If they can't fill their stomachs, they need to work," he says, as he's pulled away. Perhaps he has said too much.

(on camera): I'm not going to pay you money.


SIDNER: Why? Why would I pay you money? Why?

(voice-over): Though he won't pay the workers a wage, he has no problem asking us to pay him for the interview. We of course refuse, and everyone goes back to making bricks. Some will stay trapped in debt.


SIDNER: Supriya Awasthi works for an international organization called free the slaves. She admits her organization's mission is ambitious.

(on camera): What's the most shocking thing that's happening here in this country?

AWASTHI: There are 27 million people around the world who are enslaving, and the maximum number of people enslaving live in India.

SIDNER (voice-over): Just down the road, in the village of Gomanpur (ph) we meet Carbon (ph). "When my father was alive, he took an 8,000 rupee loan from the landowner. Since that time, I have to work day and night for him." His father's debt, the equivalent of $175, changed his life. Carbon (ph) says, "No matter who is your family borrowed money, their debt becomes your debt."

"Even when I'm hurt or sick, they call me to work," he says. "You won't believe how many atrocities I have to bear each day." Before he was injured on the job, he says he tried to escape several times, but they found him and brought him back from as far away as Mumbai.

It's true, there are no physical signs of what this place is about. No chains, no fences, and no armed guards. But these villagers say they are all slaves just the same.

(on camera): What will happen if you just take your family and leave and go somewhere else?

(voice-over): "If I don't work for them, they will beat me and abuse my daughter," she says. "If you don't give in, they'll sell your daughter and son."

Lawti (ph) borrowed money from a landowner to treat her husband's tuberculosis.

(on camera): How much do you owe?

(voice-over): "I am an illiterate. So how would I know how much we owe and what's left to pay? I don't even know how much we had taken. It's been many years."

So she works. These villagers say they all do. There is nowhere to run to and no way to get there. None of them had any idea that Indian law outlawed this practice more than 30 years ago.

(on camera): What does freedom mean to you?

(voice-over): "The day I pay my debt, I will be free. We'll be prosperous," she says.

Now, Lawti's (ph) dream is to be able to work long enough so her children will be freed from the loan that binds her to this land and this life.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Uttar Pradesh, India.


BLITZER: We're continuing to investigate where is the Indian government in all of this? Why aren't they doing something to stop what is going on in India right now?

We will not leave this story. In fact, CNN is going in depth into the problem of modern-day slavery. Tune in this Sunday for our documentary on young women and girls bought and sold for sex in Nepal. The actress and activist Demi Moore joins the CNN Freedom Project to present "Nepal's Stolen Children." That's this Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

The FBI launches a new effort to capture two longtime alleged fugitives, but it could end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars. The details ahead.

Plus, desperate efforts to avoid a complete financial meltdown in Greece. Could the U.S. feel the ripple effects anytime soon?


BLITZER: The ladies of "The View" could play a part in tracking down one of America's most wanted fugitives and his girlfriend. The FBI now reaching out to women and to some daytime TV talk shows to try to get new leads.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is working this story.

What do you know?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you've heard of this guy. The FBI wants to find Whitey Bulger, an alleged boss and mobster on the lam since 1995. Federal officials say he headed up a violent gang and is wanted in connection with 19 murders in the '70s and '80s.

Despite a $2 million reward for information leading to his arrest, the largest ever offered for a domestic fugitive, Bulger has eluded arrest. So now the bureau is using the power of television to try to find his girlfriend.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is an announcement by the FBI. Have you seen this woman? The FBI is offering $100,000 for tips leading to Catherine Greig's whereabouts.

These photos are from the early 1990s. Greig has had plastic surgeries.

She is wanted for harboring James "Whitey" Bulger, a fugitive on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. Sixty-year-old Greig is the girlfriend of 81-year-old Bulger. He has a violent temper and is charged with 19 murders.

Call the tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI.


MESERVE: That public service announcement will run in 14 cities where Bulger and Greig had contacts, and it is being placed on shows with a high percentage of female viewers. The FBI says it hopes a manicurist, a hairstylist, a doctor or dentist might recognize her.

Bulger was a big world traveler, and the search for him is an international one. His wanted poster has been translated into several languages, and the last credible and verified sighting of the couple was in London back in 2002. It has been a long and frustrating search for the FBI.

BLITZER: Nine years since any sighting.


BLITZER: It's a long time.

MESERVE: Indeed.

BLITZER: All right. Let's hope this works. Thanks very much.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates vigorously defending what he calls preliminary U.S. contacts with the Taliban. Up next, a closer look at some of the key figures Americans could be dealing with.

Plus, he's still one day away from officially jumping into the race for the White House, but he's already making an impression on the GOP. Could Jon Huntsman be the party's nominee for president of the United States?


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

Joining us, CNN political contributor Roland Martin and former Minnesota Republican senator Norm Coleman. He's now the CEO of the American Action Network.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me play a clip from Texas Governor Rick Perry. He rocked the House in New Orleans at a Republican conference over the weekend.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Let's stand up. Let's speak with pride about our morals and our values, and redouble our effort to elect more conservative Republicans. Let's stop this American downward spiral!


BLITZER: Everybody who was there said he did the best among that crowd.

Roland, you're originally from Texas. He's been the governor now ever since, what, 2001? I get the sense he's running. What do you think?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, look, he is an attractive candidate, figuratively and literally, if you talk to many Republican women. And certainly strong Republican credentials.

I still believe, though, that part of the problem for a Governor Rick Perry, somebody who I know well, Texas A&M graduate, is that we still have this issue of this Texas governor. And when you say that, you look at today, a big story how, look, the Republicans are trying to run away from President George W. Bush.

And so he has to get over that. But I think if he got in this race, he would vault to the top of the heap when it comes to the people who could win the nomination. No doubt in my mind.

BLITZER: Senator Coleman, you're plugged into the Republican elite. What do you think? Do you think he's going to run?

NORM COLEMAN (R), FMR. MINNESOTA SENATOR: Well, he'd certainly be very formidable. I think he's created 266,000 jobs in Texas since June, 2009, one of every three jobs created in America. He's got strong ties, Evangelical, the Tea Party.

But Wolf, if he enters, he does enter a strong field. You know, the pundits go through this thing every year. The strongest candidate is the one not in the race.

So you've got Romney out there in the lead. You've got Pawlenty, who's been working as hard as anybody. Michele Bachmann kind of captivated on the national stage just a week ago. So you've got a field that is strong.

The pundits always wring their hand waiting for the next guy. If he ran, he would be formidable, has a lot to run on. But we'll see what he decides to do. You've got to raise a lot of money and put in a lot of effort.

BLITZER: Realistically, Senator, how much time does he have before he has to make that decision?

COLEMAN: Two words: Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, by the way, came in third in Iowa and second in New Hampshire. You've got lots of time of time. That was the year of the election, so I think he's got a strong enough record.

I think this thing is still being played out. I think folks are still getting to know the candidates. And so I don't think he's on a one- week, two-week time clock.

I think he's got a little bit of time. But again, there is already a strong field, and the pundits are always wringing their hands.

If he gets in, then they're going to be asking, what's Giuliani going to do? What's Pataki going to do? What's Christie going to do?

I think folks go through this kind of wringing of hands. A strong candidate in the field in every election cycle.

BLITZER: You're shaking your head, Roland.

MARTIN: I have to say, Wolf, that first of all, look, I don't think for a second Giuliani is going to run, so he can take his name off the board. He was horrible in 2008. And if he runs again, he still has to run right into the headwind of social conservatives, and that is a weak point for him. And he can't talk about 9/11 all day.

But again, what you have with Perry, strong financial base in terms of coming from Texas, oil money. Also, you look at Houston, Dallas, and those strong conservative credentials.

What is the biggest knock on Romney? The whole issue of being a flip- flop, used to believe in the whole issue of abortion rights, gay marriage. And so Perry doesn't have that problem.

And so I think that's why he's a different type of person than a Pataki coming from New York. This is somebody from a strong red state. That's why he's a different kind of candidate.

COLEMAN: Wolf, what's so interesting is that with all this talk on the D side of Obama being so unbeatable, why are all these folks talking about running? The reality is the issue will be jobs --

MARTIN: Well, actually, I never said that.

COLEMAN: -- the deficit, the economy. This is a vulnerable president, and there are a lot of folks who are looking to run against him. MARTIN: I agree.

BLITZER: Believe me, I speak to a lot of Democrats, including officials at the White House. They all know they're in for a tough race no matter who the Republican nominee is going to be.


BLITZER: Senator Coleman, Newt Gingrich, he's come out of the gate very, very badly, as we all know. But this week -- this week he's working. But you know where he's working? In his home state of Georgia. He's giving a few speeches there.

He's going to some speech in Baltimore, Maryland, not far from his home in McLean, Virginia, here in Washington. He's not in Iowa, he's not in New Hampshire, he's not in South Carolina.

Explain what he's doing if he's running for president.

COLEMAN: Well, you know that Newt is one of the smartest guys in this business. He believes there's a transformation going on in American politics -- innovation, technology.

The key, Wolf, is to be on the cutting edge of the transformation, not the bleeding edge. And so right now Newt has, I think, an uphill climb. We'll see what he does.

In the end, he's going to do the right thing for his family, for this country. He, again, is one of the smartest guys. American politics is being transformed, but in the end I still think folks want you to press the flesh, kiss the baby, and look at you in the eye.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean, in Iowa, it's retail politics going into a caucus in New Hampshire, and kissing babies in Baltimore and in Atlanta.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, Wolf, I think he is, first of all, looking at this whole race differently, and that look, you even have Huntsman, folks in Iowa, who are saying, look, this guy may not campaign here because he doesn't believe in this whole issue of ethanol. And so that is changing.

But I think Newt Gingrich is proving what I've always said about him, that what was great about him was the tease, the possibility of him running. That when he actually chose to do so, he would go down in flames because this whole -- what did Norm just say? Smart guy.

That was always his thing. But if you look at how he's run his campaign, if he runs a White House the way he's run his campaign thus far, God help us all.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Senator, your fellow Minnesotans, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, which one do you prefer?

COLEMAN: Well, I've been with Tim from the beginning. They are both dear friends. Very political answer, don't underestimate Michele Bachmann. No one is going to outwork Tim Pawlenty.

In the end, this race is a long way from over. We're in the early innings, Newt (sic).


COLEMAN: Wolf -- sorry.

BLITZER: Newt is somebody else.

COLEMAN: I had Newt on my brain. I wanted to respond -- Newt is a very smart guy. He really does believe in American politics is being transformed. He may be a little ahead of his time right new.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very, very much.

MARTIN: Ahead of his time? It's been two decades.

BLITZER: All right, Roland. Hold your thought.

Some are calling it a major roadblock for the American worker. Just ahead, we'll have much more on the massive Wal-Mart discrimination lawsuit that the United States Supreme Court just put a stop to.

Plus, escalating fears of a complete financial meltdown in Greece. Could there be ripple effects right here in the United States?


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf -- and it proved to be a lively topic -- why would NBC edit out part of the Pledge of Allegiance before the U.S. Open golf tournament yesterday? They did it twice.

Dennis in Florida writes, "No logical or responsible reason why the Pledge of Allegiance would be edited, particularly by one of the three major networks. It seems like someone had their own agenda, and those in charge just let it slip by."

"It was obviously a very bad decision. However, in the statement NBC released, 'If disciplinary action is taken, it will be handled internally and not be made public," it sure seems the whole thing is going to be covered up. This is corporate jargon for doing nothing."

Carol in Massachusetts writes, "It was jarring to me that they so blatantly cut it, paused and then continued without the 'under God' pardon of the pledge. Twice. I'm not hyper vigilant about this stuff, but it seemed an intentional editing job. Someone had an agenda. Very strange."

M.D. writes, "Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow must have been directing the show and figured most of the viewers came over from Fox News. Whatever the intent of the omission, this was a double bogey." Lincoln writes, "The whole God issue has us quite divided as a country. Why would we ever allow such language to exist in a pledge of our allegiance to our flag and our nation? I, like millions of Americans, pledge no allegiance to any God, and many more millions of Americans who do believe in God don't ask me to pledge my allegiance to their God."

Larry in Denver says, "Gosh, they apologized for their stupidity. Is this major news? They wanted to be politically correct and incorrect all at the same time. Good job."

"Now let's move on to the important stuff. Where's Sarah Palin today?"

Nardo writes, "It's because NBC has a liberal agenda, but conservative networks are called subversive. Funny how that works, Jack."

Gregory in Alabama writes, "In the highly polarized, politicized air in America these days, the smarter move would to be avoid any pandering either full or partial. This was partial pandering."

Jay says, "It's because God hates golf."

And John writes, "I tried to answer your question, Jack, but it was edited out."

If you want to read more -- got some pretty good e-mail on this -- go to my blog, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very clever stuff. All right, Jack. Thank you.

Greece is now getting ready to sell off billions of dollars in assets amidst escalating political turmoil and fears of a complete financial meltdown. Meanwhile, there are deep concerns potential ripple effects could reach the United States.

We asked CNN's Mary Snow to check this out for us.

What are you learning, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, although markets were higher today here in the U.S., there are continuing worries about Greece. Should it default on its debt, the worry is that the crisis could spread to other European countries and then have a domino effect.


SNOW (voice-over): In Athens, anger amid government plans to cut more jobs, wages and pensions. Unemployment is already at record highs. There's been a steady stream of protests over the last three weeks as Greece stands on the brink of bankruptcy. Its government has been told that another bailout from European countries will only come after it takes tough measures.

Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, for one, thinks the measures will likely pass, but it hasn't erased concerns that Europe could face the same kind of crisis that the U.S. did in 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed.

JACOB KIRKEGAARD, PETERSON INST. FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: What happened at Lehman Brothers was that the financial markets froze completely as a result of the fact that no one really knew who was exposed to whom, by how much. And that's essentially the same thing that would happen if you had a Greek default of government bonds.

SNOW: That fear has rippled through U.S. markets. Some economists say the U.S. has an indirect link because it's exposed to European banks which carry Greek debt.

TOM PORCELLI, RBC CAPITAL MARKETS: If our banks have significant exposure to those countries, and those countries start to reel, the negative transfer is potential slowing down in lending, which actually hasn't accelerated really at all over the recovery so far.

SNOW: Those "what ifs" played a part in a six-week losing streak in U.S. markets that eased last Friday. Besides the uncertainty over how it might affect European banks, there was also concern about how it might affect the value of the euro. And this isn't the first time Greece has needed a bailout. And then there are concerns about how it will affect businesses if Europe's economy slowed.


SNOW: And Wolf, there are also some worries that if Greece were to default, would that lead to other European countries also facing a debt crisis of their own? Would they follow suit?


BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much.

Mary Snow, reporting.