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Congress Goes on Vacation; FAA Still Not Funded; Cyber Attacks; Mubarak Goes on Trial

Aired August 3, 2011 - 18:00   ET



Happening now, more outrage at Congress as lawmakers get out of Washington for five weeks, leaving the agency responsible for aviation safety unfunded and thousands of workers unpaid.

A massive series of cyber attacks targets including the United States. The United Nations and defense firms all head from one source. It's a huge threat so who is behind it? New information coming in. And a truly shocking scene in Egypt, the former president Hosni Mubarak who once one very close to his allies is rolled into court in a hospital bed and placed in a cage on trial for his life. CNN was inside the courtroom. We will show you what it was like.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Breaking news. Political headlines and Jeanne Moos, all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer; you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Four thousands of federal employees are furloughed and tens of thousands of construction workers across the United States cannot work right now because Congress has left town. Without funding the federal aviation administration and that also means the agency responsible for airlines, airports and safety in the skies can no longer collect taxes potentially. Get this, costing the U.S. government and American taxpayers $1 billion. Behind it all a nasty political dispute that is sparking evens more public anger at Washington.

Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Kate Bolduan. She has the story for is lot of angry people. Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely Wolf. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called send a to the house Speaker John Boehner just this afternoon calling on the house to pass a clean extension of FAA funding. But earlier house Speaker John Boehner said the Senate should pass what the house sent over. So clearly neither side is blinking yet in a fight that is largely been overshadowed by the debt ceiling debate until now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BOLDUAN (voice-over): Democrats came out swinging Wednesday, one after another blasting Republicans over another money stalemate, this time involving funding for the federal aviation administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are they have done is outrageous.

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MINORIRY WHIP: Irresponsible to hold hostages, these people and the country and the safety of our airways pending some petty political gain that might be reached.

SEN. BARBARA BOCER (D), CALIFORNIA: This is their modus operandi, government by crisis that they make up government by hostage taking and government by threat.

BOLDUAN: The fight centers on short-term and long-term funning for the FAA including money for airport construction projects. But it also boils down in part to a long fought battle over unions. Unions are our key allies of Democrats; Republicans generally don't support union efforts. And now Republicans want to reverse a recent change to federal rules that make it easier for unions to organize in airline companies.

Here's how it works. Under the old rules if the company had 1,000 workers, the vote for a union would require a majority of all 1,000 workers. If a worker didn't vote, that was counted as a no vote. Under the new rules, it only takes a majority of those voting to allow a union. So if only 100 workers actually vote, and a majority says yes, all 1,000 employees are bound by that. Republicans say that's unfair.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: The national mediation board because it is run by a bunch of Democrats and comes out and does away with a 75 years of labor law in just a stoke of a pen, that's not some little anybody issue. That's a big time issue.

BOLDUAN: Democrats accuse Republicans of not allowing even a short-term extension without a promise to change the labor rules.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is sup-refuge for the number one issue.

BOLDUAN: But the leading House Republican on the issue says that's not true.

John Mica accuses Democrats of holding this up because they are also trying to protect air travel subsidies to rule airport. In a statement saying quote "Senate Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for this partial shut down of FAA programs".


BOLDUAN: While lawmakers have almost entirely left town to begin the August recess, this showdown could be over if everyone agrees houses and rules allow for both chambers to pass legislation quickly and most everyone, most lawmakers wouldn't even have to return to Washington, Wolf. But again that would require agreement and clearly that has not happened yet. BLITZER: Requiring people being adults and understanding their responsibility at the same time. Thanks very much.

And joining us now from Capitol Hills, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah

Senator Hatch thanks very much for coming in.

HATCH: Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: All right. A lot of people are outrage right now about what's going on with the FAA, about 4,000 workers furloughed and 10,000 construction workers not able to do their job. President says a $1 billion in tax fair money could be lost over the next few weeks. Listen to what the president said just a little while ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Here's what this means, thousands of FAA workers being furloughed including safety inspectors. It also means a project all across the country involving tens of thousands of construction workers being suspended because congressmen get the work done.


BLITZER: Now, people are blaming you for stopping this for going forward. Tell us your side of the story.

HATCH: Well, I guess the Democrats can't take yes for an answer because three times now we've offered to extend all of these payments until September 30th until the end of the year, the fiscal year. And three times they objected.

Now, what this was over two things. There is language in the bill called air services from the house side. There a number of small airports that really they can't justify spending the money on and by the way, the democrat bill is even more harsh in the (inaudible) than what the Republicans offer was. And as a matter of $16.5million involve here to these essential services and they are going to shutdown - and they are not going to take the amendment keeping it until September 30th.

The second thing is this; the national aviation board and the use on congressional power change 75 years of labor law make it easy for the unions to unionize air companies. And I got to say, there's no excuse for that what so ever but that can be put of a later day than would have been with the amendment that was offered just yesterday again by senator Coburn on the floor. So I guess they can't take yes for an answer. Instead what's going o happen, it's costing $30 million a day to save $16.5 million.

BLITZER: Because yesterday, correct me if I'm wrong, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, Senator Kay Bailey has this in Republic of Texas, they worked out a compromise that would let it go through the Senate but you blocked that. Is that true? HATCH: That's true because remember the Rockefeller bill, that bill actually applied to more small airports than what we offered. The total amount offered here is about $6.5 million and so they are this - they blocked the bill yesterday and blocked the amendment that would keep everything going until September 30th. And we are losing $30million a day because - and they are blaming Republicans Wolf? Give me a break.

BLITZER: But I don't understand why did you block that compromise proposal that Kay Bailey had sent and Jay Rockefeller supposedly work out?

HATCH: Because they wouldn't take the house bill which would have corrected the labor law mismanagement that they national aviation board did. It's outrageous what they did. They change 7years if labor law.

BLITZER: So what are you saying is Kay Bailey had to send Jay Rockefeller would have kept that provision which is beneficial to the labor unions something you opposed. Is that why you blocked it?

HATCH: Well, Kay opposed it too but she wanted to get the bill done so yesterday Senator Coburn went on the floor and offered an amendment to keep everything going. It would have deferred the issue on the labor law problem and the issue on the essential services for just a few small airports would have deferred that until September 30th and wouldn't have this problem.

Now, it's easy to solve, all they have to do is accept the unanimous consent request on one of the days when where in - where in about 300 day here and we wouldn't have this problem. Everybody would be back to work. And we'll fight this thing out come September 30th when we don't have a month long recess period.

You know they just think they got a political issue here and they are crazy. They are the ones who are causing $30 million a day and they are the ones that won't budge. They are the ones who want it all over that improper change of labor law, the use of patient of the power of the United States Sen. and house where bureaucrats just determine the law.

BLITZER: but you understand Senator, people are all looking at this from the outside. They don't know the intricacies of all the technical labor unions issues, closing a few small airports and saying this themselves you know what $1 billion over five weeks between now and the end of labor day will be lost to you as taxpayers because lawmakers in Washington Democrats and Republicans are fighting over some technical issue that most people don't even understand what they are about. You understand the frustration out?

HATCH: Yes, I do understand it. And if you watch the conference day with the Democrats, basically Harry Reid said that we ought to solve this they way the Republicans that offered at least until September 30th. And they change their thinking they have a political advantage by having these people out of work and blaming Republicans for it. No reason to blame us. The fact of the matter is they could solve the big problem in unanimous second with unanimous consent request and we have to solve the big problem, the labor law problem probably after somewhere between now and September 30th.

BLITZER: Let me just ask you a final question on politics a little bit. I recently interviewed Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah who told me he was definite maybe seem to suggest he definitely wants to challenge you for the Republican Senatorial nomination in your home state of Utah. Are you worried that he is going to challenge you in a primary?

HATCH: He has a right to if he wants to. But I can tell you right now, we're going to win that race and Jason is doing a fair job in the house and I think it rise to some problem and serve over there and that's where he ought to stay but he wants to get in this race and you know that his right and we will just have to face this. I can tell you one thing, we intend to win.

BLITZER: Hey Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

HATCH: Glad to talk to you.

BLITZER: So, this is FAA dispute really so tough to settle.

Let's bring in out chief corresponding Gloria Borger. She's going to give us some perspective sort of complicated some of the technical stuff but it's sort of ridiculous right now that these Democrats and Republicans, they can't just sit down. They got to leave town and they got to fix this.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know it's maddening of course and it's one of the things on Capitol Hills where it's an issue wrapped in an issue. They seem to be debating one thing, but they are debating something else. And in the outside, it looks like they are having a conversation about rural airport because the house bill attacked a rural airport cuts.

By the way, to for rule airport, one of which of course is in Nevada affecting the Senate majority leader. But let's leave that aside. The real issue here is that for years they have been unable to agree on the collective bargaining rights for airport workers. So that has held up the FAA pending bill for years and years. They have been passing this staff gap measures clean because they haven't been able to face the argument.

So this time, In order to gain leverage on that argument I would say, the house attached the rural airport issue as the way the kind of shove it to the senate and say there you go, guys, we are not giving up so easy.

BLITZER: Don't they realize these Democrats are awful? They make the congress look right now. Think about a billion dollars over the five weeks could go reduce the national debt, could go for education, for jobs. It could go for something as opposed to being lost.

BORGER: Well, not to mention the fact that you are affecting not only the 4,000 jobs of FAA workers but potentially I was told about over 70,000 jobs of people who are in construction site at airport et cetera and so I think that they should see it but sometimes they get so wrap in their own small politics that they can actually think what the country is seeing which is pretty much common sense.

BLITZER: It is goo that they are out of Washington right now, got a sense of us that American public is outrage.

BORGER: But you know they have to fix it and as Kay said, they don't have to come back to fix it. They can fix it.

BLITZER: They got a technical way of doing it. They should just do it because every day is precious. It helps explain why in our latest CNN poll, congress's job approval number was 14 percent.

BORGER: Was that as low as it's ever been, I think.

BLITZER: I think it's low. The question I have, who are those 14 percent who approved of the way congress --

All right. Thanks very much.

This important note for our viewer, for this north American viewer, I should say John King speaks with the Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about this FAA standoff right at the top of the hour. He has different perspectives than Orrin Hatch.

Hacking on a frighteningly massive scale with the U.S. government among the targets of unprecedented attacks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Billy, what we wouldn't say is the largest transfer of wealth to form into an actual property in history.


BLITZER: Disturbing new details of the cyber attacks called operation shady rat, threatening national security. Also Egypt's former president in court in a hospital bed and a cage.

CNN Fred Pleitgen was in the court room for an extraordinary trial of Hosni Mubarak. Stand by for his report.

And Christian Docker and nuclear war. We're looking into a controversial U.S. Air force training for us.

Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the Cafferty file check.

JACK CAFFERTY, HOST, CAFFERTY FILE: Wolf, of the two thousand elections sneaking ever so closer, ever so closer, that is not right. There is a chance that Sarah Palin and Donald Trump may throw their hats in the ring. That would tend to fit nicely with the political insanity we have been watching the last of couple of weeks. Trump said he would consider running for president if the economy continues to be bad and if the Republicans pick the wrong candidate. Trump would be the wrong candidate.

Nevertheless, he tells CNBC that he would give it quote "very, very serious thought, adding there so many people wanting me to do it." That's at least that was listed on a cocktail napkin. We've been here before. Trump for over the eye in the past including earlier this year before deciding against it. At the time, he blamed many of the economy's problems on foolish leaders his term who let countries like China steal American jobs.

As for Sarah Palin, she will be keeping herself in the spotlight where when she headlines a tea party rally near Des Moines, Iowa over Labor Day weekend. The "I quit" over half a term governor of Alaska says the U.S. needs a restoration of all that is good and strong and free, whatever the hell that means.

The September appearance will mark Palin's second in Iowa this year. And late June, she and her husband attended the premier of a pro-Palin film entitled the "undefeated." Well, the film has been soundly defeated at the box office for it counts. The movie opened nationwide in the middle of July and earned a lousy $5,000 this last weekend, the worst performance yet. The popcorn stand in the theater took in more. Palin recently said plans to decide about 2012 in late August or September. God help us.

Here's the question, are Sarah Palin and Donald Trump the answer to the country's problems? Go to file and post a comment on my blog.

This is a question for entertainment purposes. Wolf.

BLITZER: And you will get a lot of responses.

CAFFERTY: I'm looking forward to it. Thank you

BLITZER: It's called operation shady rat. The United States and the United Nations are among dozens of targets in an unprecedented chain of hack attacks, government's world organizations and major corporations, all hit from the same source.

Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's been digging into the story. What do you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is of the biggest cyber attacks in history, maybe the biggest theft of information history, a huge economic and national security threat to the U.S. and other nations. And it all comes from one command and control server.


TODD (voice-over): Remember all the recent hack attacks we've reported on? Groups like anonymous and LulzSec crashing the websites of the CIA, SONY and PBS?

According to a new report, that was just a nuisance compared to one massive series of cyber attacks targeting dozens of governments and companies around the world.

DIMITRI ALPERROVITCH, MCAFEE INC.: Billy, what are we are witnessing is the largest transfer a wealth, a form of intellectual property in history.

We spoke with Dimitri Alperrovitch from the Cyber Security Firm McAfee Incorporated who discovered the attack he calls operation Shady Rat.

TODD: Who were the targets of this attack?

ALPERROVITCH: Every single industry you can imagine from IT industries, energy industries, governments, nonprofits, the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee and the world anti-doping agency and the association of Southeast Asian states.

TODD: Alperrovitch says six U.S. government agencies a dozen defense contractors are among those that had data stolen over the past five years, data like information on summits, military secrets and other sensitive projects. A common method used according to Alperrovitch? Spear fishing. What's that?

I spoke with Jay Bavisi, President of the firm EC counsel, the train's cyber security personnel from the defense department and elsewhere to think like hackers.

TODD: Jay, Leo here is the bad guy. He's the hacker. He's (fairy-fishing may). What does he do?

JAY BAVISI, PRESIDENT, THE FIRM EC COUNSEL: So, what Leo is doing, he was sending you an e-mail.

TODD: Right. Here's my e-mail. I'm getting it. Looks like it's from someone I know, right?

BAVISI: Exactly. It's from someone you know. It's a very harmless e-mail asking to you click on the link. And if you would click this link, it is going to download a piece of software on your computer.

TODD: And hackers sometimes use your personal e-mail to get in.

Bavisi says what the hackers are counting on is me as an employee using my work issued computer to access my personal e-mail. So if I do that, click on a link in an e-mail from a hacker, download that malicious software that means the hacker on to my employer's network and can move around.

The reports author says these attacks were so large and sophisticated they can only come from a government. He won't name one because he says he doesn't have hard evidence. I spoke cyber espionage expert James Lewis. TODD: What government could have done this?

JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: There are only a few countries that could pull this off. You can narrow it down to two, China and Russia. And when you look at the target list that is all in Asia, you have to think China. Who else buys on Taiwan?


TODD: The report lays out a circumstantial frame that could point to China, the fact that the servers and the hackers actually targeted several Asian governments that American defense contractors were target and the fact that none of the targets are in China.

Contacted by CNN, an official of the Chinese Embassy called that assertion on unwarranted, irresponsible and attempt to vilify China. He says China is actually, itself often a victim of hacking and that it wants to work with other countries to prevent it, Wolf

BLITZER: But there is a way for these hackers to pretend its coming from China and make it look like it's coming from China, but it is really not.

TODD: There is a way to do that. Expert tells up that hackers from Russia possibly could take control of the server in China. And make it look like all it's coming from China. The report says that there is a government doing this. The Russian embassy wouldn't respond to us. The target list though, when you look at it, it does look more like targets that China would be interested in hacking.

BLITZER: What a story. Thanks very much, Brian.

A former president now on trial for his life in the court room spectacle. Our own Fred Pleitgen saw it first hand. Stand by.

Plus, the story behind some very unique ammunition. It contains cremated human remains.


BLITZER: In Cairo, an absolutely extraordinary scene that sums up how much the world has changed in recent months. The ailing former President Hosni Mubarak who for decades was a close American ally and ruled Egypt with an iron grip was brought into court in a hospital bed and placed in a cage on trial for his life. In the Middle East, it's being called the trial of the century. And millions have been riveted by the proceedings.

Let's go live to see this. Fred Pleitgen in Cairo, watching the story for us unfolds.

You were actually Fred in the courtroom today when Mubarak was wheeled in the bed.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRECPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. It became absolutely silent inside that courtroom when Hosni Mubarak was wheeled in. You could see that even the prosecuting attorneys, these are the people who are asking for a death sentence against Hosni Mubarak became absolutely silent and a lot of them told me later, even they were shocked to see him in that state.

Let's see how this day unfolded today.

These images shocked viewers in Egypt and around the world. The former president and strong man Hosni Mubarak wheeled into the courtroom in Cairo, unable to walk on his own. His demeanor frail. His voice weak as he denied the charges against him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say?

HOSNI MUBARAK (through translator): I deny all these charges completely.

PLEITGEN: Mubarak remained in the gurney through out the proceeding. A lawyer for the prosecution later said he wasn't surprised.

KHLED ABOU BAKR, PROSECUTOR: No, no, I imagined this situation, yes. But I think that we are in a good way to this trial. We are in a good way. We would like everything to go and I respect the law in Egypt.

PLEITGEN: To the prosecution that would mean a death sentence for Hosni Mubarak and the some of the other codefendants in the dock accused of being responsible for the deaths of more than 800 protesters during the revolution in Egypt. Mubarak and his sons could also face jail time for corruption. Mubarak stayed on Wednesday a far cry from the man who ruled this country with an iron fist for 30 years. The trial is politically charged. Demonstrators clashed at the court house in the morning.


PLEITGEN: Before the court even came into session, riots broke out between pro and anti-Mubarak protesters who are hurling rocks and bottles at each other. It took a large police presence to fry them apart.

It's unclear how long the proceedings will drag on. For now, the trial against the man who once put fear in so many people for so long has been adjourned until August 15th.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Cairo, Egypt.


PLEITGEN: And of course -- and of course also the man who was one of the most important power brokers here in this region for about three decades. It's interesting, Wolf. When you speak to regular Egyptians, it really is sort of divided as to what they think. There are a lot of people who say, yes, this is exactly what should be happening. Yes, he should be on trial. Yes, these are the right proceedings.

But there's also people who say, you know, it looks very humiliating to them to see the president, or the former president, in a state like that. And a lot of them are almost ashamed of what they see, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's an amazing, amazing story, especially for those of us who watched Mubarak over these many decades.

Fred, thanks very much.

During those decades, the real iconic images of Hosni Mubarak are competing with pictures of pharaohs as symbols of Egypt. Now millions have another image of their former president. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom has been getting reaction on the streets of Cairo.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shock and disbelief.

"We thought we might just see a picture of Mubarak in the courtroom," says Hiba Mahmoud (ph), "not actually see him in the courtroom."

Outside the venue where former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is being tried, the crowd simply can't believe their eyes.

"Until 9 this morning," says Tama Talkia (ph), "I was certain that Mubarak would not show up, let alone be in the cage." The defendant's cage, heavy steel bars that separate those on trial from the rest of the onlookers. Standard protocol in an Egyptian courtroom.

Tama (ph) came out to honor the memory of his brother Mohammed (ph), whom he says was killed on January 28 while protesting in Cairo. He calls his brother a martyr and says Mubarak deserves this treatment. "A person who thought himself a god and that all beneath him were slaves, who thought himself a pharaoh," explains Tama (ph) about Mubarak. "After seeing him in the cage today, we have to thank the supreme military counsel and our judicial system."

Tama's (ph) mother, meanwhile, sits with other women, all grieving for children they've lost during Egypt's revolution. She wants justice.

"Even if they gave us all the money in the world, we don't want it," says Umtamad (ph). "We want to avenge the victims; we want blood. Whoever kills must be killed."

(on camera) It's a tense scene outside of the police academy. Right now, to my left, you have demonstrators chanting that martyrs will not have died in vain. That the martyrs of the revolution will be avenged and Mubarak will face justice. But this is a dividing line, because just over here, to my right, you see the riot police. Beyond that gate, those are pro-Mubarak demonstrators. (voice-over) Throughout the day, clashes erupt between both factions, rocks thrown, riot police deployed, several injured and arrested. Passions run high but cooled down long enough for the spectators to turn their attention to court proceedings being displayed on the big screen.

"In the past here," says this woman, "if we even dreamed that Hosni Mubarak would be put on trial and be in that cage, they would have tried and executed us."

But today it's Mubarak who is forced to defend himself, pleading not guilty to the crimes he's been charged with, including corruption and ordering the killing of anti-government protesters. A scene so surreal, many simply still haven't been able to fully process it.

Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Cairo.


BLITZER: Interesting story indeed. A number of other controversial leaders have recently faced justice in the courtroom.

In 2001, the ex-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic appeared before the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide. The trial ended in 2006 when Milosevic died in his cell.

In a trial that's still ongoing, Charles Taylor is fighting charges that he committed war crimes while president of Liberia.

And in 2006, the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging. Like Mubarak, Saddam Hussein faced justice behind a protective cage.

The next round of a debt battle here in Washington. Lawmakers will have to decide what to cut and guess what? Washington lobbyists are already preparing to help them decide.

Plus, the U.S. Air Force stops a training class for nuclear missile operators. The reasons? Religious reasons.

And now you can turn a late loved one's ashes into bullets. Jeannie Moos will have that story.


BLITZER: In Washington, the stage is now set for the next phase of the debt battle, a bipartisan congressional super committee that would be a sign to try to find ways to cut the nation's deficit. Lobbyists are already gearing up to influence the lawmakers, a lot of lobbyists. High-powered lobbyists with lots and lots of money.

Lisa Sylvester is looking into this part of the story for us. Lisa, what are you finding? Money talks in Washington. There's no doubt about that.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does, Wolf. You know, we've got six Democrats and six Republicans who will be named to the special super committee. And there are nearly 13,000 registered lobbyists. And many of those lobbyists right now are trying to figure out who is most likely to wind up on that committee and how they can get access to them.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Bob Walker is a former congressman and one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington. He says in the months ahead, plenty of people will be knocking on the doors of Congress, a super committee of Republicans and six Democrats will be empanelled to recommend ways to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion. Those members, yet to be named, will be at the center of a lobbying storm.

ROBERT WALKER, WEXLER & WALKER PUBLIC POLICY ASSOCIATES: All the organizations around town and all the companies around town, all the unions and everybody else are lining up to put direct pressure on -- here in Washington. But the fact that there only 12 of them and that they can be influenced by their districts, as well. And so there will be huge grassroots and grass tops campaigns run in those 12 areas. And that will put additional pressure into the system.

SYLVESTER: Special interests with the most to lose or gain. The defense industry, business groups, the medical profession, oil and gas companies, transportation field, senior citizens and union workers all are prepping for a fight. And they have big bucks to fling around.

In 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $132 million on lobbying. American Medical Association, $22.5 million; AARP, $22 million; the pharmaceutical lobby Pharma, $21.7 million; the American Hospital Association, $19.5 million; and public sector unions, $14 million.

Government watchdog group Common Cause says special interests shouldn't be allowed to buy influence with the super committee. That's the surest way, they say, to deadlock, resulting in automatic cuts to defense and Medicare.

BOB EDGAR, PRESIDENT, COMMON CAUSE: If they come out with a proposal that the general public thinks has been tainted by money or by special interests, it's not only a proposal that won't fly. We'll move ourselves into a position where across-the-board cuts will hurt both conservatives and liberals.

SYLVESTER: Another watchdog group, the Sunlight Foundation, sent a letter to the House and Senate leadership, calling for committee members to have open meetings and to disclose campaign contributions and contacts with any lobbyists.

JOHN WONDERLICH, SUNLIGHT FOUNDATION: Whatever the committee recommends and votes out is going to go directly to the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate, and the minority won't have a chance to block it and it won't be able to be amended. And that's why we think it's so important to deal with and understand what they're doing and have their work be transparent.


SYLVESTER: Now, the Sunlight Foundation has not received a response to their letter from House Speaker John Boehner or Senate Leader Harry Reid. But the group says it has heard from lots of other congressional members, both Democrats and Republicans, all saying that at the very least, the joint committee should have open meetings and not do their work behind closed doors, as we saw with the debt ceiling negotiations, Wolf.

BLITZER: Put it on C-SPAN and let the whole world watch.

SYLVESTER: Put it on the Internet. That's another thing.

BLITZER: That's another way they can do it. Everybody can see. And these are 12 politicians. Six Democrats, six Republicans; six from the House, six from the Senate, all of them, presumably at least, most of them want to get reelected so they're open to that kind of lobbying pressure, campaign fund-raising activities and all sorts of stuff. We'll be watching them closely.

SYLVESTER: And we'll find out soon who they are, too.

BLITZER: And you'll be watching. You're doing a great job covering these lobbyists for us. Thanks very much.

A controversial course, combining nuclear war -- get this -- and the Bible.


MICHAEL WEINSTEIN, MILITARY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOUNDATION: We look at the slides, and we'd just be where -- even we even stunned. We couldn't believe what we saw.


BLITZER: Here's the question. Is the United States military teaching Christian doctrine? Stand by. We're investigating.


BLITZER: After protests from its own officers, the United States Air Force has halted a training class for nuclear missile operators that relied on religious images and passages from the Bible. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been digging into the story for us.

What's going on here, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, war and religion have gone together for centuries. But in this day and age with the U.S. military? Really?


STARR (voice-over): To launch a nuclear weapon, military operators first need to take a class on ethics. Using a 43-page presentation, this course is designed to train Air Force personnel to consider the ethics and morality of launching nuclear weapons, the ultimate doomsday machine. The presentation includes slides depicting the teachings of St. Augustine and biblical quotations, and that prompted more than 30 Air Force officers to protest the religious overtones of the course. The Air Force suspended the class.

Mikey Weinstein runs a group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation. A watch dog group which tries to ensure religious freedom among the troops.

WEINSTEIN: We look at the slides, and we'd just be where -- even we even stunned. We couldn't believe what we saw.

STARR: The pictures of saints and Bible quotations represent what the Air Force briefing calls Christian just war theory. But the military is prohibited from proselytizing.

WEINSTEIN: There were some of the things that we found disgusting. The first was the fact that there's actually a slide that makes it clear that they're trying to teach that under fundamentalist Christian doctrine, war is a good thing.

STARR: Air Force spokesman David Smith tells CNN officials weren't even aware of the religious content in the course until last week, even though it's been taught this way for nearly 20 years. He said, quote, "We are looking to see if we need a briefing like this. We may be discussing ethics, but it will not be a religion-based briefing."


STARR: Now, setting the religion question aside, the Air Force ethics course really asks a very interesting fundamental question. Can anybody, a nuclear weapons officer in the U.S. military, ever really be ready for such a doomsday job? They say that's the point they were trying to teach. Nobody really knows at this point how all this religion information got into it, Wolf.

BLITZER: So are they going to continue doing an ethics class for these operators?

STARR: Well, they're going to take a look: do they need an ethics -- an ethics class? That was apparently the point of this. Do they need an ethics class? And if it continues, they say it will not have a religious content, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Barbara, for that report.

Tropical Storm Emily is on the move right now. We're going to tell you where it's headed and why so many people may be especially vulnerable to potential flooding. That and other top stories coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: All right. This is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. I want to bring Lisa Sylvester back. She's monitoring the story for us. What do you have?

SYLVESTER: Yes. We've got new information here. We have just learned the U.S. government is ordering the recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey. It has been linked to dozens of salmonella illnesses in 26 states and now one death in California. Officials are especially worried since the bacteria is proving resistant to many antibiotics. The turkey is made by Cargill at its plant in Springdale, Arkansas. The National Turkey Federation says to make sure all turkey is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

And the U.S. Army plans to cut 8,000 civilian jobs over the next year in an effort to cut costs. And a senior defense official tells CNN more jobs may be slashed as a result of this week's debt deal in Congress. The Army currently has about 350,000 civilian employees.

Tropical Storm Emily is churning toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people are still in makeshift shelters after last year's massive earthquake. There's concern about flooding and mud slides, as well as Emily's 50-mile-an- hour sustained winds. Some forecasts are calling for Emily to skirt the East Coast of Florida by early Saturday, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll watch that closely tomorrow, Friday, as well. Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Just what those people in Haiti need, huh?

BLITZER: I know.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: "Are Sarah Palin and Donald Trump the answer to our country's problems?" Both are possible candidates for president. Trump's talking about it again now.

Dee writes, "The only thing Palin should do in Iowa" -- she's going to give a speech out there over Labor Day -- "the only thing she should do in Iowa is pick corn. Speaking of corn, Trump has plenty of it and should continue his ego-boosting behavior in the private sector. We already have too many egos in Congress, and we're trying to live with the results."

Richard in Kansas writes, "If our problem was economic prosperity, a united populace with a firm grip on reality, then yes, I'd say they'd be the answer."

Tim in California writes, "This is like the circus where the clowns just keep coming and coming out of that little tiny car."

Claudia in Buffalo writes, "Light bulb jokes could be written about these two. Neither of them has any clue about the interdependence of the world's economies, the needs of 'real' Americans such as the elderly, the poor; the heartbreaking desperate needs of the unemployed when U.S. corporations rich in cash won't hire; or the disastrous situation too many Americans find themselves in when they're denied or can't find health coverage in this, the richest country in the world. They are, however, the answer to every late-night comic's dreams."

Sandy writes on Facebook, "If Palin and Trump are the answers to this country's problems, I'm in the wrong country."

Don writes, "I thought about this a lot. I think Donald Trump should run with Paris Hilton. Of course, Paris should be at the top of the ticket."

And Ram writes, "This is a useless topic, Mr. Cafferty. You need to take a break."

Good idea. If you want to read more on this, go to the blog: or to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Like Congress, you could take a five-week recess, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I think that's a great idea. Can I start now?

BLITZER: A five-week recess, and the FAA...

CAFFERTY: And leave the FAA in a lurch. These clowns are beyond description.

BLITZER: Yes. It's pretty shocking when you think of it. They better do something. Twenty-four to 48 hours they've got to resolve this. The country can't afford another billion -- $1 billion of your taxpayer money going to go down the drain for nothing.

CAFFERTY: I mean, doesn't anybody look at, like, a calendar and figure out< "Hey, this isn't a good time to go on vacation. We've got to wait a couple of days and take care of the FAA"?

BLITZER: Very busy. Thank you.

For our North American viewers, "JOHN KING USA" coming up at the top of the hour, his interview with the transportation secretary Ray LaHood, he'll be among the guests. The big story from the FAA today.

And a very different final resting place, guess where? Inside a shotgun shell. Jeanne Moos has that story next.


BLITZER: Here's a question: what do you get when you mix cremation with ammunition? CNN's Jeanne Moos shows us.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you're hunting for a unique final send-off, now you can turn your ashes into bullets. It's a new service offered by a company called Holy Smoke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to spend eternity sitting on a mantel?

MOOS: Not when you can spend it in a bullet? Two Alabama game rangers dreamed up the idea.

(on camera) I mean, it's weird, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's different.

MOOS: No, Thad, it's weird.

(voice-over) The target audience is people who love hunting and their right to bear arms, or as Stephen Colbert put it...

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "COLBERT REPORT": We're finally extending the Second Amendment rights to dead people.

MOOS: All you do is send Holy Smokes some of your ashes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About a pound of ashes is all we need.

MOOS: They turn the ash into 250 rounds of ammo, which costs 1,250 bucks. Co-owner Clem Parnell wants his ashes turned into turkey shot "so the last thing that one turkey will see is me screaming at him at about 900 feet per second."

(on camera) Talk about a classy send-off. This is high caliber, literally. You pick the caliber.

COLBERT: Bravo, Holy Smokes, for giving us the most bad-ass way to scatter your loved one's ashes since the invention of the urn grenade.

MOOS: But really, why settle for bullets when you can get shot out of a cannon?

(voice-over) That's what journalist Hunter Thompson requested.


MOOS: Thompson's ashes went up in a blaze of fireworks.

These days you can send your ashes into orbit for 3,000 bucks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A portion of cremated remains is carefully placed inside a permanently-sealed flight module.

MOOS: Or if that's not far enough, for about $10,000 (AUDIO GAP).

Closer to home, there are teddy bears designed with a cavity to hold a container of ashes so that the dearly departed can still be hugged.

And remember Sam, the world's ugliest dog contest winner? His ashes were turned into a memory glass orb.

The ashes-to-bullet service just got started. So far they've had three customers. There is something attractive about the image of a speeding projectile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Faster than a speeding bullet.



MOOS: It's your funeral.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. In North America, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.