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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan Attacked; Republicans Debate
Aired September 13, 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 you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, questions about past campaign contributions are swirling around Republican presidential frontrunner Rick Perry, as the controversy over a mandatory vaccine roars back to life in our CNN Tea Party debate. Also, Taliban militants attack the United States Embassy in Afghanistan, sparking a huge gun battle that has raged for hours. We're going live to Kabul. Our own Suzanne Malveaux is on the scene.
And Senator Dianne Feinstein one of dozens of lawmakers allegedly swindled by a campaign treasurer who is being compared to Bernie Madoff.
We want to welcome our viewers in the was around the world. Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
As the front-runner, Texas Governor Rick Perry took repeated jabs from his rivals at last night's CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate. One blow landed especially hard and it's reviving a huge controversy that's dogged Perry for years. It stems from his effort to require young girls in Texas to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cancer.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now live. He's in Dallas watching this story for us.
All right, Ed, give us the very latest because all of a sudden this whole story has taken on new life.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a controversy that's been around here in Texas for quite some time. But what was interesting, and you saw this firsthand last night, Tea Party crowd should have been very friendly to Governor Rick Perry but there were a couple times where the crowd kind of turned on Governor Perry and this HPV vaccine issue was one of those times.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): The HPV controversy has hovered over Rick Perry for more than four years. But it wasn't until the CNN/Tea Party debate that Perry's opponents really dug into the Texas governor.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong.
The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
LAVANDERA: Five thousand dollars in 2006, according to Texas campaign finance documents, but altogether Merck has donated more than $28,000 to Rick Perry's gubernatorial campaigns in the last 10 years. More than $20,000 of those donations were made before the governor issued the controversial HPV executive order.
PERRY: But I do not understand why we, as a people, would not take this opportunity to use this vaccine that's come to us
LAVANDERA: That was Rick Perry back in 2007 trying to muster support for the HPV vaccine mandate, but he was heavily criticized when it emerged that his former chief of staff Mike Toomey had worked as a lobbyist for Merck and other companies before and after working for Perry.
Dallas Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson attended the debate, and says most people in the hall weren't happy with Perry's answers on this issue.
KATRINA PIERSON, DALLAS TEA PARTY: Capital cronyism is extremely important and it runs rampant throughout both parties and the issue needs to be discussed and we need to make sure that we have a candidate committed to principled legislation and governing, not special interest driven.
LAVANDERA: But the relationship between Rick Perry, his former chief of staff, and the drugmaker Merck is troubling to campaign finance watchdogs like Texans for Public Justice. It found that while Perry was prominent in the Republican Governors Association, Merck donated more than $377,000 to the RGA. That's since 2006. In the same period, the association has donated $4 million to Rick Perry's campaigns for governor, all perfectly legal, but a glimpse into how money runs through the political system.
And now Rick Perry says he handled the HPV vaccine issue all wrong.
PERRY: But on that particular issue, I will tell you that I made a mistake by not going to the legislature first.
And at the end of the day, this was about trying to stop a cancer.
LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, you know, Governor Perry and his staff have long denied that Mike Toomey, his former chief of staff, and his relationship with them had no influence, nothing to do with him signing this executive order. And it didn't really affect Governor Perry in the last election. He handedly defeated Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in that last gubernatorial election here in Texas -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he did.
Ed, you have been living in Texas now for a long time. You have been covering the governor for a long time. What we're seeing now, because all of us are paying attention to him much more closely now, is that what you have seen over the years? Or do you see some different parts of the governor right now as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination?
LAVANDERA: You know, what's interesting, and I think we will start hearing a lot about it, and the Dallas Tea Party activist you heard from in our piece brings up the same point, there's a lot of these different, small -- what seem like small issues, like the HPV vaccine issue.
There's a lot of little controversies that have been festering for a long time here in Texas when it comes to Governor Rick Perry. The question is, as more and more of these start getting attention, will it all add up to something? It hasn't here in Texas during his time as governor. He's been reelected over and over again, now been the longest-serving governor in Texas history, but there's a lot there that people are anxious to see kind of get more scrutiny and a closer look.
After all of that adds up, Wolf, it will be interesting to see what kind of effect that will have on...
BLITZER: Yes. He wasn't backing away from the in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants either. We're going to have more on that part of the story later. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.
LAVANDERA: You got it.
BLITZER: This just coming in. Good news for Governor Perry, he's getting another endorsement from a fellow governor, the Republican governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, now endorsing Governor Perry. This, we're just learning. Nevada, that's an early primary state as well, an early contest in the race for the White House.
So the governor, a rising star in -- Republican star in Nevada, endorsing Rick Perry. So we will have more on that part of the story as well.
Let's get some more on this controversy that Ed Lavandera was just reporting on.
CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us. He's checking the facts for us. What else are you finding out, Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one of the key questions in all of this really is the notion of whether or not this actually was put into place. Listen again to what Michele Bachmann said about what the governor did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: I'm a mom of three children. And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. It's a violation of a liberty interest.
That's -- little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don't get a mulligan. They don't get a do- over. The parents don't get a do-over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: So the governor admitted, he said himself he shouldn't have handled it this way. But did it ever happen the way she said?
Basically, what she is saying is forced injection is flat-out wrong. Now, she did specify by executive order, because the simple truth is we have lot of injections in this country that are effectively forced against measles and against polio, things like that. Throughout our history we have required these things for kids to go to school, as the governor did there.
However, in this case, he made this order. It was overturned by the legislature before it ever went into effect and he did not veto the legislature. The truth is, even though he made by his own admission a mistake, it never became anything more. The statements by Representative Bachmann, we will have to say are true, but they're incomplete because you have to consider the entire picture when you consider what you think about the governor in all this.
Beyond that, Wolf, one of the things that came up and over and over again yesterday was this question of the economy, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. And the governor and two former governors, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, all kept saying they're better at the jobs game than President Obama. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: This president does not understand how to free up the small business men and women or for that matter Wall Street.
ROMNEY: And the people that have been hurt most by the Obama economy are the middle class.
JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have put forward a program that I want all of you to understand is basically patterned after what I did as governor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: What I did as governor. They all said that over and again, what I did as governor.
The simple truth is, the picture of what they all did as give is not as clean as they say that their states prospered. Yes, Rick Perry has created jobs in his time in office. But Texas' unemployment rate along with its population has grown like the rest of the country. It's lower than the country unemployment rate now, but it's still at about 8.4 percent vs. 9.1 percent.
They still have problems, despite some progress. Mitt Romney, yes, he came into office with Massachusetts losing jobs. He left with them gaining jobs, but they were gaining jobs much slower than the rest of the country generally at that point. So, was he making progress? Yes, not that much.
Probably Jon Huntsman, in Utah, is the closest to saying what his record really was, but even there he's shaving the numbers a little bit. So the simple truth is, Ruth -- Wolf, none of these people sit in a vacuum in their states. And the national economy affects them. So we have to say also with all of their statements about the economy, true, but incomplete -- Wolf.
BLITZER: True, but incomplete. All right, thanks very much, Tom, For that.
Let's discuss the debate a little bit more with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Another big issue in the debate, Social Security, among these eight candidates. Was it resolved?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I do not think it was resolved. I think we're going to be hearing a lot about it. And just take a listen to this exchange between Perry and Romney, and I will tell you why it's not resolved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: it's time for us to get back to the constitution and a program that's been there 70 or 80 years, obviously we're not going to take that program away. But for people to stand up and support what they did in the '30s or what they're doing in the 2010s is not appropriate for America.
ROMNEY: But the question is, do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program as you did six months ago when your book came out and returned to the states or do you want to retreat from that?
PERRY: I think we ought to have a conversation.
ROMNEY: We're having that right now, governor. We're running for president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: Ouch. That's pretty nasty exchange, Wolf.
And I do think that the question of whether Governor Perry thinks that Social Security is unconstitutional still remains to be discussed. We did not really get a clear answer on that last night. He clearly wants it to be an issue that's taken to the states, but he needs to have a plan. And we don't have a plan, his reform plan, yet on Social Security. Now that he's out there saying this, his book has said it, we're going to have to hear just what he wants to do to fix Social Security for younger people.
BLITZER: I suspect the Republican Party as a whole not very happy that this Social Security issue is forefront in this presidential debate.
BORGER: It depends who you ask. The Tea Party folks are very happy to be having this debate. But when you talk to people in Washington, particularly members of Congress who have to run for reelection, they're quite nervous about the fact that the Republican Party is now discussing Social Security.
It's -- they believe that they're handing this issue over to the Democrats. Remember, the issue of Medicare was such a hot-button issue that Republicans used against the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. They're worried about Social Security now being used against them.
BLITZER: The other big issue children of illegal immigrants in Texas getting in-state tuition to go to state universities. Let me play this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: If you've been in the state of Texas for three years, if you're working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there.
And the bottom line is it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way.
BACHMANN: I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer- subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was an exchange right there, Michele Bachmann really taking off her gloves to a certain degree.
BORGER: Right. And the issue of immigration, Wolf, and you know this from George W. Bush, has always been a fault line within the Republican Party. George W. Bush wanted some kind of immigration reform. Republicans fought him on it. Now the line, the refrain we always hear is secure the borders. But the DREAM Act, which is what they're talking about there, is something that was an issue in Congress, an issue for congressional Republicans.
Again, is this a debate Republicans want to be having internally in their party right now, because it splits the party? And what we saw at your debate last night was all of these divisions within the Republican Party on issues like Social Security, on issues like immigration really exposed. And you see how divided the party itself is.
BLITZER: All right. Gloria, thanks very much.
BLITZER: An attack on a United States embassy, the embassy in Kabul. NATO headquarters targeted by Taliban militants. You're going to see the ferocious gun battle that raged for hours right in the heart of the Afghan capital. Our own Suzanne Malveaux is there. She's standing by to join us live.
Also, the disturbing rise in poverty here in the United States soaring to a new level, perhaps never seen before in one of the world's wealthiest nations.
Plus, a campaign treasurer now suspected of swindling dozens of U.S. lawmakers, including California's Senator Dianne Feinstein.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama's plan to pay for the $447 billion jobs bill with higher taxes dead on arrival.
Republicans are pushing back, insisting that tax hikes are off the table.
The White House says Congress should pay for the jobs bill by putting new limits on itemized deductions for the wealthy that, including deductions for home mortgage interest, state and local property taxes and charitable donations.
In this case, wealthy means individuals who make more than $200,000 a year and families who earn more than $250,000 a year.
President Obama wants to end tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jet owners and cut out a tax break for investment fund managers.
The White House says all these tax changes would raise $467 billion over 10 years.
But Republicans aren't hearing any of it when it comes to higher taxes.
And that's not all they don't like. They have also rejected new stimulus spending on road projects, teacher salaries and school construction. They say anything that smacks of another stimulus bill ain't going to happen.
On the other hand, Republicans like the president's proposal to give more generous tax breaks to small businesses and the idea of pulling back burdensome government regulations.
So far, President Obama is selling his plan to pay for the jobs bill as a single idea. But realistically, there's no way that that will ever get through a divided Congress.
Republicans say that certain parts of the president's plan though should be considered individually.
Here's the question: Should tax increases be used to pay for President Obama's jobs program?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page, or not -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of people will, Jack. Thank you.
Meanwhile, startling, truly startling numbers are out today from the U.S. Census Bureau. Get this -- 46 million Americans, that's one in every six, 46 million Americans are living in poverty right now. That's the highest rate since 1993 and the most ever recorded in the 52 years the government's been keeping track.
Lisa Sylvester is looking at these shocking numbers for us.
What else are you finding out, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Those numbers really indicate the impact of the recession, unemployment hovering around 9 percent. Many workers have been looking for full-time work and they can only find part-time work. And poverty is on the rise.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): In Silver Spring, Maryland, volunteers load furniture on to trucks. They are part of a nonprofit group called A Wider Circle that provides furniture to needy families.
MARK BERGEL, A WIDER CIRCLE: We get about 400 telephone calls a day. And out of those telephone calls, more than half are from people who will tell us the same story, which is: I have nothing. I don't care if I can sleep in a bed, but I want my kids to have a bed.
SYLVESTER: Among those benefiting are Yunola Campbell and her four children. She works full-time as a home health aid, but her income of $22,000 a year puts her below the poverty line. YUNOLA CAMPBELL, BELOW POVERTY LINE: It's really hard, because, like I said, my four kids is like my number-one property, so I buy food, I pay the rent, and whatever (INAUDIBLE) until I get pay again.
SYLVESTER: New numbers released by the Census Bureau show the nation's poverty rate hit the highest level since 1993, 15.1 percent of the population in 2010. The poverty line for a family of four is defined as $22,314 a year.
BERGEL: If you qualify as being in poverty today, then you're really in deep poverty, because that number is so low. That's based on an outdated formula from the '60s.
SYLVESTER: Government safety net programs could potentially be cut as congressional lawmakers look for ways to trim government debt. The conservative group the Heritage Foundation downplayed the latest census numbers, saying "Many of the nation's 46 million people in poverty are not truly destitute."
ROBERT RECTOR, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I think that these numbers are designed to exaggerate the extent of poverty in the United States in order to build a larger welfare state. And it does make it more difficult for us to target the assistance to those who truly need it.
SYLVESTER: But Rose Zufi (ph), who is unemployed and came to a wider circle looking for help, says it's not always easy to identify those living below the poverty level.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think there are a lot of people out there living in poverty and that we're not aware of that might seem that, you know, you don't know, but they are.
SYLVESTER: The report also found that median household income declined 2.3 percent. We also saw a significant jump in the number of young adults living with their parents since 2007. And the number of uninsured in 2010 was about 16 percent of the population. That's basically about where we were the year before in 2009 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Although the actual number in the report, almost 50 million Americans without any health insurance.
SYLVESTER: Yes. These numbers are absolutely startling when you take a look at it, 50 million without insurance, 46 million living in poverty. And keep in mind that poverty level is only about $23,000, a little under $23,000 a year for a family of four.
BLITZER: Startling numbers in the richest country in the world.
All right, thanks very much.
He's been in Cuba for nearly a week now trying to free an American in jail. But today the former Governor Bill Richardson is calling it quits. We will tell you why. Plus, an incredible rescue caught on camera. Wait until you see what this group of bystanders was able to do when the adrenaline kicked in.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Gunfire ringing out for hours in central Kabul today, as Taliban militants launched brazen and well-coordinated attack on the United States Embassy as well as on NATO headquarters in the Afghan capital.
Our own Suzanne Malveaux is on assignment in Kabul. Suzanne is joining us live from Afghanistan right now.
Suzanne, what's the latest? What's going on right now?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's about 3:00 in the morning now, Kabul time, so many people are in bed, they're asleep. It is rather quiet now. You hear the occasional dog barking.
But in previous hours this evening, we have heard explosions from our site here. We have heard gunfire as well. The last tweet that was sent from the spokesman of Department of Interior says that one of the terrorists is still alive, they believe, but soon will be killed by police. That happened within the last hour or so.
We do believe that the police have been going through this building, going floor by floor by floor. They believe that they may find one or two terrorists left. Not even sure if they're dead or alive, but they continue to search for these folks. In the meantime, there are a lot of anxious people waiting to see what the morning brings, but, Wolf, here's how the last 13 hours or so played out today.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): A bold and brazen attack against the U.S. Embassy and a NATO compound in one of the most secure areas in the center of Kabul, at least four Taliban insurgents holed up in a building under construction in the center of the city.
They opened fire with light weapons and RPGs. Staff at the U.S. Embassy went into duck-and-cover mode. Sporadic gunfire and explosions continued through the day, at times even involving helicopter gunships.
Afghan police and army tried to push back the crowds. Wounded were taken to a nearby hospital. During the afternoon, at least three insurgents were killed. Soldiers outside this military hospital say this man was one of them.
(on camera): And further down, you can see the barbed wire. You can see the compound, the concrete there. That is where we heard those loud explosions. This battle is not yet over.
What makes this so powerful for people in the community here is the fact that it really is at the heart of the city. These are the power brokers. You are talking about the international police force, the Afghan officials, intelligence officials at heart of the security apparatus, and that is where this firefight is taking place. It is meant to make the people here afraid, afraid of the transition, afraid of Afghans taking over their own security.
(voice-over): In addition to this high-profile attack, there were three other suicide bombers who tried to detonate explosives at various places around Kabul. All were killed without reaching their targets.
MALVEAUX: So, Wolf, the totals, they could obviously change, but, so far, seven people killed this day, 17 injured. That could increase tomorrow as we see the light of day and what has taken place on the ground.
We have also learned that personnel at the U.S. Embassy are no longer in this complete duck-and-cover mode, if you will, but still on a heightened state of alert. Many of their activities at the embassy have been canceled for the morning. There is still a lot of anxiety, a lot of questions around what took place today.
I have had a chance, Wolf, to talk with General John Allen. He's the head of the U.S. and NATO mission here in Afghanistan, and they said, they expected, we're not surprised, that they might see some attacks around the days of 9/11, the 10th anniversary.
But this is really one that was at the heart, at the heart of the security apparatus in this city. They say it is not spectacular, but it certainly is very bold, it's brazen, and it has a very weighty significance, symbolic meaning for many of the Afghans here who want to feel confident and not fearful that they're going to be able to take over their own security in the years to come, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. That's a good point you make, Suzanne. I've spoken with some analysts here in Washington who think this -- this attack may not necessarily be successful, but the mere fact that they were able to do this will reinforce this notion that perhaps the U.S., the NATO allies, are vulnerable there. It will embolden some of those Taliban fight to take even more action in the weeks and months to come.
Is that a similar analysis you're getting from folks in Kabul?
MALVEAUX: Well, that's right, Wolf. And one of the things that we -- we've heard and we've been talking with folks who are at the -- at the U.S. embassy as well as inside of the NATO compound is that they feel that the Afghans, the army and the police, that it was important, even those who were in some of the helicopters, the choppers flying overhead that were shooting into that building to kill those insurgents, that they really took the lead here, or at least they certainly appeared to take the lead, that they were partners with the international military force here.
Because they are trying to counter that image that the Afghans can't handle the Taliban, that the Taliban are stronger than them, and so they are really trying to put them out there.
But there's a lot of concern here, Wolf, that they are not yet ready for that job. There's a lot of training that needs to be done. We've seen that training firsthand. But they know that the Taliban has succeeded today in at least a very strong symbolic attack here, showing that they can get to heart, to the heart, of the security apparatus here in Kabul.
BLITZER: And what's so worrisome, they've been training these -- these Afghan fighters for ten years. Hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars spent, and this still takes places.
Suzanne, be careful over there. We'll touch base with you tomorrow and get an update. Suzanne Malveaux on the scene for us in Kabul.
Meanwhile, another important story we're following. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, vowing those two American hikers jailed on spying charges could now be released within a matter of days.
Let's bring in our own Brian Todd. He's working this part of the story for us. What's going on here, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these Americans were supposed to be serving eight-year sentences. They were convicted and handed those terms just a few weeks ago. Now, many are wondering what Iran's motivations are for bringing this highly-charged case to a close.
TODD (voice-over): It took more than two years, and it will cost $500,000 each, in what the Iranian government calls bail money. But Iran's president now says two American hikers, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, are about to be freed from Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.
Ahmadinejad spoke with NBC.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): Yes, in a couple of days they will be freed, God willing.
We do it, for example in humanitarian gesture. Is it going to solve the problems? I hope so.
TODD: Through a representative, the hikers' families said only that they're overjoyed at the news and they hope to say more when their loved ones are returned.
Bauer, Fattal and Bauer's fiancee, Sarah Shourd, were on say apprehended in 2009 hiking in northern Iraq, but the Iranians allege they crossed Iran's border illegally and charged them with spying. All three have denied that.
Shourd was released last year for medical reasons. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were recently convicted in a trial and sentenced to eight years.
In the NBC interview, Ahmadinejad described their conditions in the Evin Prison.
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): These two people are having very good conditions in prison. It's like staying in a hotel.
TODD: But westerners who have been held there describe mental and emotional torture, constant threat by their captors. In interviews with CNN after her release, Shourd said she was not physically abused but...
SARAH SHOURD, FORMER PRISONER IN IRAN: Being alone 23 hours a day is devastating. I mean, it's very hard to hold yourself together, you know? And in the beginning I would scream and cry a lot and, you know, sometimes I'd bang on the walls, but eventually, you realize that just that resistance is futile.
TODD: Why are the Iranians releasing Bauer and Fattal now? Analysts say Ahmadinejad may be trying to build some goodwill ahead of his appearance at the U.N. later this month. But it also may have to do with the personal struggle for power between Ahmadinejad and the man who holds the real power in Iran.
(on camera) What's in it for him now to do this now?
KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Over the last several months, within Iran, Ahmadinejad's been pretty emasculated domestically.
And I think this is a move by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who had to OK the release of these hostages to show to the world that Ahmadinejad still has some power, still has some clout because it's in their interest that the world continue to focus on Ahmadinejad.
TODD: Karim Sadjadpour says Ayatollah Ali Khamenei needs Ahmadinejad as a lightning rod to deflect some blame for Iran's problems away from himself. And this release of the Americans is a way of making it seem like Ahmadinejad has some power when Sadjapour says he really doesn't have much.
We've called and e-mailed Iran's mission at the U.N. to ask why Americans are being released now. We've not heard back, Wolf.
BLITZER: He's also hinted at some other measures, Ahmadinejad, as well.
TODD: That's right. He's hinted that he wants some Iranians being held in U.S. prisons released. Analysts say there are few Iranians being held in arms trading and espionage charges, but it's not likely they're going to be released. This may be just a pure PR move by the Iranians at this point.
BLITZER: They get $1 million, $500,000 for each. I wonder where that money goes.
TODD: Not fruitless, probably. Who knows?
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Brian Todd.
Chaos erupts at an NFL game. A man with a stun gun fires at fans.
Also, leading lawmakers allegedly swindle out of more than $1 million.
Plus, a dramatic rescue. You're going to want to see this.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, Lisa. No luck on that rescue mission in Cuba?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not so much, Wolf. Attempts to free an American jailed in Cuba have failed. Former new Mexico governor Bill Richardson will leave the country tomorrow morning after he says he has exhausted all possibilities to negotiate the release of Alan Gross. Gross, a U.S. contractor, is sentenced to 15 years for setting up illegal Internet connections on the island.
A scary moment at a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets. Police say a man with a Taser got inside the stadium and allegedly fired on the crowd, injuring three people. This cell phone video that you see here, it shows the aftermath. The suspect is charged with assault and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes. Investigators, they want to know how this man got past security.
And talk about an adrenaline rush. Bystanders in Logan, Utah, they saw this fiery crash Monday, and they immediately jumped into action. Take a look here.
After seeing a motorcyclist trapped under the burning car, the crowd lifts the 4,000-pound vehicle...
BLITZER: Oh, gosh.
SYLVESTER: ... dragging the man to safety. Twenty-one-year-old Brandon Wright was taken to the hospital, and he is now in stable condition.
Piers Morgan talks to some of those bystanders tonight at 5 Eastern, right here on CNN.
Pretty amazing video. We've seen it before, but look at those folks that picked that car and rescued that guy.
BLITZER: Amazing video. It's amazing. And what kind of condition is he in right now?
SYLVESTER: He's in stable condition. That was my question. You know, we saw the video, and you see him lying there. How is the guy doing? He's actually in stable condition.
BLITZER: Yes, 9 p.m. later tonight Eastern, Piers is going to have a lot more on the story. Thank you.
She's being called the Bernie Madoff of campaign treasurers. A California woman accused of pocketing millions of dollars in political donations.
BLITZER: One Democratic lawmaker says she may be the Bernie Madoff of campaign treasurers. A California woman accused of stealing more than $1 million in campaign funds.
Let's go to Los Angeles. CNN's Casey Wian is joining us live.
Casey, what's going on here?
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, earlier this month the FBI arrested a woman named Kinde Durkee on suspicion of fraud. She's well known here in California political circles as a campaign treasurer for dozen of candidates and political organizations. And she's accused of pocketing at least $1.5 million in campaign contributions.
(voice-over) Senator Dianne Feinstein, congresswomen Loretta Sanchez and Susan Davis and several California state lawmakers are confirming their campaigns each lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations because of alleged fraud by this woman, Kinde Durkee.
Her Burbank, California, company, Durkee and Associates, was hired by Democratic lawmakers and political committees to manage donations in accordance with strict campaign finance rules.
But an FBI complaint alleges Durkee admitted to agents "that she had been misappropriating her clients' money for years."
In a letter to supporters, Congresswoman Davis said, "We've been robbed of about $250,000." Senator Feinstein told the Web site Politico over the weekend her campaign was, quote, "wiped out" and is still trying to assess the damage. Former California Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg hired Durkee and Associates to manage some of his campaign contributions.
ROBERT HERTZBERG, FORMER CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY SPEAKER: The laws are so complex that only a small group of people can actually do them. If you're an ordinary fellow, and you want to run for office, and you go to your accountant and say, "Hey, look at these rules for me," your accountant will say, "I can't do this." In a state that has nearly 38 million people, there literally are only a handful of these folks, and they have hundreds and hundreds of candidates.
WIAN: The FBI says Durkee had control over at least 400 different bank accounts and moved money between campaigns to cover shortfalls. The complaint also alleges Durkee diverted money to pay, among other things, her mortgage, her company's payroll, her mother's nursing home expenses, and her American Express bill. Among those charges, trips to Disneyland, the Aquarium of the Pacific, and Baskin Robins.
Investigators are pouring through all of those transactions, and law enforcement sources say that forensic accounting is going to take a long time.
WIAN: Durkee has been released on $200,000 bond, and she's scheduled to make a court appearance next month. Her attorney has not returned our phone calls. Law enforcement sources, however, say that settlement discussions are ongoing, and she was only arrested on suspicion of fraud, yet no formal charges have been filed at this point -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a story. Casey, thanks very much. Stay on top of it for us.
Are congressional Republicans sending mixed messages on President Obama's jobs bill?
Plus, Jeanne Moos and the rowdy parade that's on a viral video.
BLITZER: So are Republican lawmakers getting President Obama's message? Our congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan, is joining us now live.
Kate, what are the Republicans on Capitol Hill saying right now about the president's proposed jobs legislation?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, Wolf, with talk of tax increase, it seems the honeymoon following the August recess may be over and Republican reaction up here turning into something of a good cop/bad cop situation.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a plan that...
BOLDUAN (voice-over): With details of president's plan in hand, House Republican leaders went out of their way to keep appearing cooperative. REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Hope springs eternal. Listen, I -- the president and Congress need to find common ground.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: We need to work very hard to try and peel off the things that we can actually agree on.
BOLDUAN: But Senate Republican leaders had a very different message.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: This proposal is really not credible. This is largely a campaign proposal and not about getting our economy going.
BOLDUAN: The hang-up? In large part it's how President Obama wants to pay for his $447 billion jobs plan: with two words Republicans can't stomach, tax hikes.
BOEHNER: We see permanent tax increases put into effect in order to pay for temporary spending. I just don't think that's really going to help our economy the way -- the way it could.
BOLDUAN: Instead, Republicans want to pick out individual measures from the president's bill, such as tax relief for small businesses and reforming benefits for the unemployed, to help spur job creation. But Democrats fear that tactic means their priorities will be left behind.
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D), ARIZONA: I think Cantor's statement about we'll take only what we want or give you only what you want, I don't think that's acceptable to us. And it's certainly not acceptable to the American people.
BOLDUAN: All the while, President Obama has taken his sales pitch on the road to Ohio, straight to House Speaker John Boehner's backyard.
OBAMA: So, let's tell Congress, instead of just talking about helping America's jobs creators, let's actually do something to help America's job creators. Let's pass this bill right away.
BOLDUAN: And while the White House promises President Obama will continue to pressure Congress to pass the whole jobs package, the White House did acknowledge today that the president -- that if Congress sends the president only a portion of the jobs bill, he won't veto it, Wolf; he will sign it into law.
BLITZER: The story's not going away, Kate, thanks very much.
Let's get back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the question's related. "Should tax increases be used to pay for President Obama's jobs program?" Justin says, "Yes, canceling tax breaks on the richer Americans seems like the right thing to do. The job creators have had plenty of time to create jobs with these tax breaks in place, but they aren't doing anything, are they? It's time to try something else, and the rich didn't get rich all by themselves. So quit being so greedy and selfish and help your country get back on its feet."
Chuck writes, "It ought to be paid for with cuts in foreign aid and military spending. It's time we changed our priorities."
Tim on Facebook: "No, unless Obama can figure out the $250,000 a year for a family is not rich. Only if you make over a million dollars a year. Then -- then -- I'm for it."
Steve in Arizona writes, "No, there shouldn't be. This latest stimulus program will produce the exact same results as the last one, because it takes money away from the ones you're expecting to create these jobs, not to mention that when it takes $350,000 to create a $17,000 job, that doesn't sound like a very sane idea."
John in New York says, "The plan is specific, and it's a balance of tax cuts for all and a modest increase to the 2 percent highest income group. It also promotes benefits to those companies who hire America workers. Obama is right, and he has a well-balanced, fair plan. Republicans will do all they can to portray it into a negative light and then drag it into the 2012 election campaign."
And Connie in Chicago says, "Yes, the elite and superrich are bloated from stuffing themselves for ten years with a heavy-laden buffet prepared at the expense of the working poor and the middle class. Much to the chagrin of the Republicans and the Tea Party, it's time to even the playing field and give the middle class a break."
If you want to read more on these ideas, you find them on my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good page. It's got my blog there, as well. Jack, thanks very much.
Still ahead, the parade some New York City police wish they could forget.
BLITZER: Police officers have a duty to serve and protect, but how about to dance? Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Talk about arresting images. New York City police officers surrendering to scantily clad dancing girls? Laughter gave way to wide eyes and gaping mouths.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. MOOS (on camera): No, wait, it gets better.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God!
MOOS (voice-over): The video was shot at last week's West Indian Day Parade, known as New York's most raucous parade. Nine people got shot at this year's parade. But the only shooting where these officers were posted was the shooting of the video that's now gone viral.
"Stop and Frisky" read "The New York Post" headline. Forget force. "Village Voice" called it "Excessive Use of Dance."
Though, actually only a couple of officers did much dirty dancing on duty...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's reprehensible.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're supposed to keep the order.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're too busy humping girls.
MOOS: On the other hand...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are human. If I was on a parade, and I was having fun and I had a cop who was having fun with me, I would be happy about it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But they're having fun like they're at a bar.
MOOS: Think of it as community outreach.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he's having too much fun working. If I did that at work, I think I'd be fired.
MOOS: But New York's police commissioner wasn't firing anyone.
RAY KELLY, NYPD COMMISSIONER (via phone): You know, I'd prefer it didn't happen, but I don't want to make too much of it.
MOOS: Commissioner Ray Kelly told WOR Radio that the young women approached the police officers, and he noted that it's quite an unusual parade.
KELLY: You know, you kind of get caught up in the spirit of it.
MOOS: Even the commissioner has gotten caught up in the spirit of it. Enough to play the bongos.
(on camera) But New York cops aren't the only ones to get lured into dancing to the beat, while they're on their beat.
(voice-over) Look at this British policeman at the Knotting Hills Carnival. Instead of getting heat, he got a Facebook fan page dedicated to the dancing policeman. And we're always seeing soldiers in Iraq letting off steam.
This retired police reserve sergeant says the New York officers were just being part of the neighborhood. It's community policing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His sergeant is going to educate him very quickly. Won't happen again.
MOOS: At least the New York cops kept their hats on.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: And dance (ph).
All right, thanks very much. That's all the time I have. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. In North America, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.