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Perry Struts His Frontrunner Status; GOP Touts Special Election Wins; President Sells Jobs Plan and Himself; Ron Paul Discusses Death of Top Aide Who Had No Health Insurance; Interview with Donald Trump; Can President Obama Win a Second Term?; 11th Hour Bid to Spare Death Row Inmate

Aired September 14, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much.

Happening now, Republican Rick Perry prepares to meet with the man who might have been his primary rival. I'm talking about none other than Donald Trump. This hour, I'll speak to Trump about his advice for Perry and the state of the presidential race right now.

Also, we're learning the back story now behind Ron Paul's Republican debate drama. He's getting flak for his answer to a health care question. It turns out that the "what if?" scenario Paul addressed is similar to a real life death in his political family.

And President Obama's attempt to promote green jobs turns into a bigger embarrassment.

First, the company he visited went bankrupt. Now, it's been raided by the FBI. And U.S. taxpayers may be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, Republican Rick Perry is trying to cover a lot of bases and burnish his status as the party's current presidential frontrunner. He's been reaching out today to voters in a key general election battleground state. It's a sign of a growing campaign confidence right now that his rivals are trying hard to tear down.

CNN's Jim Acosta is covering Perry's campaign in-depth.

He's joining us from Richmond, Virginia with the latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Texas governor is not just running as a frontrunner, he is running as a nominee. And the rest of the field, all they can do is watch as Rick rolls.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The great governor of Texas, Rick Perry.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Primaries, what primaries?

Rick Perry is already running in Virginia, a state that's much more crucial to the general election than it is to the Republican nomination.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know it is time for a change in this country.


PERRY: And when I'm talking about change, I'm not talking about the rhetoric of change.

I'm talking about a record of change. And I've got that record.

ACOSTA: Perry gave two speeches in Virginia, one to Christian conservative students at Liberty University, another to Republicans in Richmond. At both events, Perry barely mentioned his competition. He's not even worried about his dinner date with Donald Trump.

PERRY: I've got to think Donald's got some advice for me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems as if you're already looking past the primaries and to the general election.

Aren't you being a tad overconfident?

PERRY: I understand who the opposition is in this election cycle. And there are seven other individuals on that stage who are quite capable.

ACOSTA: Michelle Bachmann is trying to change the game, hitting the Texas governor on his order requiring vaccinations for schoolgirls against the sexually transmitted HPV virus that may cause cervical cancer. But the attack blew up in Bachmann's face after she mistakenly claimed the vaccine can cause major health problems.

REP. MICHELLE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She told me that her little daughter took that -- took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects.

ACOSTA: The American Academy of Pediatrics slammed Bachmann's comments saying: "There is no scientific validity to this statement."

(on camera): Do you think that was irresponsible of her?

PERRY: I think that was a statement there was no truth and no basis in fact. And, look, I hate cancer. And that's what this has always been about for me.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Perry's Evangelical appeal is a winner with young Christian conservatives in this state.

(on camera): It's possible you walked away with the candidate.

MATT BELL, LIBERTY COLLEGE REPUBLICAN: It's possible I walked away with the candidate. ACOSTA (voice-over): But Perry also wants to walk away with some endorsements, like that of Virginia's popular governor, who's starting to hint at a decision.

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA: I think governors, because of their decisiveness and knowing how to balance budgets and being fiscally responsible, will make the best candidate.

But there's a couple of governors in the race.


ACOSTA: How about a Perry-McDonnell ticket?

Too soon?

PERRY: That is thinking too far ahead.


ACOSTA: Now, in just the last few minutes, Wolf, we did receive a statement from the Bachmann campaign responding to Perry's comments on this HPV vaccine controversy. And I'll read it to you. It says, quote: "The truth is Governor Perry abused his power of the executive order in imposing mandatory vaccines on 12-year-old girls and engaged in crony capitalism with donors to seal the deal. That is the truth."

That coming from the Bachmann campaign.

And getting back to Perry's strategy as running at a frontrunner, that was the knock against Mitt Romney, as you'll recall, not too long ago, when he was running against President Obama more than he was running against the rest of the field -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Jim Acosta covering the Perry campaign for us.

By the way, I'll be speaking with Donald Trump ahead this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, just before his big dinner in New York with Rick Perry.

Meanwhile, Perry and other Republicans say they have new proof today that voters are turning against President Obama and his Democratic Party. At issue, Republican victories in special Congressional elections in New York and Nevada.

Is it a sign of what's to come in the 2012 election?

Our Congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan, is looking into last night's results.

She's getting new reaction.

What are you finding out -- Kate? KATE BOLDUAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf. I'll tell you, this is another special election gaining national attention. Last time it -- last time it was Republicans on the defense after a bruising loss. This time it's Democrats facing the fallout.



BOLDUAN: A Congressional seat long held by Democrats, including Anthony Weiner, Chuck Schumer and Geraldine Ferraro, you'd think would be solid blue. Not anymore.

BOB TURNER (R), NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN-ELECT: Mr. President, we are on the wrong track.

BOLDUAN: Republican Bob Turner, winning a big upset in New York's 9th District, has national Republicans jumping on the victory. And another Republican win, Mark Amodei, in Nevada's 2nd Congressional District, declaring it a message to President Obama.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: This is a referendum on the Obama administration, their foreign policy toward Israel, their spending policy, their economic policy and the fact that there's no jobs.

BOLDUAN: Democrats admit it was a tough loss, but just as quickly are trying to tamp down predictions of political fallout.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: I think the statement made yesterday in New York was look, we've got to get this solved. And I frankly think it was a message to both Republicans and Democrats.

REP. JOE CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: I wouldn't call this a referendum on the president, but I think it's a wake-up call to Democrats and Republicans all around that the American people want us to get to work and find solutions to the problems we're facing, that the same old-same old isn't going to be the case.

BOLDUAN: Still, the man in charge of getting Democrats elected to the House is downplaying these elections, calling them battles in a long war.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: These special elections are not predictive of what's going to happen at the end of the day, nor are they predictive of a national mood. They are predictive of what is happening in a single district based on a specific set of circumstances on a particular date.

BOLDUAN: Maybe so, but political analyst Stu Rothenberg warns it could mean trouble ahead.

STU ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: While it's dangerous to assume that this special election result says something about 2012, it's probably even more dangerous -- in fact, it's silly to assume that it's irrelevant. This isn't simply about New York nine, this is about the president and the Democratic Party.


BOLDUAN: Interestingly, though, we're told that a focus of the House Democrats' closed door meeting today was the special election losses. Though outside the meeting and despite the embarrassing losses, the chair of the House Democrats' campaign arm today stuck by his previous statements, saying that he believes the House is in play for 2012 and he is hopeful that Democrats will take back the House in 2012 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kate Bolduan, thanks very much.

Let's turn to President Obama right now. He's busy juggling his short-term and long-term efforts to win a second term. He traveled to North Carolina today to sell his jobs plan and sell himself to voters who will help decide his fate on election day of next year.

Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, has been traveling with the president.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama won North Carolina by just three tenths of a percentage point last election. And even though White House officials insist this was not a campaign stop, this was his third visit in six days to swing states he's hoping to hold onto next year.


KEILAR: (voice-over): In a trip that seemed to be as much about the 2012 presidential election as pushing his jobs plan, President Obama took his message to the Tar Heel State.


KEILAR: The sights and sounds of the campaign stop, a friendly crowd of thousands at North Carolina State University, even an old slogan, with a new twist, aimed at Republicans.

OBAMA: There may be people who -- whose refrain is no, we can't. But I believe yes, we can.

KEILAR: Those "no we can't" people the president is talking about are House Republicans. He's urging them to swallow his plan whole and he's prepared to slam them if they don't.

OBAMA: They don't want to pass it because it would give me a win.


OBAMA: Give me a win?

Give me a break.


OBAMA: That's exactly why folks are fed up the Washington.

KEILAR: It's quite the role reversal. The president is trying to play hardball. House Republicans, downright obstinate during the debt ceiling negotiations, are now calling for compromise -- unexpectedly reticent to be drawn into another bruising battle.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I hope he'll listen to our ideas and I hope that he'll work with us to find common ground to get our economy moving and to create jobs again.

KEILAR: That common ground is actually the bulk of the president's jobs plan, the expansion of a payroll tax cut for employees and cutting payroll taxes for employers in half -- the very tax cut Obama highlighted in his visit to this Raleigh manufacturing facility.

OBAMA: American manufacturing, we want to (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, anything you can do to help us.

KEILAR: But Republicans oppose infrastructure spending the president wants and tax increases on wealthier Americans, as well as hedge fund managers, oil and gas companies and corporate jet owners that Mr. Obama has proposed to pay for the bill.


KEILAR: There's a political calculation President Obama and his top advisers are making. Looking at his approval ratings -- they're at a new low, 43 percent in the latest CNN/ORC Poll.

Take a look at Congress's. They're 15 percent. And that, the White House feels, gives them some leverage over House Republicans that they didn't have before the bruising debt ceiling battle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar, traveling with the president.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, it turns out that a hypothetical debate question hit Congressman Ron Paul a lot closer to home than we realized at the time. We're taking a closer look into the death of a former staffer and how it relates to his views on health care and the government.

And I'll ask Donald Trump what advice he has to give Rick Perry this evening -- they're about to have dinner -- and whether he's still, we're talking about Donald Trump, whether he's still flirting with a presidential bid himself.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, it had to be a tough morning to wake up in the White House today. Democrats suffering two stunning losses in special elections. In both cases, the Republican winners tied their opponents right to President Obama and his economic policies.

The most crushing loss right here in New York City. Democrats lost the seat of disgraced former congressman, Anthony Weiner, a seat that's been in Democratic hands since 1923. The district covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens. It's heavily Jewish, Democratic, pro-union and blue collar. And if that doesn't send the Democratic Party into panic mode, it ought to.

The results in Brooklyn bringing into question whether Obama could carry Florida next year, a state absolutely crucial to his reelection.

And here's more. They guy who won, Republican Bob Turner, he is a retired cable TV executive who has never served elected office. I worked for cable TV executives and I wouldn't vote for most of them for most anything.

He defeated a Democratic state assemblyman David Weprin with two decades of experience in public service. National Democrats poured in a half a million dollars at the last minute, even sent in former President Clinton to campaign. None of that mattered.

Meanwhile, out in Nevada, my home state, an important state for the president's reelection, the Democrat was trounced in a special election there.

And these twin losses are only the latest in a string of bad news for President Obama. A new CNN poll shows Mr. Obama getting the highest disapproval rating of his presidency, 55 percent. As for that $447 billion jobs plan, it's looking unlikely it's going to get much if any traction in a divided Congress.

And if the upcoming election is really all about jobs in the economy, the president's campaign could well be doomed. The Congressional Budget Office is out with a report saying the economy will grow slower than anticipated and that unemployment will stay close to nine percent right through the end of 2012.

So here's the question. Should President Obama consider not running for reelection? Go to, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM Facebook page. Would you vote for cable TV executives for public office, Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: I've been working for cable TV, basic cable, for 21 years now and I got to tell you, Jack, I love these cable guys. They pay the bills. They're terrific. You and I, we're basic cable. Think about it.

CAFFERTY: Well, the advertisers pay the bills. These executives run the place.

BLITZER: They're good guys. Most of them are very decent, hard- working Americans. You would vote for them. CAFFERTY: Absolutely not.


BLITZER: Thank you.

Let's move on to some other news we're following. Two days after our ground breaking tea party debate in Tampa, Ron Paul still getting heat about the answer he gave me to one of my questions.

We have some new information to put the Republican's views on health care into some context. For that, we asked Brian Todd to do some checking.

Brian, what are you finding out.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, Ron Paul stuck to his position that night. But what he didn't do, he didn't bring up a very personal story, a story of a close aide he lost three years ago, a story that takes this way beyond the hypothetical for Ron Paul.


TODD (voice-over): It was one of the most pointed moments in the early debate season. Wolf Blitzer asked Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, a staunch opponent of a government role in health care, what should happen to a 30-year-old man who can afford insurance, chooses not to buy it, then becomes catastrophically ill.

BLITZER: He needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to take care of anybody.


TODD: Asked if society should let the man die. Paul said no, and said in his experience, churches, charities, friends and relatives would help.

It's a circumstance Ron Paul knows intimately. In June of 2008, Paul's former campaign chairman, Kent Snyder, who Paul says talked him into running for president that year, died of pneumonia. Snyder had no insurance. Colleagues and relatives say a preexisting condition made it impossible for him to get coverage.

I spoke with Paul about the experience.

(on camera): Did you want to help him at the time?

PAUL: Absolutely. He was a close friend of mine. He had worked with me for 12 years. We did everything we could because we knew he was having a struggle paying his bills. So we raised as much money as possible. TODD (voice-over): Snyder's bills totaled more than $400,000 according to an aide for Paul. The aide says Paul's staff raised more than $50,000, but the rest of the bill was passed to the estate. The aide says to his knowledge the hospital has not tried to make a claim for that money.

Analysts don't see this case hurting Paul politically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the story, who Ron Paul really is as opposed to the politicians who say one thing and do another. He's a guy who's pretty principled. He knows what he believes. He takes stands that sometimes can look really difficult to voters.

TODD: Does this make Paul and his followers seem heartless?

(on camera): Some might be surprised that you don't take this more personally given the experience that you had.

PAUL: How could I take it in my personally? Because he was a friend, and did what I could, but it is something that you know, so unfortunate. So it was a tough time for all of us. My campaign really hadn't quite finished when he got deathly ill and I had known him for so many years.


TODD: Ron Paul made very clear that Kent Snyder was cared if. Colleagues say he spent several weeks in the hospital. When I asked that he really beliefs that churches would take on the financial burden for people like Snyder, Paul said not today because government has run up the costs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: At least one Democrat group is now trying to use this for political gain.

TODD: That's right. It's a group called Protect your Care. It's launched a new ad called "Let him die." It's a takeoff of your question to Ron Paul and the audience's answer.

We have to reiterate, Paul said no when you said that. It was the audience who said yes, very controversial there. And this new ad says, would Mitt Romney let him die? So there's a lot of traction in that exchange with Ron Paul.

BLITZER: Not everyone in the audience. There were a few scattered "yes" comments that came out. But when I heard your report just now, the whole notion of this individual who worked for Ron Paul couldn't get health insurance because he had a preexisting condition. Under the law that President Obama and the Democrats pushed, you could get health insurance if you have a preexisting condition. Did you get into that with Ron Paul?

TODD: We talked about this. He is not wavering from his position. The government should have no role in this. Churches, charities, friends, relatives have to take up the mantle here. He does admit, these days $400,000, churches, families and friends can't come up with that one. But he's not wavering is the bottom line.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that report.

Will the Texas Governor Rick Perry be hired by the American people as the next president of the United States? I'll ask the corporate giant himself. We're talking about Donald Trump. He's meeting with Governor Perry over the next couple of hours.

Plus, three-time schedule for execution, three times delayed. Just ahead, what's behind the final push to save the life of the convicted cop killer?


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Here are some stories we're working on for our next hour. A solar giant once given a loan with your money, taxpayer money, and hailed by President Obama as a symbol of green jobs now bankrupt. Why the White House could now be in some hot water.

Also, an esteemed American diplomat seeks the release of a jailed American in Cuba, but comes home empty handed. My interview with the former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. That's coming up in the next hour. We'll speak live.

And the next chapter in space flight. NASA announces the most powerful rocket ever. Stand by.


Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry is about to meet with a controversial and looming presence over this White House campaign. We're talking about the real estate mogul, Donald Trump. After flirting with his own presidential bid, Trump says he has a thing or two to tell the GOP frontrunner.


BLITZER: And joining us now from New York, Donald Trump.

Donald, thanks very much for joining us.

You're getting ready to meet with governor Rick Perry in a little while. Want to give us a little advance? What are you going to tell him?

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION (via telephone): I don't know exactly how you found that out, but I am indeed going to be meeting with him. He's coming to Trump tower, then we're going to dinner at John George which is a great restaurant. And I look forward to meeting him.

BLITZER: Have you ever met him before?

TRUMP: No. I've spoken to him numerous times. I have not met him. BLITZER: How did this meeting come about?

TRUMP: I think very mutual. I have great respect for really a number of people and people looking to run for office. And we had a big win, a very good friend of mine, Bob Turner. I was very happy to have helped anymore New York. We can soon call him Congressman Turner. And not since 1922 has a Republican won in that district, so that was a big win.

And a lot of the Republican candidates for president have been calling. As you know, I was number one in the polls including when I decided not to run as a Republican, and a lot of people have been calling and asking for different things, including support.

BLITZER: The keywords I heard you just say, Donald, as a Republican, which obviously opens the door maybe running as a third party independent type of candidate. There's been a lot of murmuring about this. Is that anything at all you're considering seriously?

TRUMP: I've always said I was the Republican. I view it two ways. Number one, if Republicans choose the wrong candidate, which is a possibility, and if the economy continues to be bad, which I think it probably will, because our leadership is not doing its job, I would consider certainly doing it as an independent.

But if they picked a right candidate, I'd be very, very happy to back the right candidate.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think of these eight Republican candidates? I moderated this debate the other night.

TRUMP: What I think is you did a great job as the moderator.

BLITZER: Thank you.

BLITZER: I did watch every minute of it even though it was on at the same time as the Miss Universe pageant, which I own. So I shouldn't even be saying that. So I did watch Miss Universe, but I had a little bit of a delay system. It was live in Brazil. And that also did very well.

But there's just too many candidates. The stage is loaded up with people and some of the people really whether you like them or not, they have no chance of winning. I won't mention who, but there are candidates up there who don't have a chance of winning, and you really wanted to hear from the ones that have that chance. The old story is you never really know. You have to play it out because can come from nowhere and all of a sudden become the candidate.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people think it's a race between Romney, Perry, maybe Michele Bachmann. Is that your sense?

TRUMP: It's looking that way and that seems to be the thinking and the way the polls are. I think it is different than the last time around where others are leading and John McCain ended up being the candidate. I think maybe this is going to be a different scenario. BLITZER: You think one of those eight actually won the debate?

TRUMP: Well, I listened strongly to the debate and I thought there was nobody that did a poor job. I heard some negative things about various candidates. I won't mention the name because, frankly, I thought everybody did quite nicely. I didn't think there was a huge winner and certainly didn't think there was a loser.

BLITZER: Is Sarah Palin likely to run? You met with her not too long ago. Is it too late for her to jump in this race?

TRUMP: She's a friend of mine. I like her a lot. I think she's not going to run, but I just don't know. She is certainly a different kind of person. I say that in a very good sense. And she has got a different way of doing things. And maybe there's the positive. So maybe she can get in later, but it's getting a little bit late. And I think probably if she's going to do something, she's going to do it soon.

BLITZER: Let me get quickly get your thoughts on three sensitive issues that came up in the debate and tell me what you think.

On the issue Governor Perry defended his decision to go ahead with in-state tuition rates for children of illegal immigrants in Texas, he's standing by that even though he says the executive order he signed was a mistake, he should have done it through the legislature. But what do you think of the substance of his position?

TRUMP: Well, I think he probably handled it right from the standpoint of what he said at the debate, and maybe it should have gone through the legislature. And if it did, I think he would have a little bit easier time.

A lot of the very conservative people are against that, and very strongly against that. I guess I sort of feel that, you know, you're either a citizen of the country or you're not. And if you're not, are we supposed to be educating children? But I can understand the other side to the equation. It's not a very simple issue, certainly.

I thought he handled it fine considering that's his view.

BLITZER: He also defended his decision to mandate this HPV vaccine for little girls 11 and 12 years old to protect them down the road from a sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cervical cancer. Is he right on that issue?

TRUMP: Well, he also said a couple of things. I'm not sure that he would have done it again. I think he sort of indicated that. But he also said that he believes in saving lives. And that's a pretty poignant statement.

He believes very strongly in saving lives, and that was the way it was given to him, and a lot of people agree with him and some people don't. Obviously, Michele doesn't agree with him, but there are those people that do agree with him.

BLITZER: Is Social Security a Ponzi scheme?

TRUMP: Well, it's certainly something that's in trouble, and something has to be done about it. And I've heard some very smart, very liberal people saying it's a Ponzi scheme and actually agreeing with him.

So you can take -- you know, the word, "Ponzi" is a very interesting word. And there are lots of different definitions. But the fact is that I have heard some very smart, liberal friends of mine on television say it is in fact a Ponzi scheme.

As far as Social Security, something has to be done to save it. Social Security, Medicare, very important. Something has to be done to save it, and I think that's really what he was referring to.

BLITZER: Donald Trump, we're going to stay in close touch, and I'll check back with you after you meet not only with Governor Perry, some of the others as well. I know you like meeting with all these potential Republican nominees.

Appreciate it very much.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Wolf.


BLITZER: Just one correction. I said that he signed an executive order on the in-state tuition. He signed an executive order on the vaccine. He says that was a mistake, he should have gone to the legislature, not necessarily -- he didn't sign an executive order on the in-state tuition. Two controversial issues.

By the way, go to my blog. I write about Governor Perry and his principal stand on some of these issues. You might be interested that blog today, It's just been posted.

Meanwhile, new signs the fall of Gadhafi could be unleashing new terrorists. Just ahead, disturbing new revelations out of the Pentagon said to be causing concern.

Plus, mixed signals out of Iran about the fate of those two Americans jailed in Iran, those two hikers. Are they any closer to being released?


BLITZER: New developments concerning the fate of those two American hikers jailed in Iran for more than two years.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, just one day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicated Iran would release the hikers, a Western diplomat tells CNN an Omani plane is now en route to Tehran, but it's not clear if the men are actually free to leave. This comes as there's new confusion about whether bail will even be set. Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were sentenced to eight years in prison last month.

A number of terrorist groups could now be looking to set up shop in war-torn Libya. A senior U.S. defense official says the fall of Moammar Gadhafi has unleashed some groups constrained during the dictator's rule, and there is cause for concern. The U.S. is also reportedly seeing some movement into Libya by outside militants, although not on a large scale.

And actor Hugh Grant and best-selling author J.K. Rowling are among those allowed to participate in a high-level investigation of the U.K. tabloid hacking scandal. The judge leading the inquiry is granting " core (ph) participant status" to alleged targets of the press. The scandal of course prompted the closing of media mogul Rupert Murdoch's famed "News of the World" newspaper this summer.

So that investigation, clearly still going on.

BLITZER: I suspect it's going to be a while before that investigation wraps up.

Thanks, Lisa. Thanks very much.

The former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, is now back in the United States after a failed attempt to win the release of an America-held prisoner in Cuba. I'll speak with Governor Richardson live about his mission. That's coming up.

And an in-depth look at the executions in Texas while Rick Perry has been governor over the past decade. Did an innocent man die on his watch?

Stand by.


BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our CNN political contributor Roland Martin and Republican strategist Terry Holt.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Before we get to the subjects, I wanted to talk about -- I just saw your tweet on Donald Trump. He's having dinner now -- about to have dinner with Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. It seems all of these Republican candidates are sort of stopping by Donald Trump, chatting with him a little bit.


BLITZER: He's a really rich guy, you know. MARTIN: Well, that's up for open debate. He just lost that lawsuit that was tossed out.

BLITZER: I'm sure he's still got a lot of money.

MARTIN: Right. But the bottom line is, he's all hat and no cattle. OK? He's not going to run. And so this is all about publicity.

And so, look, they make the stop. They know the cameras follow Donald Trump. So you get lots of free time by having lunch with him. Hopefully, he won't screw up and eat a pizza with a fork like he did last time with Sarah Palin, but it's a waste of time even getting his advice. He's not running.

BLITZER: Well, they're having dinner tonight, not lunch.

But go ahead, Terry. What do you think?

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There's no harm in it. He's a well-known figure, and Perry's making the rounds. He's had a great opening to his campaign. Let him touch all the bases. That's fine.

BLITZER: Here's --

MARTIN: Jay-Z's also well known. So he probably has more money than Trump. So he can go deal with Jay-Z.

BLITZER: I don't know about that.

HOLT: I think Rick Perry will have plenty of money to run on if he chooses without going to Z or Mr. Trump.


BLITZER: Here's our new CNN/ORC poll. We asked this question: "Are you better off than three years ago?" It's a key question. Politicians study polls for these kinds of answers.

Thirty-two percent of those who responded said yes, 58 percent said no.

What does that say to you about the president of the United States and prospects, at least right now, of him getting re-elected?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, anybody who tries to determine whether or not he can get re-elected today is nuts. Not a single vote has been cast in the GOP primary. OK?

When you look at the math in terms of the electoral college votes, it is still an evenly split country, although he won by 10 million votes in 2008. And so, a generic poll in 2003 leading up to 2004 said a generic Democrat could beat George W. Bush. What happened? Kerry lost, second term for President George W. Bush.

Tough race, absolutely, but I don't box it up now. HOLT: Since Ronald Reagan made this question famous, it is been added to the three that make the most difference in determining strength and weakness for a president. There's job approval, there's whether or not the American people believe the country's on the right track or the wrong track, and there's this -- this is a question about whether or not people are doing better off personally by this president. And welcome to Barack Obama's biggest problem.

This is going to be one of those things that he has to deal with before he's a favorite to win this election. You know, in the targeted states, the targets for the next presidential election, it's going to be even harder. In a lot of those states like Ohio and Iowa, he's at 50 percent disapprove. So the president has a problem.

MARTIN: Of course, but again, what he has to face is, who is he going to be running against? Every election is a contrast between two candidates. Unlike 2008, when there really was -- there was a serious number of people who said, look, anybody but Bush, it's going to boil down to President Barack Obama, who's the GOP.

BLITZER: And we don't know --

MARTIN: And we don't know.

BLITZER: -- who the Republican nominee's going to be.

HOLT: That is the case. But the Republicans, over the last few weeks, have seemed to be focusing in now on two very, very authentic, very large candidates who could be elected president.

BLITZER: Perry or Romney, you mean.

HOLT: That's right, Perry or Romney.

BLITZER: Do you think Sarah Palin's going to run?

HOLT: I don't think Sarah Palin can win the Republican nomination.

BLITZER: But do you think she'll run?

HOLT: I don't think she will, no.

MARTIN: I never said she was going to run.

BLITZER: Let me talk about this new census that just came out on poverty. It's really startling and very depressing when you think about it.

Poverty in America, 46.2 million in poverty, living in poverty in America. That's 15.1 percent of the population. The poverty line for a family of four is defined at $22,314 a year.

Now, you know that there's been lot of criticism of the president -- Cornel West, Tavis Smiley -- that he hasn't done enough to really focus America's attention on this poverty issue. Are you with Cornel West, Tavis Smiley on this, or with the president when he says, I'm trying to raise everyone's level of income right now, not just poor people?

MARTIN: I made the point Monday night, the GOP isn't focused on poverty. So you have Democrats and Republicans just frankly -- people who are poor don't have lobbyists. People who are poor aren't considered to be the prime demographic.

And so, what is offensive is when people sit here, they label poor people as being lazy, no good, just want to live off the government. When you look at a lot of these same people, they have jobs and they're struggling.

BLITZER: Are you satirized with the president's --

MARTIN: I am not satisfied with Congress or the president confronting what is happening with poverty, because those are real people, too, real Americans, and we need them involved in this economy as well. We can't throw them away.

HOLT: The only time Democrats talk about the poor or poverty is when they're running against Republicans or when there's a Republican president. I'm astonished that this president hasn't connected poverty to jobs and to this economy, and to getting this economy moving again, because that's ultimately our best defense against more poverty. And to be numb and mute on this topic demonstrates that he's disconnected.

MARTIN: The word "poverty" and "poor" didn't even come out of one mouth of the Tea Party debate. So, to sit here and somehow say --

HOLT: Jobs and the economy were a main theme.

MARTIN: No, not one word.

HOLT: Getting people back to work is going to be the best anti- poverty policy that this country can achieve.

MARTIN: Fine. You show me Governor Rick Perry or Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann, anyone of those candidates, including the president, traveled to --


HOLT: How about lower taxes, less regulation --

MARTIN: One second.

HOLT: -- things that get businesses, getting people back to work?

MARTIN: Terry, and the same people continue to talk about low taxes, who talk about, don't cut the taxes for the rich, will complain about welfare, will complain about food stamps. The people out there who were working, who they condemn, those are the very people right now who need that food who are struggling. You and I aren't struggling, but the poor are, and no one, GOP or Dem, wants to talk about it.

HOLT: So, the more waste and fraud and abuse there is in the entitlement program --

MARTIN: I didn't say waste and fraud. Wait, wait, wait.

HOLT: -- that there are in those kinds of policies mean that fewer people get service by the government. So, let's have a real overhaul of government policy so that more people can be served and so that we can create jobs in this country. There's no other way --

MARTIN: What you just said is the fundamental problem.

HOLT: -- to bring people out of poverty than to give them a job.

MARTIN: We have a discussion about poverty and you immediately say, oh, waste and fraud. I'm simply saying is, when you don't even want to acknowledge them, that's a problem.

HOLT: Who's not acknowledging? It is one of the core problems --


BLITZER: Guys, we've got to leave it, but quickly, are Cornel West and Tavis Smiley correct in their very open criticism of the president on the issue of poverty?

MARTIN: My issue is not Cornel or Tavis Smiley. My issue -- I speak for Roland. And I simply say the president and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, cannot be silent about the poor in this county.

BLITZER: Is the president silent on this issue?

MARTIN: Look, I criticized the president's State of the Union Address when "poor" wasn't even mentioned. Again, Washington, D.C., Dems and the GOP, they don't have lobbyists, so therefore they say we're not going to be mentioning them. That's a problem.

BLITZER: Roland, Terry -- guys, thanks very much.

HOLT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is asking, should President Obama consider not running for re-election? That's Jack's question this hour. He's standing by with "The Cafferty File" and what you think.

Plus, we're going to tell you why a plane was evacuated here in the Washington, D.C., area and which powerful government official was on board.


BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Should President Obama consider not running for re-election?

Rupert writes, "He has to run. President Obama's the only thing standing between the citizenry of the United States and insanity. The thought of Rick Perry sitting in the Oval Office is not what I would call comforting. And although Romney seems to be fairly moderate and halfway bright, he can't fix anything. All in all, Obama is still the best we have right now."

D. writes, "What an excellent idea. He's been trying to dig the country out of a hole, and his shovel is simply not up to the job. Let's get someone with a bigger shovel."

Liz on Facebook says, "Only if Hillary runs. She'd be the only one that could do it. Name recognition, plus experience."

Jack -- not this Jack, another one -- writes, "Great. Now we go from a yutz, Obama, to pastor klutz, Perry. If Obama bows out, the floodgates open. We will drown in biblical notations, and in the reconfiguring everything from science to the lost spacesuit that Jesus came in."

Joe in New York writes, "Jack, why would you ask a question like this when it suggests we should let the obstructionists win the Civil War? It kind of reminds me of giving into the terrorists."

Pete in Georgia, "Obama not run for president? It's all he knows. It's what he live for, the campaign. He's like a dog chasing a car, not knowing in the least what to do, if and when he catches it. It's the chase, the campaign. Pathetic."

Nathan writes, "Only if a real Democrat steps in as the counterbalance to the GOP. I'm not happy with Obama's performance, but I'm not senile."

And Steve in Illinois, "No. I've already bought too many 2012 with his little symbol in the 0 bumper stickers and buttons."

If you want to read more on this, go to by blog,, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack. Thanks for that.

A convicted cop killer due to be executed in Georgia in one week. We're investigating whether he's guilty or innocent and the last- minute attempts to try to spare his life.

And the Obama jobs event that backfired, clearly. A company he touted as a role model now in major legal trouble, and possibly cost the American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.


BLITZER: Major new developments happening in Yemen right now. Lisa Sylvester is working the story.

What's just coming in, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, we are getting information of three explosions in Yemen. It happened in the southern port city of Aden.

What we know at this point is that the three explosions happened about 10 minutes apart. There was an intelligence center, a regional intelligence center that was impacted, also a police station. We're still trying to find out about the third location, and we will continue to monitor this story as more information comes in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lisa. We'll check back with you.

Meanwhile, the fate of a Georgia death row inmate is now sparking huge controversy at the highest levels around the world.

Let's bring in CNN's David Mattingly. He's working the story for us.

Tell us what's going on here, David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this death penalty case has been going on for 20 years, and now, as we approach the 11th hour, no one can say for sure how it might end.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Three times scheduled for execution, three times delayed. And now, with all legal appeals exhausted, supporters of convicted cop killer Troy Davis make a final push for clemency.

(on camera): What makes you think you still have a chance to stop this execution?

LAURA MOYE, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA: Can we be sure that this man is not innocent? Can we be sure that the conviction of Troy Davis back in 1991 is still reliable? And the thing that's so difficult to understand is why the legal process has not asked that question.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Davis was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of Savannah, Georgia, police officer Mark MacPhail. Seven of nine eyewitnesses have since recanted, changed their stories. Some say they were originally pressured by police.

DARRELL COLLINS, WITNESS: And I told them over and over that I didn't see this happen. They put what they wanted to put in their statement.

MATTINGLY: Others have come forward implicating another man. One juror who convicted Davis questions her decision.

BRENDA FORREST, DAVIS JUROR: If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row. MATTINGLY: With only a week to his execution, critics of the case against Davis include 51 members of Congress, the Vatican, and former president Jimmy Carter.

JAMES CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe that in this particular case, there's enough evidence to the contrary to prevent this execution taking place.

MATTINGLY: An online petition supporting clemency for Davis exceeded 200,000 signatures in five days. But state and federal courts have all upheld Davis' conviction. The former D.A. who prosecuted Davis says the courts got it right.

SPENCER LAWTON, FMR. CHATHAM COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I'm just disappointed that so many people have been led to believe that nobody has paid attention to these recantations. It is, as I explained earlier, simply not the case. It's just not the case.

And on what ground are the recantations more believable than the testimony in court? None. None.


MATTINGLY: The governor of Georgia does not have the authority to grant clemency. That falls to a five-member board of pardons and parole here in Georgia. They will take up this matter on Monday.

That same board failed to grant clemency in this case back in 2008. But what we're looking at now, though, there are three new members on that board, and their votes could be enough to either delay or stop this execution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of it with you, David. Thank you.