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Georgia Execution Looming; Interview With Ron Suskind

Aired September 21, 2011 - 18:00   ET



Happening now, breaking news. One after another, last-minute appeals are being denied and a controversial execution may now be just one hour away. Many are convinced the state of Georgia is about to put an innocent man to death.

Also, his book alleges infighting, indecision, and an old boys club atmosphere in the Obama White House. The award-winning author Ron Suskind is here. We will talk this hour to him. He's going to defend some explosive charges.

Plus, the investigation into Fast and Furious, the U.S. government operation that put thousands of illegal guns on the streets of Mexico, one lawmaker now accusing the Justice Department of stonewalling.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the United Nations. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's begin with the breaking news.

Hope is giving way to grim resignation in Jackson, Georgia, where a man thousands of people believe to be innocent is scheduled to be executed in less than one hour. Troy Davis was arrested in 1989 for the shooting death of an off-duty police officer in 1991. He was convicted based on eyewitness testimony.

But by 2003, seven of nine witnesses had recanted, some saying police pressured them to implicate Davis. Execution has been postponed three times, but tonight it appears there may be no reprieve.

CNN's David Mattingly is just outside the prison where Davis is facing lethal injection in one hour.

David, what's happening right now?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Troy Davis' last- minute appeal has failed completely at the state level here in Georgia. He first went to superior court. They denied his appeal. That kicked it up to the Georgia Supreme Court. They just in the last hour denied that appeal as well. His attorneys tell us, but we haven't gotten confirmation yet that this happened, but they say they are going to the U.S. Supreme Court with this appeal and a petition to stop or delay this execution while the court hears their appeal. There are several things that can happen right now, but the fact is, we are less than an hour away from this execution and no one can say for sure if it will be delayed or if it will go on as scheduled.

If everything is going on as scheduled inside the prison, Troy Davis is now eligible to take a mild sedative to calm his nerves before the execution. He is that close to his date with lethal injection. It's the closest he's ever been, Wolf. Three other times, it's been delayed. Once was within two-and-a-half-hours. He's never been this close to execution.

And the number of people who are supporting him here on the grounds of the prison are keenly aware of this. We talked to some of them earlier and they say clearly this case is about life and death.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The emotions in play are that we're about to execute an innocent man. Seven of the nine witnesses have come forward and either recanted or said that, you know, their testimony was forced. And so there's a genuine feeling among people here and across the nation that we're about to do the unthinkable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was so much wrong with this case. It was absolutely unconscionable. It was inconceivable that I live in a country where I vote, I participate, and yet something like this could happen.


MATTINGLY: And so many people here repeating that over and over, chanting just a little bit louder every quarter-hour, Wolf, as we get closer and closer to that scheduled execution.

BLITZER: But, David, there are a lot of passionate people who believe he did in fact kill Mark Allen MacPhail, the off-duty police officer, including family members, the prosecutors. And the Georgia Supreme Court in this decision that just came out, they were unanimous in rejecting any final stay.

So there are two sides to this story that's unfolding right now. You're hearing a lot from both.

MATTINGLY: That's right, Wolf, first of all, from the courts. Davis has lost at every single round and this has gone to dozens of judges, dozens of courts throughout the appellate process over the last 20 years. He has never scored a win.

Every single court has upheld his original conviction for the murder of this police officer. There are a few people here in another section away from us who are supporting the execution tonight. They are not nearly as loud. They are not nearly as great in number, but they are here.

But right now, center stage belongs to the large and vocal crowd of supporters for Troy Davis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, David. We will stay in close touch with you this hour and we will see what unfolds.

Davis' lawyers, as you heard, have made a final appeal to the United States Supreme Court in Washington. This afternoon, Davis' supporters took their case also to the White House with about 100 people protesting any execution.

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. What are you hearing right now? What are the prospects that within an hour the U.S. Supreme Court could stay this execution?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's unlikely that they will get involved at this point.

In 2009, the Supreme Court did something it almost never does. It ordered a hearing into the Troy Davis case. It said, take a look at this evidence again. And a federal judge in Savannah, Georgia, did that in 2010, and he wrote a 150-page opinion reviewing all the evidence, and acknowledging that seven of the nine witnesses had partially recanted some of their testimony.

And Judge Moore said, even with those partial recantations, the evidence is strong enough to support the jury's verdict of guilty and the death sentence. It was really that 150-page opinion in August of last year that was really the last word in this case. And since then, it's just been very much an uphill battle for Troy Davis' lawyer. Having gotten that hearing and having lost, they really haven't had much of a legal leg to stand on.

And today's efforts have failed and it certainly looks like they will continue to fail in the next hour.

BLITZER: You saw those protests over at the White House appealing to President Obama to do something. He's here in New York, as you well know. But is -- is that at all realistic that a president of the United States at this late stage could intervene and stop this execution?

TOOBIN: No. President Obama has no legal right to get involved in this case.

And Georgia law is unusual in another respect, in that the governor of Georgia has no legal right to get involved. In many states, the governor can issue a reprieve at the last minute. In this case -- in Georgia, it's only the Board of Pardons that can issue a stay.

And on Monday, the Georgia Board of Pardons said they were not issuing a stay. So it really is up to the United States Supreme Court. That's the only option left for Troy Davis at this point. BLITZER: We will see if those justices, at least one of them, makes a decision to stop this execution. We will stay in very close touch with you and David, Jeffrey. Thank you.

Meanwhile, President Obama was in an awkward position today of having to explain to the United Nations why the United States has threatened to veto a quest for Palestinian statehood, a goal which the president himself laid out in his speech to the General Assembly just a year ago.

He said he still believes Palestinians deserve their own independent state, but he says the United Nations is not the venue to create it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn't the goal that we seek. The question is, how do we reach that goal?

And I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.


BLITZER: Let's talk about the president's speech. It was widely watched and assessed.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is joining us.

Politically -- and I think we can say politically given this season of politics right now -- what was the president trying to achieve in this U.N. speech?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he was trying to thread the needle, Wolf. As you know better than anyone, he had on the one hand to balance his support, which has been stated over and over again for a Palestinian state, with his unequivocal support for Israel.

And that's not easy given the fact that the venue was the United Nations. Just a year ago, he went to the United Nations and called for an independent Palestinian state. But this time, this was really a speech, I think very much for domestic political consumption.

As you know, Wolf, his Mideast policy has come under great criticism from Republicans. And so what we heard him do today is state over and over and over again his unequivocal support for Israel, his sympathy for Israel's security problems. And in the end, the Israelis seem to like his speech actually more than some of those Republicans running for the presidency, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, that was very interesting. With the exception of Ron Paul, almost all of those Republican candidates are really slamming President Obama when it comes to Israel. It's a fascinating development.


BORGER: Well, it is. You had Rick Perry in New York, very close to the U.N., yesterday calling the president's policy appeasement. As you know, that is a tough word, calling it reckless.

And even today Mitt Romney was very critical of the president when he spoke about it in Miami. Take a listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think what the president did that was in error with regards to Israel was begin dictating what he would do and saying here you should do this and you should do that. Those kinds of discussions should be held behind closed door. The president should not be negotiating for his ally, Israel. The president should stand behind Israel.


BORGER: Well, you can be sure, Wolf, that we haven't heard the end of this, that the president's Mideast policy, which, by the way, is controversial and has not been successful, is going to be an issue in the campaign.

But in the old days, which I remember, you would actually wait until the president left the United Nations to start criticizing him. But we saw Rick Perry do it even before his speech yesterday. So times have changed.

BLITZER: Times certainly have changed.

Gloria, like all Americans, Jewish-Americans have lost some faith in this president based on some polls that we have watched pretty closely.

BORGER: They have, because they believe that the policy has not been successful. Some of them are critical of the policy which called for a freeze on settlements.

Let's take a look back at the Jewish vote in 2008, when Barack Obama was running against John McCain. You see there completely lopsided for Barack Obama. But now let's take a look at a Gallup poll that was done recently which asked Jewish voters whether they approve of how the president is handling his job, now 54 percent, down 14 points from May.

But I would add, Wolf, when you look at that approval rating among Jewish voters, it's higher than the general approval rating of Barack Obama, which is down in the low 40 percent range. It's not great for Barack Obama. There's room to improve, but it's not at the end of the earth yet.

BLITZER: Yes. And he's got a year-plus to go before an election.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Gloria, for that.

Jack Cafferty's got "The Cafferty File." He's joining us now -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Americans are afraid about where our economy is going and it shows.

A new study on financial security shows 40 percent of consumers have cut their spending in the last two months. The survey shows this applies to Americans in all income groups from the rich right down to the poor. Consumer spending makes up two-thirds of the U.S. economy. So if the cutback in spending continues, we could be headed right into another recession.

The study also shows people across all education levels say their net worth is lower today than it was last year. Job security's a big worry -- 23 percent of those under 30 say they feel more secure in their jobs now than they did a year ago. That's a little more than one in five.

That number drops to 10 percent for people between the ages of 50 and 64. It's easy to understand why people are concerned when unemployment remains stubbornly above 9 percent and is forecast to remain there right through the end of next year.

For those who are lucky enough to have a job, median incomes are declining. There are 46.2 million people in the United States living in poverty, the highest level in almost 20 years. And as if people didn't have enough reason to worry, the International Monetary Fund out with a stark warning today, saying that the global economy has entered a dangerous new phase with the recovery weakening around the world considerably.

It says if the U.S. can't find a way to deal with its ballooning national debt, the IMF says the result could be a lost decade for growth. Decade, 10 years. Americans get it. A new "USA Today"/Gallup poll shows six in 10 people don't expect the economic the recover any time soon, while 80 percent think the country is still in a recession.

So here's the question. How are economic fears changing your life? Post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

The White House is pushing back hard against explosive allegations in a brand-new book by author Ron Suskind. Ron Suskind is standing by to join us live later this hour. Also, a congressman accuses the Justice Department of stonewalling his investigation into a controversial operation.

And a top Israeli official is standing by live to join us just as Rick Perry and other Republicans are bashing President Obama when it comes to Israel. What's going on? I will ask Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon. He's standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: After meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, today, President Obama is meeting right now with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Let's talk about what's going on. There's a lot of dramatic developments unfolding.

The Israeli deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon, is joining us.

Minister, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about what's going on right now. Do you trust President Obama?

AYALON: Absolutely.

I think that the speech he made this morning was a true speech of a leader who is courageous, who is wise. And we would hope that the Palestinians would heed this advice, his advice, and come to the negotiation table.

BLITZER: Did you have any problem at all with what he said today?

AYALON: No, we didn't have any problems.

And we would like -- there is nothing we would like more but to come together jointly with the Palestinians and submit a resolution of two states or two nations with the end of conflict with real peace and security, just like South Sudan. And I think the president was very wise to invoke to the example of South Sudan. You cannot put this process on its top. First, you have to iron out all the differences on the ground, then come to endorse with the United Nations...


BLITZER: Because when I interviewed in the last hour Nabil Shaath, one of the advisers to President Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, he said he's ready, the Palestinians are ready to sit down and negotiate with Israel a peace settlement, under one condition. You freeze settlement activity on the West Bank. Why not do that and restart the peace negotiations?

AYALON: This is the same old story of making excuses and putting some obstacles. We have -- you know, we have frozen up settlements for 10 months.


BLITZER: You did in the past.

AYALON: We did in the past.

The settlement is only one issue of many, of refugees, of Jerusalem, of recognition of Israel's right for self-determination as a Jewish state, of defensible borders, and other things. Why cherry- pick one issue out of many which are all interconnected anyway? We say, come. If you're serious, stop with excuses. Come sit down without preconditions.

By the way, they have not raised this issue of precondition when they talked before with former Israeli governments, whether it was the Sharon government or...


BLITZER: I guess the argument is, what would be so bad about freezing settlements if it jump-starts the negotiations, you get these negotiations going, and it eases some of the diplomatic isolation which Israel is facing right now from other Arab countries, from the Europeans?

Tom Friedman, a friend of Israel, as you well know, writing in "The New York Times" last Sunday: "Israel today is giving its friends, and President Obama's one of them, nothing defend it with. Israel can fight with everyone or it can choose not to surrender, but to blunt these trends with a peace overture that fair-minded people would recognize is serious and thereby reduce its isolation."

You read Tom Friedman's column.

AYALON: I read his column, yes. It's the same old argument that we hear all over again.

We heard it before the so-called Arab spring. We hear it throughout the so-called Arab spring. And I can tell you that the Palestinian problem in the Middle East is not central to the Middle East. There are so many other real fundamental problems that the Palestinians have nothing to do with it.

I would beg Tom Friedman and the others not to keep harassing Israel, because Israel has done a lot in the last 18 years in terms of conceding territories, in terms of dismantling settlements, all of Gaza, and receiving more and more terror. Nobody's asking the Palestinians what are they willing to do for peace, because they have kept their maximalistic views in a very intransigent way. Are they willing to give up these refugees? Are they willing to give us the benefit of self-determining ourselves as a Jewish state? They are not doing that. Are they willing other things? So I think this is a very, very -- very, very complicated issues. So people from the outside, to give advice only to one side and not to the other is totally immaterial and not serious.

BLITZER: Is the U.S./Israel security relationship, military-to- military, stronger today than ever before?

AYALON: I can tell you that we go on a great trajectory and we have never had better security relations. The times calls for it and we're very proud to be the United States' best friend and ally and most dependable ally...


BLITZER: I raise the question because the deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, came to New York, met with Rick Perry, the Republican presidential candidate, and blasted the Obama administration in the middle of a presidential election.

Is this appropriate for an Israeli politician to come to the United States and directly interfere in domestic American politics?

AYALON: Not at all.

First and foremost, with all due respect to the deputy speaker, he's not engaged with the U.S./Israeli bilateral relations. So he doesn't speak of any knowledge.

BLITZER: The was a blunder on the part of him; is that what you're saying?

AYALON: Absolutely.

And secondly -- and, secondly, I can tell you that the last thing Israel wants is to come between Democrats and Republicans. Israel has been and will continue to be a consensus issue. We are colorblind when it comes to Republicans or Democrats. You are all Americans. And we respect America. We are proud, as I say, to be your best friend and allies. You are our best friend and allies. There are so many things that bond us together from ethos and interests and value.

And also we work together on counterterrorism and anti- proliferation and so many things that make the world much more secure.

BLITZER: I raise the question because Danny Danon, who is the deputy speaker of the Knesset, he's a member of the Likud Party, which is Prime Minister Netanyahu's party -- he's the leader of Likud -- did he say to him, don't do this?

AYALON: I don't know. But Mr. Danon misspoke. Absolutely, he did.

And we live in a very, very vibrant democracy with freedom of speech. Anyone can say his mind. And the prime minister doesn't control members of the Knesset, just like the president doesn't control members of Congress.

BLITZER: Some leaders of political parties can influence members of their own party, but that's -- we will discuss that on another occasion.

Mr. Ayalon, Daniel Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, thanks very much.

AYALON: Thank you.

BLITZER: A bestselling author is facing some serious pushback right now from the White House on his brand-new book, a book on President Obama's first years in the White House. Does he think the president was too inexperienced to run the United States of America? Ron Suskind standing by live, he will join us next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The book is called "Confidence Men," and it makes some serious allegations about the Obama White House, including serious allegations about the Obama White House, including serious infighting, indecision in the early days, and a workplace where women were said to be largely cut off from the president.

The author, Ron Suskind, is here to defend his brand-new book.

Ron, as you well know, you're being hit very hard by the White House. They say the book is sloppy. They say you take quotes out of context. They say part of is it completely inaccurate.

Here's the question. Do you acknowledge at least as of now that you did make some mistakes?

RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST: Wolf, in a page of -- a book of 500 pages, there's going to be some typos. There's going to be a name spelled this way or that.

The fact of the matter is, this book is densely researched. The allegations, the disclosures here were run by the White House prior to publication. Their comments, their defenses are in the book, often page after page in long, full quotes, especially Tim Geithner.

And beyond that, importantly, the president was confronted with all of the evidence gathered over two years. He responded. He didn't contradict. He affirmed and responded how he's grown from these challenges in office. That's the book. It has a wholeness because the denials are already in there.

BLITZER: Now, we have been doing some reporting on the book over the past few days. Our own Brian Todd has done a few reports on it.

One of the serious allegations you make is on sexism allegedly occurring in this Obama White House. In the book, you write this. You quote Anita Dunn as saying, "This place" -- who is a senior adviser, communications adviser to the president -- she was -- "This place would be in court for a hostile workplace because it actually fit all the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women."

That's the way it's quoted in the book. But the audiotape which you made available yourself to "The Washington Post," actually says this. It says, "I remember once I told Valerie," referring to Valerie Jarrett, another senior adviser to the president, "that I said, if it weren't for the president, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace, because it actually fit all the classic legal requirements for a genuine hostile workplace to women."

That phrase, that clause, "if it weren't for the president," you left out of the book. Why did you do that?

SUSKIND: Well, Wolf, you're behind the times. You should get your research staff to read "The Washington Post." The answer's up, as it's been up on some of the online blogs.

What happened here, I'll just explain it quickly. I don't want to spend too much time. It's really a settled issue, is that after I told Anita about that quote, she said, "Look, there are parts of that that are going to get me sort of in a pickle. One is that my husband is a chief counsel, counsel to the president. I can't be talking in present tense back then about a legal issue in terms of women. I want to say, looking back," this is the first thing she said.

I said all right. And I said, "What did you mean about, you know, if not for the president? It doesn't really make much sense, as though if it was a different president but still the same workplace, you'd feel differently." I said, "What do you mean by that?"

She says, "Look, I just meant that we really love the president. We walk across hot coals for that guy."

I said, "Look, what we're going to do. Here's the quote, the core of it, all of it, really, is there, 'Looking back, this was a hostile workplace.' And I'm going to put the thing about your feelings about the president generally in the paragraph before that." That was the conversation Anita and I had right before publication. She understands that. I said that's the quote that's going to go in the book, and that's where it ended.

So you know, I think it's important, Wolf, that people understand that, at a moment like this, when you pull back the curtain on a White House, really for the first time, they're going to respond like this.

I mean, Wolf, we were around back in 2004 when I had done something similar in a way with the price of loyalty for the Bush White House. And, of course they responded more vigorously with the frivolous federal law investigation of me and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, which of course, all faded soon enough.

I think what's happening now is people are reading the book. It's often quite sympathetic to the president. He was in a real box here, a guy with extraordinary capacities, an inspirational figure at a time of crisis but very little management skill, executive experience in exercising power, certainly.

And he walks into a tough spot in crisis, with a group of advisers, all of whom worked together under Bill Clinton, talked to each other for many years. The president took a while to kind of get control of this building.

Look, presidents often take a while to learn how to be president. It took him a little longer.

And I think people are now focusing on Pete Rouse's memo in February of 2010, which forms a blueprint for how the president can take back control of his White House. And it really ends up with really the ouster of or the moving out of almost all of that staff.

I think that's kind of an inspirational story in a way. Barack Obama rises into his fullness. And in the final interview, in the book, Obama is really passionate. "I've got the staff I need now to do the job I need to do now for a country in need." And in a way I think that's what you're seeing.

BLITZER: It was clear, though, that based on what you write, the president wasn't necessarily ready to be president of the United States when he first took office, although he's grown into it now. That's your bottom line, right?

SUSKIND: That's the bottom line of the book. Laid out in a long drama.

BLITZER: Ready -- that he has the confidence, that he knows -- you have confidence -- you have confidence he knows what he's doing now. Is that is what you're saying?

SUSKIND: Well, you know, there's a lot to suggest that he really has grown into his fullness. I mean, look at the jobs speech and his comments early -- early this week. You know, that's the kind of forceful Obama that he's telegraphing in this long 50-minute interview, a kind of "come into my own" quality, that -- that says, "There are tough choices here, and I'm ready to make them."

Now, let's see what happens from here. But I think Obama, if he was sitting with us now, Wolf, would say, see, Suskind, what I was telling you, that's the president that I'm talking about.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "Confidence Men." The author is Ron Suskind. Ron, thanks very much for coming in.

SUSKIND: It's always a pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: A two-year nightmare ends for two American hikers held by Iran. Dramatic, new information coming in on where they're heading, where they are right now, when they're coming back to the United States.

Plus, Mexican cartels armed with illegal American guns as part of a secret ATF operation. Now there's controversy in the investigation.


BLITZER: There's an important development coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. A temporary spending bill voted down in the House of Representatives in Washington, putting the country one step closer -- get this -- one step closer to a possible government shutdown again.

Let's go straight to our congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan. Kate, what's going on up there?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amazing that we're all -- we're talking about possibly another government shutdown, Wolf, but we are.

Just a short time ago, a very big blow to House Republican leadership. Not only did the short-term spending bill that they had put forth and had on the floor, not only did that fail by a pretty hefty margin; they are also dealing with the fact that they had 48 Republican defections, 48 Republicans voting against the measure.

The final vote was 195-230, far short of what Republicans needed to get this bill through.

First of all, just to remind our viewers, this is a fight we've been talking about for a couple of days now, a fight over to keep the government funding -- the government running and also a fight over federal disaster relief. Money going to FEMA, additional money to help pay for all of the disaster relief that we've been dealing with: the hurricanes, the flooding, the wildfires that the country has seen very recently.

This was, we thought, a fight between House Republicans and Senate Democrats. But now we're seeing that the House Republican leadership is having a problem within their own party.

Really, there are two things that are happening that really led to this, Wolf, and let me run through that really quickly. In part, what they're dealing with is continued to be this fight over federal disaster relief funding. Democrats were very much opposed to the fact that House Republicans, while they were putting forth additional funding for FEMA, Republicans were requiring that part of that money be offset, part of that money be paid for by taking money away from another program, a program that Democrats said was a job-creating program that helped pay for retooling automakers to retool plants to make more fuel-efficient vehicles. That's in part.

On the flip side, Wolf, they are dealing with the fact that conservatives are upset that this bill didn't go far enough to cut spending enough. So right now, I'm told by my colleague, House Republican leadership, they are in House Speaker John Boehner's office, trying to work this out. Unclear where it goes from here, Wolf, but a big blow for House Republicans tonight.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happen. Another crisis up on Capitol Hill. Kate Bolduan reporting.

Meanwhile, a legendary rock band break up after 31 years and 15 albums together. We'll tell you what's going on on that front.

And on a very, very different track, we're only minutes away from the scheduled execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. We're keeping a close eye on the United States Supreme Court. Will it intervene to stop the execution at the top of the hour?


BLITZER: Mexican cartels armed with assault-type weapons illegally sold as part of a ATF operation. The firearms agency has come under intense scrutiny, but now the man leading a congressional investigation has fresh criticism of the U.S. Justice Department.

Our own Brian Todd spoke with him. Brian, he had some very strong words to describe the cooperation he's getting from Justice.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he is using words like stonewalling and obstruction to describe what he's getting from the Justice Department.

Congressman Daryl Issa and his investigators say several hundred of those weapons are out there unaccounted for. They fear the casualty list could climb, and they're pressing hard for answers from Justice.


TODD (voice-over): From one of the lead congressional investigators looking into the ATF's Fast and Furious program, serious concerns about the Justice Department's inspector general.

Republican Congressman Daryl Issa says this about the office tasked with the internal probe into the operation that allowed thousands of weapons purchased illegally to be carried into Mexico.

(on camera) How would you describe the cooperation from the Justice Department right now?

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: I'd describe it as stonewalling. In this case, the I.G. has compromised sensitive material that we've gained through discovery by making it sure -- making sure it got to one of the objects of our investigation.

TODD (voice-over): Issa, head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has sent a letter to Cynthia Schnader (ph), acting inspector general at Justice. Issa wants to know why her office prematurely gave audiotapes that were critical to the investigation over to a person who was a target of the probe, someone who Issa says works at U.S. attorney's office in Arizona.

ISSA: Literally giving somebody their own recording so they would be able to prepare before they ever testify with us.

TODD: In his letter, Issa says, "The disclosure undermines our ability to access the candor of witnesses in our investigation and thus obstructs it." Contacted by CNN the Justice inspector general's office would only say it's received Issa's letter and is reviewing it.

Issa says the inspector general indicated to him that she turned the tapes over to assist that person in the discovery process.

Fast and Furious was an ATF program designed to take down big weapons trafficking operations, but ATF whistle-blowers say, in the process, they were forced to watch as up to 2,000 guns were allowed to be taken into Mexico. Some wound up in the hands of drug cartels, and two weapons linked to the program were found near the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered last December.

ATF personnel based in Mexico have testified before Issa's committee.

CARLOS CANINO, ACTING ATF ATTACHE TO MEXICO: ATF agents were actually following known gun traffickers away and letting them go. That is insane.


TODD: ATF officials based in Mexico during that Fast and Furious program last year have said they were never told about it at the time, and a Mexican official familiar with the case now tells us the Mexican attorney general's office says it was not informed of the program while it was going on.

We could get no response from Justice Department to that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, you're also getting some new details that investigators have dug up on one of the alleged buyers of these weapons.

TODD: That's right. Sources on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee tell us that one of these so-called straw buyers bought more than 700 guns just on his own, most of them automatic weapons. They tell us ATF tracked these weapons and let them go. The sources tell us this buyer had no source of income and was on Food Stamps but somehow able to purchase more than 700 guns.

BLITZER: That's pretty incredible. All right. Brian, I know you'll keep digging for us. Thank you.

Two American hikers have finally been freed from an Iranian prison. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on, Lisa?


Well, this is great news. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal are now safe on the ground in Oman, where they were reunited with their families. They landed just hours after leaving an Iranian prison, where they were held for 26 months. The pair is expected to spend a couple of days in Oman before heading home.

Iran released the hikers on a $500,000 bail each, after their sentences were commuted.

And sad news today for rock fans out there. After more than 30 years together, the band R.E.M. is calling it quits. The group posted a message to fans on their Web site saying, quote, "They walk away with a great sense of gratitude and of astonishment at all they have accomplished." Take a listen.




SYLVESTER: Well, if you know what that song is, it's "World Leader Pretend," and here's a little factoid also. R.E.M. was inducted in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Great group, indeed. Lots of -- lots of great songs. Well appreciated by a lot. Too bad they broke up. All right. We'll stay on top of that, as well. Thank you.

Jack Cafferty wants to know how are economic fears changing your life? Jack's back with your e-mail. That's coming up next.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Wolf, is: "How are economic fears changing your life?"

Mark writes, "It makes me sad that, in a country as great as ours, we have to worry about the skyrocketing price of food, gasoline, medicine, and other essentials. I'm a little bit scared, to tell you the truth, and I've never felt that way in my life. I fear for the young people in the country, like my daughter, who's in college and just starting her life. What a mess we have left for her and future generations."

Noe in Nevada writes, "I deal blackjack in Nevada. Times are horrible. When the economy is good, we have customers that tip the dealers. If you don't know, blackjack dealers live on those tips. We have very little business now, and the customers we do have hardly tip us anymore."

Robert in North Carolina writes, "I haven't made a major purchase in quite a while. My old truck needs to go to the junkyard, but I'm keeping it on life support. When I'm not trying to save money, I'm pleading with my children to be more frugal. Things may get worse, so I'm living on the cheap, like many others. My greatest joy in life, eating off the dollar menu." David in Virginia writes, "I try not to worry about it too much. If I lose my job, I'd lose my home and my health insurance, too, so it's not like saving ten cents on buying store-brand green beans instead of the real ones is going to make a lot of difference. The middle class isn't facing incremental impoverishment. Either you're doing fine or you're hit with some bad luck -- illness or job loss -- and in that case, you're screwed."

Angus writes, "I'm taking early retirement, selling everything, moving to an undisclosed location, and burying my precious metals under my stash of ammunition and c-rations. Not out of fear, but in anticipation of a chaotic economic disaster."

Robert on Facebook says, "I've stopped spending money on new things. I buy almost everything used now. I stay home a lot more to save gasoline. And if I do buy something, I try to avoid foreign-made products. The economy has taught me a very hard lesson."

Tom in New York: "If the economy wasn't so bad, I'd be able to get out of this horrible marriage I'm in."

If you want to read more on the subject, go to the blog,, or through our Facebook page, SITUATION ROOM post, he said backwards. I'm tired, Wolf. Good night.

BLITZER: All right. Go home. See you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you.

Up next, TSA agents chase after this woman to search one more thing, her hair. Jeanne Moos will have her story.


ISIS BRANTLEY, HAIR CHECKED BY TSA: Please, don't do this to me.



BLITZER: We've all been through the airport checkpoint -- security checkpoints. Take everything out of your pockets, your bags to go through the scanner. You walk through the metal detector. Then TSA agents check -- your hair. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the story of a woman trying to fly out of Atlanta with her hair in the upright position. Prepare for turbulence.

BRANTLEY: I saw these people running, talking about, "Hey, lady, stop, stop! You, you, with the big hair."

MOOS: Isis Brantley is a Dallas hairdresser who counts singer Erykah Badu among her clients and specializes in natural hair, so naturally, she's been growing hers for 20 years. BRANTLEY: I said, "What's the problem?"

And she said, "We have to check your hair for explosives."

I said, "You're kidding me."

MOOS: She had already been through security, but when TSA agents said, "Submit to a hair search or miss your flight," Isis submitted.

BRANTLEY: She started digging around in my hair, several times, just touching it and digging. And I said, "Find the explosives. Do you see any?"

MOOS: Now, most folks don't like their hair being touched...


MOOS: ... by strangers. Take "The Undercover Brother."

EDDIE GRIFFIN, ACTOR: You mess with the fro, you got to go.

MOOS: Isis got so upset, she cried.

BRANTLEY: This is humiliating and embarrassing.

MOOS (on camera): Will you grant, though, that because there's so much of your hair, you actually could be hiding something in it?

BRANTLEY: Was Dolly Parton hiding something in her hair? Was Cher hiding something in her hair?

MOOS (voice-over): Did they search Howard Stern or Snooki? Something could definitely fit in Snooki's bun.

(on camera) Weapons, explosives. I can't even hide my ears under my hair.

(voice-over) But at least I fit through the door, unlike O.J. and his oversized afro in "Naked Gun 33 1/3."

So what does Isis want from the TSA?

BRANTLEY: A public apology.

MOOS: But the TSA says, "This passenger left the checkpoint prior to the completion of the screening process and was offered, but refused, private screening."

BRANTLEY: That's fabricated.

MOOS: But this isn't. Aevin Dugas's big-as-a-disco-ball hair is in the Guinness Book for largest natural afro in the world. We don't know whether her hair has ever been searched at the airport, but we do know she it makes for the perfect pillow, great for those long distance flights.

(on camera) Can you just kind of flounce your hair a little?


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jeanne.

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.