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Pastor: Romney's Mormon Faith A "Cult," "Anti-Candidate" Surging in Polls; Holder Furious Over GOP Attacks; Obama's Uphill Battle on Jobs Bill; "Occupy Wall Street" Protests: Day 21; People Behind 'Occupy Wall Street'; Hillary Clinton Cronyism Charge; Pakistani Doctor Could Die for Helping U.S.

Aired October 7, 2011 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, responds fast. And he's furious. This hour, his red hot reaction to a Republican charge that he may have misled Congress about a gun- running program.

Also, a values test for the new rising star of Republican the presidential field and his rivals. We're taking a hard look at Herman Cain's appeal and whether his come from behind campaign is viable.

And President Obama gears up for a Senate showdown over the jobs bill and reads the new unemployment report with a very cautious eye.

I'll ask his economic adviser, Gene Sperling, if the president is fighting a losing battle.

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

Breaking news and political headlines all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

All that coming up.

But let's get to the breaking news right now. A stunning, stunning remark about Republican presidential candidate and frontrunner, Mitt Romney, and his Mormon faith. It happened just a little while ago over at a gathering of social conservatives that's meeting right now here in Washington. A Baptist pastor from Dallas, Texas declaring that Evangelicals will not support Mitt Romney because of his religion.

CNN's Jim Acosta is over at the Values Voters Summit here in Washington -- Jim, you spoke with the pastor.

We saw that live here in THE SITUATION ROOM a little while ago. Wow! This is causing a huge uproar already.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. He first made the comments after he introduced Governor Perry at this Values Voters Summit. He didn't make it in his introductory remarks, but after he came out of the ballroom and talked to reporters after the speech, he told reporters outside that ballroom that he believes Mormonism is a cult.

And then we interviewed him here on CNN to -- to press him on this and whether or not Evangelical voters will vote for Mitt Romney or not vote for Mitt Romney because of his religion.

Here's what he had to say.


REV. ROBERT JEFFRESS, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, DALLAS: The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the world, has officially labeled Mormonism as a cult. I think that Romney is a good, moral man. But I think those of us who are born- again followers of Christ should always prefer a competent Christian to a -- to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney.

ACOSTA: So that's why...

JEFFRESS: So that's why I'm enthusiastic about Rick Perry.

ACOSTA: Well, what do you say to those voters out there who say that religion, his Mormonism, shouldn't be an issue in this campaign, he's just as American as everybody else?

JEFFRESS: Oh, I agree he's just as American any else. And Article Six of the constitution...

ACOSTA: And -- and Mormons do say they are Christians.

JEFFRESS: Yes, they -- they say that. They believe in Jesus Christ.


JEFFRESS: A lot of people say they're Christians and they're not. But they do not embrace historical Christianity. And I, again believe that as Christians, we have the duty to prefer and select Christians as our leaders. That's what John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, said. And, again, I think when we've got a choice as Evangelicals between a Rick Perry and a Mitt Romney, I believe Evangelicals need to go with Rick Perry.


ACOSTA: And I asked Dr. Robert Jeffress from the First Baptist Church of Dallas whether or not the Perry campaign asked him to give those introductory remarks or whether or not it was the event organizers. Dr. Jeffress says, no, it was the event organizers who asked him to speak at this event. So he denied that there was any kind of collusion that was going on between himself and the Perry campaign.

Wolf, I had a chance to ask the Perry campaign or e-mail the Perry campaign spokesman, Mark Miner about this, whether or not Governor Perry shares these views. And Miner says, no, Governor Perry does not believe that Mormonism is a cult, Wolf.

But as you said, this caused a huge uproar. It is what a lot of people are talking about here at this Values Voters Summit. And it comes as Mitt Romney is going to be speaking at this event tomorrow. Tomorrow morning he's going to be giving what will be a very high profile speech. This is a segment of the Republican Party that had a problem with this campaign because of this issue back in 2008. As you know, Wolf, he gave that big speech at Texas A&M to put -- try to put this issue to rest. It is -- it is pretty obvious, at least at this summit today, Wolf, that he had not done that altogether for the 2012 campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Other conference organizers have distanced themselves from the reverend's remarks accusing Mormonism of being a cult.

ACOSTA: Well, I talked to Tony Perkins, who is the head of Family Research Council. That is the group hosting this event. And, you know, he said that, look, Governor Romney's religion is really not an issue in this campaign. He said that what he thinks Evangelical voters will be focusing on is the economy, immigration, issues such as abortion, those -- those conservative social issues that they tend to look at in presidential elections. That's what he says Evangelical voters are going to be looking at, not Governor Romney's faith.

But it remains to be seen. As you heard, Dr. Jeffress say in that interview, he believes that there are some Evangelical Christians who are going to go into that voting booth. They may not say it to pollsters, he said, but they may not go into that voting booth and vote for Governor Romney because of his religion. Those are his words. And -- and he stated them publicly today.

BLITZER: Have you received any reaction yet from the Romney campaign to these -- these comments from this reverend?

ACOSTA: I have not. I -- I've reached out to them. I haven't heard back yet. But I would imagine that they are going to say what they've all -- what they've said about Governor Romney's faith in the past, in the 2008 campaign, that his faith really shouldn't be an issue. It should be about the issues facing voters at the ballot box, issues like getting the economy going again. That's where Governor Romney likes to spend his time talking -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's just point out once again, Mormons insist they are, in fact, Christians. They believe in Jesus Christ. They deny any notion of belonging to some sort of cult. This is a huge story.

All right, when you get some reaction, Jim, from the Romney campaign and from some of the other campaigns, let us know.

We're going to stay on top of this story.

Jim Acosta breaking the news here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile, we've heard some hard sell appeals to the Republican Party's conservative base over at this Values Voters Summit. The Texas governor, Rick Perry, looking for a rebound after sliding in the polls. He did get a very strong reception today. And he blasted the culture's message of self-indulgence over social obligations.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: The fabric of our society is not government or individual freedom, it is the family. And the demise of the family is demise of any great society.


BLITZER: The man who nudged Perry out of second place in some of the national polls, Herman Cain, began his pitch to social conservatives a little while ago. He took note of all the attention he's getting now that he's considered a top tier contender.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And just to set the record straight, you know, when you run for president and you move into the top tier...


CAIN: I'm just saying, you get this bull's eye on your back.


CAIN: And people take pot shots left and right. But I don't want you to be unclear about where I stand on certain things. And you won't be confused by some of the garbage that people are going to throw out there because they are a little bit afraid that this long shot may not be a long shot any longer.


BLITZER: Until recently, Herman Cain had been more of an asterisk in the Republican race to become a top contender. But now he's pulling in double digits in some of the national polls. And he's getting lots and lots of attention.

CNN's Joe Johns is joining us now with more on Herman Cain and his sudden surge in the Republican race for the White House -- Joe, what are you finding out?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the current rise of Herman Cain is surprising. And if you look at some of the polls, you might come to the conclusion he's picked up support at the same time Rick Perry has seen support slip away, so maybe there's a connection.

That said, what we're seeing with this candidate is an unorthodox approach to politics. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates for president of the United States.

JOHNS: Nipping at the heels of Mitt Romney in the polls, Herman Cain, the anti-politician, is sampling the unconventional again, launching a book tour three months out from the Iowa caucuses, fuelling critics who say he's more self-promoter than serious candidate.

He says he's multitasking.

CAIN: This book tour helps to get my name out there. But don't think that I'm not going to be doing some campaigning in the middle of this book tour. They are not mutually exclusive. So this is a great tool, coincidentally, that helps me to get my name out.

JOHNS: It's vintage Herman Cain -- a guy running for president who did something other than run for office all his life.

CAIN: I am a businessman of 40 years. So that makes me a problem solver because of the things that I have done in my career.

JOHNS: You've probably heard his resume by now. Former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, headed the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Christian grandfather, cancer survivor.

CAIN: And then when I found out that I had a 30 percent chance of survival from stage four cancer and I was able to win against it, that was the biggest a-ha moment in my life.

JOHNS: Cain is plain talk, though it gets him into trouble. He once said communities can ban mosques because Islam is different from other religions.

CAIN: They have the right to do that.

JOHNS: What's gotten him respect lately is his big policy idea, his 999 Plan to revamp the tax code -- a flat rate personal income tax, a flat rate on net business profits and a national sales tax all set at 9 percent.

Some experts say it actually might work, like Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute.

KEVIN HASSETT, THE AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: The Herman Cain 999 Plan gets better and better the more you look at it. It's very politically sophisticated. And it's also technically competent.

JOHNS: But skeptics like "The Wall Street Journal" don't trust it. They say national sales taxes abroad ballooned out of control.

Even Hassett needs to know more.

HASSETT: I think that it's likely that there will be some analysis at some point that finds some people who lose if we switch to this plan and maybe lose a lot so that their taxes go up a lot.

JOHNS: A credibility gap is Cain's biggest problem. People don't believe he's for real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love Herman to death. I love the man. He ain't going to win the nomination.

JOHNS: And at this stage, who knows?

A lot of people said the same thing about Obama.


JOHNS: Underscoring that point for voters who are starting to pay more attention to Cain, the fact is that he is the only African- American candidate in the Republican race for the nomination. And it poses a bunch of potential questions, especially since he's running in an environment where the first African-American president is the guy Republicans are trying to beat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good story, Joe.

Thanks very much.

We'll stay on top of this story for our viewers.

Remember, the Republican race is getting more exciting just in time for our next debate. Join CNN for the Western Republican Presidential Debate out in Las Vegas. It airs live, Tuesday night, October 18th, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And you'll see it only here on CNN.

Meanwhile, another breaking story we're following this hour. The attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, says he can't sit idly by while government employees who protect Americans are accused of being accessories to murder. A very strong, very harsh response by Holder today to a Republican-led investigation of the so-called Fast and Furious gun-running program.

Our own Brian Todd is here.

He's got new details.

Has been investigating.

What's the latest chapter in this story?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Eric Holder has been blistered this week and recent weeks over the Fast and Furious program. Republicans in Congress really turning up the pressure on him this week, as well.

And, as you mentioned, he is -- he is furious with this.

This is the gist of a letter that he wrote to top Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate who are investigating the Fast and Furious program. Quote, "I simply cannot sit idly by as a majority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests, as has happened this week, that law enforcement and government employees who devote their lives to protecting our citizens be considered accessories to murder. Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in as strong as possible terms. Those who serve in the ranks of law enforcement our nation's heroes and deserve our nation's thanks, not the disrespect that is being heaped on them by those who seek political advantage."

We know who he's referring to. This is referring to a comment by a Republican Congressman who's on that House Oversight Committee. His name is Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, who told "The Daily Caller" this week -- this is a quote from him -- "We're talking about consequences of criminal activity where we actually allowed guns to walk into the hands of criminals, where our livelihoods are at risk. When you facilitate that and a murder or a felony occurs, you're called an accessory. That means that there's criminal activity."

That's what Congressman Gosar said about the agents who might have been involved.

But I talked to a Gosar aide just this afternoon, just a few minutes ago. The aide said, look, he was not talking about the agents who were involved in this. He said he was meaning in the real world, when something like this happens, you are called an accessory. They're trying to clarify that.

But the back and forth between Holder and these Republicans in Congress is really intensifying now.

As you know, the Republicans in Congress are calling for a special counsel to investigate what the attorney general knew about Fast and Furious and when he knew it. That stems from this May testimony where he said, well, I only heard about this in the last few weeks. There are memos that have been leaked to the press that indicate that there were references to the Fast and Furious Program, memos that were addressed to the attorney general. He and his team have said they do not know the exact tactics and the details of this, but they only found out about it this year, after the whole thing blew up.

This is a real mess for them and now it's getting more intense -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to get uglier and uglier, on this and several other issues, as well.

Thanks very much, Brian, for that update.

Better than expected isn't exactly what the White House was looking for, as the jobs report could have moved the needle for the unemployment rate, apparently and that we now know it did not. And the administration responds. That's coming up.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a big decision to make over a controversial pipeline project.

Could lobbying from people with connections to her and to President Obama -- could that cloud her judgment, as some are suggesting?

We have new information on this story, as well.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: New fuel today for the campaign debate over jobs. The government reports hiring was stronger than expected last month, with 103,000 jobs added to the payrolls. July and August figures were also revised upward, as well, to show an additional gain of 99,000 jobs over the summer.

But the overall unemployment rate did not improve, holding steady at 9.1 percent.

The Obama White House isn't jumping up and down about today's jobs report.

With the director, joining us now, the director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling.

Gene, thanks very much for coming in.

Your immediate reaction when you heard 103,000 jobs created, although the unemployment number, the rate at 9.1 percent, not changed.

What was it?

GENE SPERLING, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Well, when I looked at the numbers, I thought that the fact that there was 137,000 private sector jobs created was significantly better than projected.

But -- but I also thought -- and I think the president, I know, felt -- that it was small comfort, because this isn't even in the ballpark of job growth that is strong enough to make a major difference in unemployment and to start bringing the long-term unemployed back to work.

And, Wolf, that's why he's made this his centerpiece this fall, his economic centerpiece, passing an American Jobs Act, which, as you know, top independent forecasters have suggested could lead to up to 1.9 million more jobs next year, up to 2 percent more growth next year. And it's why we've said to those who oppose this plan, if you oppose the American Jobs Act, then you -- it's -- it's imperative for you to put forward a plan that the -- that these same top forecasters would estimate would create as many jobs or make the case to the American people that you think the economy is good enough...

BLITZER: All right.

SPERLING: -- that it's OK to have growth projected to be this weak and to do nothing.

We do not believe doing nothing is an option. That's why...

BLITZER: All right...

SPERLING: -- we're pushing to pass the American Jobs Act.

BLITZER: But you know -- and I think you agree -- that raising taxes, even on millionaires, is a poison pill as far as the Republicans are concerned, almost all of them in the House and the Senate. And the president now says he wants a 5.6 percent surtax on people earning more than a million dollars a year to pay for this jobs bill.

That's not going anywhere, is it?

SPERLING: Well, the president is pushing the American Jobs Act, again, a plan that has overwhelming bipartisan support across the country. Democrats and Republicans support the idea of preventing teacher lay-offs, of getting more construction workers back to work rebuilding our schools and our bridges and a significant tax cut for small businesses, cutting their payroll tax cuts in half for 98 percent of small businesses around this country.

This has overwhelming support.

What the president said was, we need to also do this in a way that it doesn't increase the long-term deficit.

We've put forward a plan. The Senate Democrats put forward another plan for paying for it that the president would accept.

But the real issue is passing the American Jobs Act.


SPERLING: We cannot afford...

BLITZER: I understand that.

SPERLING: -- the risk, even a small risk of a double dip recession.


SPERLING: If the Republicans have another strategy for helping, creating -- helping to create up to 1.9 million more jobs next year, as Moody's projects, then -- then let's hear it from them. If they another idea...

BLITZER: But they do have...

SPERLING: -- of how to do it in a fiscally disciplined way, let's hear that.

BLITZER: They do have some other ideas.

But I just want to get back to the point about...

SPERLING: No... BLITZER: -- about the fall...

SPERLING: No, wait.

BLITZER: Hold on one second.

SPERLING: No, Wolf...

BLITZER: Gene, hold on.

SPERLING: -- Wolf...

BLITZER: Hold on.

SPERLING: -- this is very important.

BLITZER: Hold on.

SPERLING: They do not have other ideas.

BLITZER: They say get rid of...

SPERLING: They -- they are...

BLITZER: -- all the regulations, that will create jobs.

SPERLING: So -- so...

BLITZER: That's an idea.

SPERLING: -- here's my challenge to them. My challenge to them is, do they have ideas that top independent forecasters, like Macroeconomic Advisers or Moody's would estimate as creating jobs next year?

Look, a lot of what they want to do, the passing the free trade agreements, patent reform, we support those. But nobody, no one suggests that's going to help this recovery take hold, that that's going to create jobs for next year. And as long as they're simply in a -- in a position of opposition, they are engaging in dramatic and unforgivable risk-taking with the American economy.

BLITZER: All right. Fair enough.

But let me read to you what some of the Republicans like. And it's endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. They have a separate proposal to create jobs right now.

Here's from the, Tom Donahue, president and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce: "Small and large businesses alike have cited regulatory burdens, the excessive litigation that regulations spawn and fears about what government regulators will do to them next as among the most significant obstacles to new hiring. Immediate regulatory relief is required in order to begin moving $1 trillion to $2 trillion in accumulated private capital off of the sidelines and into business expansion." Donahue says that would create a lot of jobs. A lot of Republicans agree.

That's their counter proposal to you.

What say you?

SPERLING: Well, number one, this president absolutely agrees that we can do better. This country can do better on regulatory reform. And he has cut regulations and he has regulatory reform.

But whether you support doing more of that or not, it is simply just a political statement to suggest that serious economists believe that that is a plan to inject greater demand into our economy, to get job growth growing and to help this recovery take hold.

This is not a time for political statements. I know that every single year forever, the Chamber of Commerce would always like to have less regulations. Of course they would. That's always been the Chamber of Commerce's position.

But this is serious, Wolf. People are projecting that we will only grow at 1.8 percent next year, that unemployment will be 9.1 percent or get higher.

This is a time for serious people to put forward serious plans, that independent economists, who don't have a political stake in the outcome, will suggest could increase growth by 1 to 2 percent or jobs by one to two million jobs.

As the president said, why should we even take a small risk, any risk, of having a double dip recession when the economy is already suffering so many headwinds.

BLITZER: All right...

SPERLING: So we can have good debates about what we should do on regulatory reform. What should not be a debate is that we need a strong American Jobs Act. We cannot take a chance with this economy right now.

BLITZER: Gene Sperling, as usual, thanks very much.

Good luck.

SPERLING: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people are counting on you guys to get something done with the Republican leadership in Congress. We'll see if this gridlock goes away.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Wall Street movement is making headlines right now. A prominent Republican also is, as well, calling it, quote, "a mob." And that's not all he's saying. Stand by.

And a plan to create thousands of jobs is sparking lots of outrage from Texas to Canada. Much more on this part of the story coming up.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We want to update you on the breaking news we've been following here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

An uproar developing today at the so-called Values Voters Summit in Washington. Evangelical Christians, including one leader, today suggesting they could not vote for the Republican presidential frontrunner, Mitt Romney, because he's a Mormon. They say he's not a real Christian. They say Mormonism is a cult.

And that's causing a huge, huge uproar.

The pastor who, in fact, introduced Rick Perry, the Texas governor, at the event today, went on to say that to our own Jim Acosta, who's covering the event.

The pastor, Reverend Robert Jeffress of Dallas, Texas.

Governor Romney's spokesman -- excuse me -- Governor Perry's spokesman later issued a statement saying the governor -- Governor Perry -- does not believe Mormonism is a cult.

Other conference organizers also distancing themselves from what this Evangelical leader said.

We just got a statement in from a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormon religion, saying this -- and I'll put it up on the screen: "We really don't want to comment on a statement made at a political event, but those who want to understand the centrality of Christ to our faith can learn more about us and what we believe by going to"

That statement coming to us from a spokesman for the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

We're staying on top of this story. Much more coming up on this story later. But it's causing a huge, huge political uproar here in Washington, and, indeed, across the country, right now.

Meanwhile, other political news we're watching, including some Occupy Wall Street news, as it's called. The protests today in a number of major cities. The movement now three weeks old and growing. The political sparring over the protests is escalating, as well.

Today, the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, called the demonstrators a "mob" and suggested they may have been egged on by the Obama administration.

That certainly did not sit well with the White House.

Listen to this.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY LEADER: If you read the newspapers today, I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans.



JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I sense a little hypocrisy unbound here, because I think that what we're seeing on the streets of New York is an expression of democracy. And what I -- which I think I remember Mr. Cantor -- is how Mr. Cantor described protests by the Tea Party. And I don't understand why, you know, one man's mob is another man's democracy. I think both are expressions that are totally consistent with the American democratic tradition.


BLITZER: We want to just point out, we did some checking to see what Eric Cantor actually said. This quote back in 2009, referring to the Tea Party's rise -- and I'll put it up on the screen -- "These protests here in Washington, the gathering of people from all across the country, is just more evidence of the fact that there is frustration over the direction that Washington is taking."

That statement from Eric Cantor back in 2009.

And as this Occupy Wall Street movement takes off, we're also taking a closer look at some of the people behind it.

Our Mary Snow talked with protesters in New York today -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in the three weeks that this protest has been taking place, most of the people camping out in lower Manhattan have been young people. But today we found some grandparents showing up for the very first time, and it's their concern about jobs that's bringing them there.


SNOW (voice-over): As protesters marked day 21 of their Occupy Wall Street movement, 73-year-old Ella Harris (ph) decided it was time she join them. The retired grandmother from New Jersey says she's frustrated with seeing jobs shift overseas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm worried about my son, about my grandchildren, about my neighbors. I just worry about decent people who want to work and can't get a job.

SNOW: That worry also brought Jim Wortimer (ph) to Zuccotti Park for the first time. He has four grandchildren.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm retired, I get Social Security, I get a pension, and, you know, maybe when they get to be my age, they'll have the same thing. But the way it looks now, they might not even have a job.

SNOW: While there's no singular message among this group, 43-year-old Buddy Bolten (ph) says the lack of jobs prompted him to come here Thursday and spend the night. He says he lost his creative design job a year ago and spent his savings on surgery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My personal situation is so bad, that I felt like I wanted to be amongst other people going through the same thing. And so that's why I came. And I came to support and help get the message out that this is a shame on America.

SNOW: Eighty-six-year-old Harvey Hachter (ph), a World War II veteran, is also a newcomer. He is a long-time union member and lobbyist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I get kind of emotional, because I spent my whole life fighting these forces, and it's like a 10-headed snake. You cut one head off and another one grows back. They're insidious, totally.

SNOW (on camera): When you say "they"?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Wall Street crowd, the bankers.

SNOW (voice-over): By midday, some still remained in their sleeping bags. The curious looked in from the outside. More unions are showing support, but some union workers are skeptical like Rob Chester (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're unorganized, and they're just trying -- I don't know what point they're trying to make. I think where they need to march is they need to march on Washington. I don't know what they're doing here.


SNOW: And some of the older people we spoke with disagree. They say they should remain in New York, and they say that they do plan on returning to these protests. They say they hope to contribute in some way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much.

More on this story coming up.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is under fire from opponents of a proposed of a proposed oil pipeline extension stretching from Canada all the way down to Texas. Environmentalists are accusing the company behind the project of behind-the-scenes maneuvering over at the State Department in order to get approval.

CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty has the story.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The promise of new oil --

RUSS GIRLING, TRANSCANADA CEO: Trans Canada will begin to put 20,000 Americans to work right away.

DOUGHERTY: -- and the environmentalists who fear it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No to this pipeline. No to death. No! No! No! No!

DOUGHERTY: If it's built, the Keystone XL pipeline would stretch 1,700 miles, bringing crude oil from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are our path to freedom.

DOUGHERTY: The proposal has ignited a celebrity-fueled firestorm. The final decision, since the pipeline would cross an international border, is in the hands of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are leaving no stone unturned in this process.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): This is the last of nine public hearings that the State Department has been holding across the country in what it claims is a fair and transparent process.

(voice-over): The State Department is working with eight other federal agencies, holding hundreds of meetings with environmental groups, NGOs, and industry representatives. But opponents charge the approval process is corrupt.

The chief lobbyist for the pipeline served on Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. They cite e-mails between the lobbyists and a staff member at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, featuring smiley faces. The State Department says that officer had very friendly relations with environmental groups as well.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPT. SPOKESWOMAN: We do not believe that there is any issue here with regard to affecting in an inappropriate manner the decisions that the secretary needs to make.

DOUGHERTY: The pipeline, says one expert, could be a significant new source of oil from a friendly neighbor, not the volatile Mideast.

PHILIP SHARP, PRESIDENT, RESOURCES FOR THE FUTURE: In theory, the one pipeline alone will be able to bring in something like 1.1 million barrels of oil a day. We use about 19 million barrels of oil a day. This is actually a reduction in our imports of about nine percent kind of thing, so it's again not trivial.

DOUGHERTY: But the debate rages on.

RANDY THOMPSON, NEBRASKA RANCHER: You can take a pile of horse manure and you can sprinkle flower seeds on it, and you can call it a rose garden, but it doesn't change what it really is. TERRY O'SULLIVAN, LABORERS' INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA: For the men and women of our union, the Keystone XL isn't just a pipeline. It's a lifeline.


DOUGHERTY: Now, the State Department says that no final decision has been made yet, but it's wrapping up these public meetings this week, and that Secretary Clinton is expected to make her final determination around the end of the year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay in close touch with you, Jill, on that. Thank you.

Meanwhile, 10 years after the start of the war in Afghanistan, a damning evaluation from the general once responsible for U.S. forces in that war zone.

Stand by.


BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including the 2012 Republican presidential nominating calendar. It's creeping closer and closer to 2011.

Mary, what's going on?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, we could soon see a repeat of the 2008 nomination fight. Iowa's Republican Party is close to naming January 3rd as the date of its presidential caucus. That would be followed by New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. Nevada, South Carolina and Florida would follow by the end of the month, with the CNN debate coming two days before the South Carolina primary.

Prince Harry hopes to prove he has the right stuff. The third in line to the British throne arrived in California for the final phase of helicopter gunship training. Prince Harry's instructors say he has a flare for flying. If he passes the course, the pilot known as Captain Harry Wales will be considered limited combat ready. That means with four to six months more training, he could be deployed in Afghanistan.

And thieves in Pennsylvania have really outdone themselves this time. They made off with a 50-foot bridge, presumably to sell it for scrap metal.

Authorities say the bridge is valued at around $100,000. It was located in a remote wooded area north of Pittsburgh. The company that owns the bridge recently closed off access to it because of copper thefts in the area.

And Apple founder Steve Jobs is being laid to rest today. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that his funeral will be a small family affair.

Apple says there won't be a public memorial for jobs, but a Web site will be created to allow fans to offer their online condolences and tributes. Jobs died Wednesday in California after a long battle with pancreatic cancer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much.

A Pakistani doctor could be put to death for allegedly helping the CIA track down Osama bin Laden. We're taking a closer look at the treason charges that the Pakistani government have now leveled against him.


BLITZER: Republican Mitt Romney is promising he won't surrender America's role in the world if he's elected president. He gave a major foreign policy speech today at the Citadel in South Carolina, exactly 10 years after the start of the war in Afghanistan. Romney accused President Obama of failing to provide strong global leadership during dangerous times.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here today to tell you that I'm guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion. This century must be an American century.


BLITZER: Today, President Obama saluting more than half a million U.S. servicemen and women who have served in America's longest war. Over the past decade, the conflict has cost 1,690 American lives in Afghanistan, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. The former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, says the U.S. went into the war without fully understanding the region.


GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (RET.), FMR. COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: We didn't know enough and still don't know enough. Most of us, me included, had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years.


BLITZER: Many U.S. troops have done more than one tour of duty in Afghanistan. Sometimes, the stress is more than they can handle.

Here's CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.


NICK WALSH PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It began when they landed in Bagram, and here it goes on.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed --

WALSH: Ten years of jet fuel, faith, and now fatigue. Here, you can see what it takes to carry on through this decade's wars.

Lieutenant Colonel Eric Albertson is chaplain to thousands, but in his several months here, affected by the very few.

LT. COL. ERIC ALBERTSON, U.S. ARMY: A number of our soldiers are around their third, fourth, or, in some cases, their fifth tour. There is a fatigue factor -- emotionally drained, physically tired. We've had instances where soldiers have taken their own lives here, and that's tragic. We've had about six or seven since I've been here.

When someone takes their own life, there's almost a sense of, you know, you've reached out to me for everything else. Why didn't you reach out to me for this?

WALSH: The ripples of a suicide reach far. Master Sergeant Guadaloupe Stratman is in this war so her three sons won't be. Her three tours, marred by the recent loss of a friend in Iraq.

MASTER SGT. GUADALOUPE STRATMAN, U.S. ARMY: It was actually she overdosed. And, like, she was younger than me, so I thought she had a lot to live for. I don't know why it happened. I wasn't necessarily talking with her frequently at that time, but it hurt me a lot.

And how? Because I knew her. I knew what some of her dreams were, and now she didn't get to live those dreams. It's like it ended.

WALSH: This was a dirt road a decade ago. Now it's home to one in nine of America's troops in Afghanistan.

(on camera): When the Americans landed here 10 years ago, it was on this Russian-made runway. And now they've been here nearly a year longer than the Soviets.

(voice-over): The cost to the Soviets, huge. The total cost to America, still unknown. Although signs of sadness and change are everywhere, the prison here now gone, it's Afghan prisoners elsewhere. Soon, troops will leave for good, but will carry away with them the scars of here and Iraq.

LT. COL. JAMES DAVELL, U.S. ARMY: What I do every year is I call the family, either the spouse or the parents of the individual that has been associated with me, that was lost in combat. And then I also call a very close friend of mine that was injured, severely injured, on the day that that occurred. Like I said, I make three calls a year -- actually, four. I'm sorry, four calls a year to family members.

I wouldn't say it makes me feel good or bad. I just think it's something that I need to do.

WALSH: The closing stages of a war longer than anything America has ever coped with before.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Bagram.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Hard to believe the U.S. has been in this war now for 10 years exactly. I covered the start of the war 10 years ago today. If somebody would have said to me then the U.S. would still have 100,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan 10 years later, I wouldn't have believed it at all.

No American service member has died in the raid that led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but one Pakistani man could pay with his life for the mission that killed America's biggest enemy.


BLITZER: He tried to help the United States track down Osama bin Laden, and now a Pakistani doctor may pay for it with his life.

CNN's Brian Todd is working this story for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was an ingenious plan to confirm that Osama bin Laden had been tracked down to a hideout in Abbottabad, and now a Pakistani doctor could hang for allegedly helping the Americans.

A Pakistani commission has recommended bringing charges of high treason against Dr. Shakeel Afridi. He's accused of helping U.S. intelligence with a vaccination program in Abbottabad to try to get DNA samples to see if Bin Laden or his family lived in the compound.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The whole thing didn't work. They never were able to get access to the compound, they didn't get the DNA. But instead of the president going in with a 50 percent, maybe, that Bin Laden was there, if they had the DNA, they would have gone in with 100 percent.

TODD: Contacted by CNN, a Pakistani official could not say whether his government will put the doctor on trial. Our national security analyst Peter Bergen says if they do, the Pakistanis may have a case. He compares it to a well-known spying case in the U.S. in the 1980s.

BERGEN: Jonathan Pollard was tried in this country for spying for a friendly country's intelligence service, Israel. Why should Pakistan treat its citizens any different than the way we treat Americans who spy for even friendly countries?

TODD: A source tells CNN U.S. officials have spoken to their Pakistani counterparts at the highest levels in an effort to get the doctor released. I asked analyst Robin Wright why U.S. officials have said almost nothing in public about the matter.

(on camera): Maybe revealing some detail of the operation that they don't want to?

ROBIN WRIGHT, U.S. INST. OF PEACE: The United States doesn't want to go public on this case because it doesn't want to implicate him, which would only hurt his case more. TODD (voice-over): But Pakistan is likely to free other key figures in this story. The three wives of Bin Laden who were taken into custody by the Pakistanis after the raid, Pakistan has decided they're free to go back to their home countries and has contacted Saudi Arabia and Yemen to make arrangements.

WRIGHT: In Saudi Arabia, the wives will not be a major issue. Saudi women are hidden from view in most cases anyway. And these are observant women who are not going to be looking for attention.


TODD: Robin Wright says Bin Laden's wife from Yemen, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, may be treated differently there, may get more attention because she was wounded during that raid -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do the Yemenis and the Saudis want these women back?

TODD: Well, we asked that. A Yemeni diplomat tells us there are no restrictions in that country to the return of any Yemeni citizen, so it looks like the Yemeni wife is going to be welcomed back. No word from the Saudi officials on whether they're going to take those other two wives back at this point.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much.

Brian Todd, reporting.

Championship teams visiting the White House, certainly that's been a long tradition. But this team was supposed to meet with President Reagan. They finally made it, only 25 years later.


BLITZER: President Obama welcomed the Chicago Bears Super Bowl XX championship team to the White House today. They won the title 25 years ago, but weren't able to visit the White House because the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just days after their victory.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ladies and Gentlemen, the greatest team in NFL history, the 1985 Chicago Bears.


OBAMA: Now, I know that may get me into some trouble in some cities that I visit, but I believe it is the truth. Cynics might say that I'm only hosting the '85 Bears today because the Green Bay Packers were here a couple months ago and I was not going to be outdone. But as it turns out, after this team won the Super Bowl, it never had a chance to celebrate here in the White House.

They were suggesting that I should dance the Super Bowl shuffle. Can't do it. But I do remember it. And in Chicago, you could not get away from this song even you wanted to. I think it's safe to say that this is the only team in NFL history with a gold record and a Grammy nomination.


MIKE DITKA, SUPER BOWL XX WINNING COACH: The 1985 Chicago Bears, we consider him one of us. It was a great group of guys.

We're very proud that you honored us by bringing us here. It's only 26 years after the fact, and five administrations, but thank you.



BLITZER: Not surprisingly, the president said hosting the Bears -- or we should say "Da Bears" -- was the most fun he'll have as president of the United States. Good for him.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for joining us.

The news continues next on CNN.