Return to Transcripts main page


Attorney General Under Fire; Are Presidential Campaigns Misleading Voters?; Reid: Pacquiao Loss May Prompt Bill; Holder On The Hot Seat; Dire Warning For Democrats; Thousands Protest Putin Presidency; Killer Fire Burning Out Of Control; U.S. Threatens To Sue Florida Over Voter Purge; Betty White Meets President At White House; Missing Afghan Students Mystery

Aired June 12, 2012 - 16:00   ET




SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: You leave me no alternative but to join those that call upon you to resign your office.


BLITZER: There's fury and fireworks on Capitol Hill, an extraordinary showdown as the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, rejects Republican public calls to quit and accuses his critics of playing politics.

The Obama and Romney campaigns aren't letting accuracy get in the way of a good political battle. The distortions and the half-truths, they are flying as the fact checkers work overtime.

And a top United Nations official now says Syria is in a full-scale civil war, even as a U.N. report accuses the Damascus regime of torturing children and using them as human shields.

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

You don't often see a Cabinet member, in this case the nation's top law enforcement official, subjected to such a harsh grilling. The attorney general, Eric Holder, was on the hot seat today facing Republicans furious over a litany of complaints. But Holder held his ground against calls for his resignation.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's on Capitol Hill. She watched it all unfold -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, from a botched gunrunning investigation known as Fast and Furious to a Republican call for an independent investigation into leaks, classified leaks, I should say, Eric Holder knew that this wasn't just going to be a regular oversight hearing. He knows that he's in Congress' crosshairs. But what happened was a political food fight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): Most Republicans were tough on the attorney general, but nothing compared to this.

CORNYN: There has been zero accountability at the Department of Justice. You won't appoint a special prosecutor in the face of a potential conflict of interests. You won't tell the truth about what you know and when you knew it on Fast and Furious. You won't cooperate with a legitimate congressional investigation.

John Cornyn has long been one of Eric Holder's biggest critics, voted against him for the job in the first place, but this five-minute litany of accusations against Holder was remarkably harsh and in some cases personal.

CORNYN: In short, you've violated the public trust, in my view, by failing and refusing to perform the duties of your office.

You leave me no alternative but to join those that call upon you to resign your office.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: With all due respect, Senator, there is so much that's factually wrong with the premises that you started your statement with, you know, it's almost breathtaking. I don't have any intention of resigning.

BASH: Cornyn isn't just a senator from Texas. He also has a big political job, getting Republicans elected to the Senate, a fact not lost on Holder.

HOLDER: The desire here is not for an accommodation, but for a political point-making.

BASH: Republicans may have fed that point by simultaneously pummelling Holder here and introducing a resolution on the Senate floor calling for someone independent of the Obama administration to investigate a series of classified leaks, which John McCain insists were political moves, maybe by the White House to make the president look good.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that Mr. Holder for his own benefit would seek the appointment of a special counsel.

BASH: Back in the hearing, Holder argued against a special counsel, repeatedly insisting two U.S. attorneys he'd tapped to investigate the leaks both unanimously confirmed by the Senate are scrupulous and apolitical.

HOLDER: But, Senator, I think you're missing something here.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think you're missing something here. I think you're missing the fact that this is a very big deal. And you're handling it in a way that creates suspicions where they should not be.

I don't know these people from Adam's house guest.

HOLDER: I do know these people and they are good lawyers.

BASH: Holder tried to beat back GOP charges he has a conflict of interests by revealing he has already been interviewed.

HOLDER: And I can tell you that interview was not some kind of pro forma, take it easy interview. I mean, these were serious -- a serious interview that was done by some serious FBI agents. The same thing happened to the director of the FBI as well.


BASH: Now, this whole question about whether there needs to be an independent counsel has become a real partisan issue here, despite the fact that these leaks caused national security damage. That has been a very bipartisan issue.

Meanwhile, Wolf, another big issue looms for Holder. And that is next week, the House Republicans in a key committee, they're going to vote to hold him in contempt for that Fast and Furious program, not giving Congress documents in this hearing.

Holder offered to sit down with Republican leaders, work out a compromise and avoid what he called a constitutional crisis. That offer was quickly rejected by Republican leaders in the House.

BLITZER: Well, Dana, given the lopsided Republican majority in the House of Representatives, I assume if they have a formal role call vote on holding Holder in contempt, it will pass.

BASH: It's hard to imagine that it won't, at least in the first step. And that is going to be in the House Oversight Committee next week. They're going to have what is called a markup meeting. They're going to actually sit down and discuss and write up this contempt resolution in that hearing. And at the end of it, they will have a vote.

And as you said, because of the fact that Republicans have a very comfortable majority, it's very hard to see that not passing. And, look, this not an easy thing for the speaker to agree to, to give the green light to, and he resisted for quite some time. Now he said OK. And so he's in it. He's all in it. And this has become very partisan.

BLITZER: Well, if he supports it, I assume it will fly through the House at a lower level, then, of course, the full House if it gets there. Thanks very much, Dana Bash up on the Hill.

That harsh showdown on Capitol Hill certainly comes in the context of an increasingly harsh presidential campaign. But the campaign itself isn't being conducted out of context with little regard -- it is being conducted out of context, I should say, with little regard oftentimes for accuracy.

Our senior national correspondent, Jim Acosta, is taking a closer look at the facts and some of the non-facts. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. There are so many claims flying around night now. Honestly, it's getting hard to keep up, misleading ads, distortions and half-truths. The nation's most respected fact-checkers are finding they're happening nearly every day in the race for the White House. And both campaigns are guilty of it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Welcome to the out of context campaign. Take this ad from the president.

NARRATOR: When Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts was number one, number one in state debt, $18 billion in debt, more debt per person than any other state in the country.

ACOSTA: The spot leaves out some important facts. Yes, Massachusetts was $18 billion in debt, but it was already at $16 billion when Romney came into office. The ad doesn't mention that. The spot comes just one day after the White House complained the president was being taken out of context on the economy...

OBAMA: The private sector's doing fine.

ACOSTA: ... but declined to take a no out of context pledge.

QUESTION: Can you assure us that the White House and the people who speak for President Obama will not take someone (OFF-MIKE) Governor Romney (OFF-MIKE) out of context?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's a rather remarkable question. If you're asking me if we're for good reporting filled with context, the answer is yes.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, DIRECTOR, ANNENBERG PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: This is a campaign that specialized in taking words out of context. It was the slur du jour of the primary season.

ACOSTA: Kathleen Hall Jamieson with the Annenberg Public Policy Center says the out of context campaign is so out of control, her office launched, which monitors ads that distort the truth, from the selective editing of Romney's laughter during a debate to the age of the actors in spots dealing with Medicare reform.

JAMIESON: The danger is that people hear the sound bite repeated in ads, see it repeated in news and lose track of the original context. It becomes the reality. And in the process, there's a serious deception.

ACOSTA: Romney has complained that he too is being taken out of context, saying this comment also from last Friday...

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He says we need more firemen, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?

ACOSTA: ... was not meant to advocate the firing of public workers. He's getting little sympathy from the Obama campaign, which often points out the first Romney ad of the cycle used this quote from the president, without mentioning Mr. Obama was quoting John McCain.

OBAMA: If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.

ACOSTA: Campaigning in Florida, Romney resurrected a claim that has been repeatedly challenged by fact-checkers.

ROMNEY: This president is the one that cut $500 billion out of Medicare. My plan is to protect and save Medicare, to make sure it's there not just for current seniors, but for future seniors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need a pacemaker.

ACOSTA: As points out, in looking at this ad from one interest group, that $500 billion comes out of future Medicare spending.


ACOSTA: The Obama campaign defends its ad on the debt in Massachusetts during Romney's time as governor, noting it increased by 16 percent, although that fact is not mentioned in that ad.

But that 16 percent number is smaller than the 50 percent increase in the national debt under President Obama's watch, just some context to put this out of context campaign in focus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the problem -- I love the fact checkers and I love trying to keep them honest, all of these candidates. But the fact of the matter is a lot more people will see those attack ads on television than will ever see the actual fact checking results reported.


ACOSTA: That's right. Sometimes, the fact check is only reported once, whereas an ad will mention that sound bite from President Obama, the private sector's doing fine, over and over again, not just on TV, but on Twitter.

Somebody will click on that link at 10:00 tonight and never saw the fact check that occurred earlier in the day by some news outlet. And this is happening so much and is happening so often that the fact checkers themselves are saying they're having a tough time keeping up. I talked to the gentleman with PolitiFact, Bill Adair, and he said it's amazing how in the last week, nearly all of the claims from all the campaigns have been half-truths, not full-truths, half-truths.

BLITZER: Maybe they will create some jobs at those fact checking organizations. We will try to do it here as well.


BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: If President Obama were to go to a fortuneteller this week, he might ask for his money back.

In his "Washington Post" column this morning titled "Pileup at the White House," Dana Milbank writes how Commerce Secretary John Bryson's weekend car crashes and possible felony hit-and-run charge are just the latest in a string of bad news for the president.

The list is long, stalled job growth, the Wisconsin recall defeat, Attorney General Eric Holder facing a possible contempt of Congress citation for refusing to cooperate fully in the Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation, Bill Clinton publicly contradicting the president, Mitt Romney raising more money, Congress squawking about national security leaks they say are coming from the White House, and the president himself stupidly saying that -- quote -- "The private sector is doing fine."


Milbank writes all of this adds up to one of the worst stretches of Mr. Obama's presidency -- quote -- "There is a creeping sense that the bottom has fallen out and that there may be no second term" -- unquote.

Milbank says top officials in the Obama administration privately say they are no longer expecting much economic improvement before the election.

Plus, there could be more bad news for the president just around the bend.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule any day now on the fate of the Obamacare, as well as Arizona's controversial immigration law. The president has a big stake in both of these decisions.

With less than five months to go before the election, there's no doubt the president could use some good news.

Working in his favor is the fact that polls show voters like him and he has high favorability ratings. But that might not be enough to prevent him from his own car wreck come November the 6th.

Here's the question: How much trouble is President Obama in?

Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

What is that old expression, Wolf? If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, both of these candidates are going to have an enormous amount of work over the next nearly five months. It could still go either way, very, very close in my opinion.

Thanks very much, Jack, for that.

A Cuban dissident risks his life to tell U.S. lawmakers about the murder of a fellow activist. Now there are new chilling details of what happened to him inside a Cuban jail.

But, first, look at this, serious conflict now deemed a top United -- by a top United Nations official to be a full-scale civil war, as we get word of yet more atrocities.

And the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, drops a bombshell. She says Russia is now getting ready to send attack helicopters capable of slaughtering civilians to the Syrian regime.


BLITZER: Syria is now in a full-fledged civil war. That word coming from the United Nations peace-keeping chief who says the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is trying to retake cities lost to the opposition. Listen to this.


BLITZER: The conflict has greatly intensified in recent days, including the bombarding of civilian areas. Opposition activists now say government troops are shelling cities across the entire country. They report at least 45 people killed today, many of them women and children. A U.N. report says the Syrian regime has used children as human shields and has actually tortured young kids whose parents are suspected dissidents.

It cites cases of beatings, whippings, and cigarette burns. U.S. officials are voicing deep concern about the Syrian government's use of helicopters against its own people, calling that "intolerable and unacceptable." That's raising fresh questions about the source of these weapons and future weapons. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

A lot of focus today, including from the secretary of state, on Russia and its military role in providing weapons to the Syrian regime.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And for good reason, Wolf. Russia is perhaps the main supplier now of weaponry to the Syrian regime. Those helicopter gunships really causing havoc across Syria for the opposition and for Syrian civilians. A furious Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about all of that today and what she sees coming down the road.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria. They have from time to time said that we shouldn't worry, everything they're shipping is unrelated to their actions internally. That's patently untrue. And we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.


STARR: The secretary of state saying more Russian helicopter gunships on their way to the regime forces. Now, what are these helicopter gunships? Wolf, they fire rockets and other munitions. They provide a vicious advantage to the Syrian forces. They can fly over areas very quickly. They can stay up for a long period of time over a particular target and keep firing their rockets, round after round after round, indiscriminately killing civilians, killing children on the ground.

There is great growing concern about all of this. And it's posting a very awkward problem here at the Pentagon because through a Defense Department contract, guess what, the U.S. also buys -- the U.S. military and State Department purchase Russian helicopters for Afghan security forces.

That is of course unrelated to the Syria regime. But it's the optics of the U.S. also purchasing these Russian helicopters, in supporting the Russian arms industry, that is becoming a very awkward issue here at the Pentagon as they try to explain it's the only source of helicopters they can provide to the Afghan forces.

Unrelated, but all of this really becoming a very burning question here today both political and military utility -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I was at that luncheon when Hillary Clinton was speaking. She was very, very angry at the Russians on this front. We are going to have a lot more on this story coming up in our next hour, including my interview with the Jordanian foreign minister who has been meeting with the secretary of state here in Washington.

There's also growing concern about a Cuban dissident who disappeared after telling U.S. lawmakers about the death of a fellow pro-democracy activist. Our own Brian Todd has been working this story for us. It's a painful story as well, Brian. What's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is very chilling, Wolf. Just a few days ago a Cuban dissident testified from via video conference from Havana about human rights abuses there. I was in the audience on Capitol Hill, along with other journalists and citizens. But among us were also Cuban operatives.

And now top U.S. senators are enraged at what happened right after that man testified.


TODD (voice-over): By any measure it was a bold move, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, a Cuban opposition leader, stepped into the U.S. Interest Section in Havana. He knew the risks of what he was about to do, but still stepped in front of a camera and testified live for a U.S. Senate committee in Washington.

Garcia Perez told the senators he'd recently seen another dissident being killed by Cuban authorities.

JORGE LUIS GARCIA PEREZ, CUBAN DISSIDENT (through translator): I witnessed the death of Antonio Ruiz (ph) in the city of Santa Clara, where a group of pro-democratic peaceful activists, myself included, were gathered to talk about liberty, freedom, justice, and human rights.

TODD: That testimony was last Thursday. The next day Cuban authorities surrounded Garcia Perez's house. That's according to his wife, Yris Tamara Perez, who we spoke to by phone from Cuba. She tells CNN the day after that her husband was arrested.

When she went to check on him...

YRIS TAMARA PEREZ AGUILERA, WIFE OF GARCIA PEREZ (through translator): I was beaten and taken to a cell. My husband was taken by state security officers. In the cell he was in they began to beat all the people that were there. The authorities came into his cell and sprayed pepper spray inside his mouth, which caused him to lose consciousness.

TODD: Then he was taken away, she says. For two days she didn't know where he was. She's just been told he's in a jail in a city of Santa Clara, but she's not been able to see him. Yris Perez fears her husband will be imprisoned for a long time.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: This is the brutality of the Castro regime at work.

TODD: Senator Robert Menendez chaired that hearing where Garcia Perez testified. Menendez says he feared something would happen to the dissident, that he warned him. And, Menendez says, he and his staff took care not to disclose in advance who was testifying from Havana.

We only knew that Garcia Perez and other dissidents would speak when they popped up on screen. But in that U.S. Senate chamber next to us...

MENENDEZ: There were members of the Castro regime at our hearing who were in the audience from the interest section here. And I noticed that they were there. I've seen them around before and that they were taking notes.

TODD: Menendez points out he said openly at that hearing that he knew Castro's operatives were there. He warned them that the Senate would react strongly if any of the witnesses were retaliated against, but within 48 hours Jorge Luis Garcia Perez was still rounded up.


TODD: We tried several times to get response from Cuban authorities in Havana, here in Washington, and at the U.N. to that and to the accounts from the dissident's wife, we've gotten no response -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There are Cuban diplomats based in Washington at the Cuban Interest Section that works out of the Swiss Embassy, just as there are American diplomats in Havana who are based -- have an interest section there.

I take it these diplomats -- these Cuban diplomats often go up to Capitol Hill and monitor hearings.

TODD: That's right, they do. I mean, and they're allowed to. Menendez says he knows they're there, he knows them by -- he recognizes their faces. He knows that they're there. There's nothing he can do. The U.S. Congress is an open place. Anybody can go there and testify.

But the diplomats that we're talking about are also in effect spies for the Cuban regime, and that's what they do.

BLITZER: And, you know, Menendez is an interesting senator. A Cuban- American from New Jersey, very supportive of the Obama administration. But he hates the fact that the Obama administration last week gave a visa to the daughter of the president, Raul Castro, to come to the United States.

TODD: He is butting heads with them on that very openly, leading the charge there.

BLITZER: On this, he's with Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator from South Florida, as well.

TODD: Yes, yes, he is.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. We're going to stay on top of this story, Brian Todd.

If you ever drive on a highway, you're probably exposed to it. We're talking about diesel exhaust. Now world health officials have a serious new warning, stand by.

And a Senate leader weighs in on the upset that has so many sports fans reeling.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: From all the reports that I've seen by people on the outside who saw the fight, who attempted to be fair and judge the fight, Pacquiao won the fight.



BLITZER: New developments just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM in the Trayvon Martin shooting case. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what are we learning?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, this is kind of a big one. We are just getting word from Florida that the wife of George Zimmerman has been arrested on a perjury charge. And this stems back to testimony that she gave under oath at a bond hearing in which she allegedly said that she had no knowledge of any amount of money in his accounted, essentially pleading that they had no money, that the family had no money when indeed in fact, according to authorities, she had actually transferred some $74,000 in the days prior to this bond hearing.

That is at least the case that authorities are making. Her husband of course is the man charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. And we are working to get more details on this new development. And we will bring them to you as we get them.

In other news, for two decades it's been classified as a probable cause of cancer. Now the World Health Organization says diesel exhaust is in fact a proven cause of cancer. The organization cites two new studies involving more than 12,000 mine workers. Those with the highest exposure to diesel exhaust had triple the number of lung cancer deaths.

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is weighing in on the upset that has boxing fans reeling: the defeat of Manny Pacquiao by Timothy Bradley for the world welterweight title. Pacquiao appeared to dominate, but two of the ringside judges had the fight 115-113 for Bradley, resulting in Pacquiao's first loss in seven years. Reid calls it a simple bad decision and may prompt legislation.


SENATOR HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: As I said, I am confident that there was nothing -- I think people just make bad decisions in a lot of things they do including judging fights. It doesn't hurt to clear the air to take a look at this.

Senator McCain and I have been trying for years, years, to get a national boxing bill passed here. We have not been able to do it. Maybe this will be the impetuous that Senator McCain and I can get back to work on that again.


SYLVESTER: Disappointment is especially deep in Pacquiao's native Philippines where reaction to his lost was described shock, disbelief and fury -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of sports fans very, very upset. Harry Reid from Nevada obviously upset. I think he was a boxer once himself. So he loves that sport.

SYLVESTER: I think a lot of people were surprised by that. It is what it is at this point. That was the decision.

BLITZER: All right, Lisa, thanks very much.

A dire new warning for Democrats and key party insiders including our own James Carville warning that without a strategy change, President Obama will lose.

A massive fire scorches nearly 68 square miles. We're going live to Colorado.


BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session." Joining us our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen along with Barbara Comstock, she's a Republican state lawmaker in Virginia. She is also a former Justice Department spokeswoman and now a Romney campaign advisor.

Ladies, thanks very much for coming in. You think -- I'm going to start with Barbara. You think Jon Cornyn and a lot of other Republicans basically now saying that Eric Holder, the attorney general should resign because of these allegations, if you will, that that could potentially come back to haunt the Republicans?

BARBARA COMSTOCK, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, these are tough situations. I've been at the Justice Department, been a chief counsel on the Hill, and been out in the private sector in these situations.

The problem is when you're the attorney general and you've lost the confidence -- not just of the Republicans on the Hill with this leak investigation, it was a bipartisan concern, so it's kind of a miserable position for Eric Holder to be in.

I guess I somewhat sympathize with him, but I think the problem is he's really lost the confidence on a number of fronts. On the leak investigation, on the "Fast and Furious" case and just in how he's handled these investigations.

BLITZER: You were at the Justice Department during the Bush administration. Who was the attorney general?

COMSTOCK: I was with Attorney General Ashcroft.

BLITZER: So you remember all those -- all the accusations of political involvement were going on "Fast and Furious," hate to use that expression, at that time as well.

COMSTOCK: That didn't happen when I was there --

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: And defended the attorney general and encouraged him not to resign as I recall.

COMSTOCK: Leave it to Attorney General Ashcroft. I think it's going to stay on Capitol Hill. I don't think it's going to be a campaign issue that much.

ROSEN: You know, Republicans are calling for the attorney general to resign, but he has not lost the confidence of the American people or of Democrats. This is not a bipartisan thing.

This is Republican election year antics. He has responded to the congressional requests on the so-called "Fast and Furious." He's appointed U.S. attorneys to investigate what just happened on potential intelligence leaks

He's responsive. He's thoughtful. There's absolutely no reason at all that he should be responding to this election year stuff.

BLITZER: Calling for someone to resign, at least an allegation of criminal wrong doing.

COMSTOCK: There's lots of documents that haven't been turned over. I'm sympathetic of the Hill on the documents not being turned over --

ROSEN: It's 7,000 have been turned over.

COMSTOCK: He's not answering where are these documents so that's the kind of -- we'll see. They'll hold him in contempt to get the documents.

BLITZER: Every administration is reluctant to hand over way too many documents to the legislative branch. It's a turf battle. It goes on all the time, but usually when you call for a cabinet member to resign, usually there's an allegation criminally something happened.

COMSTOCK: Well, I think what was significant last week was when Diane Finestein came out with the leak investigation and really calling on some type of independent action there and that's why they did appoint two people there.

ROSEN: OK, let's just be clear. Diane Fienstein asked for an investigation. The attorney general responded and appointed two U.S. attorneys. She herself has opposed what the Republicans are suggesting to go further and appoint a special prosecutor. Diane is supporting Attorney General Holder as is the president.

BLITZER: You saw this memo that our own James Carville, Stan Greenberg, who was Bill Clinton's poster wrote -- let me read a line from this. It raises questions about the strategy of the Obama campaign right now.

We will face, they say, impossible headwind in November if we do not move to a new narrative. It is elites who are creating conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on economic performance.

And therefore must create voters things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong. That will fail. It's pretty dire if you're a Democrat hearing what these two strategists have to say.

ROSEN: Well, I don't think it's dire. I think it's good advice for taking the campaign to its next level. But look, Barack Obama just succeeded last month in restoring all the jobs that were lost prior to him becoming president. That was a big threshold to get over.

The jobs are being restored slowly, much slower than they need to be. And, yes, he's got to be talking about where he's going. But we've already seen some of that. He's talking about needing to work with Congress, that Congress has not passed the jobs legislation that he's asked them to do.

So I think we have seen the president and the campaign be much more aggressive about what the next steps are, what he ought --

BLITZER: You heard Mitch Daniels over the weekend, the governor of Indiana, saying Romney needs to lay out in specific detail what he plans to do.

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin says he wants to hear more from Romney. A lot of pressure on him to be more specific rather than just saying I like Paul Ryan.

COMSTOCK: Right. But Romney is laying out a very specific agenda. He's talked about the need to invest in the private sector to get jobs back in the private sector. Obama simply isn't working.

It's not the message. It's not how he's doing it. He's not getting results. When you have 500,000 more jobs lost, when you have sustained 40 months 8.2 percent unemployment, when your policies that you've been advocating for three years simply don't work, people get it.

They look at their homes are valued at less, their 401(k)s are down, gas prices are up, all the cost are up, 40 percent drop in people's value of their assets. Those things aren't working because Obama's policies aren't working.

BLITZER: Hold your thought.

COMSTOCK: That's why we need a new president whose policies will work. That's what you had -- what Carville is saying really we need a new message and President Romney will give us a new message --

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we're out of time. I take it you support Romney, you support Obama, correct me if I'm wrong?

ROSEN: You would be right about that. It's a big hole. We're out of it. We've got a long way to go.

BLITZER: And people will ask that Ronald Reagan question, are you better off today than you were four years ago? That will be very, very important.

U.S. teenagers are smoking less tobacco, but smoking more pot. Detail of the health risks many of them really don't know about.

And details in the death of the boxing legend and Olympic champion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It would have been a draw. Nobody would have won. Ali said it and I say it. Mohamed used to dance and me too, and I think we would still be dancing now. (END VIDEO CLIP)


BLITZER: A massive political protest in Moscow. Lisa Sylvester's back. She's monitoring that story and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well. What's happening there?

SYLVESTER: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, tens of thousands of people marched in the Russian capital today protesting the return of Vladimir Putin as president after serving four years as prime minister.

They say the March election that he won with 65 percent of the vote wasn't free or fair. International monitors also said the election did not meet standards. There was no violence at the protests, but more than 250,000 people were arrested.

And fewer teens are smoking cigarettes according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But more teens are smoking marijuana, which contains as much as 70 percent more cancer- causing agents than tobacco smoke.

The study of 15,000 high school students found 18 percent had smoked a cigarette in the last month compared to 23 percent who'd smoked pot.

And Cuban boxing legend, Teofilo Stevenson, has died of a heart attack at the age of 60. He won three Olympic gold medals for his country tying the Olympic record. He was once offered a million dollars to fight Muhammad Ali.

But Cuba bars athletes from competing professionally. Stevenson said what is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?

Earlier I said in the first story, I said 250,000 people arrested -- it was 250 people arrested. I caught it as soon as it came out of my mouth.

BLITZER: Quite a difference.

SYLVESTER: Correct the record on that one.

BLITZER: Thank you, glad you fixed it. We're following a fast-moving wildfire in Northern Colorado right now that's scorched some 43,000 acres, burned more than 100 structures and left one person dead.

Mike Trim of CNN affiliate KMGH is in Bellevue, Colorado, for us. Mike, what's the latest on this fire?

MIKE TRIM, KMGH REPORTER: More than 43,000 acres burned. This is now the third largest wildfire in Colorado history, Wolf. I want to give you a sense of what we're looking at here.

You can see the plumes of smoke. This is the horse tooth reservoir. This is probably the south eastern most point of the wildfire. We just saw a helicopter go over the horizon there. They're dropping much needed water to the areas that need to be basically evacuated at this point. We talked to Governor John Hickenlooper about half an hour ago and his message was you need to get out of your homes if you're getting pre-evacuation notices.

Because that makes the firefighting efforts easier, about 2,600 people as a matter of fact a few hours ago got those pre-evacuation notices through a phone call. That's how they do it here.

It's hard to get to all the homes and knock on the doors so to speak. It's rough terrain. It is the Rocky Mountains here. You can see the smoke even in downtown Denver. That's how thick it's been at points the past couple days.

As you said, Wolf, 100 structures burned. Not clear if they're homes or garages, but 100 structures are still burning. That's why they can't go in and check all these things, one person dead.

More than 500 firefighters are here and really helping out with the efforts. We saw some of the staging area. They're getting ready. They're coming from other states around to really help the efforts here. But just an all-out effort to really stop this wildfire that continues to spread today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Mike Trim, thanks very much. He's joining us from our affiliate KMGH.

We have new information on the case of four Afghan women exchange students who vanished last week from the University of Virginia campus.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, question this hour, how much trouble is President Obama in? He's having a rough week or 10 days in here.

Dan in Pennsylvania writes, "I'm an Obama supporter, however when it comes to some bad circumstances that seem to be piling up and hurting independent support for his re-election, they seem to be, how do you put it, many multitudinous, heaps, loads."

Mark writes from Houston, "Of course, Obama's got some problems. He's been president for four years. How much trouble he's been in depends on how much snake oil rhetoric the voters are going to buy from the Republicans."

Susan writes, "How much trouble he's in can't be accurately measured until the beginning of October. Unlike you and me and the rest of the political junkies out there, the average person probably doesn't even know who the Republican nominee is. I'm serious here."

Joy in West Palm Beach, "Jack, unfortunately he's probably in a lot of trouble, but when all the media constantly shout is the negative and it's all his fight, it gets into the psyche of the electorate. I for one have faith he'll prevail."

Welhelm writes from Las Vegas, "It really all comes down to two factors, one, how is the economy headed into November? And two, do the American people really want to turn the government over to Gordon Gekko."

Bill in New Mexico writes, "I keep saying that it's deja vu from 1980. Everything's going to begin to snowball onto Obama and it's all downhill from here to November."

And Tom in Texas writes, "How much trouble is he in? How much trouble was General Custer in at the battle of little big horn?"

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you. Four Afghan women vanish during a study trip to the United States. We have details of the surprise location where three of them were found.

Plus, the stunning new statistic showing just how badly Americans have fared, especially the middle class, in the great recession.


BLITZER: The United States government now threatening to sue the state of Florida. Lisa Sylvester is back. She's monitoring that story. What's going on?

SYLVESTER: Yes, that's right, Wolf. The Justice Department says it will take action if Florida proceeds with its so-called voter purge program. The state says it's identified more than 100,000 people who may be on the voting list illegally. Critics say the plan is an attempt to sway typically Democratic voters from going to the polls in November.

And the Vatican is reasserting authority over the group of American nuns it rebuked in a statement the Vatican says the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, quote, "remains under the supreme direction of the Vatican."

The group represents 88 percent of American nuns. The statement followed a meeting between the nun's leaders and the cardinal who accuses the group of being to feminist and too political.

Look who popped in at the White House, yes, that's Betty White. The 90-year-old actress spent time with President Obama in the oval office along with time with the first dog, Bo, on the south lawn.

White was in town to give a speech at the Smithsonian. She endorsed Mr. Obama's re-election effort last month. And earlier this year, he taped a message for a tribute to the actress. Great looking pictures, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ninety years old and still a very, very active. SYLVESTER: Yes. She's got a lot of fans out there too.

BLITZER: I'm one of them. What about you?

SYLVESTER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Meanwhile, there are new developments in the case of four Afghan women studying here in the United States who suddenly disappeared last week.

Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is working this story. What's going on? What's the latest, Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, so many of the people who take part in the State Department programs come from war-torn countries.

The idea is bring them to the United States. Let them see how democracy works so they can help their homeland. But this time it didn't exactly turn out that way.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): They came to America to learn about how governments and the law work. In order to help their own country, Afghanistan, but they apparently decided not to go home.

The four Afghan women were part of this young professionals program at the University of Virginia, 22 lawyers, judges, educators in their 20s and 30s studying public administration and law up close. The program is sponsored by the State Department.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We are obviously concerned first and foremost as their host about ensuring their safety, ensuring that they are not in danger. We engaged local law enforcement to try to help us to locate them. And my understanding is that the FBI has now been engaged.

DOUGHERTY: An official familiar with the program says all indications are the women wanted to stay in the U.S. The official said many in the program express concern that their participation in the program could endanger their lives when they returned home to Afghanistan.

Now, a U.S. official tells CNN three of the women were found Tuesday trying to cross the border into Canada. Diplomatic sources tell CNN there have been previous cases of individuals disappearing from similar exchange programs mostly people who want a better life in the U.S. and tried to seek asylum.

The State Department says tens of thousands of people from around the world take part in such programs. The vast majority it says have a great experience and go back to their home countries.

(END VIDEOTAPE) DOUGHERTY: So the search continues for that fourth woman. Meanwhile, the remaining members of that group of 22 Afghans were sent home earlier than expected. After the disappearances, the program was cut short -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.