Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Hurricane Could Be A "Frankenstorm"; Dems Call in Heavy Artillery; Obama Voting in Chicago; A Thousand Mile Airstrike
Aired October 25, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, it's being called a Frankenstorm -- new fears that a powerful hurricane that's been wreaking havoc in the Caribbean could merge with another storm that hammer the United States' East Coast.
In a dead heat -- with only a dozen days until the election, Democrats call in the heavy artillery.
Can Bill Clinton help pull this one out for President Obama?
And 1,000 miles from the conflict between Israel and Hamas, explosions level an arms factory in Sudan.
Did Israel destroy weapons long before they could reach Gaza?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
All that coming up.
But we begin with today's very unusual warning from the National Hurricane Center. Today's forecast says Hurricane Sandy could merge, with another weather system along the U.S. East Coast and turn into what they are calling a Frankenstorm, just in time for Holly -- Halloween.
These are live pictures from South Florida right now.
CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Myers, has the updated forecast, which has just come in -- Chad, what does it say?
CHAD MYERS, ATS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the 5:00 advisory, Wolf, still has us at 105 miles per hour, although I haven't seen that type of gust with the hurricane hunter for the past couple of hours. A new plane is headed to the center of the storm.
We've also lost the eye. When the eye went over Cuba, we had a wind gusts to 118 miles per hour right there, just to the west of GITMO. And now, into the Bahamas, back into warm water. The storm dies off when it hits land. It gets bigger when it hits water. Now it's back into the water. And so it will get bigger. It will get stronger for a while. And then it will begin to lose some punch because we are going to see some dry air. We're going to see some shear. This is a late season storm. But the water is still warm enough to support a hurricane all the way through the end of the period.
And this will make landfall somewhere in the United States.
Now a couple of the models -- I'll -- I'll show you that in a second -- take it all the way up into the Maritimes, into Canada, into Atlantic Canada. But we could be all the way into the Carolinas or as far north as Maine. The center, obviously, is somewhere right along that I-95 Corridor. That would do so much damage. This would be a billion dollar damage storm if the worst case scenario really does happen. There is that potential.
Now a couple days ago, we showed you the models. Wolf, I know you were here. You watched that. They all turned out to sea, except one, the European model. Now they're all coming back on shore and the European model is right in the middle.
Boy, I'll tell you what, all these computers, all these -- it could be anywhere from Boston, Halifax, all the way down to Norfolk, Virginia. Wherever it hits, it's going to be an 80 or 90 mile per hour storm. That's still a big storm, even though it's the end of hurricane season, or at least near it.
BLITZER: I know if it hits the Washington, DC area, where I am, I'm going to lose power quickly. I'll have to check into a hotel, if I can find one.
What should people be doing now, Chad, to prepare for this?
MYERS: Well, maybe get a couple of batteries. Get some candles ready. I mean this is -- this could be -- if this storm does merge, like it's forecast to be -- and people are relating it to a -- a perfect storm, or the perfect storm, from 1991. That storm was a big low that was going to make snow that sucked in a hurricane. This is a hurricane that's going to snuck -- really suck in another big cold front or another low pressure system. So it's the exact opposite of what was the perfect storm, but close enough.
You still get this what we call hybrid, with winds 80 miles -- 90 miles per hour over the megalopolis area from DC, Baltimore and maybe New York City. I mean power is going to be out for a long time.
Think about -- think about what it would take if on Monday you had to camp until Friday in your house -- no power, no water, whatever. Think about camping. Those are the things you want to have available for your family, water and things like that and maybe something out -- some charcoal. Make sure you have propane in your tank so you can cook, at least outside; a generator, if you have one. I'm sure generators are flying out of the stores right now. But all of those little things that you can think of, we're four days in advance. You have plenty of time. But if you can do it slowly and do it progressively as the storm gets closer, at least you'll be ready when it does get here.
BLITZER: By November 6th, what, 12 days from now...
BLITZER: -- I assume it will all be over, whatever happens, and the fallout. People will be able to vote, power will be back.
Am I overly optimistic?
MYERS: I think you're overly optimistic if the worst case scenario does happen. If we get on land winds 80 miles per hour over a wide area, from the Adirondacks, Catskills, Poconos, all the way down toward DC, certainly all of that power would not be back on yet. And I guess one of those things I didn't mention, because it wasn't really personal safety, but maybe just go early vote.
BLITZER: Early voting is a good idea always.
All right, thanks very much, Chad.
We'll stay in very close touch with you. Frankenstorm, as they're calling it.
Only a dozen days are left in this presidential race and the candidates are doing all they can to try to make a difference.
Mitt Romney is in the crucial swing state of Ohio.
President Obama is hitting three battleground states today. But just minutes from now, the president will also appear in his home state of Illinois to cast his early ballot. Meantime, his campaign is calling in the heavy artillery. That would be the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.
Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us from Chicago right now, where the president is getting ready to vote.
What's the latest -- Brianna?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
They will be campaigning together, the first time of this cycle, on Monday, going into a crucial week for President Obama. And President Obama highlighting his relationship with the popular former president, telling "Rolling Stone" magazine that "Our relationship is terrific." He said, "I'm talking to him regularly and he's giving me good advice."
And, Wolf, I'll tell you, I spoke just a short time ago with a source close to President Clinton who said they are getting along very well, they have been speaking more. And President Obama really needs this, especially when you consider the latest Gallup favorable poll has him at 52 percent. For President Clinton, 17 points higher.
KEILAR: (voice-over): For President Obama, there is no more powerful surrogate than President Clinton -- something he acknowledged to "Rolling Stone" in an interview released today.
"The last time we had healthy broad-based growth was when he was president and people remember that, so he can say things that people immediately grab onto," Obama told the magazine.
That's why Clinton stars in campaign ads.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY OBAMA FOR AMERICA)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: He headlines fundraisers and rallies, this one last week with Bruce Springsteen. And for the first time, Monday, he and President Obama will hit the campaign trail together, visiting Florida, Ohio and Virginia, as they kick off the last full week before Election Day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has particular appeal in the African- American community, and I would guess, among suburban women, the kind of folks who are torn. I think Bill Clinton could enter this, uh -- uh, decision and be a significant asset for the president.
KEILAR: Of course it hasn't always been a rosy relationship. In May, Clinton undercut the Obama campaign's main argument that Mitt Romney's business experience does not qualify him to lead the country.
B. CLINTON: A man who's been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.
KEILAR: And back in 2007, as then Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went head-to-head in the Democratic primaries, Bill Clinton took aim at Obama's inexperience.
B. CLINTON: I mean, when is the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?
KEILAR: In early 2008, Obama won Iowa and entered an all-out feud with the former first couple.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm here, he's not.
OBAMA: OK, well, I can't...
H. CLINTON: And I... OBAMA: -- tell who I'm running against sometimes.
H. CLINTON: -- I, you know, no...
KEILAR: But fast forward four years. Clinton gave one of the most rousing speeches in support of Obama at the convention.
B. CLINTON: I want to nominate a man who's cool on the outside...
B. CLINTON: -- but who burns for America on the inside.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
KEILAR: And that, Wolf, as you know, has very much been President Clinton's role for President Obama, testifying, in a way, on his behalf. And shortly after Clinton gave that speech at the convention, President Obama joked about a suggestion he got that he should appoint Clinton to his cabinet as the secretary of explaining things -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good report, Brianna.
We're showing our viewers a live picture from Chicago. This is the Martin Luther King Community Center in Chicago. It's the First Congressional district, Congressman Bobby Rush's district.
The president of the United States, we're told, has now arrived there. He's going to be walking in fairly soon and voting, getting ready to vote. I assume we know who he's going to vote for, for president of the United States. But he's also going to vote for local elections, statewide elections. He's got some voting to do. So we'll watch this picture and see what unfolds.
Where does he go, Brianna, from here after he leaves Chicago?
KEILAR: After this, Wolf, he's going to be making another campaign stop. He's made two today, as you know. And, actually, I'm having a hard time keeping track of them. But next, he's going to be heading to...
BLITZER: I think he spends the night.
KEILAR: -- Cleveland, Ohio, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know...
KEILAR: Obviously a very...
BLITZER: -- I think he spends the night in Washington. It's -- I think, eventually, he winds up at the White House tonight.
KEILAR: He -- that's right. Yes, a very long day, heading to Ohio, which will be his third stop. He's been all over the map. And as you know, he came from a red eye last night.
But it's interesting he's voting here in Illinois, which began early voting on Monday. But, of course, it's not really Illinois voters that he's talking to. He's really talking to the voters of Ohio and also Florida, where he was earlier today. Florida begins early voting on Saturday. Ohio, it's been going -- it's -- early voting has been underway for a while there. And this is really him trying to lead by example. And, really, it's, in a way, almost an advertisement for how you go about early voting and reminding people that, you know, if he's doing it, they should be heading out to do it, too -- Wolf.
BLITZER: This relationship that the current president has with the former Democratic president, Bill Clinton is a very, very sensitive subject.
Our own contributor Ryan Lizza, of "The New Yorker" magazine, has written extensively on it. He's standing by. He's going to be joining us. You know what, we'll wait to see what happens when the president shows up. He's there some place inside that building right now, the Martin Luther King Community Center in Chicago. We'll have a picture of him voting.
You can see all the political operatives there. They're getting ready for the president of the United States.
BLITZER: These are live pictures. The president is getting ready to vote. The woman behind the counter just asked for a photo I.D. of the president of the United States. He took out his wallet. He took something out. It looked like a driver's license. He made the comment, something along the lines, ignore the gray hair that he currently has.
So you know what, let's listen in a little bit and see if we can eavesdrop on the president.
OBAMA: -- don't have to take off time from work. And they can arrange it around their schedule.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Yes.
OBAMA: It really is really good, really, important. So we appreciate you guys.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We appreciate you, too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very, very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here you go.
OBAMA: I'm just glad I renewed my driver's license.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- I hear you drove around the...
OBAMA: I did. I -- I drove around the South -- the South Lawn.
OBAMA: Yes. It was fun. I couldn't go more than 25 miles an hour.
OBAMA: Did you just look and see?
OBAMA: Did you just see that?
How about that?
Thank you. All right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
OBAMA: It's a lot of pressure, is it?
OBAMA: OK. So I put this in? So what do I do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. They'll direct you from here, sir.
OBAMA: I'm sure you're familiar with the touch screen?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So the president's got his card. He's going to insert it and he's going to go ahead and vote. There's a whole bunch of candidates out there including himself that he's going to vote for. We obviously have no idea who he's going to vote for in some of the other districts. I assume it's going to be Democrats all along the way. But you never know. He could vote for anyone he wants. It's a secret, secret ballot in Chicago.
Ryan Lizza is here, our contributor from the "New Yorker" magazine, reported extensively on the president. Brianna Keilar, our White House correspondent, is still with us as well.
As we await the president, I want to hear what he says after he finishes voting. It could take a while. A bunch of candidates out there that he's probably voting for.
Ryan, this relationship that he's had with Bill Clinton, he's bringing Bill Clinton pretty aggressively in these final few days. What are they -- what does he hope Bill Clinton can achieve for him?
RYAN LIZZA, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE: Well, wait, one thing to point out, Wolf, before I get to that is one of the people on the ballot that you mentioned before is Bobby Rush. So it's a day -- it's a week of old rivals for President Obama. Bobby Rush is still the only candidate that's ever beaten Barack Obama in an election.
BLITZER: He's the incumbent Democratic congressman from that first congressional district in Chicago.
LIZZA: That's right. That's right. In fact, after redistricting in Illinois, you know, Bobby Rush and some of the other Democrats actually carved Obama's house out of that district so he couldn't challenge him the next time around.
You know, Bill Clinton, what he brings, one, he's the best communicator in the Democratic Party. Which I think partially is an indictment of some of the other Democrats because there seems to be a general consensus that Clinton makes the case better for this White House and for the president than anyone else can.
And then as Stu Rothenberg was talking about in that piece before, he does -- he's very strong with some of the Democrat -- demographic groups that the president needs right now, one, women. Romney has picked up some support among women since that first debate. And Obama's battling to win some of them back. And then a second group would be some of the older voters, older male voters Obama's really struggled with the last few years.
And Clinton's pretty good going down there to Florida and making the case for Obama among those folks as well.
BLITZER: And despite four years ago when they had a slightly strained relationship when Hillary Clinton was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, I think their relationship has improved. And I know from my own inside sources --
BLITZER: -- former President Clinton is ready to help do whatever the campaign asks him to do.
We're watching the president vote as other citizens are doing in that first congressional district in Chicago, and around the country.
You know, it's interesting, Ryan, the president decided to do this early, go to Chicago early.
BLITZER: Make this side trip from the battleground states, Illinois not being one of those battleground states. He could have voted on election day when he'll be back in Chicago, but I think the goal, the goal right now is to encourage folks all over the country to engage in early balloting because the Democrats think they have an advantage on this front. Do they? LIZZA: Yes. Man, the Obama campaign is absolutely obsessed with organizing around early voting in these swing states. I was in Chicago recently, Wolf, doing some interviews and I sat down with Jim Messina, the campaign manager. One of the first things he did was, take a look at this, and he showed me a chart of all of the states, all the swing states and the early voting deadlines and the percentages in 2008. So it showed how many voters voted early and how many people showed up and voted on election day.
And you know, places like Colorado and Nevada already more than a majority in 2008 were voting early rather than on election day. And they're goal is to get some of those other states in that territory. They want to find those sporadic voters. The voters that are really tough to target. And they want to get them voting early. So on election day their job is a little bit easier. They can just stick to polling to the polls the more partisan Democrats, the ones that are more reliable.
So it's really changed everything now, Wolf. Election -- you know, the sort of ground game that happens at the end of these elections is now almost a month long rather than just that final day.
BLITZER: Looks like the president is having one issue. He's asked for some advice it looks like from one of the workers there at that polling station in Chicago. He's been going through and he's been asking -- let's listen in.
OBAMA: Is that your wife?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. That's my wife, sir.
OBAMA: Just want to make sure. You can always take that phone call.
BLITZER: It looks like they're working on a little technical issue. I'm not exactly familiar with obviously but there could be some issue there at that polling station in Chicago.
Brianna Keilar is on the scene in Chicago for us. Our White House correspondent.
Brianna, the stay in Chicago is going to be relatively brief. I don't know what else -- does he have any other events in Chicago besides voting?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. This is it. This is the whole point of his visit to Chicago. Obviously Illinois not a battleground state, Wolf. And right now where you see him voting, this is about a mile and a half from his home in the Hyde Park Kenwood neighborhood. And he's come here to Illinois just really to vote.
You heard him speak. And I -- this really struck me when we took the president live as he was starting to talk to the poll workers and he said --
BLITZER: All right. Hold on a second. Hold on one second, Brianna. I just want to see what he says.
KEILAR: You know, so this is -- actually, let's listen in.
OBAMA: You have not yet early voted? I just want everybody to see what an incredibly efficient process this was, thanks to the outstanding folks who are at this particular polling place. Obviously folks in Illinois can take advantage of this. But all across the country we're seeing a lot of early voting.
It means you don't have to, you know, figure out whether you need to take time off work, figure out how to pick up the kids and still cast your ballot. If something happens on election day, you will have already taken care of it. If it's bad weather, you won't get wet. Or in Chicago, snowy. But this was really convenient. I can't tell you who I voted for. But I very much appreciate everybody here.
It's good to be home back in the neighborhood. Chuck. It's good to see all our local press. All right? We appreciate you, guys. I miss you, guys. All right? Let's take a picture with everybody. Is that allowed? We got to figure out whether this was -- I think it's allowed. All right. I think it's allowed. I think it's all right. But I can't -- you guys got to -- you can't be behind the -- let me -- let me shake everybody's hands.
What's your name? Good to see you. Nice to see you again. Nice to see you, sir. OK.
BLITZER: All right. So the president doing a little campaigning, it looks like, over there with the workers. He's going to take a photo. We see the official White House photographer over there as well. Having a good time, making a pitch for early voting.
And as we've been pointing out, Brianna, the White House, the Obama campaign, they really believe this early voting is going to benefit the Democrats as opposed to the Republicans.
KEILAR: They do. And this is a carefully orchestrated moment, Wolf, which is the president starring himself in almost this how-to guide on how to early vote. That's what really strikes me. He's touting the benefits of it. And this is because his campaign feels that they really have the advantage. They've stressed early voting a lot historically. Republicans have stressed absentee voting.
And by stressing the early voting and really trying to bring a Democratic heavy turnout, it allows the campaign to try and claim that they have some momentum, that they have enthusiasm. And sometimes as you know these things are cyclical. You claim enthusiasm, maybe you create enthusiasm. And that's part of what they're trying to do here. And the way they feel, Wolf, they think there's no one better to really carry the message of exactly how to early vote than the president himself.
And, yes, he's in Illinois. But who's he talking to? He's talking to voters in Ohio where early voting is underway. He's talking to voters in Florida where early voting begins on Saturday -- Wolf. BLITZER: I don't think he has to worry about carrying his home state of Illinois. He'll carry Illinois.
BLITZER: He's taking some pictures with some of the volunteers and the staff over there at that polling station, the Martin Luther King Community Center in Chicago, in his home district. That's the first congressional district in Chicago.
The president of the United States taking a picture. We're watching all of this. Ryan Lizza has been with us. Brianna Keilar has been with us. Let's take a quick break. We have a lot more news coming up including major developments happening in Africa and the Middle East. A weapons factory is bombed in Sudan. Why it could be the latest example of Israel's long reach in a shadow war with Iran.
BLITZER: A thousand miles from any of the front lines between Israel and Hamas, mysterious explosions level an arms factory in Sudan. Did Israel destroy weapons long before they could reach Gaza?
Our Brian Todd has been looking into this story for us.
Brian, what are you finding out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are indications that the Israelis may, in fact, have done that. But if they did, this has a wider reach than just the fight between Israel and Hamas. Analysts say this is likely part of a wider covert war that also involves Iran.
TODD (voice-over): A series of big explosions overnight in the Sudanese capital. What was this facility?
COL. AL-SAWARMI KHALID SAAD, SUDANESE MILITARY SPOKESMAN (Through Translator: An explosion occurred in one of the ammunition depots at the military of industrialization arms factory.
TODD: A weapon-making factory called Yarmouk. Witnesses in Khartoum tell CNN they saw planes above the facility at the time of the incident Tuesday night. One said he saw a plane leading with bright lights, then a second plane fired a rocket. Sudanese officials say two people were killed.
The Information minister says, "We think Israel did the bombing." CNN cannot independently verify that claim. There is a chance the Sudanese aren't telling the truth given the history in the region of blaming Israel for many things.
The Israelis aren't talking. Here's Israel's defense minister.
EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER (Through Translator): I have nothing to say about that. TODD (on camera): How do you interpret that remark?
MICHAEL EISENSTADT, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE OF NEAR-EAST POLICY: Well, the Israelis are not denying that they were involved in this. So I take that as kind of a wink, kind of a, you know, semi-acknowledgment.
TODD (voice-over): Middle East security expert Michael Eisenstadt says if the Israelis did this, it would be the latest chapter in what he calls a war in the shadows between Israel and the U.S. on one side and Iran and its allies like Sudan on the other.
(On camera): Eisenstadt and other analysts believe that Iran may have either been assisting in the production of weapons at that factory in Khartoum or smuggling weapons through Sudan over land through Egypt to Gaza where they wind up in the hands of Israel's enemy, the militant group Hamas.
(Voice-over): Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables published by the group WikiLeaks indicate U.S. and Israeli officials have also believed that. One cable from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv in April of 2009 says of the weapons flow to Hamas the Egyptians know that the arms pipeline runs from Iran to Sudan to Egypt.
I asked Eisenstadt how effective the flow of weapons is.
EISENSTADT: Seems pretty clear Hamas is continuing to receive arms. And not just Hamas, these other groups, these more radical southeast jihadist groups that are involved in the shooting rockets at Israel. And so the Iranians have been trying to get arms from Libya to Gaza. They're getting arms via Sudan to Gaza.
TODD: Contacted by CNN an official at Iran's mission to the U.N. strongly rejected what he called those baseless allegations. We tried repeatedly but could not get Sudanese officials in Washington and at the U.N. to respond to the claims that their country is working with Iran to smuggle weapons to Hamas -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It is widespread an assumption that this would not necessarily be the first time Israel has struck inside Sudan.
TODD: That's right, Wolf. There are strong indications that they have done that before. In 2009 at least one convoy carrying weapons in Sudan was targeted from the air. It was widely believed that Israel carried out that strike to disrupt a flow of weapons to Gaza. And last year an airstrike killed two people in a car in Port Sudan in both incidents -- well, in the latest incident last year, those people were believed to be weapons traffickers. In neither incident did Israel comment one way or the other. They didn't confirm nor deny it.
BLITZER: Yes. And they're not saying anything right now.
BLITZER: I'm going to sleep silent as they say.
BLITZER: We invited Israeli officials to come on the show. They declined at least for now.
TODD: They don't often talk about these things.
BLITZER: I heard Ehud Barak on Israeli television say he has nothing to say about this.
TODD: That's right. Exactly.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Mitt Romney's campaign is reportedly hiring more than 100 officials for his transition to the White House. Is that a little too optimistic at this point? Ari Fleischer and Hilary Rosen, they are standing by.
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session." Joining us Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and Ari Fleischer, he was the White House press secretary during the George Bush administration. Both are CNN contributors.
Guys, thanks for coming in. Let me pick your brain, Ari, I'll go to you first on this comment that the president made in the current new issue of "Rolling Stone" magazine. I'll put it up on the screen. He said -- he used a bad word. He said, "You know, kids have good instincts. They look at the other guy and say, well, that's a bull." And then he used the bad word, I can tell, B.S. or shall we say.
I asked David Axelrod, the top campaign adviser to the Obama campaign, about it. The interview is going to air in the next hour, but listen to what David said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, I think he was referring to the practice of sliding around trying to change positions to offering yourself as a champion for the middle class when your policies would pummel the middle class, trying to walk away from positions in the eleventh hour.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's basically saying he's a flip-flopper, a chameleon. You can't trust a word he's saying. What do you say, Ari?
ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, I don't like it. I don't like it one bit. I'm old fashioned about these things and I just don't think you swear when you're talking to a reporter. You just don't if you're the president of the United States. It's one thing in private among people that you know. Everybody does it. But when you're the president, you are a role model. And when you're talking to a reporter -- I'm very surprised President Obama is disciplined. He dropped his guard. He dropped his discipline. It's not what the presidency, it's below his office.
BLITZER: He was talking to Doug Brinkley, the presidential historian who wrote the article for "Rolling Stone" magazine.
Hilary, what do you say?
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I say this is much ado about nothing. You know, he was talking about kids. I think he was being loose. Kids say the darnedest things and presidents talking about kids try and relate. But you know, there's lots of news today that's actual news. And you know when we look at things like the president having the endorsement again of Colin Powell, the most decorated independent in the country, saying that Romney actually is a moving target.
So, you know, the facts are the facts. When they're -- when they're said by respected people, that he actually can't be trusted and -- to speak correctly and consistently on issues as important as foreign policy, which obviously General Powell knows a lot about. So I think we could complain about the president saying it, but really the substance of his charge is one that's sticking pretty well.
BLITZER: But, Hilary, I think you'll agree that it's inappropriate for a president to use that word at least in public.
ROSEN: Well, yes. But I just don't see it as a big issue at this point.
BLITZER: Let me play a clip for you.
FLEISCHER: Go ahead. Just say it.
BLITZER: Ari, I want you to --
FLEISCHER: You don't have to distance yourself.
BLITZER: Ari, I want you to respond -- I want you to respond, but I'll play the clip from Colin Powell this morning when he explained why he wants President Obama re-elected. And I'll remind you and our viewers, you worked with -- you served with then-secretary of state Powell during the first term of the Bush administration. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Not only am I not comfortable with what Governor Romney is proposing for his economic plan, I have concerns about his using foreign policy. The governor who was speaking on Monday night at the debate was saying things that were quite different than what he said earlier. So I'm not quite sure which Governor Romney we would be getting with respect to foreign policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Ari, I'll let you respond.
FLEISCHER: Well, you know, look. I think the only issue is, does this matter? Does it have impact on the voters? In 2008 Colin Powell's endorsement was a really moving event because a lot of people were judging, is Barack Obama up to the standard of this job, people wanted change, is Barack Obama ready? And Colin Powell was the good housekeeping seal of good approval.
Everything is different now, though. I think when Colin Powell says about a sitting president, it doesn't have that much impact. Him saying that about Mitt Romney, you know, these types of criticisms or endorsements from third parties even those as represented as Colin Powell just don't have that much impact in politics anymore. This race is really between the president and the governor. And it's up to the two of them to hit the finish line. I don't really think there's anybody in politics today who can push somebody across that finish line other than themselves.
BLITZER: Although I suspect that -- and Hilary, I want to move on, but I suspect if General Powell had endorsed Mitt Romney --
ROSEN: Yes, you'd expect Ari to say anything differently.
BLITZER: It would have been a different deal or it would have been a different analysis. But let's move on. This was intriguing to me. I read it earlier this morning in Politico. And I knew something was going on. I didn't appreciate how much was going on.
Hilary, the Romney campaign now has more than 100 people already working aggressively on a transition, a transition between November 6th and January 20th if Romney wins. And he's sworn in as the next president of the United States.
Is that overly optimistic? Is that business as usual? They've got office space galore. They're looking at resumes, they're getting ready for a win.
ROSEN: Well, there's actually in government a fairly routine process for this. So I'll -- you know, I'm not going to fault the Romney campaign for doing what they ought to be doing which is, if they did win, you know, you'd want as a country them to be ready to start.
What I find un-amusing and really silly is that they're sort of publicizing their boastful expectations of winning and suggesting that, you know, this is somehow maybe all but over. That they're certain they're going to win. And you know, refiguring the polls to do so and all of that, and to make the connection between the two.
So, yes, it's a appropriate to have quiet thoughtful planning. Every presidential candidate did it including Barack Obama. But to tie it to this sort of we're all but measuring the curtains right now, folks, this election is over, when it is, you know, President Obama that's clearly ahead in enough battleground states to give him the electoral votes. I find that distasteful.
BLITZER: Because you hear a lot of Democrats like Hilary, Ari, say this is just psychological warfare. They're trying to project that a win is eminent but it's not based on reality.
FLEISCHER: I think Hilary is half right. This is good government. And this is a statute. This was passed by the Congress, signed by the president, I don't remember if it was President Bush or President Obama, but it's the law of the land to give them the funds before the election, taxpayer funds, and these are taxpayer provided officers, so if a challenger wins or an open seat whoever wins, can hit the ground running and serve the country.
But, you know, I don't think the Romney people were bragging or boasting. I think this was entrepreneurial reporting. I think a reporter just wrote up a smart story about this. The Romney people are not bragging about it. I know them. They're very superstitious. This type of thing they know is not where their focus is. In fact, it's a lot of different people. It's not the campaign people who are part of the transition. They hope to become part of the transition. But it really is something that they're not looking at or focused on.
A reporter broke a good story, an interesting story, but it's not right to say that the Romney people are measuring curtains. They're doing everything they can here in 12 days to win an election.
BLITZER: Mike Lovett, the former secretary of Health and Human Services, a Republican obviously, is heading that transition for the Romney campaign.
BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
ROSEN: OK. Thank you.
BLITZER: President Obama has a hefty advantage when it comes to Latino voters. We all know that. But that might not necessarily matter in Florida. How the Obama campaign may be making a risky bet. We'll explain when we come back.
BLITZER: President Obama's multi-state marathon today began in Florida. CNN contributor John Avlon is joining us now from Jacksonville.
John, you wrote in your "Daily Beast" column today that the president is making a risky bet when it comes to targeting voters. How is that playing where you are in Florida?
JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, I'll tell you, yesterday "Des Moines Register," it came out and President Obama essentially said that if he's reelected it'll be due to his outreach to Latino voters and the fact that Mitt Romney seems to have alienated them with some of his primary positions.
Here in Florida the stakes couldn't be higher, 22.9 percent of the population right now is Latino. Up 400,000 from just four years ago. But of course Florida is an especially complex state when it comes to Latino voters. The south famously Cuban, conservative. But up north in the central, central part of the state, the I-4 corridor, there's a lot of Latin American immigrants and also Puerto Rico citizens. They tend to vote Democrat.
So we've actually had a tipping point. More Hispanic voters in Florida now registered Democrat and Republican for the first time, but it is a big risky bet. It's one of the many factors at play here when you're calculating on ground game, get out the vote, and outreach to your core supporters. The Obama campaign betting big on the Latino community.
BLITZER: John, the economy in middle parts of Florida, the northern part of Florida, showing some signs of improvement. But voters you've been talking to I understand are still split pretty evenly, aren't they?
AVLON: They really are, Wolf. I mean these are -- these are -- the undecideds we've spoken to are largely informed voters and the economy is foremost on their mind. Here in Florida you hear something you see around the country, which is a sense that yes, the economy is improving. We've come out of the trough, the worst of it is behind us. But a lot of voters are frustrated at the pace of the recovery.
The folks that are leaning Obama say, you know, maybe he needs four more years to really implement his plan. He seems to have taken us out of the worst of it. On the other hand the folks leaning Romney say, you know what, it's not improving fast enough. It's time to hire a businessman to finish the job, Mitt Romney.
Those are the kind of rhetoric you've been hearing. What all of them say, Wolf, is no matter who wins this election, we've got to find a way to work with Congress and get Washington working together again after this divisive, tough election.
BLITZER: Wouldn't that be nice? Let's see what happens. John Avlon with the CNN Election Express for us in Florida right now. John, thank you.
A medical firm whose products was used in about 100,000 surgeries a year now stands accused of paying doctors who wrote favorable articles in medical journals. We have the alarming results of a congressional investigation.
BLITZER: A major manufacturer of medical equipment used in spine surgery is being accused of actually writing favorable articles in medical journals about one of its back surgery products, a gel used in about 100,000 surgeries a year. A Senate Finance Committee report released today also says the company paid huge amounts of money to some of the doctors who supposedly co-wrote the articles. Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations Unit tried to track down one doctor who pocketed millions. Drew is joining us right now.
So, what happened, Drew?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, his name is Thomas Zdeblick, and according to his staff at the University of Wisconsin, he was supposed to show up at the National Conference Spine Society in Dallas yesterday. He didn't show and has yet to return any of our calls. Zdeblick who heads the university's orthopedics department was paid $34 million alone from 1996 through 2010. He's one of the dozen doctors paid by the company Medtronic.
According to the University of Wisconsin, the doctor made the money based on patents and royalties from a piece of surgical equipment he developed with Medtronic, not from those articles.
The Senate, though, specifically says Zdeblick co-authored articles that the Senate believes deliberately misled the public about the dangers of a treatment called infused, and, in fact, Wolf, the Senate says the articles were written by Medtronic's marketing department, not by doctors.
Both the doctor and Medtronic issued statements denying the allegations, but the editor of the "Spine Journal," which first reported much of this back in June of last year says the investigation is a black eye on all spine surgeons and medical journalists for that matter. And it shouldn't be tolerated.
DR. EUGENE CARAGEE, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: The question of clinical review and the question of how the journalists were able to review it. The Senate specifically said that they thought that at least one of the journals, the journal that I'm the editor of, may have been specifically mislead in the review process.
GRIFFIN: What would you say to the doctors, many of whom who are here right now? Who are paid millions and millions and, in some cases, tens of millions of dollars to put their stamp on what we now know are inadequate, incomplete or misleading articles?
CARAGEE: Well, I think it's sad. I think it's -- I don't think we lived up to the expectations as a profession. Both in the editorial and in reviewing the articles to publication and in being an author. And I think it would be hard to say that it is ethical in today's environment to have that sort of input from a sponsor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Wolf, among the information that was downplayed or missing was evidence that this treatment Infuse could cause cancer, sterility, some cases lethal swelling of the throat in off label usage. Medtronic issued a statement saying it disagrees with many of the findings of the Senate report. The Senate, though, calling for complete transparency in medical journals.
In other words, Wolf, if a doctor is getting paid $34 million by a medical company to review that medical company's products, that, says the Senate, should be disclosed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I've heard similar things, maybe not as outrageous, over the years. How widespread is this problem?
GRIFFIN: You know, it's hard to tell, but we've seen many cases, especially in major drug company cases that the U.S. Department of Justice has prosecuted where some of this information is or is not being passed on to doctors and other journals of medicine based on whether or not it's going to paint that product in a good light or a bad light. And especially when you have doctors' finances tied to the product, they're saying it just should not be done.
BLITZER: It shouldn't be done at all. Drew, thanks very much for that report.
The Romney campaign says President Obama is diminishing the office of the presidency. So what is David Axelrod's response? You're going to find out.