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Rich, Famous, And Powerful Victims; Obama Takes Outreach Campaign To Capitol Hill; Outreach Campaign "A Joke"?; Sarah Palin to Release Christmas Book

Aired March 12, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a senior White House official reportedly called President Obama's new outreach campaign a joke. In a shocking new article the White House will respond. We'll have a live interview with a senior adviser to the president, Dan Pfeiffer, this hour.

Personal information belonging to celebrities from Beyonce to the first lady, Michelle Obama allegedly hacked. We have details on FBI and Secret Service investigations that are now under way.

North Korea threatens to show its enemies, quote, "What a real war is like." We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

At this hour, the FBI and the Secret Service, they are launching massive investigations alleged personal information like Social Security numbers, phone number, credit card reports all from -- people posted on the internet. That is what is now being investigated. The high-profile victims include the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, the Vice President Joe Biden among many others. Our own Brian Todd has been digging into this story.

He's walking into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. It's a pretty shocking story when you think about what's going on. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a law enforcement official says investigators are taking this seriously enough that they are going after the records of internet service providers. We cannot confirm that all of the financial data for these celebrities being posted on this website is accurate, but two credit agencies say their information was accessed without authorization.


TODD (voice-over): Kim Kardashian's auto loan, Michelle Obama's student loan and credit report, Ashton Kutcher's mortgage, Beyonce's address and phone number. A website with a ghoulish-looking girl on the main page is listing information that claims as the financial data of those celebrities and more. Some of Attorney General Eric Holder's information is on there.

We cannot verify that this data is accurate, but the credit agency, Equifax, confirms its reports for four individuals were accessed without authorization. Another credit agency, Trans Union, tells us its information was breached when sophisticated perpetrators posed as account holders on the internet.

EVAN HENDRICKS, AUTHOR, "CREDIT SCORES & CREDIT REPORTS" This is a grotesque invasion of privacy because this is the most private information on anyone you can find in one document.

TODD: Privacy expert, Evan Hendricks, wrote a book on credit scores.

This claims to be Michelle Obama's credit report. Does this look legitimate to you?

HENDRICKS: It clearly looks legit. Only the individual can know for sure if it's his or her own credit report, but if I had to bet, I'd say this is legit.

TODD: Regarding Michelle Obama as well as Vice President Biden and Hillary Clinton, the secret service and FBI are investigating if the information on the website is theirs, and if so, how it got there. A law enforcement official tells CNN investigators will try to get records from internet service providers.

We reached out to representatives for Kim Kardashian, Ashton Kutcher, Beyonce and Jay-Z. We either didn't hear back or got a no comment from them. This kind of attack has a name.

(on-camera) Experts say what this could be is what's called a DOX attack. In simple slang term, it's spelled D-O-X- or D-O-X-X. What it is is when people get personal information of yours unannounced (ph) to you, not necessarily through hacking and just put it online for all the world to see.

(voice-over) Experts say perpetrators do that by first getting your Social Security number or date of birth from another source by hacking or other means, then they either call a credit agency or go online posing as you to get all the financial data they can. Some information like property records is already public. I asked former justice department cybercrime prosecutor, Mark Zwillinger, how we can protect ourselves.

MARK ZWILLINGER, FORMER CYBERCRIME PROSECUTOR: The way to do that is to either put a credit freeze on your credit report or pay for a credit monitoring service. A credit monitoring service will let you know whenever someone is trying to open up a credit account in your name.


TODD (on-camera): How does law enforcement actually catch these people? Zwillinger says they'll check with credit agencies, banks and other firms to see if there are insiders leaking personal information. If it's a case of hacking, he says, they'll trace the digital footprint to IP addresses databases with the information to see if they've been compromised, Wolf. BLITZER: The website not just posting the sensitive information, but according to experts, actually taunting some of these celebrities?

TODD: That's right. And we actually went on that website and you can see it on there. When you click a celebrity's name, sometimes, the file shows an unflattering picture of that person. In Michelle Obama's file, there's notation that says, "Michelle blame your husband, but we still love you."

The file of the L.A. police chief on that website has pictures of protests and criticism over the handling of the case of Christopher Dorner, the ex-cop who went on a rampage there. So, they're going after these people with zings and things like that, as well.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, what a story. Thanks very much. I know you're going to continue investigating this. Appreciate it very much.

So, certainly not clear how much, if any, of the information posted on this website is accurate, but there's no doubt the FBI and the secret service are taking it all very seriously right now. Only the high-profile victims know if the information is real or accurate. Either way, it's scary and it could happen to you as well.

Let's bring in our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. How worried should average folks be about the possibility that their sensitive information could be hacked, if you will?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, Wolf, look, this is a real wake-up call, I think, to the American people. This happens every day to average American, we just don't hear about it. We're hearing about it because of who these people are, but you know, there are steps you can take.

Think of the many accounts that you have, Wolf, on the internet and you often use them linked to the same e-mails and with the same passwords because it's just easier to remember. It's important that people understand changing your password and using upper and lower case, using numbers, simple things make it much more difficult to hack.

BLITZER: The secret service is investigating now. The FBI is investigating. Is it likely, is it possible they're going to actually find those responsible for this.

TOWNSEND: It depends on how that information was obtained. If it was digitally hacked, yes, it is likely they'll be able to trace their way back to a specific ISP and trace that to an individual. Their cybercrimes units do this all the time. But if it was some other way, if they were able to steal the Social Security number and date of birth and then you called some of the credit agencies and were able to in an unauthorized way get access, that maybe more difficult.

BLITZER: Is it for sure that laws were violated in posting this kind of information?

TOWNSEND: It's likely, Wolf, but again, until we have more facts about exactly how this was done, it's difficult to say, but it's likely that there's some sort of wire fraud involved.

BLITZER: If it involves like -- the first lady or the vice president of the United States, is there a different standard than if it involve average people?

TOWNSEND: No. That -- the different standard really comes in if it's a physical threat. You know, you can't threaten to hurt the first lady or the president of the United States or federal official, for that matter, but in terms of the hacking, itself, I'm not sure that you'd look for a statute that applied some different standard because of who they are.

BLITZER: So, what should the government be doing now to deal with this situation because almost every day we're hearing more and more of these reports?

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, Wolf, just today, there was the annual terror threat hearing and Barbara Starr talked about that and cybercrime, cyber espionage was high on the list. Many are arguing it was higher on the list than terrorism is now. Look, this isn't really when it's your personal information, it's not usually the government's problem. The government does an awful lot to educate -- the government does a lot in terms of the ability to enforce laws and investigate crimes.

But Americans, if they're going to put their information on the internet and they're going to use the internet for commercial transactions has to take personal responsibility for trying to protect it. The credit agencies, this is a huge problem for them. They do have -- they have both a legal and a commercial responsibility to protect your information, and this is a real problem for them and they may have liability.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, good information from you. Thank you.

TOWNSEND: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: When we come back, a senior White House official reportedly calls President Obama's new outreach campaign, and I'm quoting now, "a joke." My interview with the journalist behind that shocking quote in that article that's coming up.

Plus, the former basketball star, Dennis Rodman, guess what, he's now planning a vacation with his new friend, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un.


BLITZER: President Obama is taking his new outreach campaign directly to Capitol Hill just as leading Republicans are reviving parts of their agenda from the 2012 presidential campaign. His former rival, the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, unveiled a new budget proposal today, sounding a lot like he did back out there on the campaign trail last year.

Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us live from Capitol Hill right now. Dana, what's the latest that's going on because there's a lot of activity.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There sure is. And you know, Wolf, one of the main reasons Mitt Romney says that he picked Paul Ryan as his running mate in the last campaign season is because Ryan is considered one of the smartest minds and best spokespeople on the issue of Republican economic principles. And today, Ryan doubled down on those ideas.


BASH (voice-over): If all this looks familiar, it should.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) BUDGET CHAIRMAN: The House Budget Committee Republican majority putting out yet again a budget that addresses America's needs.

BASH: There are some differences between this Paul Ryan budget and those in years past. The biggest, the Election Day smackdown Ryan and Mitt Romney got four months ago. He pushed the same economic policies in that campaign and lost.

RYAN: The election didn't go our way. Believe me, I know what that feels like.


RYAN: That means we surrender our principles? That means we stop believing in what we believe in? What we believe in this divided government era, we need to put out our vision.

BASH: What's in that vision? Cutting spending by $4.6 trillion over ten years and cutting taxes for everyone, especially the wealthy, revamping Medicare into a new system of government subsidized private health plans for those 55 and younger, eliminating the federal Medicaid program for the poor and disabled and replacing it with lump sum payments to the states.

RYAN: This is a document, a plan that balanced the budget in ten years.

BASH: But to reach that new ten-year goal, Ryan incorporates money from tax increases he campaigned against, but Obama won as part of the fiscal cliff deal.

RYAN: Watch out middle class, the tax bill is coming to you.

(on-camera) You say that you balanced it in ten years in part by using $600 billion in new taxes that you oppose. Isn't that disingenuous?

RYAN: Not at all. We're not going tore- fight the past because we know that that's behind us.

BASH (voice-over): He also assumes Obamacare is repealed which has no chance of happening in the near future. At the same time, he still counts $760 billion in Obamacare cuts and Medicare, the very cuts Ryan spoke out against in his vice presidential acceptance speech.

RYAN: $716 billion funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed.

BASH: Democrats from Capitol Hill to the White House were quick to call Ryan's budget a bunch of gimmicks and misguided policies. But the White House is in the midst of a charm offensive so they also say this.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president certainly believes that Congressman Ryan is sincere in what he believes his budget represents in terms of policy priorities, and he commends Congressman Ryan for the effort.


BASH (on-camera): Now we're going to see a stark contrast and approach to the nation's fiscal woes tomorrow, Wolf. Senate Democrats are going to unveil their budget, and no surprise, it is going to follow along classically Democratic principles.

For example, instead of tax cuts, we're going to see a proposal for one trillion, trillion with a T, dollars in tax increases. And I should also note that this is the first time Senate Democrats will release a budget in four years.

BLITZER: And the president will then release his own budget in early April. So, there'll be a lot of stuff floating around there. What is the hope that before that debt ceiling has to be raised at the end of July, they'll come up with some sort of grand bargain, if you will?

BASH: You know, it is going to be a very different kind of scene than we've seen in years past in that we are seeing the way it's supposed to work here. The House unveiled its budget and we're going to see a vote there. The Senate unveiled its budget, we're going to see a vote there, and then, they're going to try to come together and negotiate in public as opposed to a private between the president and the speaker and, you know, we know from recent history that has not gone well.

So, it will be very, very different and we'll see if that helps to bring them together, but as you just saw, they could not be further apart where they stand right now when they're just laying out their political, philosophical principles and how to deal with this.

BLITZER: In our next hour, we'll speak with Sen. Patty Murray. She's the chair of the Senate Budget Committee. We'll get an inside into her thinking on her budget proposal that will be released tomorrow. Thanks very much for that, Dana Bash, up on Capitol Hill.

Paul Ryan and House Republicans aren't the only ones stealing at least some of the president's thunder up on Capitol Hill. A senior White House official now reportedly criticizing the outreach campaign in a pretty shocking new article. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And Ron Fournier is joining us right now, the editorial director of the "National Journal." Ron, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Your piece today caused quite a little stir when you quote a senior White House official who you obviously don't name. He requested or she requested anonymity. You quote this official is saying about the president's so-called charm offensive, "This is a joke. We're wasting the president's time and ours. I hope all of you in the media are happy because we're doing it for you." That quote, obviously, surprise a lot of us. Give us some context of what was behind it.

FOURNIER: I think what's behind it, as you know, Wolf, you were part of this, is a lot of the senior staff and the political people around the president spent a lot of time these last few months very aggressively and derisively pushing back on suggestions that the president get more engaged in negotiations. So, once he very abruptly last week began the so-called charm offensive, I think a lot of people around him felt kind of hung out to dry and a little upset and kind of pushed it back on the whole narrative. And I think that's what you saw there was a little bit of anger.

BLITZER: So, was this official angry or irritated with the president?

FOURNIER: No. More, I think, irritated with us, irritated with what they called the narrative that supposedly it was the press that built up this narrative that the president has to be more involved, and now that the president is getting more involved, I think, there's some pushback internally.

BLITZER: Listen to what Jay Carney, the White House press secretary said today in response to a question from our own Jim Acosta. Listen to this.


CARNEY: I have no idea who said that, but I can tell you that opinion has never been voiced in my presence, in the president's presence, in the west wing. It does not represent president's view. It does not represent the White House's view. And it does not represent the administration's view.


BLITZER: Now, you don't want to release the name of this individual.

FOURNIER: No. But I will say Jay Carney is a very honorable man and I take at his word that something like this wasn't said in his presence. I also write my piece that I don't know the president's state of mind. I'm not a mind reader. I do know, though, that there are some officials in the White House who feel this way.

BLITZER: Another unnamed source in your article said this. Even more jarring than Obama's lack of engagement was his public protestations that there was nothing he could do to strike a deal with the GOP. It made him look weak said the democratic strategist with close ties to the White House. It made him look, can I use the word, "impotent." Give us some context for that. This is a different source than the other.

FOURNIER: This is a democratic official close to the White House who was watching the news conference last week when the president said, hey, there's nothing I can do. I can't wave a magic wand. I can't do a Jedi mind trick. There's nothing I can do to bring these Republicans around.

Well, that's really isn't a strong politicalization for the president of the United States to take, according to people even close to him. That he has to at least look like he's trying, that he can't be giving up on the idea of bringing the parties together and solving this generational debt problem that we have.

BLITZER: You've covered this president, other presidents as we go back to covering Bill Clinton. You've covered this president. What do you think? Do you think that he is serious about this reaching out to Republicans, and potentially, there can be a grand bargain or is it just for show, if you will?

FOURNIER: I don't know. That's the question I raise in my story. I do think he's a very serious man. He's a very skilled man. I do think if he really puts his mind to it, he can get a lot done. It's amazing that he's gotten -- been elected which, as you know, is pretty remarkable in modern history.

He's a very skilled politician. I might take him at his word and it's going to be very interesting to see what happens, because he's going up against, as you know, very (INAUDIBLE) foes. The Republicans don't want to give anything. They're talking about no compromise and Republican has to work -- or the president has to work around those talking points and find a way to bring the parties together.

BLITZER: Common sense caucus as he likes to call it. We'll see if he can come up with that. Hey, Ron, thanks for coming in.

FOURNIER: Thank you.


BLITZER: Later this hour, I'll get reaction from the senior White House adviser, Dan Pfeiffer. He'll join us live from the White House.

Coming up, a day after tweeting about her, quote, "very uncomfortable pat down," Sen. Claire McCaskill talks to CNN why she says it's important that it happened to her.

And a round of golf is supposed to be relaxing, but not if you end up in a hole that's not supposed to be there. A very scary moment for one foursome. That's coming up. We have details.


BLITZER: The cardinals at the Vatican wrap up their first vote. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, still no new pope.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I know. Everybody wants to know when? When? Well, black smoke poured out of the chimney at the Sistine Chapel just a few hours ago and that means the cardinals did not elect a pope on their first ballot. Earlier, 115 catholic cardinals swore an oath of secrecy enclosed themselves in the chapel.

The next round of voting starts tomorrow morning. The cardinals are locked in isolation until they pick the next pope.

And Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri flies twice a week, but her trip yesterday got off to an unusual start. She tweeted, quote, "Today in my airport screening, test on my hands was positive, got private, more aggressive pat-down, OMG #very uncomfortable." So, she says she learned something from the experience.


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MISSOURI: I was uncomfortable. You know, and I think it's important that things like that happen to people like me. You know, the rules need to be the same for everyone and if more of us had that exposure to the system, perhaps, we would be more aggressive about making sure that we're using our sources wisely when it comes to safety of the traveling public.

I mean, I get that we need to have protocols and procedures in place to make flying safe for everyone, but they have to be tempered about are we using our resources in a way that makes the most sense. And, I think that's a question that we haven't really answered yet.


SYLVESTER: She tweeted she has a metal knee and commonly gets a pat-down and that official told her it might have been hand motion that set off that sensor.

And manatees along the southwest coast of Florida are dying in record numbers. 174 have died this year because of a red tide. Wild life officials have rescued 12 others like the ones that you see here. Red tides, they happen almost every year when a tiny algae concentrates in an area turning the water brown or red. This year, that happened in an area where manatees migrate making their food toxic.

And a round of golf for a group of men in Illinois was anything, but relaxing. One of the men fell into an 18-foot deep sink hole that opened up beneath him on the fairway of the 14th hole. He dislocated his shoulder in the fall and wasn't able to climb out, but good news, one of his buddies climbed into that hole, put a rope around him, and he was pulled to safety. And I don't know about you, Wolf, but I keep wondering what is all of this with all the sinkholes?

BLITZER: I know.

SYLVESTER: We keep hearing problems with sinkholes.

BLITZER: All of a sudden. Sinkholes. Who knew?

SYLVESTER: Now, I'm getting a little worried.


BLITZER: Serious issue.


BLITZER: Thank you.

Up next, tensions are mounting between North and South Korea right now, but that's not stopping Dennis Rodman. Why he says he's going back to North Korea this summer for vacation with his new good friend, Kim Jong-Un?


BLITZER: Tensions are very high right now in the Korean Peninsula. On one side, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Un, we see him inspecting his troops, telling them that when he gives the order to attack the enemy, quote, "totally cut their wind pipes." On the other side, South Korean and U.S. troops holding massive military drills right now. Right in the middle of all of this, CNN's Anna Coren.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as North Korea continues to threaten war on the Korean Peninsula, the military here in South Korea remains on high alert. We are at the border near the DNC. This is as close as we can get to North Korea. The rail line behind me used to go all the way to Pyongyang.

Now it just crosses the river into the demilitarized zone. Now, even this location is now considered highly sensitive. The South Korean military have told us not to reveal their post, identify their troops or show their defense systems.

This comes in the wake of North Korea's scrapping the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War back in 1953. It also severed the emergency hotline between the two Koreas, which means that if there is a military provocation, the two countries have no forms of communication.

Kim Jong-un has reportedly been on the border, addressing his troops on the front line, telling them to, quote, "throw the enemies into the caldron, break their waists, and crack their windpipes" on his orders. He has also threatened to attack the headquarters of the South Korean marines on an island very close to Yong Pyong (ph) Island, which was shelled back in 2010. Now, while he may be rallying his troops, the United States and South Korea are holding joint military exercises on the Korean peninsula. And Seoul says that if there is any military provocation from the North, then it will respond in a resolute and destructive manner. Wolf?


BLITZER: Anna Coren on the DMZ for us between North and South Korea. Thank you.

Let's discuss this very tense situation right now with the former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. Himself, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Someone who has visited North Korea on several occasions. So, Ambassador, what is your assessment right now? How tense, how serious is this situation for real?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Well, I'm very concerned. What seems to be happening is the hardliners of North Korea, the military, the family of Kim Jong-un, the hard liners there, the uncle perhaps, probably are in control. And they are stoking the fires, pushing Kim Jong-un to go beyond the normal negative rhetoric.

BLITZER: Why would they want to do this right now? Because this could escalate?

RICHARDSON: It could escalate, and I agree with the administration saying that there are red lines. If you take a certain step, there's going to be consequences. It could be that the most benevolent view is that they still think Kim Jong-un needs strength within his own people. He needs to be the de facto military leader.

BLITZER: To prove his credentials, if you will.

RICHARDSON: Yes, the domestic credentials. But it's getting a little out of hand.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

RICHARDSON: I've never heard it so negative and so provocative.

BLITZER: On the other hand, we've gone through these ups and downs in the North Korean relationship with the U.S., South Korea, the rest of the world. It goes up, it goes down, tension all of a sudden, less tension. You've been there on several occasions. Is it time to maybe come up with a new strategy, reaching out to a certain degree in North Korea?

RICHARDSON: We do need a new strategy, but we do at the same time have to push for these sanctions and force these sanctions. The good news is that China helped us draft them. And they're tough sanctions that are aimed at the North Korean leadership and banking. These really hit.

The second thing that's different is that there is very strong unanimity among the six-party countries including China that North Korea's gone too far.

BLITZER: You were recently there. You went there with Eric Schmidt, the head of Google. You did not have a meeting with Kim Jong- un. You wanted to meet with him. He didn't meet with you.

But Dennis Rodman, he goes there and they hang out. They're palling around. And only yesterday he spoke to one of our affiliates, and he had this exchange with a reporter. Watch this.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: The kid is awesome, but I think that his grandfather and his father built this whole thing up because he has to do this. He don't want to do anything. That part I know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have been over there, and you're back here now. Do you anticipate going over there again?

RODMAN: Yes, I will. In August.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are going over there?

RODMAN: Yes. I'm going to vacation with him. Yes.


BLITZER: He says he's vacationing with Kim Jong-un; you're smiling. You're laughing! Some people are laughing, but it's a pretty serious situation. He's really the only American except for the other guys he went with from the Harlem Globetrotters who have actually met with Kim Jong-un.

RICHARDSON: Yes. And I'm not trying to diminish Rodman by laughing. I just think it is humorous that they've become buddies. I think what we also should consider, Wolf, is a new kind of diplomacy, either a direct talk with our special envoy to North Korea -


RICHARDSON: The government. Yes. Or out of the box.

BLITZER: Without preconditions or preconditions?

RICHARDSON: Without preconditions. I just think it's tense enough, but you're not giving necessarily anything by just having a meeting. Maybe it could be down around the South Koreans or the six- party talks or out-of-the-box diplomacy. Some kind of special envoy from the Vatican. Somebody from the U.N. Somebody from the six-party countries.

You know, maybe somebody from the entertainment business, if this is what connects with --

BLITZER: Because there was a report in "The New York Times" the other day. You saw it -- that suggested that you thought that Michael Jordan -- you would bring Michael Jordan instead of Dennis Rodman to North Korea. What was that all about?

RICHARDSON: Well, the North Koreans -- the son and the father are huge basketball fans. At one point, I remember talking to the NBA. This was several years ago about -- there was an NBA team going to South Korea, would they go to North Korea for a day? There was interest from both sides, but logistically it didn't happen.

The North Koreans love American celebrities. They love Robert Redford, Westerns, they love the NBA. They love American culture. I think that's why there's a possible connection.

BLITZER: When we were there together, we listened to Kenny Rogers. They love Kenny Rogers. Did you actually approach Michael Jordan and invite him to go?

RICHARDSON: No. I'm a diplomat and I'm a politician. No, I didn't do it because I don't like to get in the administration's way. They already think I meddle too much. But no, I didn't approach Michael Jordan. I passed it on.

But I think it's something that we should consider, some kind of out-of-the-box diplomacy. The secretary-general of the U.N. He's a former South Korean foreign minister. The president of the World Bank is a South Korean-American. I think this is the kind of new diplomacy to reach Kim Jong-un. But the bad news is I think he's being influenced by hard liners, and that concerns me.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in. Madeleine Albright in the 90s brought a basketball signed by Michael Jordan, and it's cherished in Pyongyang, as you well know. Thanks very much for coming in.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: When we come back, the White House responds to that report that a senior official in the White House called the president's outreach campaign a joke. My interview with the senior adviser at the White House, Dan Pfeiffer, is coming up next.

And just in time for Christmas, Sarah Palin resurfaces with a new project. More details on that coming up.


BLITZER: Let's get a little bit more now on that pretty shocking article quoting a senior White House official, unnamed, saying this about the president's outreach program, the charm offensive, as it's called. "This is a joke. We're wasting the president's time and ours. I hope you all in the media are happy because we're doing it for you." That's the quote from the unnamed senior White House official.

Just a little while ago, I spoke about that with the "National Journal" editorial director Ron Fournier. He wrote the article. Let's get some reaction now from the White House. Joining us is the senior adviser to the president, Dan Pfeiffer. Dan, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: So, what do you say about this quote?

PFEIFFER: Well, Wolf, I don't know who that quote, unquote, senior administration official is, but I certainly know they don't represent the views of the president or anyone else in this White House.

BLITZER: Here's what Ron Fournier told me in the last hour, because I asked him for context on this pretty shocking quote.


RON FOURNIER, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": A lot of the senior staff and the political people around the president spent a lot of time these last few months very aggressively and divisively pushing back on suggestions that the president get more engaged in negotiations.

So, once he very abruptly last week began this so-called charm offensive, I think a lot of people around him felt kind of hung out to dry and a little upset. And kind of pushed back on the whole narrative.


BLITZER: It sounds like a little deception (ph). Now, I've known Ron Fournier for 20 years, and I assume you know him as well. He's a pretty serious journalist, isn't he?

PFEIFFER: Oh, absolutely. Ron is a legendary White House A.P. reporter, and he's a good guy and I have tremendous respect for him. I don't know who gave him the quote. All I can speak to is what the president believes, what the president's senior team believes. And this is not - I mean, charm offensive is a term the media used. The president uses this opportunity to move his agenda forward, whether it's his efforts to create middle-class jobs, reform our immigration system, deal with -- prevent gun violence and deal with our deficit. So, this is part of trying to get things on behalf of the American people.

And I would say that we have -- we -- all through the fall in the winter, we were working directly with the leadership in Congress, with Speaker Boehner and then eventually with Senator McConnell to try to get a deal done. That did not work. Both of those leaders stepped a little bit off to the side. Speaker Boehner announcing to his caucus he would never negotiate with the president again.

So, this is a change in tactics to reflect the change in circumstances, which is with the looming fiscal deadlines not happening right at this moment, we have an opportunity to try to build consensus from the middle out. And that's what this is all about.

BLITZER: You're getting a lot of grief on another subject as well, the decision to suspend those White House tours. Yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM, I spoke with Senator Rand Paul. Listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: When I talk to working-class people and they find out that their taxes are being sent to a country that burns our flag and chants "death to America" -- meanwhile, we don't have tours in the White House and you know what the president's done now? He's closing the entrances to the office buildings up here. And I asked one of the Capitol Hill police today, I said, well, where are they? Are they not working? He said, no, they've just been assigned to other locations.

So this Mickey Mouse game that he does and then he gives $250 million in addition to the couple billion we already give to Egypt, I think, it's really a disgrace.


BLITZER: So, he says, you can't afford a few million dollars to keep those tours, but you can afford an extra $250 million to give to Egypt, right now, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government. What do you say to Senator Paul?

PFEIFFER: Well, I think a couple of things first. The sequester is stupid policy. We've said that from the beginning, and that's why president tried to avoid it. It requires you to do things you don't want to do. And the choice for the tours was we can ask the hard- working and brave men and women of the Secret Service to take additional furloughs to essentially pay for Congress' inaction, or we can take the step no one wants to take to close White House tours. And so that was the choice he was faced with. We're going to face these shortages all across the government because of the sequester, which is why we have to get out of it.

Now, I would say to Congressman Paul's point, I think he's actually referring to - when he's talking to the entrances up on Capitol Hill, he's referring to decisions made by his own folks up there on the Hill. They make those decisions, not the president.

BLITZER: The decisions whether to cut short some of those doors, in other words, so that there will be longer lines? You're blaming the Republicans on the Hill for that?

PFEIFFER: Well, no, I believe that those are decisions made by the Capitol Police up there on the Capitol. It's not from the Secret Service or the president is involved in.

BLITZER: Are you open at all to some private contributions? Donald Trump said he's ready to pay to resume those White House tours. Is that something you would consider?

PFEIFFER: Wolf, it doesn't work that way. We can't have private individuals paying the Secret Service. That's not our work. This is about a very tough budget cut that the Secret Service has to take because of the sequester. It's why we should have avoided the sequester to begin with. And so, the Donald trump option is not an option.

What we have to do is deal with the sequester. And if we can do that, we can deal with a whole host of problems in the government, the White House tours being just one of them. There are other -- all across the country, people are suffering because of the failure of Congress and the intransigence of congressional Republicans on the sequester. There are folks serving in our military who are not getting access to tuition assistance. There are folks who are getting layoff notices. We have to deal with all of these problems. It's not just White House tours.

The president and the first lady feel very strongly about opening the White House to - they make the White House the people's house. If that's all across our government -- sometimes in Washington we tend to affect (ph) on the things that we think affects us, and that seems to affect us across the country.

BLITZER: Dan Pfeiffer is the senior adviser to the president. Dan, thanks for coming in.

PFEIFFER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, the former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. He says President Obama should have followed George W. Bush's example. Ari is here to explain what he's talking about.


BLITZER: All right. There are lots to discuss right now in our "Strategy Session." Joining us now two CNN contributors, the former Obama pollster Cornell Belcher, the former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer.

You heard the interview I just did with Dan Pfeiffer. Does he makes sense to you?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, it reminded me of my old days. Anytime Ron Fournier would write a story and then use an anonymous quote, my reaction would be the same as Dan's or Jay Carney's today, the press secretary.

But often was the case with Ron Fournier, where he wrote it, it turned out to be true. These are the kind of stories that you really have to hesitate on. I suspect there's someone there, his source is probably good one.

BLITZER: Do you think there's a little dissention going on at the White House? That the officials who had said the president doesn't need to do this charm offensive? He's already done it. And all of a sudden he's doing it. They seem a little irritated, embarrassed.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, I can understand -- I mean, I think the folks at the White House think they have in fact been reaching out. The president's been inviting them over for events, he invited them for the screening of the "Lincoln" movie, and they didn't come.

So I think when you look at from the White House perspective they think they have been sort of reaching out to Republicans and Republicans have not been the one who've been willing to come and meet them halfway.

BLITZER: You tweeted this today, and I'll put it up on the screen. "It's taken President O five years to do what President Bush did in his first month, visit the conferences of other party in House and Senate."

The president did, even before he took office, meet with Republicans and before his first term he actually even started.

FLEISCHER: Well, what Bush did when he first became president was going out to the opposite party's conference and met with all of the Democratic senators, all the Democratic House of Representative members at their various retreats, spend time with them.

You know, at the end of the day, Wolf, I think this whole thing about reach out, are they doing -- it almost doesn't matter. Their job is to pass legislation and figure out agreements with the president. The president's job is to create an environment to make that happen and to reach out to the Congress legislatively, substantively.

The gaps we have is because we're wrestling with trillion-dollar deficits that are really making people focus on government solutions, opposite points of view. We have fundamentally hit the point where we face our debt problems and that's what created the clash.

BLITZER: I'm encouraged that the president is talking to these Republicans. My own sense is, might not help but can't hurt.

BELCHER: Well, my friend Ari is making an awful lot of sense here today.


But here's where I think some of the frustrations, some of the pushback could be. I mean, look, you see all the charm offensive and the president catching flack from both the left and right about this charm offensive. But frankly, the Republicans are the ones that need to be on the charm offensive.

If you look at the Republicans' job approval, you know, the kind (INAUDIBLE) approval, it's 13 points -- I mean, it's 13 percent. I mean. they're less popular than a root canal. They are the ones who need to be reaching out to the president quite frankly. So I reject the very -- the premise that the president is the one who needs this charm offensive.

If I had a 13 percent approval rating, if I was less popular than a root canal, I think I would be reaching out for the president.

BLITZER: You think root canals has 13 -- (LAUGHTER)

But go ahead.

FLEISCHER: The Republicans have brought themselves to a position whether they're unpopular much of the country. And that's a very important issue for Republicans to get -- to solve. But the broader issue here is, nobody in Washington is popular. People in Washington are not doing what the country wants. Just figuring out how to make agreements. But the bigger point here is the reason it's so hard is because these issues are so bad and big.

$1 trillion deficit force hard decisions. Something is going to have to get cut, something is going to have to give. And there hasn't been the leadership in Washington to bring people together. Too much mistrust in both directions.

BLITZER: Let's see if they can resolve it, guys. Thank you very much for coming in.

BELCHER: Thanks.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

BLITZER: When we come back, Sarah Palin, she has some new plans in the works. You're going to have wait months, though, to actually see them unfold. We have details. Stand by.


BLITZER: It's been a while since we've seen or heard much from Sarah Palin. But now she's reemerging with plans about a new book about a holiday still months away. We're talking about Christmas.

Our crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns is joining us now. He's got details.

What are you learning, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it comes around every Christmas. Lawsuits and injunctions over nativity scenes, holiday parties versus Christmas parties. The rights of Christians to celebrate versus the rights of people from other religions and atheists not to celebrate the holiday.

Now Sarah Palin who's gotten big bucks from her books is expected to chime in right around Christmas.



JOHNS (voice-over): The alleged assault on Christmas has been a battle cry of the culture wars in the U.S. for decades.

STEWART: Tonight I humbly come before you to declare war on Christmas.

JOHNS: And now former Alaska governor, former vice presidential candidate and conservative darling, Sarah Palin, is weighing in with a new book about it out this November. It's titled "A Happy Holiday is a Merry Christmas."

Palin made it to the top of the bookseller charts with her 2009 book "Going Rogue." And now she's at it again with an offering that will keep her not just in the bookstores and their Web sites, but in the memory and hearts of her followers.

Oxford University historian Timothy Stanley writes about the connection between politics and ideology in the U.S.

TIMOTHY STANLEY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY HISTORIAN: The reason why she's doing that, by the way, is because these cultural issues are still very much what drives and motions the Tea Party base and because she knows that that would be good for book sales.

JOHNS: Palin's publisher, Harper Collins quotes Palin in a press release. "This will be a fun, festive, thought-provoking book that will encourage all to see what is possible when we unite in defense of our faith and ignore the politically correct Scrooges who would rather take Christ out of Christmas."

Not surprisingly the notion of a war on Christmas has been batted around in media for quite a while. On FOX News, it's fully accepted as fact.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS' "O'REILLY REPORT": The secular progressive agenda is opposed by many people of faith. Abortion, gay marriage, legalized drugs, all of those things are opposed by many religious Americans. That is why some far-left folks want to diminish Judeo Christian tradition, and rename the Christmas tree the holiday tree.

JOHNS: While on Comedy Central, it's treated, well, like a joke.

STEWART: War on Christmas. Friendly fire edition.

JOHNS: Timothy Stanley sees this as not just a battle between the religious and the secular, but as a proxy for the fight between political points of view.

STANLEY: This certainly is a war on Christmas in the sense that Christmas no longer -- in the Christian tradition no longer has a control over the public's fear that it used to have.


JOHNS: Few disclaimers here, Sarah Palin and her agent didn't get back to us when we called. So how much money could she make on this? We could not venture I guess, but we can tell you she got $1.2 million in advance on her book "Going Rogue" and it sold 2.3 million copies in hard cover.

So probably a lot of bucks there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There certainly is. Hers was one of the best-selling books that year. And I suspect this new book will be huge as well. She'll probably sell a few million copies of that. We'll continue to watch this story for our viewers.

Joe, thanks very much.