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President Obama Speaks Out on Government Surveillance; Interview With California Congressman Ed Royce

Aired August 9, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I will ask the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee for his reaction.

Also, a huge new break in the manhunt for a murder suspect and the teenage girl he allegedly kidnapped. Dr. Drew Pinsky shares his insights.

And when the floodwaters rushed in, he rushed in to help, saving his son and many of this neighbors.

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

President Obama says there's no doubt his attempt to shine a new light on government surveillance is a response to the leaks by Edward Snowden. The president outlined his new proposals during a wide- ranging news conference at the White House that ended a couple of hours ago.

He also spoke about the diplomatic fallout with Russia after it granted Snowden asylum and the terror threat that closed a number of U.S. embassies this week.

Let's go to the White House. Our chief correspondent there, Jessica Yellin, is standing by.

Jessica, why did the president decide to outline these new surveillance programs today?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's because the president argues that the American public is being misinformed about NSA surveillance and he's been under pressure from both left and right to clarify what surveillance programs are in place in the U.S., how they work, and what legal framework justifies them.

Here's what the president had to say earlier.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And a general impression has I think taken hold not only among the American public, but also around the world, that somehow we're out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it. That's not the case.


YELLIN: So now his administration is going to reveal more of these programs and even, he says, work with Congress to reform the one program that's been most criticized, the one that gathers phone data from hundreds of millions of Americans. As you say, Wolf, he acknowledged that Edward Snowden did -- those revelations did push him to reveal this more quickly. But he said he was going to make some moves towards transparency anyway.

BLITZER: Jessica, the president spoke about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That's certainly a sensitive subject. What did we learn?

YELLIN: Wolf, this relationship is closely watched and decidedly frosty. When you heard him talk about it today, he made it clear that they like to trade publicly -- they like to trade barbs and that he's not threatened by Mr. Putin. Listen to this.


OBAMA: I don't have a bad personal relation with Putin. When we have conversations, they're candid. They're blunt. Oftentimes, they're constructive. I know the press likes to focus on body language, and he's got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is is that when we're in conversations together, oftentimes it's very productive.


YELLIN: Well, candid and blunt, Wolf, you know as well as I do, that's the language diplomats use to describe conversations that haven't gone well.

So that was an amusing way to describe a good working relationship. Also that language saying that Putin is like the slouching bored guy in the back of the classroom hardly squares with Putin's own projected image of himself shirtless and extra macho. So this was the president's way of saying that the president cannot be bullied by Putin or threatened by him and his latest moves.

BLITZER: We will see how they get together at that G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, early next month.

YELLIN: Awkward.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. We're joined by the chairman of the house board affairs committee. Republican Congressman Ed Royce is joining us from his home state of California.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

What do you think of this relationship between Presidents Obama and Putin?

REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think it's unfortunate, clearly, that Putin's a very different leader.

I think there was an opportunity with the past leadership in Russia. But right now, clearly, Putin intends to stick his eye in the United States -- stick his thumb in the eye of the United States every time he can. And so it's a difficult situation. He's trying to undermine us in Syria. He's not helpful in Iran. And, as a consequence, I think we're in a tough position right now.

BLITZER: So you don't have any criticism of President Obama for allowing this relationship to deteriorate clearly, as it has?

ROYCE: Well, I think my critique would be that if the United States was taken maybe a little more seriously on the world stage, the likelihood then would be that we'd have a little bit more respect out of the Russians.

But right now, I think that President Putin believes that -- the head of state in Russia today believes that he can dis the U.S. without any negative consequences. And that probably comes from the fact that we don't carry the same perception of strength that we did and the gravitas of the president of the United States is not that of former presidents. And I do think that's a problem for President Obama.

BLITZER: What do you think of his new proposals to make the NSA surveillance programs more transparent to the American public?

ROYCE: Well, I think we should do that, but I am concerned that the president took so long.

Over the last two months, if he would have come out forcefully and explained the program and what was behind the program and explained to the American public some of the information -- on the Senate side, I know our colleagues did a pretty exhaustive audit and found that over the last four years, they could not find any examples. I think we had 300 queries last year, for example, looking into this.

And what they were specifically monitoring were phone calls from al Qaeda to al Qaeda agents in the Western Hemisphere and in the United States. And so I think that a better explanation of the president two months ago would have helped the situation. I think he's waited too long to address it, and at this point I think it's wise for us to reassure the American public.

Certainly, Congress should be involved in this. We should set up additional protections. But most of this work is done overseas anyway. And most of it is done to protect our assets overseas, certainly our troops in Afghanistan, to protect our embassies, to protect our allies in Europe and in Central Asia and the Middle East.

And I think all of that should be explained more forcefully by the president. By waiting so long, I think he allowed a lot of conjecture, a lot of questions to develop out there. So now's the time for us to cooperate and get this information out.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: One final question. Al Qaeda, does it still have the capability of launching another 9/11-type strike against the United States?

ROYCE: Wolf, that's a very good question, because, as you know, the key bomb maker for al Qaeda has developed a strategy and a new weaponization program.

You saw a little bit of it in the attempt with the underwear bomber, undetected capability to bring in weapons and carry out attacks in the United States. Now, that's what al Qaeda's working on. And on top of that, they're expanding that capability to teach other bomb makers. And they're putting it on the Internet. And you saw the consequences of that in terms of Boston.

That was an al Qaeda web page, how to make a bomb in your mother's kitchen. So they're working on this right now. That's why these intelligence programs are so important. We're trying to intercept that. We're trying to find the location of that particular bomb maker. We're trying to track the network that al Qaeda is setting up of other bomb makers.

And this is a new development. And, yes, there are more al Qaeda cells today than there were a few years ago. It's a big challenge.

BLITZER: Ed Royce is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

ROYCE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: In just a few minutes, CNN's new "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts, Van Jones on the left, S.E. Cupp on the right, they will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. They will debate the president's big news conference today. Stand by for that.

Up next, a possible sighting of a murder suspect and the teenager girl he's accused of abducting, a huge new development in an unfolding manhunt.

And a shop owner's surprising refusal to show Oprah Winfrey a very, very expensive purse.


BLITZER: A possible sighting of a suspected killer and kidnapper and his alleged captive, a 16-year-old California girl. Police now confirm they have found James DiMaggio's car in Idaho. They're working a possible sighting of the pair by horseback riders deep in the wilderness.


LT. GLENN GIANNANTONIO, SAN DIEGO COUNTY HOMICIDE: From the account we received, they both appeared to be in good health.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) GIANNANTONIO: It was unable for us to determine from the witness account whether she was being held against her will.


BLITZER: CNN's Paul Vercammen is in San Diego and has been working the story for us. The ordeal began there.

Paul, what's the latest you're hearing?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly what you just pointed out. They found the suspect's vehicle in Idaho, that the girl was seen healthy as well as that suspect, DiMaggio.

And now they have fanned out into a vast wilderness, an extremely remote area, Wolf, looking for the both of them. In all of this, no sign of the little boy who is presumed dead in the fire. Some people might be asking, now, how did we get here? All of this seemed to start earlier in the week in an inferno.


VERCAMMEN (voice-over): From this house fire Sunday night in a small town near the Mexican border, a story of alleged betrayal of staggering dimensions began smoldering.

The burning home's owner, James DiMaggio, and Brett Anderson had been friends for more than a decade-and-a-half. The Anderson children, 16-year-old Hannah and 8-year-old Ethan, considered DiMaggio an uncle and visited here often. But in the charred ruins, the children's mother, Christina Anderson, was found dead. DiMaggio is now a murder suspect.

The remains the size of an 8-year-old also found here, and missing, the trusted family friend, DiMaggio, and Hannah, described as a fun-loving teenager. Authorities issued an Amber Alert for the children. It eventually spread to nearby states and into Mexico.

BRETT ANDERSON, FATHER OF MISSING CHILDREN: Jim, I can't fathom what you were thinking. The damage is done. I'm begging you to let my daughter go.

VERCAMMEN: Brett Anderson, who was in Tennessee, returned to California and attended a vigil for his now shattered family.

HALLIE LANDY, COUSIN: I'm so sorry, baby girl. If you get a chance, you're alone, just run, please.

VERCAMMEN: And Brett Anderson began talking about his son as if he was not coming back.

ANDERSON: Ethan wore his heart on his sleeve. He would give -- do anything for anybody. He just loved everybody. He was just my buddy.

VERCAMMEN: Late in the week, Hannah's grandmother, Christina's mom, made a plea to DiMaggio.

SARA BRITT, GRANDMOTHER: You have taken our heart and soul. You have taken my only child. And please let Hannah go.

VERCAMMEN: Detectives are looking into comments from Hannah's friends that DiMaggio, who is 40 years old, may have had a crush on her. Thursday, another twist, a warning that the fugitive might be armed with homemade bombs, his car possibly booby-trapped.

JAN CALDWELL, SAN DIEGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: We believe that he may be in possession of kind of improvised explosives.


VERCAMMEN: And now back here live. Authorities also saying they believe that DiMaggio stockpiled camping equipment -- now back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Paul, thanks very much -- Paul Vercammen reporting.

And Dr. Drew Pinsky is joining us right now. "DR. DREW ON CALL" is his show.

Dr. Drew, what do you make of this latest development that these people in Idaho, they saw what appeared to be this James DiMaggio and this 16-year-old girl Hannah Anderson? She didn't seem to be under duress. What do you make of that?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: You know, first of all, the fact that there was a sighting and there have been sightings of him heading north, and so the overwhelming evidence is that perhaps, indeed, he is heading that direction. But the fact that poor Hannah was not in duress to me suggests the magnitude of sway this -- let's call him what he is -- this perpetrator has over this poor young girl.

He's been grooming her for a long time. That's typically the way these guys operate, particularly with adolescents. They let them believe that they have a special insight into their unique qualities, that they have a special relationship with them. And they gain their trust and they slowly groom their way in.

And by getting their foot in the door, they continue on through and then will often isolate them from their family and continue that -- it's almost a brainwashing in many cases that they get over these young people.

BLITZER: This James DiMaggio is 40 years old. He's divorced, was very, very close to the family. And some of her friends, Hannah's friends, seem to suggest that she thought he had a crush on her.

The parents obviously say they didn't know anything about this, but it's a very worrisome development in the sense that could someone who was so close to the family actually commit these alleged crimes?

PINSKY: Well, the speculation is that unfortunately that is in fact what precisely went down here, which is that, again, you really don't know what's going on in the mind of the people around you. It's a great learning lesson for parents out there.

If there is an adult -- I have been preaching this to the young people who might be watching my program as well. If there is someone even a few years older than you who's taking a special interest in you, please let somebody know about that.

BLITZER: Listen to what a friend of his told our Piers Morgan last night about DiMaggio's background.


ANDREW SPANSWICK, FRIEND OF JAMES DIMAGGIO: He had a lot of trauma in his life growing up. I know that both his parents were troubled. There was a suicide involved with his mother. And his father has a history. But, you know, he was the one in the family that decided to make his life something more than just about, you know, following the bad example of his parents.


BLITZER: Could past traumatic events as described here have played a role in all of this?

PINSKY: Absolutely. Absolutely. It makes perfect sense from two standpoints.

One is when a child has had a traumatic experience, there is a certain percentage of those children that go on to become perpetrators. That heritage is often behind somebody who becomes a perpetrator. But the other issue here is that of boundaries. The kind of circumstance in that family that is loosely described in that interview suggests someone with very poor boundaries, which is a great reminder that you can go forward in life and gloss on top a good career, good social skills, but if you don't have treatment for those traumas, those boundary problems remain. And this is precisely the kinds of tragedies that can occur.

BLITZER: Dr. Drew Pinsky, thanks very much for joining us.

PINSKY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, a real-life hero. A Missouri man tells us how he helped neighbors as floodwaters kept rising around them.

And President Obama pouncing on Republicans and the priority he calls their Holy Grail.


BLITZER: Across parts of the country right now, the rain is hard and relentless and the flooding danger is getting worse with every drop.

People in 21 states have been under some kind of flood warning or watch today. A flood emergency declaration is in effect in parts of Arkansas. Fast-moving floodwaters have ravaged communities in the South, the Northeast, and the West, and the Central Plains.

In Oklahoma last night, a 60-year-old man was rushed away by rushing floodwaters while trying to save his daughter, who survived. And in Missouri, a construction crane moved by the current. Parts of Missouri and Kansas have been hammered by up to 10 inches of rain this week alone.

Let's head straight to Missouri right now, where we have seen a lot of dangerous rescues and acts of heroism.

CNN's George Howell is joining us now from Hollister, Missouri.

What are you seeing out there, George?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the problems here in Hollister mainly started with the Turkey Creek. Things look pretty calm right now on this creek, but just a day ago this water was well above where I'm standing right now. It was a scary night for people with homes along this creek.

But here is the story how many people managed to survive.


HOWELL (voice-over): An entire community mangled in a matter of minutes, 20 minutes by Nick Ramirez's amount. That's all it took.

(on camera): Twenty minutes.

NICK RAMIREZ, SURVIVOR: Twenty minutes from the time I left here that morning to take my wife and I returned back home. This whole thing was flooded. It was completely like this when we left.

And I had to come get my son. I left my car up at the top of the hill and I woke my son up. And I was in waist-deep water. By the time I got my son up and out of bed, I was up to my chest way up here in water. Between him and I, he went to his friend's house, which is that trailer there. And I went to this trailer and we started pounding on doors, like we were trying to break in, and waking everybody up and telling everybody they were flooded and carrying their kids out. Kids are screaming.

HOWELL (voice-over): A day later, after saving so many lives:

RAMIREZ: We helped everybody. They all got their pets out and whatever. And we lost...


DUSTIN WEBER, SURVIVOR: Our dog and cat.

RAMIREZ: We couldn't save our own animals. But we were able to save everyone else's. But a lot of people were saved. That's all that matters. HOWELL: Ramirez also lost his home, swept away by the powerful current from the nearby Turkey Creek. Raging waters uprooted trees, even ripped the siding off this mobile home, though a few items seem oddly untouched.

The silver lining here, though, no people were hurt. No one died, because everyone got the warning to get out.

WEBER: I don't think I would have been able to make it without my dad saving me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then I got out and was talking to Nick. And he had woken up everybody, and we went around the back of our trailer and it was completely flooded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's the one that knocked on our door to get us up, because we were still in bed. And he knocked on our door to get us up, told us it was flooding.

HOWELL: Neighbors say starting over here won't be easy. But Nick Ramirez puts it best.

RAMIREZ: It's weird. When something like that happens, it's -- you think about other people other than yourself. If I would have thought about ourselves and taken our stuff out, people would have drowned. People would have died.


HOWELL: So, Wolf, a lot of the big storm clouds have all passed, people here calling Nick Ramirez certainly a hero.

And now it's a matter of cleaning up. You can see the damage leftover. It could take people several days, weeks or even months to get back to where they were. And there's also a big concern out here about looters, something that you wouldn't think would happen, but people that will come through, take things, take advantage of people after these hard times.

Many of these neighbors have people waiting out here just to make sure that they protect these homes, Wolf.

BLITZER: George Howell, thanks very much. Let's hope for the best for all the folks out there. Appreciate it very much.

Up next: the president's new steps to reform NSA surveillance. Will it really make the system better or is he saving face? The "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts, they are here in the CNN NEWSROOM, Van Jones, S.E. Cupp standing by live.


BLITZER: Happening now, President Obama on the Republicans Holy Grail. His sharp response to a government -- the possible government shutdown in the crossfire. Plus, Oprah Winfrey's spat with a high price store over a handbag she wasn't allowed to buy. Was it a misunderstanding? Was it racism? What's going on?

And when the heat is on the Chinese apparently go to IKEA.

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

President Obama is accusing Republicans of being obsessed with trying to repeal a signature health care law. In his news conference today, he was asked of the threat of a government shutdown by Republicans who want to cut off funding for Obama care.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail. Their number one priority. The unifying principle in the Republican government right now is making sure 30 million people don't have health care.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in two of the new co-hosts of CNN's "Crossfire" that comes back next month right here on CNN, Van Jones and S.E. Cupp. They are joining us.

So, is it worth shutting down the government, the entire government, at the end of September, money runs out September 30th, in order to stop Obama care from being funded?

S.E. CUPP, CNN HOST, CROSSFIRE: You know, it might not be worth it politically. But I've got to be honest. I thought what the president said right there was appalling. That is such divisive rhetoric. It's intellectually dishonest to say to the country at a press conference that the unifying principle in the Republican Party is to deny 30 million people health care. That is absurd and incredibly offensive.

Republicans don't want to ensure 11 million people at the expense of 200 million others. That's what we are trying to do. So, the strategy of Mike Lee might not be good, but that was shameful rhetoric on the part of the president.


VAN JONES, CNN HOST, CROSSFIRE: Well, first of all, I'm proud of this president. This is summertime. That was a good brush back pitch. I have heard a lot of talk from Republicans about how, you know, they want to do this and do that and threaten to shut down the government. I haven't heard them talk about the people who don't have health care in our country. I haven't heard them talking about the people who have been benefiting from Obama care so far. You have kids who have insurance right now who wouldn't have it. Instead, my concern about the Republican Party right now is simply this. They are now this sort of cotton candy and baseball bat party, cotton candy. We are going to take all the stuff we like from Obama care and say we will give that. They don't tell you how to pay for it. And then, if you don't like what they want to do, they say they are going to shut down your government. Neither one of these are responsible approaches in the president called them on was the right to call one.

CUPP: But the president's also conceding everything he wants to do in Obama care is not possible. He has had to delay entire parts of this program --

JONES: That's not responsible? Aren't you proud of your president for being willing to go responsibly in this direction?

CUPP: No. I wish we'd addressed the legislation before passing it and tries to figure out how are we going to implement this absolutely this arcane, monstrous, un-wielding piece of legislation that frankly, half the country does not want.

JONES: Well, first of all, let me say a couple things about this.

If there were a partner in your party who would come forward and say, listen. Let's make this thing work. Let's figure out how to make it work, then, I would agree with you. The president, why is he not cooperating with these people? The problem is there's no responsible partner on the other side. It's cotton candy -- I'm going to cherry pick the stuff about your bill that's good and offer that up. I'm not tell you how to pay for it, and then threaten the country.

CUPP: At least we're allowing the stuff that's good. I mean, what other choice do we have?

JONES: Well, here's the deal. When this thing was going forward -- look. I think most people in the country look at this day. They actually -- there's real reason to be concerned about how are we going to get this done. You are talking about health care, you are talking about your kids' health, you are talking about your own health.

CUPP: The health of your employees.

JONES: The health of your employees and you got a food fight going on in Washington, D.C.

CUPP: You think that was helpful what the president said?

JONES: I think --

CUPP: That wasn't --

JONES: I think he's been quiet long enough. Every now and again, a good brush back pitch is a good thing.

CUPP: I thought that was really offensive. JONES: I don't agree.

CUPP: Shocking.

BLITZER: What's going to happen? Because there is a clear split as you know among the Republicans how far to go with this threat about defunding Obama care in order to shut down the government.

JONES: Threatening the American government and American people because you are not getting your way is not leadership. That's not responsible.


CUPP: Well, yes. There's a political consequence of doing that that I think Republicans may be wise to consider. But it's also, I mean, this is a strategy to defund this program that we don't like. We, being Republicans and we being half the country. You have got to do something. And this is at least an idea that Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are putting forth that is a workable solution.

JONES: One thing I will give at least Ted Cruz credit for, I've never of this guy a year ago.

CUPP: He's devastated.

JONES: I never heard of this guy a year ago and now he's like the most important Republican in this town. How he goes with a nobody in Texas to driving the debate? I disagree with the guy but you give him credit. You know, somehow, at a brand new senator, he is showing a lot of cojones. I think he is wrong but you got to give him some credit for it.

BLITZER: But he is going to say defund it, Obama care in the House. They don't have to vote in the senate. Assuming they did have the votes in the senate, the president would veto it. And then you need a 2/3 override in the House and the Senate. So, it's not going anywhere.

CUPP: No, you're right. And I'm not going to sit here and say that my party doesn't grand stand. That my party doesn't have a kamikaze to it, sometimes it does. But look. We are frustrated because we, Republicans, we conservatives, hear from small business owners, big business owners, families every single day and they're worried about what Obama care is going to do and has already done to their business and their families. We feel like our hands are tied.

BLITZER: And you know, Van, there's some labor union types who are not very happy with the -- that's a key base of the Democratic Party.

JONES: Well, yes. Listen. I still think you can be proud of the president for -- you talk about the kamikaze stuff. We have that in our party as well. That's a part of politics. But the president, I don't understand why he gets criticized. When he tries to push things through, they say he's terrible. Then he tries to slow walks it, they say he's terrible. I this president gets criticized no matter what he does. I was glad he stood up for himself and his principles and he talked about people who don't have health care. They have been (INAUDIBLE) this debate.

CUPP: I'm ashamed of what he said today.

BLITZER: Hold the "CROSSFIRE" for a moment. We're going to take a quick break, continue this conversation, Van Jones and S.E. Cupp. They are here.

When we come back, is Obama catering to the NSA leaker? What's going on? One top Republican is accusing the president's plan outline today as being bad, really bad.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott has just forwarded us a statement from Jen Psaki, the spokesperson over the state department, announcing that the department of state will reopen 18 of the 19 embassies and consulates that were closed this past week. They will reopen them on Sunday.

The embassy in Sinai, Yemen will remain closed because of the continuing potential for terrorist attacks. The consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, which closed yesterday due to a separate threat will also remain closed. So, Sinai, Yemen remaining closed, the embassy there. The consulate in Lahore, Pakistan also remaining closed. But all the other embassies and consulates will reopen on Sunday. We will continue to watch this story and get more for you as it comes in.

Let's move back to our "CROSSFIRE" debate. Some very harsh criticism of President Obama's new moves to make government surveillance more transparent.

Listen to what the president said in his news conference today and the response from Republican congressman Peter King on CNN's "the LEAD."


OBAMA: What makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation, it's the way we do it with open debate and democratic process. In other words, it's not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: This is a terrible failure of leadership. This is the NSA version of the apology tour of the Obama. This is a successful program. The NSA program is successful and yet the president is allowing Edward Snowden, the traitor, to pull the puppet strings. This man is a traitor to our country. He has been indicted for espionage in time of war and the president somehow feels he has to cater to him.


BLITZER: We are back with Van Jones and S.E. Cupp, the co-hosts of the new "CROSSFIRE" coming back next month here on CNN. Those are strong words from Peter King. He chairs the house homeland security subcommittee on intelligence and counterterrorism.

JONES: Well, I mean, he should be ashamed of himself for saying that.

The American people want to have a discussion. We want more information. If this is a great program that's keeping us safe then talking about it, having more information about it, will only strengthen public confidence.

I think the president did the right thing today. I also think all of this talking about, you know, Snowden as is traitor, that kind of stuff, I think some of that gets really overheated. Whistleblowers have a role in our society. You look at Watergate. You look at, you know, some of the things that have been good for the country. It's been when people are willing to blow the whistle. You may not like the way he did it, but there's a role to play for those kinds of things. And the president, I think, is acting responsibly. I think people who before we even have the discussion attack the president for opening discussion are wrong.

CUPP: No. What I always say in these situations is love the leak, hate the leaker. If you want to live in a world where we know about Watergate, where we know about Abu Grave, then you have to sort of allow that these kinds of leaks are going to come out. The problem here is the hypocrisy in the White House.

The president today said we need to have an honest debate about this and we need to put this through the democratic process. I bet we both agree with that. Where has the debate been? The president has tried for hard through the espionage act and all other kinds of (INAUDIBLE) to keep a lot of this secret, to keep the public out of this debate, and then when it comes out, he's saying look how transparent we are. I mean, it's not honest.

JONES: It is weird. There is this now liberal libertarian alliance beginning to form in the country over this question of surveillance.

CUPP: And civil liberties.

JONES: And so, the liberties. And so, I think we are going to keep the pressure on. Although I will say, if you look at the president's comments, one thing that's interesting, it's clear he's been having this dialogue already. These are very nuanced comments, the things he is putting forward and proposing to do, real specific tweets he is proposing reflects a level of actual consideration and deliberation.

BLITZER: Can you thank Edward Snowden for that?

CUPP: Well, I don't know that the president would thank him, but I think we can, yes.

And look. Edward Snowden is not a hero to me. I don't think what he did is courageous. Like I said, hate the leaker, love the leak. I like we know about this program now. Because I actually don't think it's OK that we're taking the phone calls and records of millions of people across the country. That's something I think we should talk about.

JONES: I think that is one of the things I don't think we have talked about enough is at a certain point metadata becomes data. You get enough metadata about somebody's life, you got data. And then you're in a very different world when it comes to our constitution.

BLITZER: You don't trust the foreign intelligence is surveillance court.

JONES: No, I don't. And I think that one of the things that the president raised and I think appropriately is there probably needs to be more oversight. I think now we have given too much trust and too much authority to shadowy groups even within our own government that we don't quite know they are comfortable with. And so, this is I think this is a positive step. I'm glad the president is taking it. But I think you are going to hear more, not less from both liberals and libertarians who want to make sure our constitution are being respected.

We want to be safe. We don't want to be safe in a police state, in a surveillance state. We want to be able to have both security and liberty.

BLITZER: President said that Snowden is no patriot.

CUPP: Well, I agree with the president there. But, yes, whether it is prism or (INAUDIBLE), I got to be honest. If any of this were happening under George W. Bush, Democrats would be impeachment -- calls for impeachment. So the president's gotten a lot of leeway on this. He has gotten a lot of goodwill. But he's talking about it now because he has been forced to.

JONES: I agree with that. Only thing I want to add to this whole situation is when we talk about the things he didn't talk about which needs to be talked about is more whistleblower protection. We need to elevate that. I mean, that kid -- not Snowden, but Bradley Manning. You know, I feel terrible for that guy. I mean, obviously, he wasn't thinking clearly. He didn't do everything the right way, but you throw the book at the guy. You got him in horrible conditions. He held naked, else in 90 years.

BLITZER: But when you sign the confidential agreements to protect classified information, even if you don't like it there are other steps you can take without necessarily breaking the law.

CUPP: Yes. I don't feel terribly for him.

JONES: I will tell you why I do felt terribly for him. Because the other people who have tried to be whistleblowers under Obama's administration have gotten in trouble. And I think it's up to us as a society to create a pathway for these whistle blowers. If there's a safe whistleblower program and you decide you don't want to go with it. I'm mad at you. But we've all been in crappy jobs where somebody was doing somebody shady and you don't know what to do. Do you tell on the person or quit your job? And feel sorry for his kid and I hope that at some point, someway, he should expect on the hand. But Jesus Christ, you are going to destroy somebody for 90 years, the president has not said one person who lost their life. I'm just worried about --

CUPP: I don't feel bad for Bradley Manning.

JONES: I'm worried about these kids all across the country who have these contracts and they don't know what to do.

CUPP: But the president has been punitive against press and whistleblowers that he does not approve of.

BLITZER: S.E. Cupp and Van Jones, a good debate. Just a little taste of what's coming up on "CROSSFIRE" next month.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

And in an international uproar involving Oprah Winfrey and racism. What she says happened to her in an exclusive Swiss boutique. That's next.


BLITZER: Oprah Winfrey admits she's so famous and powerful that she's usually not subjected to blatant racism. But she says something was different when she walked into a pricey boutique in Switzerland.

CNN's Diana Magnay is in Zurich for us.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I don't know about you, but there have been more than a few occasions where I walked into a shop and a shop assistant has made me feel as though I don't really belong, as though I can't afford what's in there.

But you don't expect that kind of thing to happen to one of the most richest and most famous woman on earth. But that's what Oprah Winfrey says happened to her in this shop in Zurich just a short while ago. Let's take a listen to her version of events.


OPRAH WINFREY, TV PERSONALITY: I go into a store, shall remain unnamed and I say to the woman, excuse me, may I see that bag right above your head. And she says to me, no. It's too expensive. And I say, no, no, no, see, the black one, the one that's folded over, blah, blah, blah. And she goes, no, no, no, you don't want to see that, that will cost too much. You will not be able to afford that. And I said, well, no, I really did want to see that. And she refused to get it. She refused to get it. MAGNAY: The bag she was looking at was Tom Ford's Jennifer bag, named after Jennifer Aniston, who is a fan of the design, retailing in the store in question for 35,000 Frank, at $38,000. Pretty pricey, you might say, but it is crocodile skin.

Oprah claims racism, but the store manager says that this was a 200 percent misunderstanding and had nothing to do with racism. Her shop assistant felt a little embarrassed about the price, she says, so she simply suggested alternatives in other leathers, which weren't quite as expensive.


MAGNAY: The store manager told me that in her shop, the customer is king. But when the queen of talk walks away unhappy, then the world does tend to hear about it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Diana Magnay, what a story in Zurich, Switzerland. Thank you.

Another celebrity making headlines today, R&B singer Usher, walking into court just days after a big scare with his 5-year-old son.


BLITZER: Before we leave, let's head over to Mary Snow for a quick look at some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the city of Miami Beach is asking the Florida department of law enforcement to conduct an independent review of a controversial death. 18-year-old Israel Hernandez was caught spray painting a building by police and fled before he was cornered and tasered. He died shortly afterward. His family calls it excessive force. The state attorney's office and the Miami-Dade county medical examiner's office are also investigating.

Usher gets to keep custody of his son, who nearly drowned in a swimming pool accident this week. An Atlanta judge has dismissed an emergency motion by Usher's ex-wife, seeking temporary custody of both her children by the music mogul. The judge said the situation is not an emergency or crisis. 5-year-old Usher Raymond V remains hospitalized, but is doing much better, according to his mother.

And look at this IKEA in Beijing. It's filled with people not necessarily shopping, but cooling off. Residents of the Chinese capital and beyond are sweltering through a brutal heat wave. In fact, Shanghai just experienced its hottest July in 140 years, with 25 days of temperatures 95 degrees or higher that killed at least ten people. Hope they get relief soon.

Wolf, have that good weekend.

BLITZER: You too. IKEA in China, who knew? Did you know that?

SNOW: I did not know that.

BLITZER: Yes, look at those people.

SNOW: But not necessarily surprised, though.

BLITZER: No. I think everything was going to wind up in China sooner rather than later.

All right, thanks very much, Mary Snow, for that.

I will be back in one hour. I'm filling in for Anderson Cooper later tonight on "AC 360," 8:00 p.m. eastern. I will see you then. Thanks very much for watching.

By the way, you can always follow us on twitter. Please tweet me, @Wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show, @CNNsitroom. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" starts right now.