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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; Kathleen Sebelius Defending Obamacare; Drone Strike Revelations

Aired October 24, 2013 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we're standing about to hear from the health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. She's on the road today out of Washington defending Obamacare only hours after that testy House hearing, and new attempts to make her what they're calling the fall guy.

Plus, we're watching these people try to sign up for Obamacare live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. They're experiencing some of the problems we have been hearing from across the country now for more than an hour. We're going to check back live to see how they're doing.

A bombshell report on U.S. drone strikes. Top-secret memos raising serious questions about Pakistan's outrage and whether it's all an act.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

She's certainly at the center of the storm over the Obamacare Web site. Right now, the health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, is in Arizona defending the program, trying to convince Americans that it's worth their time and trouble to sign up.

When she starts speaking, we will hear a little bit from her. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, Republicans calls for her resignation are growing by the day as Republicans launch investigations into Obamacare's failures, and it got very heated on the Hill today, when contractors who developed the Web site blamed one another.

CNN's Joe Johns is up on the Hill for us. He watched all the fireworks under way.

Joe, tell our viewers what happened.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the contractors are blaming the government for making a key last-minute bad decision.

It goes like this. CGI, the so-called lead contractor, blamed the initial problem on another company called QSSI. QSSI blames the federal government, CMS, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for making that bad last decision requiring consumers to register before they could browse for insurance on the Web site. That decision created a situation where there wasn't enough time to test the Web site before it went online. One member of Congress who used to program computers for a living asked a key question about this at the hearing today. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: CMS made a decision. How late in the game did they make that decision to change a drastic system like this?

CHERYL CAMPBELL, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CGI FEDERAL: For CGI, they asked us to turn that flag off or functionality off at two weeks before we go live.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: CMS said that last-minute bad decision essentially was a business decision, they say. CMS is expected to testify on Capitol Hill next week.

Also, Kathleen Sebelius, the head of HHS, is supposed to testify as well. And 32 Republican members of Congress have called for her resignation in a letter, Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Now we want to hear from some people who All right, actually trying to sign up for Obamacare, live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. They logged in an hour ago.

Tom Foreman has been watching, checking their progress along the way.

More than 60 minutes now, Tom, and how is it going?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's been a little progress.

Let's go down here and let's talk to Laura first.

Laura, tell me where you stand right now. You have managed to start shopping around.

LAURA MCNEIL, SEEKING HEALTH INSURANCE: Yes.

FOREMAN: Still some problems?

MCNEIL: I'm actually able to look at the different options quite easily.

The biggest problem though is that after I completed the application, as I mentioned earlier, it said you're still incomplete. It won't tell me what I need to finalize in order to move forward. In looking at the new plans, it won't allow me to apply for any of them until my original application...

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: So you may have just hit a brick wall there. You see the options. You may like the options.

MCNEIL: I love the options.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: You love the options.

MCNEIL: Yes, absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: Let's go over to Gabe here.

Gabe, tell me what's happening with you here. You also got to sort of a shopping point here, but what did you see?

GABE COHEN, SEEKING HEALTH INSURANCE: Well, I think I saw a couple options, but I wasn't quite sure if I was eligible for them. I applied for the eligibility. I think I have to wait about 45 days.

FOREMAN: Forty-days for what?

COHEN: It said maximum 45 days.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: On his screen, one of the responses here was a sentence that actually is just not a sentence. A lot of people have talked about getting gibberish back. This was one. The service says, we have received your health care application, health care application for ineligible for financial assistance.

So it doesn't actually -- it's a sentence, but it's not a sentence. That doesn't help to what Gabe is trying to do.

And, Hazami, you have almost bailed out here? You have never been able to get past the first part. Right?

HAZAMI BARMADA, SEEKING HEALTH INSURANCE; I have not. I have been looking up penalties and how to download an application to send in the mail.

FOREMAN: To do it by paper?

BARMADA: To do it by paper, which is actually what they're encouraging. Apparently, several of the Web sites are encouraging you to do paper applications and by phone.

FOREMAN: Let me ask you something. You guys are young people here. In all fairness, you do so much on the Internet. You do so much. You have grown up this way. This has been your life. What do you think when somebody says do it by paper?

COHEN: I can't believe it, to be honest.

FOREMAN: Yes. Again, these are people who like the idea of this, you like the options you see here. These are people who are I would say in some ways supporters of Obamacare, what the system needs, and yet these are these frustrating barriers in front of them.

Again, this is not scientific. Maybe if we had three other people it would be different. We had discussions beforehand they might come in here, and all in 30 seconds be signed up and happy, but now, Wolf, we're at 65 minutes, and not one person here has made it forward. More importantly, all three of them are beginning to bog down with nowhere to go.

BLITZER: That's not what we anticipated four weeks into this program. We will see what happens in the next 25 minutes. Have them keep on working, because I want to give our viewers an update later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile, Jeanne Moos is also taking a closer look at some of the most heated moments from today's Obamacare fireworks on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The company officials swore to tell the truth, but sometimes what they didn't tell was more telling. For instance, when grilled about how the dysfunctional Web site had been tested...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anybody want to answer? You're using up a lot of my time by your silence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a good nonanswer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's the problem. Nobody believes this thing is going to get fixed when we keep getting answers like this.

MOOS: They were asked to name names. Who from the federal government gave them marching orders?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me a name.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Henry Chow (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me another name.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michelle Snyder (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got another one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have any names with me.

MOOS: But the Republicans had plenty of names for the health care Web site mess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unmitigated disaster. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Train wreck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not ready for prime-time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ultimate cash for clunkers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a mockery.

MOOS: But Democrats described it as merely...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A poorly designed Web site.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, a slow Web site is better than the alternative.

MOOS: Perhaps the understatement of the hearing came from a V.P. for the Web site's main contractor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, in principle, it worked. It's not working great.

MOOS: But whatever you do, don't call the problems...

REP. RENEE ELLMERS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: The glitches. I call them gaffes. They're much bigger than glitches, I believe. Glitches are little hiccups.

REP. BILL JOHNSON (R), OHIO: These are more than glitches. They can't be fixed. You know, you can't recook eggs.

MOOS: He's obviously not convinced by the Democrats' new Obamacare slogan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fix it, not nix it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's the goal here to fix it, not nix it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's work together to fix it and not nix it.

MOOS: They were so fixated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fix it, don't nix it.

MOOS: They should put it on a bumper sticker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should have to fix it, not nix it.

MOOS: Just as comedians have tried to rest the Web site by trying to sign up.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Will you want to know the size of my prostate?

MOOS: One Republican congressman also tested the Web site during the hearing. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got this after 41 minutes.

MOOS: If only he could get his iPad to stabilize.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Log in again.

MOOS: What no one got from the company reps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just -- I have not heard the word I'm sorry. I know men have a hard time saying that.

PALLONE: So, once again, here we have my Republican colleagues trying to scare everybody.

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: Will the gentleman yield?

PALLONE: No, I will not yield to this monkey court or whatever this thing is.

BARTON: This is not a monkey court.

PALLONE: Do whatever you want. I'm not yielding.

MOOS: Talk about throwing a monkey wrench in Obamacare.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We will continue to see how the three young people here in THE SITUATION ROOM are doing, trying to log on to Obamacare. Stand by for an update.

There's other news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well, including Pakistan's outrage over U.S. drone strikes. Here's a question. Was it all just an act? We're looking into a new report of a secret agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan.

And an American ship attacked by pirates again. The captain and the chief engineer have been abducted. We're going to tell you what we're learning, where this took place, what's going on. Much more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new report reveals a top-secret agreement on America's controversial drone strikes. Pakistan has been critical of the attacks for years, complaining that innocent civilians were killed as well as terrorists.

But now evidence that Pakistani official were secretly endorsing the U.S. program.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has been looking into this story for us.

What are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We have always known what they Pakistanis say in public is different from what actually happens in private.

But now you have "The Washington Post" reporting with documents showing that Pakistan not only knew about the drone strikes, but actively participated in some cases. The documents labeled top secret give details of at least 65 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan complete with maps, and before and after photos, and some of these documents point to direct Pakistani involvement in target selection, describing one attack as being -- quote -- "at the request of your government."

That's the Pakistani government. My sources have long told me there's good intel-to-intel cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan. In fact, Former President Musharraf has acknowledged cooperation on drones specifically to CNN in an interview earlier this year, and today the White House referenced wider counterterror cooperation with Pakistan.

Today, here's how Jay Carney described it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What I can tell you is that on matters of bilateral cooperation, on counterterrorism, we have regular conversations with Pakistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Regular conversation, that assumes exchange of information on the strikes.

There was the Pakistani minister, Nawaz Sharif, in the White House yesterday demanding that the attacks end and calling them -- quote -- "a major irritant to relations." The irony of all this controversy now is that the drone program is actually already shrinking, attacks down sharply in the last three years both because of the tighter rules imposed by the Obama administration as well as a decline in the number of potential targets due to the success of the program.

They have really driven al Qaeda leaders into hiding, killed many of them, but it's also interesting, Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year on a trip to Pakistan in August let on that the drone program may in fact end soon because of the success they have had. We don't know when that end will come, but it's also due in part to the drawdown in Afghanistan because these attacks are run out of Afghanistan.

BLITZER: These drone attacks.

The key word, soon. All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much for that report.

SCIUTTO: Yes. BLITZER: Just want to update you, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, she is getting ready to speak or she is actually speaking in Arizona right now on some of the problems. We're going to monitor what she's saying and we will check in, update you on what she is saying about the problems of the Obamacare Web site. Stand by for that.

Let's get back to some other news though in the meantime. This coming in, a new military response to a pirate attack on a U.S. ship and the abduction of two members.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is following the story for us.

Pirates on the high seas, two Americans missing now. What's the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Nigerian authorities are saying they're going to argue some sort of rescue for these Americans that were kidnapped from their oil supply vessel off the coast of Nigeria.

We have a photo of the ship. It's called the C-Retriever. It goes around the Gul of Guinea off Nigeria and resupplies oil installations. The capital and chief engineer kidnapped when pirates attacked off the ship now, kidnapped off the ship. The problem is, of course, in this very tragic incident the U.S. has no idea where these two Americans are at this time.

This is a very tough neighborhood, Wolf. Pirate attacks, violent attacks have been rising steadily for the last couple years. I will show you a couple of numbers here, last year alone, 62 attacks, and you can see the previous two years the same thing, a rise in attacks, 53 attacks and 39 back in 2010.

This is in such contrast to what's been going on in East Africa. We kept hearing for years about pirate attacks off Somalia in East Africa. Well, that's down now because security has improved so much off the coast of Nigeria. In fact, right now, there's a maritime exercise of several militaries in the region and including the U.S., trying to learn how to improve maritime security and keep this pirate attacks from happening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr with that disturbing report, thank you.

Just ahead, he's a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., a global troubleshooter, former governor. I will ask Bill Richardson what he knows about spying on America's allies and a potentially troubling change in the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He's got a hot new book just out entitled "How to Sweet Talk a Shark."

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Thanks, Wolf. Nice to be with you.

BLITZER: All right. I want to get to that. I want to get to some foreign policy.

Quickly, though, we have got these three young people, all educated, they want to sign up for Obamacare here in the studio. They have been trying for, what, 82 minutes, some with a little bit more success than others, but basically they haven't been able to get the job done.

How frustrated, angry, as a supporter of the president's health care plan, are you that these people are having such a tough time?

RICHARDSON: Look, the administration has to clean this up.

It's not going well. When I was governor, I had a lot of these technological, tech problems with these firms, these companies that come in. In my particular case, it was Labor Department issues. But the administration -- this is the president's signature domestic achievement.

They should have anticipated that there were millions trying to sign in. A lot of people, though, Wolf, they're not tech savvy, but at the same time they should just have a massive effort to clean this up. I'm sure you're young people there that are tech savvy, if they can't get through -- but this has to get cleaned up.

This is the president's singular achievement in his first term, an excellent achievement. But don't let this negativity dwarf the fact that more people are signing up. It's covering more, health care costs less. This is a good plan.

BLITZER: These are all smart young people who want Obamacare, but they are having a lot of trouble. We will get a quick update from Tom Foreman in a few moments.

Let me pick your brain on some other issues while I have you, Governor. You have dealt with a lot of world leaders. The reports now that the NSA has been eavesdropping on 35 world leaders. Angela Merkel was really upset in her phone conversation with the president yesterday when there was word that the U.S. was eavesdropping on her cell phone. What is going on here?

RICHARDSON: Well, first of all, the White House has said that nobody is spying on her cell phone with Angela Merkel.

We should at least believe the White House spokesman. When I was in the Cabinet, I was in two Cabinet positions. The National Security Agency never asked me for any phone calls and phone numbers. I had cell numbers of a lot of important people.

I think what we are losing here is this is the damage that this guy Snowden hag done to American foreign policy, the fact that you can't have some kind of secrecy in any discussion. I will say one last thing, Wolf. When I was in government, in Cabinet positions, what the NSA and the CIA gave intelligence for my information on behalf of the American people when I was negotiating was very valuable.

But, you know, we're focusing on all these phone calls and all this spying stuff. They do good raw intelligence. There are a lot of good people there. I think they're taking a bad rap over this. I don't know about any -- I don't know who that official was that said we give out phone number to the NSA. It was unidentified, so you can't give that validity.

BLITZER: Bill Richardson's new book, I just want to give it another plug, "How to Sweet Talk a Shark," tells the inside story, strategies and stories from a master negotiator.

Good book. We will continue this conversation, Governor, as we always do. Thanks very much for coming in.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get a progress report now on how the Obamacare sign-up here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- as you know, we have had these three young people trying to enroll now for almost an hour-and-a-half. Tom Foreman has been with them.

What's the latest, Tom?

FOREMAN: Wolf, we have had a breakdown for Hazami.

You had given up said you were going to go to a paper application. And then a breakthrough.

BARMADA: A breakthrough. I went to check my e-mail, and it had sent me a link to sign up. And I started the process, and it was a very easy process once I got on it.

FOREMAN: So you got a please wait sign right now.

(CROSSTALK)

BARMADA: It's processing.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: But the middle of it seems to be working better for you?

BARMADA: Yes.

FOREMAN: You have had some troubles, Gabe, from the beginning, throughout you have had problems, and yet you have able to keep sort of crawling forward over the last hour-and-a-half?

COHEN: Yes, that's a good way to put it.

FOREMAN: You think you may be getting to the finish line, maybe?

COHEN: I think I have done everything I can today, which is apply for Medicaid and I think I applied for something else. I wasn't even quite sure.

FOREMAN: And what happens now?

COHEN: Now I think I sit and I wait.

FOREMAN: Down here, Laura, you came in with the most promise. You were already signed up ahead of time. You seemed to be steaming ahead. And then you got into this continual loop where it get kicking you back, so you were not completed. Where do you stay on that?

MCNEIL: It's the same. I'm not able to fully submit the application. I'm actually interested to see what our friend down here gets as a response to see if she gets in progress or fully submitted, and we will just see.

FOREMAN: Let's go look at our board here and sort of add up what we have here.

In the end, Laura, we're going to have to change your ease of use here to a block, that's red, because she simply can't get past that part. Gabe, who's had really the sketchiest process all along ends up at least somewhere near the bottom line here. We're putting that all yellow but somehow he's getting through it all.

Hazami, we're going to change this back to yellow, because it's no longer red, but certainly wasn't green when it took that long. And ease of use she said is very good. But this is the bottom line, and this is the problem.

Again, I want to make the point this does not tell you whether Obamacare works. It tells you whether or not the Web site works, and the Web site has been a problem. These three people actually can't tell you that because it's not an experiment, they do illustrate the frustration for millions and millions of people out there, many of whom want it to work, but just get it to work right now. This is the challenge. If the administration can't overcome this, Wolf, in coming weeks, a lot of these people out there who want to join may independent they just can't or certainly not in a way that satisfies them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to follow up with them tomorrow as well, Tom.

But, what, 90 minutes, almost 90 minutes into their efforts, none of them actually managed to complete the process.

FOREMAN: Nobody completed, not one.

BLITZER: Not one of them.

We will see what happens. They will continue this effort overnight. We will update our viewers tomorrow. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.