Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

President Bush on the Economy; New Arrival at Guantanamo Bay; Man In Ricin Scare Wakes Up; Oil and Gold Hit Record Highs

Aired March 14, 2008 - 15:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Gasoline hitting a record, and this is the fourth day in a row that we can say that. Prices went up again as you slept last night. The nationwide average for regular, $3.28 per gallon. That's according to AAA.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, oil hit $111 a barrel this week. That could spoil some fairly good news about inflation. The Labor Department reports consumer prices did not go up last month, but oil isn't the only potential spoiler.

LEMON: All right, so that's some good news about the inflation.

But the credit crunch is taking a big bite out of stocks today, the Dow down at this point more than 270 points. And a major investment bank apparently was on the brink of financial disaster. Now the Fed is coming to its rescue. But will it be enough?

Boy, oh, boy, hate to spoil your afternoon. There's a lot of bad news economically. And you need to pay attention to it, because it's important to your wallet.

Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon, live at the CNN World Headquarters here in Atlanta.

KEILAR: And I'm Brianna Keilar, in today for Kyra Phillips.

We're tracking the economy.

LEMON: Yes.

KEILAR: It's issue number one here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

President Bush addressing the top issue for voters. He told the Economic Club of New York today, that, yes, the economy is going through a tough time right now, but, no, Washington shouldn't get too involved, especially with homeowners caught up in the mortgage crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The temptation in Washington is to say that anything short of a massive government intervention in the housing market amounts to inaction.

I strongly disagree with that sentiment. I believe there ought to be action. But I'm deeply concerned about law and regulation that will make it harder for the markets to recover, and, when they recover, make it harder for this economy to be robust.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Things are worse now because the president's proposals are always a day late and a dollar short. The kinds of things we were calling for nine months ago, he's beginning to call for now.

But his reluctance to roll up his sleeves and deal with this crisis stands in the way of any kind of real recovery. The bottom line, it seems as if the president is on a different economic planet than most Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Mr. Bush added, he's confident the Fed and the Treasury can handle problems with investment bank Bear Stearns. Now, word of financial problems sent stocks tumbling today.

LEMON: The Dow Jones industrials have tumbled more than 300 points during today's session. And it all stems from the large brokerage firm Bear Stearns teetering on the brink of collapse.

(BUSINESS REPORT)

LEMON: We need to get now to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Hillary Clinton is responding to the President Bush's talk about this morning the economy.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... these last seven years knows that. We have seen the home foreclosure prices, the rising health care costs. We obviously are, you know, dealing with these increasing energy costs, which are affecting the price of everything else.

So, the bottom line is that, since President Bush took office, the cost of energy has gone up. And, today, in Pennsylvania, the average Pennsylvanian spends $2,000 more on energy than they did when President Bush became president.

And like the rest of the country, the typical family has $1,000 less in income. So, with average gas prices going up and with station owners like Jay (ph), between the oil companies and their customers, something has to give.

And what gives is, as Jan (ph) has said, she and her husband just don't drive as much. They're cutting back. That has an impact on the whole economy. So, too -- you know, too little, too late is not an economic strategy. But that seems to be the best that President Bush can offer.

And right now, Dick Cheney is traveling around the Middle East, warning his friends in the oil-producing companies and in the oil companies, be careful. If you don't produce more oil, America might become energy independent. Well, that's exactly what we have to become. We have to move toward energy independence in order to have control over our own destiny and to get the prices down. And I think it's time that we recognize that this has got to be one of the highest priorities for our nation.

And I believe that I have a better plan and a better record when it comes to whom you can count on to actually tackle these high energy prices. You know, Senator Obama and Senator McCain talk a lot about taking on the special interests, but Senator Obama voted for Dick Cheney's energy bill in 2005 that had billions of dollars in giveaways to the oil companies and others.

And Senator McCain is offering more of the same, with $4 billion more in tax breaks to the oil companies. So, when you look past the words and actually examine their deeds, both Senator Obama and Senator McCain have sided with Dick Cheney and with big oil.

See, I think there's a better way to go. I voted against that 2005 energy bill because I believed that it would lead to higher prices. And I have been putting forth plans that would require the oil companies to give up their tax subsidies and put that money into a strategic energy fund that would be used to finance alternative, clean, renewable energy.

And I have also advocated for a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. I think it is time. You cannot convince me that there is not a lot of excess in those profits. When ExxonMobil, just one company, makes $40 billion in profits last year, I think that, you know, deserves to have government investigating it and looking very closely.

That's why I have also advocated for a number of years that we give more power to government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission to examine why the gas prices and the oil prices are so high.

Clearly, what is going on deserves further scrutiny. A lot of it doesn't make sense to me, to be just blunt about it. The prices kind of go up without any connection to anything else going on. And I believe we should have a much more vigorous investigation into the price of energy, certainly gas, but also home heating oil and everything else.

As Jay was saying, you know, home heating oil is unrefined gas. It should be cheaper. Why is its price going up the way that it is? I also think it's important that we give more tools to the federal government when it comes to price-gouging. The wholesalers and the distributors basically set the price.

You know, people like Jay, who are kind of at the end of the supply chain, have to take what they are given. And I think we should have much more in the way of federal tools to investigate that.

I would also advocate that we quit putting oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is about 97 percent full. The government should not be buying oil at this high price. In fact, I would even consider, were I president, releasing some of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve into the marketplace to drive down the price.

Now, there are some commonsense steps that the president could take. There seems to be very little appetite in this White House for doing what I think is required. I'm well aware that we're not likely to get serious about our energy crisis and the cost of energy until the two...

LEMON: OK, Hillary Clinton holding fort at a service station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And, of course, she is there trying to drum up support for the April 22 primary. It's going to happen in that state.

Of course, she has a lot of support from the Democratic leaders in the state -- so, again, President (sic) Clinton talking about the economy.

And we have been talking about the economy a lot. Obviously, it's issue number one. You can follow all your fortunes, all you need to know about the economy. Go to our Web site. It's called CNNMoney.com, CNNMoney.com, expert analysis and much, much more right there at your fingertips.

KEILAR: And the economy is issue number one in the race for the White House as well. So, what would Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain do to get things humming again?

Among other things, McCain wants to chop the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. He would also let companies take a first-year deduction on equipment and technology investments.

Now, the mortgage mess, this is key -- a key concern for Clinton. She would set up a $30 billion emergency housing fund to help states and cities. She also wants a 90-day freeze on subprime foreclosures and a five-year freeze on subprime interest rates. She wants to spend $25 million to help needy families pay heating bills as well.

And Barack Obama would pump $75 million -- pardon me -- $75 billion into the economy through tax cuts and direct spending, targeting working families, seniors, homeowners, and the unemployed. He would give immediate $250 tax cuts to workers and their families and temporary $250 bonuses to seniors in their Social Security checks.

Well, they don't have a say in who becomes the next American president, but they certainly have an opinion. Troops of the Iraqi army, who would they -- who would you think that they support in November? We sat down and asked them.

LEMON: And a violent end to a week of protests in Tibet, a battle for control on top of the world. Who's involved? What's at stake? The answers -- in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: The CIA says Mohammad Rahim helped Osama bin Laden flee Afghanistan after 9/11. Now he's a prisoner of the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, for more on this.

Hi, Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna.

Well, this guy is described as a key facilitator for Osama bin Laden, Mohammad Rahim. He's described in a statement sent to CIA employees today by CIA Director Michael Hayden as -- quote -- "a tough, seasoned jihadist who has combat experience going back to the 1980s."

This afternoon, the Pentagon announced that it has taken custody of Mohammad Rahim from the CIA. He was captured some time in the summer of last year. It is not clear know by whom. It appears it might have been Pakistani authorities. He was turned over to the U.S. He's been in the CIA's interrogation program. And now he is -- his capture has been talked about more publicly, as he's turned over to the U.S. military and will stay at Guantanamo.

He's the 16th person that the CIA has turned over to the U.S. military. And, of course, what's important about this, or what's significant about it, is the fact that, once he is in U.S. military custody, he's under requirements by the U.S. military to treat him in a certain way that's dictated by U.S. military rules, including the Army Field Manual.

It prohibits, for instance, harsh interrogation techniques that the CIA has specifically said it's not necessarily going to disavow. Of course, the most famous of those is this technique of waterboarding, which many people believe is torture. It simulates the effects of drowning.

The CIA has not said it won't use that in the future, and so we don't know exactly how he was treated while he was in CIA custody. Presumably, if he's being turned over to the U.S. military, the intelligence community feels it's gotten the intelligence it needs from him, and now he will spend an undetermined amount of time at Guantanamo -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, good information there. Jamie McIntyre, at the Pentagon, thank you.

LEMON: Well, whoever is inaugurated next year as president will inherit an almost six-year-old war in Iraq. While it's not issue number one in the debates or in the stump speeches or the campaign ads, you better believe the war is first on the minds of those fighting it, and also, of course, their families.

That goes for the Iraqi men and women in uniform as well. So, who will they like to see as the next president and commander in chief? Why not just ask them?

That's exactly what our Kyra Phillips did, and she joins us now from Baghdad -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we always talk with the U.S. troops. But what about the Iraqi troops? We never hear from them. And we have never had access on to Musanah (ph) air base and just sat down and talked candidly with them without a public affairs official there telling them what they can say and what they can't say.

So, I wanted to know, are they following the presidential election? Are they paying attention to any certain candidates? And I was overwhelmed by the responses. So, here you go, the Iraqi soldiers, in their own words.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS (voice-over): In step and preparing for their various missions. These Iraqi soldiers are also following every step of the U.S. presidential election.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: One, two.

PHILLIPS: Is there a certain candidate in the U.S. that you're following?

AHMED MANSOUR, IRAQI SOLDIER (through translator): The truth is I pay attention to Democratic Party. Even more, Hillary Clinton.

PHILLIPS: Why?

MANSOUR (through translator): Because I like her personality, because she's new. In America you need something new. And new female president. We saw and lived under the Republican Party, under Bush. We would like to see what the Democrats have to offer.

PHILLIPS: Ali, why are you paying attention to the elections in the U. S. ?

ALI SALEH, IRAQI SOLDIER (through translator): I want to compare their democracy with ours. I want to see the differences between them and us. I want to see the way they vote. Are they unorganized, in a mess like us or better?

PHILLIPS (on-camera): Do you want a Democratic president or a Republican president?

SALEH: Democrat is better than Republican. We are living under the Republicans. We know the situation. It's difficult under the Republicans.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): These are troops from the Iraqi Army's Sixth division, engineers, weapons and bomb experts along with medics.

Is there a certain candidate that you're paying attention to?

UNIDENTIFIED IRAQI SOLDIER: Clinton.

PHILLIPS: If you had a chance to sit down with Hillary Clinton, what would you tell her you need in Iraq?

ALI MOHAMMED, IRAQI SOLDIER: I would ask her to help compose a book about democracy and send it to Iraqi politicians. It would help.

ALLA AHMED, IRAQI SOLDIER: Elections here are directly connected to the future of Iraq. And the pulling of U.S. forces from Iraq. Democracy in Iraq is new. We don't know much about it. We need practice. Our stability is not easy to fix.

PHILLIPS: Do you have a favorite candidate?

AHMED: Obama.

PHILLIPS: Obama?

AHMED: He's practical and he loves to serve his country.

PHILLIPS: If you could sit down with Obama, what would you tell him you need?

AHMED: I would ask him to pay attention to the Middle East. And the Iranian and American conflict that's happening on Iraqi land. That is affecting Iraq and needs to be addressed.

PHILLIPS: Why are you so concerned about Iran?

AHMED: They are our neighbors. They affect us directly and this is important to Iraqis.

PHILLIPS: There's been lots of talk about how Iran is affecting this war, funneling terrorists, weapons.

AHMED: Of course we believe that. We have proof that the Iranians help the terrorists by giving them money, weapons and many other things.

PHILLIPS: These soldiers are speaking candidly in a way they never could have under Saddam Hussein.

Wessam, what did you learn from the U.S. troops?

WESSAM FADEL, IRAQI SOLDIER (through translator): We learned discipline.

PHILLIPS: And why is discipline so important?

FADEL: At the fall of regime, there was no government. No one leading our people. No discipline. We gained military experience from the Americans. We didn't know car bombs, snipers, criminals killing people. We learned from Americans how to handle this. These people are threatening us and our troops.

We couldn't stand on the street without someone trying to kill us. But we learned how to control, identify criminals that were harming up. The hardest thing for us is what we see. Look at what's happening. Our people are getting hurt. We don't have electricity. Our young people don't have simple things, like a job, electricity. We have oil and we are poor and jobless. We want new companies to trust Iraq and invest in Iraq. We want jobs for our young people so they don't join these terrorists. That is the hardest part.

PHILLIPS: A hard-fought war, these young soldiers say they're willing to risk their lives.

How will a real democracy make your life better as an Iraqi?

TAHA IBRAHIM, IRAQI SOLDIER: Freedom. Without democracy, you will have no freedom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Now, just to be clear, I did ask each one of these soldiers, are you following any Republican candidates? Do you want to talk about John McCain? Do you -- would you want to see a Republican in office in the next -- in the upcoming election? And all of them said: No. We're living in a Republican war. We want to see change. And that means a Democrat.

And another interesting thing, too, a lot of them talked about Hillary Clinton. And my producer, Isabel (ph), she's a female. She's Arab. She said, from a cultural standpoint, for her, it was very fascinating to see these Arab men talk so much about a female becoming president in the U.S. -- Don.

LEMON: Ah, very interesting stuff. So, they would like to see a change, like a lot of people here in America are saying the same thing.

OK, Kyra, thank you very much for that report.

KEILAR: Let's get now to the breaking news desk and Fredricka Whitfield.

Some developments right, Fred, in the lawsuit involving the 2003 death of actor John Ritter. What's going on?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

The two doctors that the family of John Ritter were suing for negligence and saying that they didn't tend to him properly when he received hospital treatment back in 2003 -- he wasn't feeling well while working on the set of "8 Simple Rules -- and the family had been alleging that those doctors should have conducted some emergency surgery.

Well, in the end, while doctors believed that they were treating him for a heart attack, in the end, he had a torn aorta. Well, the headline here is that, after a thorough investigation, now the doctors have been cleared, that there is no proof, according to the judge here, that they, indeed, were negligent. Now, our Jim Roope of CNN Radio was in the courtroom as all of this unfolded. He joins us now on the phone.

And so, Jim, huge disappointment clearly for John Ritter's family, because they thought indeed that the doctors were negligent, but a big victory for Providence Saint Joseph Hospital.

JIM ROOPE, CNN RADIO: Well, you're absolutely right, mainly because the careers of these two doctors were in the hands of this jury -- $67 million would have bankrupt these doctors, ended their careers completely.

So, I mean, that's the good news on this side. The bad news is, John Ritter died. But the jury decided that it wasn't about malpractice or negligence or wrongdoing, that the radiologists did inform John Ritter he had a condition two years before his death, but John Ritter did not follow up with physician's care, as was directed by this radiologist, also that the cardiologist who the lawsuit claims failed to order a chest X-ray, there was apparently a chest X-ray ordered.

This doctor, this cardiologist was called into the hospital last minute to deal with this situation. So, there was a little bit of miscommunication there. But the hospital already gave the family $9 million in settlements. All told, they received already $14 million. So, the jury found that these two doctors were not negligent, not guilty of any wrongdoing at all.

WHITFIELD: Interesting.

So, this Glendale jury sided on behalf of the doctors of the hospital. Does the family have any recourse at this point? Have they expressed what they want the next point -- step to be, or are they just simply going to take this and close the door on the case?

ROOPE: Well, we haven't heard anything just yet. At least I haven't heard anything just yet. But this is a civil case, so I don't know how far they could go.

You don't need a unanimous verdict in a civil case. The jury came back 9-3 in this case, so I have no idea what recourse they really have. Again, they have already received settlements from the hospital and some other folks involved in the case. Whether they can go back at these doctors again, I don't think so, but we haven't heard anything just yet.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jim Roope, thanks so much, of CNN Radio. Appreciate it, from Glendale, California -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Fred, thanks very much.

And some amazing news for the families of contractors kidnapped in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want you to come home, preferably with no more body parts missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: That is a mother. Her son vanished almost a year-and-a- half ago. And body parts? Wait until you hear why she thinks her son be alive.

LEMON: Retail sales, well, they are falling. Oil prices are gushing, the dollar tanking. And now for the bad news? One expert says the U.S. is looking down the barrel of a recession.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right, well things are actually looking up on Wall Street, even though the Dow is down. It's down 153 points right now. But at one point in the day, down more than 300 points. We'll check in with Susan Lisovicz in just a bit.

Meantime, that Ricin scare in Las Vegas -- it was a mystery for a long time. Well, maybe no longer. Our Fredricka Whitfield following some new developments in that story.

Fred, what do you have for us?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it is still somewhat of a mystery, but now we understand that the man who was in that hotel room -- that extended stay hotel room where the Ricin was found, well, apparently he has regained consciousness. All this time, since February 14, he's been hospitalized, as you'll recall.

And now we understand he's regained consciousness. He is talking to investigators, but we don't know what's being said exactly. It's still unclear the origin of this Ricin -- how did it get in this room in the first place? And it's still a mystery how he was able to survive any kind of exposure to Ricin.

He was you a coma for a long-time and now, again, the headline -- has regained consciousness. So hopefully we will be hearing some new developments from the investigators on this case in Las Vegas.

LEMON: Yes, that was the thing, Fred, they couldn't question him because he was in a coma.

WHITFIELD: Right.

LEMON: So they were questioning everyone around him. So the person who can possibly provide the information now is conscious so we may learn.

OK, Fredricka Whitfield. If you get any more information, check back with us. Thank you.

KEILAR: In this week's Fit Nation report, the story of Sherry Coulombe. She's accomplished something most of us can't even dream of doing and she did it after losing half of her body weight.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has her story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Ironman Triathlon -- swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 and run a full marathon. It's grueling for anyone. But at 348-pounds, 29-year-old Sherry Coulombe never dreamed she could even come close.

SHERRY COULOMBE, TRIATHLETE: My life was miserable. I couldn't walk down the hallway without losing my breath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, there's a risk of getting pregnant.

GUPTA: Her weight also interfered with her ability to get pregnant.

COULOMBE: That was the turning point.

GUPTA: She underwent gastric bypass surgery at DeKalb Medical Center in Atlanta, where doctors shortened her digestion tract to limit her calorie intake.

COULOMBE: By the time that I had the surgery I was 25 and I didn't think I was going to make it to my 30th birthday.

GUPTA: She lost more than 150 pounds in nine months, but it wasn't easy.

COULOMBE: You know, it's hard to go from eating a big plate of food, mentally, to eating something that fits inside of a Dixie cup.

GUPTA: And there can be major risks involved with the surgery, such as anemia, vitamin deficiencies and dumping syndrome, where the body passes food too quickly, causing nausea and weakness. Rarely bothered by side effects, Sherry is now almost 170 pounds lighter and an accomplished triathlete -- something she never imagined possible.

COULOMBE: I'm still the same person, I'm just a more confident person and a more active person and a more healthy person.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: OK. We have been following this today here in the CNN NEWSROOM and we want to tell you again about the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives have just passed a surveillance bill that President Bush promises will die on his desk.

He promises he'll veto it, if it survives that long. The measure wouldn't protect telecoms from lawsuits for helping the government eavesdrop on their customers or consumers after 9/11. It passed 213- 197, largely along party lines. The Senate has passed a version that does include the telecom immunity President Bush is insisting on. KEILAR: If you're sitting on gold at $1,000 an ounce, you may not care about oil at $110 a barrel or gas at $3.28 a gallon.

If you're not, you may feel a lot like the folks our Richard Roth met in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the perfect storm of economic gloom -- crude oil breaks record highs, gold soars to new records and the U.S. dollar falls to record lows against the euro.

(on-camera): What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get in the bunker. It's going to get worse.

ROTH: Americans have that mentality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It all affects me. It affects my business. It affects me personally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's sad. It's very sad. And that makes purchasing power much lower.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you (INAUDIBLE).

ROTH: American Tinjang (ph) just booked a trip for 33 family and friends closer to home -- to Mexico.

TINJANG, LEAVING U.S. FOR BETTER ECONOMY: The problem with the declining dollar, we figure let's go abroad somewhere that we can find a better deal. That's why we found Mexico.

ROTH: This is Liberty Travel's number one store in America. Many vacationers come in with an urge for London, Paris and Rome.

GARY LICHTER, MANAGER, LIBERTY TRAVEL: We usually do a large business here and we have seen a decline in the number of people traveling to Europe.

ROTH: But sometimes when you've got to go...

CLAIRE MARCUS, CONSULTANT, LIBERTY TRAVEL: There's only one Europe. You cannot -- you know, you can't duplicate Europe.

ROTH: American drivers only wish they could duplicate gasoline. With oil skyrocketing, this station's managers are pumping fewer cars as people drive less.

KENNY KHAN, GAS STATION DEALER: They're telling me the price is high and I tell them just because it's not -- I can't control it because I'm paying a high price, also, for the gasoline.

ROTH (on-camera): Well, you must become a millionaire now with oil prices so high?

KHAN: I wish I could be a millionaire, because I'm paying high prices to buy the gasoline.

ROTH (voice-over): And New York cabbies have a new complaint.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's very slow, very slow. And people are not spending that much money.

ROTH: News of record high gold have people cashing in the family jewels.

FRANK LASHVILI, GOLD BUYER: When it reaches over $1,000 and, you know, people will be more interested to get the money into their pocket rather than have jewelry sitting around in the jewelry boxes.

ROTH: Michael Rubinoff (ph), who buys and sells gold in New York's Diamond District, says that today's gold price is something people can sink their teeth into.

MICHAEL RUBINOFF: I bought today, by the way, a gold tooth.

ROTH: And a recession will be about as much fun as a root canal.

Richard Roth, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right, well, yesterday we told you about this news. Chrysler says it will shut down its factories for a couple of weeks this summer in order to save money -- just more troubling news about the U.S. economy, especially when it comes to retail sales.

Neal Boudette is the "Wall Street Journal's" bureau chief. He is in Detroit. And he thinks a recession is the next step.

Neal, some people say we're already in a recession.

NEAL BOUDETTE, "WALL STREET JOURNAL" DETROIT BUREAU CHIEF: Well, I think there are -- yes. There are a lot of economists out there who believe that. And we're seeing signs that the economy really is slowing down.

Just yesterday, February retail sales were down more than expected. There was a foreclosure announcement -- foreclosures in February were down 60 percent -- were up 60 percent year on year. So there are a lot of signs that the economy is having some serious trouble.

LEMON: Since you bring that up, I want to ask you about it. The president urged Congress not to -- not to help homeowners -- bail them out of their mortgage crisis. Help or hurt the economy?

BOUDETTE: Well, I don't know what they could do that would help right away. Congress has already -- the government has already tried to help homeowners who were on the verge of foreclosure. And there are some people out there who have -- who have been able to avoid foreclosure because of that.

But in terms of stimulating the economy and really stopping us from sliding in the direction toward a recession, I don't know that they can do anything that will have immediate effect.

LEMON: OK. All right. I just wanted to get your response to that. I didn't plan on asking about it...

BOUDETTE: Sure.

LEMON: ...but since you brought it up.

OK. The vice president of your editorial page, of "The Wall Street Journal," asked a question of the president this morning.

I want to play it and I want to get your response to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe in a strong dollar, recognize economies go up and down. But it's important for to us put policy in place that sends a signal that our economy is going to be strong and open for business, which will strengthen -- you know, which supports the strong dollar policy, such as not doing something foolish during this economic period that will cause -- make it harder to grow, such as rejecting shutting down capital from coming into this country, such as announcing that, you know, or articulating a belief that making the tax cuts permanent takes uncertainty out of the system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So you heard the president's response. And basically he was asking about what he planned to do about rising prices, other than gas and oil, really rising prices all over the economy.

BOUDETTE: Right. Well, there's no doubt that even if the government says or if President Bush says we have a strong dollar policy, we certainly don't have that, in fact. The dollar is very weak. It's more than $1.50 to the euro now.

It hit some lows against the yen just the other day. And that weak dollar has a good impact in that it makes American exports cheaper. But, of course, this country imports a lot of goods from overseas and that makes everything we bring into the country even more expensive.

LEMON: OK. One reason our economy is believed to have held so strong, many economists say, is because we had a very, very strong housing market. And now we have all of those people in foreclosure and people losing their homes. We actually did a story about people -- some people who are losing their homes, they burn them down rather than go into foreclosure.

Is this the cornerstone of the economy, the housing market? And by it doing poorly, is that causing us to spiral more into a possible recession?

BOUDETTE: Well, housing certainly is a big piece of the U.S. economy. I wouldn't say it's the cornerstone, but it is a big piece of it. And for a long stretch of time, homeowners were able to use their homes sort of as ATMs.

You could refinance your mortgage, take money out of your house and do home improvements or buy a new car or go on a vacation if you wanted. And now, with home values down, people can't do that. So that kind of extra spending they were able to do four or five, six years ago, is out of the system and that does have an effect -- weigh on the economy.

LEMON: I've got two quick questions for you, because we're up against the clock here.

BOUDETTE: Sure.

LEMON: When it comes to homes, do you see this as a correction in the housing market or a recession in the housing market, something that's long lasting?

BOUDETTE: Well, a recession is a technical term and it has to do with whether there are declines -- this, certainly in the housing market, we've seen a long period of decline there. Whether the U.S. economy technically is in a recession, we'll find out when we see the (INAUDIBLE)...

LEMON: What I'm asking, though, are we going to see the highs that we saw when we were talking about, you know, homes that were increasing hundreds of percent over just a couple years' time? Do you think those days are over for good, basically is what I'm asking you?

BOUDETTE: Well, you know, you're asking me to predict the future and if I could do that I'd be a rich man. But certainly not this year and not next year. We're not going to see housing take off the way it was in the late '90s and early 2000s.

LEMON: OK. I think we'd both be rich if you could do that.

BOUDETTE: That's true.

LEMON: All right. And the final question I want to ask you, because you're in Detroit, I want to ask you about Chrysler. The representative yesterday...

BOUDETTE: Sure.

LEMON: ...said this had nothing to do with supply and demand. This is something they were doing to readjust. But a lot of people are thinking they're going to lose their jobs. They won't have -- soon won't have jobs to go back to.

BOUDETTE: Well, what Chrysler is doing is they're shutting down the entire company for the first two weeks of July. Normally, they shut down their production plants for two weeks in July. And now, just about every department in the company will -- is taking mandatory vacations.

So that's a sign that they're really tightening things up and trying to save every nickel they can. And part of the reason they're doing that is their sales are down and they're having a very tough time in this economy.

LEMON: Yes. OK. Thank you very much.

BOUDETTE: Thank you.

LEMON: Neal Boudette from the "Wall Street Journal," bureau chief in Detroit. We appreciate it.

KEILAR: Amazing news for the families of contractors kidnapped in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKIE STEWART, JOSHUA MUNNS' MOTHER: Preferably with no more body parts missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: That's a mother. Her son vanished almost a year-and-a- half ago and body parts -- wait until you hear why she thinks her son may be alive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: The FBI reportedly has matched new DNA samples with four Americans and an Austrian kidnapped more than a year ago in Iraq. Now they won't say what those samples are, but a source tells CNN severed fingers were delivered to U.S. officials last month.

LEMON: Yes, that sparked optimism -- yes, optimism that the men are still alive. A mother in Oregon is encouraged, but needs more information.

We get the story from reporter Susan Harding of CNN affiliate KATU in Portland.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN HARDING, KATU CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In an instant, Jackie Stewart's six kids come running home to her.

STEWART: This one snort (ph).

HARDING: It's a brief moment of release from 16 torturous months waiting for Josh Munns, her only son, to come home. Last month, the FBI asked her for DNA.

STEWART: We figured they found some clothing.

HARDING: Now she knows they found his severed finger.

STEWART: The mental picture that my son's got a finger missing kind of hit me pretty hard.

HARDING: Looking at her son and his fiance, she turns her thoughts from his torture to his survival.

STEWART: To me, it means that he's still alive. And that's the only way that I can look at is that he's still alive.

HARDING: In the past few months, Stewart's dog died, her mom had a stroke, she had a hysterectomy and now this. But she knows Josh is tough.

STEWART: I think he is, but, you know, maybe we're not all that tough. You know, because no matter what I go through, no matter what tragedy befalls me, no matter what, it's nothing to what he's going through.

HARDING: The last sign from his kidnappers was one year ago, when they got this video, showing Josh and the four other kidnapped workers. This time the image is tougher to take.

STEWART: I don't know if this is a message or a warning.

HARDING: So she focuses on her own message to Josh.

STEWART: I want you to come home, preferably with no more body parts missing. But we're looking for you. We're trying to find you. But you need to come home so I can have grandkids.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Josh Munns was last seen alive in that videotape released a month after his abduction. That was in 2006. There's been nothing since. A militant group has claimed responsibility for the killing.

KEILAR: And on Wall Street, the Dow down about 230 points following news that one of the world's largest brokerage firms needs emergency funding.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Time now to check what videos are clicking on CNN.com.

Germany's highest court rules this couple must separate. They are brother and sister who grew up in different homes. They met eight years ago and they fell in love. They have four daughters, two with disabilities.

Desperate times lead some homeowners to take desperate measures. Facing foreclosure, some are actually setting fire to their own houses for the insurance money. Instead, they land in jail.

Well, imagine being in one of these cars. You're driving along the northwest coast of Spain when a freak wave crashes over the seawall and washes you right off the road. For more on that, just link to all of our top story lists from the front page of CNN.com.

LEMON: Not a good day on Wall Street. Still down, up from the low of 300 today -- over 300, as a matter of fact. The closing bell and a wrap of all of the action on Wall Street straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: The closing bell is about to ring on Wall Street.

LEMON: It's that time already?

KEILAR: It sure is. I know.

LEMON: Susan Lisovicz is standing by with a final look at the trading day and time for Saturday soon.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh my gosh. I go on vacation tomorrow. It's not going to be soon enough.

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: Me, too.

LISOVICZ: All right, Brianna.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

LEMON: All right. Thank you Susan.

KEILAR: Thanks Susan.

LEMON: Have a great weekend.

Now it's time to turn it over to "THE SITUATION ROOM"...

KEILAR: ... and Wolf Blitzer.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxantshop.com