Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Secret U.S. Ops in Iran; Pregnant Soldier Found Dead; Violent Protests in South Korea Over Beef; Why Dems Could Win Colorado; "Hussein" Solidarity; Free Fuel Giveaways

Aired June 30, 2008 - 17:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: ...Show their solidarity with Barack Obama. The are adopting his middle name.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A deadly shift in the war on terror, for the second month in a row more U.S. and coalition soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq. 40 compared to 30. And those 40 deaths make June the deadliest month ever since Operation Enduring Freedom began in Afghanistan more than seven years ago.

At the same time there are disturbing reports that the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is being crippled by bureaucratic infighting in Washington. CNN's Brian Todd is investigating. Brian, what are you finding?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, in three different briefings in Washington today, U.S. officials denied reports that squabbling between agencies is hindering efforts on the ground but you are seeing signs of frustration among military commanders that in some cases they cannot go after their main targets.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN a number of factors lead them to believe Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders remain somewhere along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But there's frustration on the part of U.S. military commanders that they can't get the green light to launch some operations in that area. That's according to an official at U.S. central command. How effective has the U.S. been in cracking down against al-Qaeda in that sensitive region?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Osama bin Laden is still free seven years after 9/11, Ayman Al-Zawahiri his number two is still free. Al Qaeda has reground by the government's own estimation. So I think those results speak for themselves.

TODD: CIA and Pentagon officials won't report on a report on the "New York Times" that a secret plan drawn up last year to make it easier for special operation forces to go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan is still caught up in red tape. The report says officials at the White House and State Department are concerned that tensions with Pakistan will blow up. The White House denies bureaucracy is getting in the way.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President has been looking for Osama bin Laden since September 12th. That effort has never let up.

TODD: Former officials who were inside U.S. intelligence after 9/11 tell us it has been difficult since then to coordinate operations between the Pentagon, intelligence, the state Department and the White House, especially when it comes to going after al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The fundamental problem here is that we're dealing with an adversary who has taken up refuge on the territory of a sovereign state with whom we're not at war. That's a very unusual circumstance. That then presents a whole series of difficult decisions for people in government, people in intelligence, people in the military.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But John McLaughlin does not believe that Washington bureaucracy is holding up special operations inside Pakistan. He said the reason the U.S. hasn't gotten Bin Laden is that so far officials haven't had high enough confidence in the intelligence they received to commit Special Ops forces -- John.

ROBERTS: Well, Brian, what degree of confidence does he say they have to have?

TODD: Well, he says if they've got 80 percent confidence in the intelligence about any target, they'll launch. But he says something that does say something about how cold this trail has gotten for Bin Laden, if they haven't gotten to the 80 percent level on him, the trail's gotten pretty cold at this point, John.

ROBERTS: All right. Brian Todd for us this afternoon. Brian, thanks so much.

Barack Obama may soon get a firsthand look at Iraq and Afghanistan. He's heading to the Middle East and Europe soon. Republican rival John McCain is also getting his passport stamped. Let's go to our Mary Snow now. Mary, what do the candidates hope to accomplish by going overseas, or in John McCain's case, south of the border?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John, it may seem counter intuitive, but the presidential candidates are hoping to gain support here at home by going overseas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): John McCain flies his new "Straight Talk Express" jet south of the border to Mexico and Colombia this week. Barack Obama will head to the Middle East and Europe this summer, and he told a radio interviewer he plans on visiting Iraq and Afghanistan.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In Iraq, my goal is to talk to the Iraqi leadership about making political progress so that we can start phasing down our troops in Iraq. And obviously I also want to congratulate the troops for the extraordinary work they've done in reducing violence there.

SNOW: Political observers say traveling overseas can give the candidates a chance to boost foreign policy credentials.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: John McCain I think has used his trips to Iraq to considerable effect and have been helpful. I'm not sure if any more foreign travel especially in Columbia and Mexico right now help his very much. But a foreign policy trip for Barack Obama is essential.

SNOW: A poll in early June asking voters who would better handle foreign policy puts McCain ahead of Obama by 11 points, and McCain's playing up what he sees as his advantage and has been pushing for a joint trip to Iraq.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I still offer to go with Senator Obama. I hope that I could not only add to some of his knowledge of the region, because he's only been there once, as we all know.

SNOW: Obama has turned down McCain's offer calling it a political stunt. He is expected instead to go to Iraq as part of a congressional delegation. One former diplomat says these overseas trips that also include the Middle East and Europe are necessary considering America's bruised image.

CARLOS PASCUAL, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: A part of what these leaders are doing, these candidates are doing, is demonstrating that they're able to restore American leadership and partnership with others, and that's an issue that resonates and plays back to the electorate in the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: So, while the candidates are trying to shore up their credibility, their trips overseas can be seen as a test of how well they do on the world stage -- John?

ROBERTS: Trips could provide some sort of an advantage, but could the time spent overseas also hurt these candidates because there are so many pressing domestic issues that require attention?

SNOW: Besides that, John, there's also a down side, you know, the former diplomat we spoke to said that while Americans want to be liked around the world, they also don't want other countries to set the agenda. And if they feel that another country is pulling the strings, that could be a down side for these candidates.

ROBERTS: All right. Mary Snow for us today. Mary, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty back now in New York here with me with "The Cafferty File." JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It occurs to me that if we want to be liked around the world, maybe we shouldn't inflict our political campaigns on these foreign governments and people.

ROBERTS: We need to have a robust foreign policy.

CAFFERTY: No. Maybe they'll go and not come back. Just stay over there. John McCain's military service doesn't automatically qualify him to be president. That's according to Retired General Wesley Clark. Clark is a former NATO commander. He backed Hillary Clinton but now he supports Barack Obama. He says performing that heroic military acts is not a substitute for command experience. Clark says he honors McCain's service as a P.O.W. and calls him a hero. He credits McCain's time on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has traveled worldwide but he points out that John McCain has not held executive responsibility. General Clark says, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

McCain was more than just a fighter pilot, though. After his days as a P.O.W., he went on to become the commanding officer of the largest squadron in the U.S. Navy. McCain's campaign responded saying Obama doesn't stand for a new kind of politics, that he's willing to do and say anything to get elected, including allowing his surrogates to "demean and attack McCain's military record." Barack Obama has formally rejected General Clark's comments, with the spokesman adding saying that Obama honors and respects John McCain's service.

But Clark isn't the only one. The Politico reports that John McCain's coming under fire about his military service from critics on the left and the right. Some of them accused him for war crimes for bombing targets in Hanoi during the 1960s. And one liberal blog accuses McCain of disloyalty during his time as a P.O.W. since he participated in Vietnamese propaganda films and interviews. Others are asking for more detailed records about McCain's navy service.

So, here's the question: Are John McCain's military credentials overrated? Go to cnn.com/cafferty file and post a comment on my blog. We'll read a few of them in about 45 minutes.

ROBERTS: Another provocative question -

CAFFERTY: We try -

ROBERTS: ... which should provoke some interesting.

CAFFERTY: ...provocative enough.

ROBERTS: You seem to hit the mark every time. Jack, thanks,

CAFFERTY: John, thanks.

ROBERTS: One part of Barack Obama's voting history is under attack from the right. We are checking the facts about what's really in his record today. And what's next with Bill Clinton? He finally speaks with Barack Obama. Find out how he might help and possibly hurt Obama's campaign. James Carville and Bill Bennett join me. Coming up next.

And trouble at ground zero. After years of planning, calls to scrap it all and start from scratch. Stay with us. You're in the "Situation Room."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Barack Obama is fending off new attacks on his voting record when it comes to abortion. CNN's Carol Costello is investigating. Carol, what are the allegations and what's the truth about Obama's abortion record?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, some are calling Barack Obama a baby killer because of a bill he voted down while he was in the Illinois state Senate. It was called the Born-alive Infant Protection Act and it's come back to haunt him. But is it fair? It's a charge that's been circulating online for months.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't let a baby die that does miraculously survive an abortion.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Anti-abortion conservatives like former senator Rick Santorum have written op eds about it calling Obama a harsh ideologue. And conservative commentator and CNN contributor Bill Bennett has given voice to it in "The Situation Room."

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: What about that vote in Chicago that turned the stomach even of NARAL, and the liberal senators that says if a baby is born alive after a late-term abortion, you can throw it away. Barack Obama approved that.

COSTELLO: What about that vote? In 2001, when Obama was an Illinois state senator, he and his colleagues considered a bill called the Born Alive Infant Protection Act which provided "that a live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law." The bill caused an uproar in Illinois. Fueled by dramatic testimony by a former Chicago nurse, Jill Stanick.

JILL STANICK, FORMER CHICAGO NURSE: I held this little baby who had Down's syndrome between 21 and 22 weeks until he died for 45 minutes. And that instantly catapulted me into being a pro-life activist to stand passionate on this issue.

COSTELLO: Stanick was working at an Illinois hospital at that time, became so passionate she said she lost her job. A hospital spokesman, the Reverend Wendall Ulman would not confirm this, but said Stanick did not represent their hospital in a credible way. Still, Stanick's testimony fueled passion for the Illinois bill. It came up for a vote twice in the state legislature. The first time Obama voted present. The second time he voted no. He said at the time the Illinois Born Alive Infant Protection Act "would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child."

In other words, Obama says now it lacked the federal language clarifying the act would not be used to undermine Roe v. Wade. Planned Parenthood of Chicago told us Obama felt the true goal of the Illinois bill was to make sure all abortion was illegal. Stanick denies that saying the bill was almost identical to the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act. A bill that was approved by every legislature from liberal Ted Kennedy to conservative Rick Santorum. It was signed into law by President Bush in 2002.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: And Senator Obama says if he had been in the U.S. Senate in 2002, he, too, would have voted in favor of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act because unlike the Illinois bill, it included language protecting Roe v. Wade -- John.

ROBERTS: Carol Costello there with the background on this. And joining us to talk more about Obama's abortion record and more, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville and CNN political contributor Bill Bennett, host of the conservative national radio talk show, "Morning in America." He's also a Claremont Institute fellow.

Bill, let's start with you. So Barack Obama says that he voted no on this Born Alive Infant Protection Act because he said, and I read his comments in the Senate that day, said it would not pass constitutional muster, that it would in effect overturn Roe versus Wade by making abortion illegal. Do you accept that explanation?

BENNETT: No, certainly not. Carol's piece was good. It was accurate except there's one more thing you need to know. The 2003 bill, the more you look into this, the worse it is for Barack Obama to deny it. Because if you look into the record, and Carol did a good job, you will see the 2003 bill had exactly the same language as the federal bill. And Barack Obama voted against it. This was not about Roe v. Wade, this was not about abortion, it was about protecting these babies when they are alive, after seven months, five months, six months, whether it be an abortion or through birth or through any other means. Barack Obama, what he's saying is just false. Check the record. The more you dig into it, the worse it looks. He should just say whatever he wants, something else. I was naive, I didn't realize how close it was to the federal act. He cannot say it was different from the federal act. It was the same.

ROBERTS: James, does Senator Obama have a problem with this?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I thought the piece was rich. First of all, Rick Santorum calling someone a hard ideologue almost made me fall down. And the second thing is the priest at the hospital saying this woman was not credible. But it thought too it was very interesting. He says it had to have language in there supporting Roe v. Wade, he would have been for it. I would have to go back and look at the vote in the Illinois legislature. But I suspect this is one of these things where the pro-life people are trying to undermine Roe v. Wade. And I think Senator Obama will support overall.

ROBERTS: Right. So you don't think he has a problem here? This isn't going to hurt him?

CARVILLE: Based on what - based on Rick Santorum attack as a harsh ideologue, that doesn't move me very much. I can assure you.

ROBERTS: Right.

BENNETT: Well, if the only argument is that he was attacked by Rick Santorum that will be fine. But the question is the facts. The facts in the case speak for themselves. The language was the language.

CARVILLE: The promoter of this bill was called noncredible by the priest.

BENNETT: Well, whether the promoter of the bill -that wasn't a Catholic hospital, it wasn't a priest. Jeremiah Wright was on the board of this. This is another complication. The facts are the facts. The facts are that Barack Obama would not protect the life of this infant. Barbara Boxer would. The entire U.S. Senate would. Barack Obama wouldn't. He's got a problem with it.

CARVILLE: I think the language, look, Barack Obama supports Roe versus Wade, McCain doesn't. That's a fact. I can't change that.

BENNETT: That's not what this is about.

ROBERTS: James, Bill Bennett said in the past, and I assume that he still feels this way, that Barack Obama's getting a free ride in the press that he's not adequately being vetted. Is that a fair point to make?

CARVILLE: What are we talking about? Are we having a discussion about a vote in the Illinois Senate?

ROBERTS: On that, and other issues.

CARVILLE: Yes, you know, I'm not an arbiter of the press. I know that George W. Bush got an extremely favorable press for the first three or four years as presidency, and look at the disaster we have now. I'm not the kind of arbiter who gets favorable press or who doesn't get a favorable press. As you know, Senator Clinton who received the most negative press above any candidate that I can remember in modern memory. So I guess if I had a bone to pick here, but John McCain is hardly someone to complain about anybody getting a favorable press. So I don't know. I'm not a score keeper on press matters.

ROBERTS: Well, what about that, Bill Bennett? Is John McCain getting a free ride?

BENNETT: They're asking tough questions of John McCain and they may begin to ask tough questions of Barack Obama. I salute CNN for raising this question, this is a good one, and one he's not answered forthrightly. There are other good ones too. Good ones were raised today about the whole question of Wesley Clark and so on. But it's the beginning of the summer. The press will figure it out, I hope.

CARVILLE: Yes. If I say something about the Wesley Clark thing, the most ill reported story I've ever seen. He was asked specifically about that. And I think the answer he gave was, my uncle won a distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart in World War II, he would be the first person to say, I didn't qualify to be president. I think he's an honorable man but he was - I think General Clark was responding directly to a question. I read the transcript of what he said. And I think he's being mischaracterized on this and other networks.

ROBERTS: Well, let me change gears here if I could.

BENNETT: Because the Obama campaign is not defending Wesley Clark. They are saying that he misspoke. And he did.

ROBERTS: Let me change gears here for a second, if I can.

CARVILLE: I think that General Clark responded directly to a question that was asked to him, and I think when reporting this, we should be very careful to point out that he was asked this question and responded. I think in a very correct way.

ROBERTS: Well, James, let me ask you this question, because you have been very close to former President Clinton. You were there with him at his side during the 1992 campaign.

CARVILLE: I hope I'm still close to him.

ROBERTS: You have been an ardent supporter and friend of his very since. Did he and Barack Obama, do you think bury the hatchet during that 20-minute phone call this afternoon?

CARVILLE: You know, John, I've always said, I said the other night on CNN, you go through a process like this and there are bruised feelings. But I think that the healing process has begun. I said all along, any number of times that I thought that President Clinton was going to be a real supporter of Senator Obama's. I think that's going to be the case. I think important first steps were taken. And I think that he'll be enthusiastic about this. As will his wife.

That was a magnificent event they had in New Hampshire last week. And I think all this bodes well. But I'm not going to sit here and pretend like you go through something as traumatic and as long as this, where people don't get their feelings hurt from time to time. but that's part of what adults do, that's part of a good political people do is they get over that and they get over it quickly. And apparently we're on the road to a good recovery here.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll keep watching. It's going to make way for some interesting political theater. Bill Bennett, James Carville, good to talk to you. He's first in line to the British throne, but what's his take home. Prince Charles' salary. The numbers coming up next.

And a pregnant U.S. soldier found dead in a motel bathroom. The clue police say points to murder.

Plus, he wrote the article that has caused an uproar about his secret mission in Iran. Seymour Hersh live, up ahead. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Let's go now to our Carol Costello monitoring stories incoming into "The Situation Room."

What have you got, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, John, costs are soaring for the rebuilding at Ground Zero. And the project is falling further behind schedule. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says the schedule and budget should be scrapped. The "Wall street Journal" reports the cost overruns could climb to $3 billion. And the September 11th Memorial will not be ready for the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

Flooding in the midwest was so bad, farmers will harvest nearly nine percent fewer acres of corn this year. The government said food prices may rise as a result. Fields have soaked from Oklahoma to Ohio. Farmers planted more corn than they expected but much of the surplus was washed away by the flood.

And guess what: a sports car that runs on wine. It runs on wine. It belongs to none other than Britain's ecofriendly heir to the throne, Prince Charles. It's part of his drive to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions. His other cars run on used cooking oil. And he uses wood chip stove in his country mansion. Details contained in an annual review of his accounts which revealed he earned $32 million last year. Well, he can afford to pour wine into his gas tank then, can he?

ROBERTS: And he's got all that land, too. That's got to count for something.

COSTELLO: I just get can't over the wine. Does he pour expensive Bordeaux in?

ROBERTS: You do what you can, I guess. If you got it, use it. Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes.

ROBERTS: The Bush administration is ramping up secret operations aimed at destabilizing Iran's government. We'll talk to the award- winning reporter behind the explosive allegations. That's coming up.

Also, in Colorado, the ultimate toss-up state. Why Democrats have new hopes across the mountain west. And thousands of protesters in violent clashes over American meat. Now it's forcing a government to change.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. And happening now, is the Bush administration targeting Iran. The "New Yorker" Seymour Hersh says the U.S. is significantly stepping up covert operations against Iran. I'll talk with Hersh right here on THE SITUATION ROOM just ahead.

Pitch battles in the streets of Seoul, South Korea, protests against U.S. beef imports rocked South Korea's capital and inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment.

And the mysterious death of a pregnant U.S. soldier. Police now say she apparently was murdered. And the Army is joining in the hunt for her killer.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts in New York. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A growing and secret Bush administration war chest, funding escalating undercover operations inside Iran aimed at destabilizing the government. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh makes detail and disturbing allegations in the "New Yorker." He's going to join us live in just a moment. But first, CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is here. Jamie, what are you picking up on this story today?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, today, John, there was no comments from the White House, some non-denials from the Pentagon, and a little bit of sneering from the State Department.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The allegation that U.S. special ops commandos have been conducting covert operations into Iran from southern Iraq drew a quick and unequivocal denial from the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I can tell you flatly that U.S. forces are not operating across the Iraqi border into Iran, in the south or anywhere else.

MCINTYRE: But investigative reporter Seymour Hersh whose "New Yorker" magazine article claims the U.S. efforts are part of a $400 million covert campaign to destabilize Iran's government argues the operations are so super secret, Ambassador Crocker may be out of the loop. That assertion was mocked by the State Department's spokesman.

TOM CASEY, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: Yes, I'm sure it's common for conspiracy minded journalists to know more than the U.S. ambassador to a country. I don't think that's an argument that really holds water. MCINTYRE: Nevertheless, senior Pentagon officials have hinted to CNN that CIA and other highly classified operations are conducted from time to time inside Iran but they have never confirmed it. In a statement the CIA said "As a rule, it does not comment on allegations regarding covert operations." Still, some members of Congress were not so quick to dismiss the idea that the U.S. is working secretly in Iran to stop its meddling in Iraq.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I) CONNECTICUT: I think we should be doing whatever we can to let the Iranians know they can't continue this. And not expect us to take some action against them on this basis.

MCINTYRE: Hersh says some of the U.S. forces operating in Iran may be coming from the other border, Afghanistan. And he suggests their mission in part is to gather intelligence about Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program possibly to lay the groundwork for a military strike.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Pentagon officials who won't talk publicly because of the highly classified nature of the effort have hinted to CNN that there's a sort of tit for tat going on, that the U.S. is trying to do to Iran what Iran is attempting to do in Iraq. That is support the groups that oppose the central government, and thereby, undermine it -- John?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Jamie McIntyre with the background on the story for us. Jamie, thanks.

And joining me now is the author of the article, Seymour Hersh.

You heard what Tom Casey had to say at the State Department. He called you "a conspiracy minded journalist." He also said, this is something you didn't hear there, "After I stop laughing, I'll try to address the story for you." What do you say?

SEYMOUR HERSH, THE "NEW YORKER": Well, it's tough because I was on your network yesterday, and he said what he said. And what am I going to do, say he is not telling the truth? Just to be perfectly honest, I can tell you that in the article I wrote, I go to great lengths in citing people by name, including Admiral William Fallon.

One of the issues Fallon had along with the problems of speaking out against the bombing in Iran, which he did, that was the obvious cause of his dismissal. But there was a bigger part to the story, which is really, frankly, that he wanted to know exactly what the special ops guys were doing inside Iran. And he wasn't getting the whole story. He was increasingly agitated about it.

I will tell you right now categorically, that had a lot to do particularly with Vice President Cheney being quite angry at him about this. He wanted Fallon, who after all is the Centcom commander in charge of the war in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan; he wanted them out of the way when it came to special ops.

So it isn't that impossible that some of the activities that Crocker, who is a very honorable guy, didn't know about. Because otherwise I just don't think he would say something that's not true. Because I will tell you right now, the cross-border operations have been going on from southern Iraq into getting al Kutz and interrogating them back in town. And along with that, back in Iraq.

And along with that, there's a separate operation, a task force that's run by the joint special operations command out of, I think I can probably say this, Heart province. It's a big enough province. We're running a separate operation funneling people and the special agents and equipment into Iran from there.

ROBERTS: Now, you did cite General Fallon by name. But there are also a lot of unnamed sources in your article. You say that these unnamed sources have seen classified documents which they related to you. Did you ever see the classified documents yourself?

HERSH: Actually what I said in the article was pretty carefully said. I said those who are familiar with the documents. We never quite said anybody saw a finding. A presidential finding is very highly classified. And absolutely I can tell you right now, I did not see a presidential finding.

ROBERTS: How can you be sure these people were being straight with you and they weren't operating from some political perspective?

HERSH: I certainly think they were operating from a political perspective in the sense that they're totally pro-Pentagon, pro-war, pro-our armed forces, pro-our soldiers but are very much against the policy in Iran. And I can tell you also that some people there know the "New Yorker's" very rigorous fact checking process. There were more than one or two or three people I talked to about this. This is a great deal of concern about this new finding and the money that was spent, and a great deal of concern about the fact that Congress really doesn't know what the special operation command is doing in Iran because the White House refuses to tell Congress anything about military operations. Only the CIA operations are briefed to the Congress, the special committees.

ROBERTS: Let me take you back a couple of years ago to another article that you wrote in the "New Yorker" about the same subject, which I believe I was filling in for Wolf on special edition -- or "LATE EDITION" one day and had you in to talk about it. And what you said in this article, "the Bush administration has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack." Nothing has happened since then.

That was two years ago. What about Jamie McIntyre was reporting about a moment ago that this is not a prelude to a major attack? This is simply trying to do to Iran the same thing that Iran is ostensibly doing in Iraq. And it's a major irritant to the government there, trying to keep it off-balance.

HERSH: What the joint special -- the JSOC is doing, the joint special operations command are high value target hunters. They're hunter/killer teams. They're the best we have. Please don't think I'm in any way denigrating them. They're great soldiers, great warriors. They've been assigned by this White House, by the president, they've been given basically worldwide cart blanche when we isolate a high-value target in the global war on terrorism, they are permitted, they are authorized by executive order to go into any country without telling the ambassador or the station chief and find the guy, capture them if they can, if not take other means, killing them included. Let me go on.

One of the targets, and I write about this, a target designated by the vice president's office in this case, are Iranian nuclear scientists. We would love to get an Iranian nuclear scientist. We'd like to capture one, bring them back to the United States, show the world what the White House believes, which is that Iran is much farther along in its weapons program.

ROBERTS: I'm sure they would. But is that laying the groundwork for major military operations in Iran?

HERSH: No, the groundwork had been laid, as you just mentioned. Listen, the submarines are ready. The destroyers are ready. The cruise missiles are ready. We've been exercising and training on this for years. We're ready to go. Of course we have been for a long time. We've got that country targeted. That doesn't mean it's going to happen.

ROBERTS: Does this idea of a covert activity a big deal? We had General David Grange on with Kyra Phillips earlier on "NEWSROOM" today. Here's what he said about covert activity of the nature you say is going on in Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY: I hope we're doing it. I think every country in the world does covert operations. Remember, covert operation is one where the act is not hidden, it's the sponsor of the act that's hidden. And it gives you an opportunity for a plausible denial. It's important to do covert operations to shape our interests abroad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So he's saying this sort of activity that you talk about in your article, he would expect would be going on.

HERSH: I could also tell you the classic definition of a covert operation, also involves doing activity that would not be legal, would not be considered legal in the country in which you're operating. I can also tell you that a finding, there's one of the bars to a finding, one of the findings in the legal requirements, one of the legal requirements of a finding for CIA operations that it cannot be against the American constitution or the laws.

There's a lot of problems in the whole process. One of the major points I'm making, and I disagree about covert operations in this sense. We have a purpose here. We're still trying to undermine the government. There's been an enormous increase in activities, terrorism, bombings. If anybody looks at the scale of operations in the last four, five months, the scale of reported incidents inside Iran, they're going up exponentially. As I say in the article, I don't know whether we're responsible for it, but it is interesting. And again --

ROBERTS: I'm sorry, we're running out of time. I just wanted to thank you very much for coming on. It's an interesting article, certainly a lot of food for thought.

HERSH: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: Thanks for being with us today. Appreciate it.

HERSH: Bye-bye.

ROBERTS: A pregnant soldier, a murder scene and a mysterious letter, coming up, the clue that's taking the case to a whole new level.

Plus, surrounded by flags, Barack Obama speaks out about patriotism, why he's blaming himself for some of the criticism.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Army investigators are now joining in the probe into the mysterious death of a pregnant Fort Bragg soldier. The body of 23-year-old Megan Touma was found in a motel room in Fayetteville, North Carolina, more than a week ago.

Let's go to CNN's T.J. Holmes in Fayetteville.

T.J., the case is now being treated as a homicide?

T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are treating it as a homicide. And as we know, that is not the same thing as ruling it a homicide, certainly semantically different here. They are not sure still how she died and if in fact she was murdered. They have done at least one autopsy now by the state medical examiner here in South Carolina. The results of that not released. But certainly not enough from that the police have gotten to make them think that this was in fact was a homicide for sure.

Next, the army, as you mentioned, has gotten involved in this investigation now. Her body now, Megan Touma's body, is now with the army in D.C. for another round, for a second autopsy. That autopsy done in a pathology lab that hopefully has some more advanced technology, maybe will be able to give some answers as to how she died and if in fact it was a confirmed -- if they can confirm it was a homicide.

Those are the two major developments today. We had certainly other major developments over the weekend. This person of interest for one thing but also this letter, this mysterious letter that was sent to a local newspaper from someone claiming to be the killer, confessing to the murder, and also saying they had killed plenty of times before and they would kill again.

Fayetteville police want everybody out there to know and certainly the people of Fayetteville, they do not believe that there is a serial killer on the loose. They believe this letter may have been written just to throw them off, not giving a lot of credence to it.

And the other major development, as we were mentioning, a person of interest. We do know this person is a soldier who is also stationed at Fort Bragg, the same place where Megan Touma had just been transferred. We don't know the relationship yet between the two. There's a lot of speculation, a lot of conjecture out there about whether or not this may have been the boyfriend, the fiance possibly, possibly the father of the child. That we just don't know. We don't know if police have this person in custody, if they're questioning him and if they know where this person is right now.

So John, a lot of fast moving developments over the weekend, and then also this morning. But we are in stand by mode. Police say they will not come out, John, with another press conference until they are sure they have something concrete to say.

ROBERTS: And any idea T.J. how long before they get the results of the second autopsy?

HOLMES: We do not have word on how long that will take. Again, we knew the autopsy didn't take long, even though they did not release those results. The army now has her body since Friday. Those results could come out to us at any moment.

ROBERTS: All right. T.J. Holmes for us in Fayetteville, North Carolina. T.J., thanks.

A beef between the United States and South Korea over beef. It's resulting in some violent protests.

CNN's State Department correspondent Zain Verjee is live with us from Washington.

Good afternoon, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, John.

South Koreans don't want U.S. beef. But the violence and the dispute is about a lot more than just beef.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Wild street battles and huge demonstrations over the safety of U.S. beef continue as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited South Korea.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: American beef is safe.

VERJEE: The new Korean government ended a five-year import ban imposed after a 2003 mad cow disease case in the U.S. Under a new deal, only cattle younger than 30 months are allowed in. The U.S. beef industry says this arrangement will help regain the confidence Korean consumers have in the quality and safety of U.S. beef, which is the very same beef we feed our own families. The ban cost the U.S. up to $4 billion in beef exports. But are these riots just about beef?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It is partly about fear, about the food, but it's also about a complex U.S./Korea relationship.

VERJEE: South's new President Lee is closer to President Bush. He's inherited tensions with the U.S. over the beef problem and over the presence of U.S. troops. Experts say lifting the ban on beef has triggered a wave of anti-American feeling.

O'HANLON: I think all sides need to cool it down, take some time, not belittle the other side's arguments or concerns. We should be able to work this one out in the end. After all, we are very important trading partners.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Experts say that many South Koreans feel that they are a powerful country in a big region with a very strong economy, so they shouldn't have to cave in to U.S. demands the way that they feel their government and their president is doing.

ROBERTS: Some pretty incredible street protests there. Zain Verjee for us from the State Department; Zain, thanks.

A show of support for Barack Obama is gathering steam and prompting name changes across the country. Is it for real?

And a new ad that uses a presidential impostor. It's raising some eyebrows. But does it go overboard?

Judge for yourself just ahead.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Winning the west could be key to winning the White House for Barack Obama. And for the first time since the turn of the century, Democratic prospects in the region are looking up. Case in point, Colorado.

CNN's Jim Acosta joins us live. He's back from Colorado.

What's happening in that state?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, it's no accident the Democrats picked Denver as the site of their upcoming national convention. Colorado is shaping up to be the ultimate tossup state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: There's more than a continental divide that runs through Colorado. The political divisions are just as dramatic with Democrats, Republicans and independents each making up roughly one- third of Colorado voters. But over the last four years, those voters have handed key state jobs to Democrats like Governor Bill Ritter.

GOV. BILL RITTER (D), COLORADO: There's been, I think, a trend to leaders who are pragmatic, who are centrists.

ACOSTA: The self-styled cowboy centrist believes his state has grown weary of the westerner currently in the oval office.

RITTER: I think people are really disappointed about what happened respecting the Iraqi war, how we got into it. In some respects, how we were misled in getting into it. And I think that ...

ACOSTA: Do you feel that the president misled the country?

RITTER: I feel so. I absolutely do and I think there will be some backlash in this election as a part of it.

ERIC SONDERMANN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Clearly, there's war fatigue here, as there is war fatigue in other states.

ACOSTA: But Colorado political analyst, Eric Sondermann, points out Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to win here and he did so with the help of third party candidate Ross Perot, taking votes away from the Republicans. This time there's no viable independent in the race.

SONDERMANN: It is a unique kind of Democrat who is winning here. The question is, can Obama inherit or adapt to that kind of magic.

BILL OWENS, (R), FORMER COLORADO GOV.: Independents voted for President Bush both times, that's why he won this state.

Former two term Republican Governor Bill Owens says those independents will prefer the familiar face of John McCain.

OWENS: I actually preferred to run against Barack Obama. I think he's charismatic. I think he's a very nice guy. But I think when you bring less experience to the presidential election than Jimmy Carter had, that's going to be a challenge.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The mountain west which follows the spine of the Rockies from Canada to Mexico is proving to be fertile ground for Democrats. In 2000 there wasn't a single Democratic governor in the region. Today there are five and counting, John.

ROBERTS: Politics shifting all across this country. I'm surprised you came back from Colorado. It's such a great place, you want to stay.

ACOSTA: Absolutely, yes.

ROBERTS: Jimmy thanks.

ACOSTA: You got it.

ROBERTS: Senator Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein, and it's frequently used in attacks against him. To show their solidarity with Obama, a number of supporters online are adopting his middle name as their own.

Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is here.

Abbi, what are you seeing online?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, you're seeing this on blog posts. You're seeing this on bumper stickers sold online. Barack Obama supporters adding a middle name Hussein to their own online profile, because they say they're sick of Barack Obama's middle name being used as attacks.

JONATHON KOCH, BLOGGER MALE: My middle name is Clifford. You can't get any further from Hussein than that. But, you know, so what. I'm taking on the middle name Hussein in solidarity with Barack Obama, because --

TATTON: That's Jonathan Koch, a blogger online who has introduced a line of merchandise. But separately from him, you're going to see Facebook profiles, people changing their online profile to include this name. And this Barack Obama supporter writing, there's a lot of silliness going on about Obama's middle name. One way to diffuse the issue is to completely embrace it -- John?

ROBERTS: Abbi Tatton for us. Abbi, thanks so much.

Time to check back in with Jack Cafferty. He's got the results of his question.

What do you got?

CAFFERTY: The question is whether or not John McCain's military credentials are overrated. General Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander, suggested they might be, in response to a question that he was asked yesterday. Here's some of your thoughts.

Judy writes: "McCain service should be respected. Our past is always with us, so whatever he did and didn't do is something he has to live with. I do honor all of our military service people and McCain is no different. However, I hope he doesn't wear POW on his forehead thinking it will bring in votes. It won't get him mine."

Bob writes: "I doubt they're overrated but I don't think they're necessarily a qualification for president. It's an old and tired way of thinking that a war hero qualifies anyone for the presidency. It really is time for change. That includes many of the old ideas that qualify one for the nation's highest office. I don't think he's qualified to be president period."

Ray in Westchester, Pennsylvania: "I think Gen. Wesley Clark's statements are simply stupid from a political standpoint. Why would you want to bring up McCain's military services as an issue in the first place? The discussion hurts Obama more than McCain. One, Obama has no military service. McCain served in the Navy in a war zone. Two, Obama has no executive experience. McCain was an officer. Three, McCain is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Annapolis is probably one of the great leadership schools in the world."

Allen in West Virginia writes: "John McCain's service alone does not make him qualified to be commander-in-chief. However, when combined with his years in the Senate including as former chairman and current ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, he has very reputable credentials."

And D. says this: "Obama made a mistake rebutting Clark who had a very down to earth point. McCain's military credentials are not out of the ordinary. I fail to see how being shot down and the subsequent consequences make you a better commander in chief. It's like suggesting that being mugged on the street will somehow make you a better candidate for mayor."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Look for yours there among hundreds of others.

ROBERTS: There's always some provocative answers.

CAFFERTY: These are great people.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to seeing you next hour for the panel.

CAFFERTY: I can hardly wait. I get so excited. My hair stands up on the back of my neck.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, bring that enthusiasm to the table.

CAFFERTY: Oh, I will.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it. Thanks Jack.

He used to be a Democrat but Joe Lieberman is using some conservative tactics to support John McCain. Coming up, the fear factor and whether it just might work in this presidential election.

Plus, getting your gasoline for free. Find out how to fill up your car without draining your wallet.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: As gasoline prices continue to soar, some businesses are hoping to lure customers by making it less painful at the pump.

CNN's senior correspondent, Allen Chernoff reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: In a lousy economy, you've got to motivate consumers and the motivator of the year is free gas. The promise of free fuel is how businesses are selling everything from candy bars to cars.

VINCENT TEPEDINO, BAY RIDGE CHRYSLER: It brought a lot of customers in that may not otherwise have bought our product.

FRED AUSTIN, CHRYSLER CUSTOMER: This is a good bargain. This is a good deal and you know we as Americans we all are looking for a deal.

CHERNOFF: There are deals at the ballpark, $25 of gas if you buy four tickets to the San Francisco Giants. Free gas for less wholesome entertainment in Nevada. The women of the Shady Lady Ranch, a legal brothel, offer $150 gas cards for those who indulge in three hours of pleasure.

Free gas promotions are in the supermarket too. The Shop Rite chain is offering $25 gas cards to shoppers who buy $75 worth of major brand name products. So you can fight gingivitis and get free gas at the same time.

For these pharmacists, gas is also a lure to take business from competitors. Transfer prescriptions to Rite Aid and the pharmacy will enter you into a weekly drawing for a year's worth of fuel.

MIKE POIRIER, RITE AID PHARMACIST: The more prescriptions they transfer with that coupon, the more chances they have to win.

CHERNOFF: Free gas is motivating good deeds. Connecticut's Red Cross enters blood donors in free gas raffles.

PAUL SULLIVAN, AMERICAN RED CROSS: The gas cards these days are highly valued so we're finding it to be a successful promotion.

CHERNOFF: The more you spend, the more gas you get. Mike Halloway's best driver, get it, and you'll have a full tank to get to the golf course.

CHARLES RHEE, NEW YORK GOLF CENTER: This is the FTI which is their square driver, also composite head. And this one is $500 and gets a $100 gas card rebate.

CHERNOFF: Or if you can afford it in this economy, rent a yacht for $20,000 and get $500 of gas. Let's not even think of how much gas that yacht is burning.

Allan Chernoff, CNN -- New York

Home  |  World  |  U.S.  |  Politics  |  Crime  |  Entertainment  |  Health  |  Tech  |  Travel  |  Living  |  Money  |  Sports  |  Time.com
© 2014 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.