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CAMPBELL BROWN: NO BIAS, NO BULL

Dow Rockets Up; President Obama Unveils New Economic Plan

Aired March 23, 2009 - 20:00   ET

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


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, everybody.

We have got breaking news to tell you about on two fronts tonight involving your money, and each bit of news giving at least some people reason to cheer tonight.

Bullet point number one: The Dow didn't just soar. It blasted off like a rocket today, catapulting nearly 500 points, by far the best day since President Obama took office. The super-charged rally came in large part after the long-awaited details of the administration's plan to buy up those toxic bank assets. And, even before today's big close, the president tried to offer some cautious optimism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not going to happen overnight. There's still great fragility in the financial systems, but we think that we are moving in the right direction.

And we are very confident that, in coordination with the Federal Reserve and the FDIC, other relevant institutions, that we are going to be able to not only start unlocking these credit markets, but we're also going to be in position to design the regulatory authorities that are necessary to prevent this kind of systemic crisis from happening again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And tonight, we are breaking down the president's new plan in taking a NO BIAS, NO BULL look at just what it means for you and for me.

Bullet point number two tonight, though, more breaking news.

Late today, New York's attorney general announced that 15 out of AIG's top 20 bonus recipients are giving back the money. That adds up to more than $30 million. But does it really matter at this point, beyond P.R. damage control? Tonight, we have got a NO BIAS, NO BULL look at perception vs. reality when it comes to AIG.

And bullet point number three: divorce, millionaire-style. We have got the details of a messy and expensive and fascinating breakup. In this recession, what would make a wife tell the courts that $43 million isn't nearly enough? Wait until you hear how much she really wants. We will tell you about that. But let's get right to our breaking news tonight, AIG's top executives giving back their bonuses -- 15 of the 20 who got the biggest bonuses have given back every penny, we learned. But that leaves a handful of executives who have not returned the money. The question remains, will they pay up?

National political correspondent Jessica Yellin, give us more on all this. And, Jessica, tell us how many executives we're talking about here handing it back?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

Here are the numbers. Nine of the top 10 bonus earners and 15 of the top 20 recipients gave back their bonuses in full. Now, according to Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general of New York State, that's more than $30 million.

But, remember now, we're talking about a total of $165 million in bonuses that went out. So, where is the rest of the money? And, Campbell, here's something that might surprise you. Get this. Only 47 percent of all those bonuses were given to Americans. The majority of it, 53 percent, went to foreigners.

Remember, there's a big branch of AIG in London. So, about $85 million right there went out of the country. Now, we don't know yet if any of those foreign executives returned their bonuses, but if they did not, it will certainly be very hard for the U.S. to reclaim it in any way -- Campbell.

BROWN: That's what I was going to say, Jessica, because Congress obviously still trying to levy these huge taxes on the bonuses, but that won't affect those foreign executives.

YELLIN: Right. The U.S. can't tax income outside the country.

So, if foreigners don't return the money on their own, a bonus tax is not going to touch it. And, beyond that, the bonus tax legislation tonight is stalled. The Senate you might recall was set to vote on it this week, but my colleague Dana Bash is reporting that they're now slow-walking it, because too many senators are raising concerns.

And the administration is also wary of bill because, well, it might not even be constitutional. Now, I asked Treasury Secretary Geithner about it today and he would not endorse that bonus tax bill. He wouldn't trash it either, but he wouldn't endorse it -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Jessica Yellin for us tonight -- Jessica, thanks.

And check this out. This is literally a sign of the times. Things have gotten so bad at AIG, the company took down the sign outside of one of their downtown Manhattan office buildings over the weekend. An AIG spokesman says the division that is headquartered there will be renamed AIU Holdings Limited. That will solve your problems. (LAUGHTER)

BROWN: And now to Wall Street, where they gave a big thumbs up to the president's plan for buying up toxic bank assets. It is the best one-day surge in four months. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN MURRAY, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": It's a pretty extraordinary week. I mean, you had -- you had Frank Rich and Code Pink on the left and you had Connie Mack and Newt Gingrich on the right. It may have been the first bipartisan achievement of the Obama administration to bring those people together, saying, "We've got to get rid of Tim Geithner." I mean, is it -- could it have been handled in a different way? I mean...

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: They may have their chance, but not yet.

MURRAY: But why has it -- seriously, why has it been so difficult?

GEITHNER: Look, we're going through an enormously difficult, complicated financial crisis. The politics are understandably terribly difficult. People across the country are angry and -- as they should be -- that this economy, the United States of America, got itself in a position where enormous damage has been done as a consequence of a long period of excess risk-taking without meaningful adult supervision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: That was obviously Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. He was speaking just a few moments ago, in fact. This was at a Washington, D.C., forum saying that in response to the stock market today -- response from the stock market that one day does not a plan make.

Well, we want to talk a little bit more about this. The question, of course, is what does all of this or any of this frankly mean for the rest of us?

And let's bring in our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, with that part of the story right now.

And, Ali, a banner day for the markets, and Wall Street obviously responding well.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Incredible day.

In fact, from a point perspective, this was the fifth biggest day the Dow has ever had. Easy to say to Tim Geithner -- that Tim Geithner says that it's not a single day that we have to worry about. Look at that, 497 points. On the very day, which was on February 11, that he came out with this plan and didn't actually give details, the Dow was down about 400 points, about five percent. Right now, because we're starting from a lower base, this gain of 497 points is actually seven percent, so a remarkable endorsement of the administration's plan.

Now, what is it exactly? Let me tell you. We have had a housing plan. We have had a stimulus plan. We have had a bailout plan. We have had an auto bailout. What is this?

Well, this is the final shoe to drop. This is the bank plan, the one that's supposed to get credit growing. And the best way to describe it is like a garage sale. And, so, you go to a garage sale and someone is trying to get rid of a dresser like this, lousy-looking little dresser. It's taking up space in their garage. It's preventing them from getting on from other things and frankly they need the cash.

So, they put this dresser out at their garage sale. Now, you have all seen this, the guy with the pickup truck who shows up right at the beginning of the garage sale. Why? Because before all of the rest of us get three, he knows what's good. He buys the dresser for nothing. He picks it up because he knows something that the rest of us don't.

And what he does is he takes it to his shop, he finishes it all up. He polishes it up and guess what? Now he's telling it as an antique. That's exactly what the government is doing with this plan. They are gathering a partnership of the government and private investors to get together to buy up basically someone's old dresser or sofa or something else that they need to get rid of because they need the cash.

They're buying that from the banks. The banks need to get rid of it. They're using the cash to loan money to people. Someone is going to polish this thing up, keep it around until someone wants to buy it. And theoretically, when they sell it, the private investors who are part of this deal and the government, the taxpayers who are part of this deal will get some money back, because clearly when that dresser sells in the antique store, it sells for a lot more money than it did at the garage sale -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Ali, I'm loving your analogy. But I have got to challenge you a little bit on this, because I have been to enough garage sales. And I know that, like, I don't how much you clean it up or spiff it up. There are certain things that are just pure junk.

VELSHI: Sure. And a lot of this is junk.

What they're buying, what the government and the private partnership are buying are loans on houses, maybe even those underlying houses, and some securities that are tied to that.

But the bottom line is, Campbell, if you're like me, you don't get to the garage sale right before it starts, right when everybody is laying things out and you're not entirely sure what to look for. The truth is, we go to garage sales because we expect to buy other people's junk. What's happening here is, the most sophisticated investors in the country are going to be partnering up with the government and buying the things that they think over time will be worth it. And that's the issue here. If somebody can afford to hold on to this, some of these assets might actually be worth something. If you're a bank and you actually just need the money, then it's worth it to you to get that dresser out of your garage.

BROWN: OK. So, Ali, if you're not a banker and you're not one of these rich guys who's going to go buy the toxic assets, what does it mean for you and me and the average joe?

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: Well, it means three specific things. Number one, the banks that you're dealing with are going to have money that are going to be able to loan out to you, because there's about $1 trillion worth of these dressers or toxic assets that are going to be bought up over time. So, that's money that they can loan to you. That's the problem.

They have got these toxic assets. They don't have cash. They are going to cash to loan to you. Number two, stock prices are going to go up, stock prices of those very banks that have been stuck with these toxic assets. That's what we saw today. We actually saw the stock market increasing, led by the banking stocks. And you can probably expect to see more of that in the future, as these companies become worth more, because they have now real cash, instead of toxic assets.

Number three, you're going to see not only the banks make money because of this, but you are now an investor in this. The bottom line is it's a public-private partnership, which means the government has a share in this. And as those dressers get refinished and resold for more money, you, the taxpayer, are going to get some return on that, or at least that's the hope.

Now, there are some critics who say that might not happen. It could be that those dressers really aren't worth anything. But the bet is that they are. And if we can hold on to them for a little while, there will be a general gain, not only to the private investors, but to the government. And the government's money is your money -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Ali Velshi taking a very complicated subject and simplifying it for us -- Ali, thank you very much.

VELSHI: OK, Campbell.

BROWN: And we should mention that's what President Barack Obama is going to be trying to do tomorrow night. He has called for a prime-time news conference. It's 8:00 tomorrow night. CNN is obviously going to have special live coverage of President Obama's news coverage, best political scene on television right here. We will be starting at 7:45 Eastern time. That's only on CNN. And a lot more to get to with tonight's breaking news on AIG, the executive giving that money back. Does it help buy President Obama some political capital? Our experts ready to weigh in on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: While it's hard to hear much over the sound and fury of the AIG bonuses, the fact is that is only a small part of the story. What you may not have been hearing too much about is Wall Street's own anger and a sense among some that President Obama isn't in their corner as much as he should be, as they try to keep valued employees from jumping ship as they fight to stay afloat.

And the president fired back at that notion during an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes." Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 MINUTES")

OBAMA: I have told them directly, because I have heard some of this. Is they need to spend a little time outside of New York. Because, you know, if you go to North Dakota or you go to Iowa or you go to Arkansas, where folks would be thrilled to be making $75,000 a year without a bonus, then I think they'd get a sense of why people are frustrated.

I think we have to understand the severity of the crisis that we're in right now. The fact is that, because of bad bets made on Wall Street, there have been enormous losses. I mean, there were a whole bunch of folks who, on paper, if you looked at quarterly reports, were wildly successful, selling derivatives that turned out to be ...

STEVE KROFT, CBS CORRESPONDENT: Worthless.

OBAMA: ... completely worthless.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: That said, are we all spending too much time fuming about something that may actually not add up to all that much money at the end of the day?

Our Randi Kaye is here to try to separate for us tonight perception from reality.

And that's something we need to be doing right now, huh?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a bit of a challenge these days, for sure.

But, Campbell, I got a reality check this weekend on AIG. A group of activists organized a bus tour around Connecticut called the Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous Tour. It took the group, along with a caravan of national and international media, for a tour around town highlighting the extravagant homes of AIG executives. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE (voice-over): The tour of these Connecticut mansions was a transparent act to exploit a very basic emotion, anger. They're owned by a couple of AIG executives who got huge bonuses, even though their small unit very nearly destroyed the insurance giant. Nearly $200 billion from taxpayers is the only thing that kept it alive.

(on camera): Is this what you were expecting to see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I tried to come out here with an open mind.

KAYE (voice-over): The fact is, the bus tour itself was a stunt, organized by various left-leaning community groups like ACORN and the group Connecticut Working Families. Never mind that the execs who lived here had already promised to return their bonuses. Remember, as high drama, AIG execs cast as greedy villains proved to be irresistible in Washington.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Stop the thievery at taxpayers' expense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's outrageous that a company that is being bailed out by the American taxpayer is providing bonuses to the people who dealt in these exotic financial instruments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm prepared to battle in the courts.

KAYE: Late-night shows parody their outrage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": We must become a torch-and-pitchfork-wielding mob, empty of all thoughts, an injured, vengeful animal lashing out blindly at shapes and colors.

Let's go get AIG.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE (on camera): But here's the reality. The $165 million in bonuses that everyone is so angry about, think of that money as this teeny tiny dot right there. And this giant circle right there, well, that's all of the bailout money, 700 billion taxpayer dollars.

So, while a lot of people are angry about the small dot, it's actually only 0.02 percent of all of the bailout money.

(voice-over): Huge bonuses to loser executives, who needed huge taxpayer bailouts. It's so much easier to grasp, if not exploit, than the numbingly complex challenges of rebuilding the economy.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So, on the one hand, you have a very easy thing to understand, wealthy companies taking government money giving out bonuses. On the other, you have someone trying to restructure the financial systems in this country, trying to explain that to people.

KAYE: As for President Obama, his challenge is how to get the country, if not the Congress, off of the angry and obsessive AIG bashing. What began as a sideshow on a complex stage became the main show. And obsessing about AIG will not fix the economy.

OBAMA: I think people are right to be angry. I'm angry. What I want us to do, though, is channel our anger in a constructive way.

KAYE: And economist Stephen Leeb warns that, unless we all adjust our message, the financial crisis will only get worse.

STEPHEN LEEB, ECONOMIST: And the real risk, and it's a major risk, is that people will be so upset, they will throw out the baby with the bathwater and they will block the plans that would allow us to get around it, will allow us to create new financial institutions that won't commit these egregious kind of acts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And that's what economists like Leeb are worried about. People are so angry about AIG, that they're such a toxic environment right now that nothing else, Campbell, they believe, might be able to get done.

BROWN: And it's a fair point.

KAYE: Absolutely

BROWN: Randi Kaye, appreciate it, a really good piece.

And I think a fact from Randi's piece that bears repeating right now, the AIG bonuses, the ones that people are so angry about, amount, as Randi pointed out, to 0.02 percent of the total bailout money. That is reality.

But the perception remains, Wall Street just doesn't get it, just does not understand how people live on Main Street. And for the president, it's a huge challenge.

And here to talk about what the White House can do to try to connect a little better in all of this, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Republican consultant Alex Castellanos, and Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons joining us tonight.

Welcome, guys.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi.

BROWN: So, Gloria, the president I think knows he has a serious problem when it comes to trying to strike this balance, Wall Street vs. Main Street. And often I think he seems to be struggling to try to hit the right tone. BORGER: He is struggling, because when you talk to folks at the White House, the first thing they will tell you is that AIG has really complicated their lives, because now the president has to go out and feel your pain and say I agree with you on the anger point, but you know what? We're going to have to work with the bad guys in order to come up with a solution to the financial mess.

And as you saw today with the bank bailout plan, the government is now partnering with the very banks who made those bad investments and trying to sell these toxic assets. And it's the taxpayers who are going to take a lot of risk here. So, that's a very difficult political sell, made easier by the reaction on Wall Street, but still walking a fine line.

BROWN: And, Alex, with the news tonight of these 15 out of 20 top earners at AIG giving their the bonuses back, does that dampen sort of this populist rage at all, or has the damage been done in a way?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think that 15 of the 20 criminals gave the money back doesn't lessen the anger at the crime.

This is a small amount of money relative to the larger picture. But a few hundred million dollars is still big money to most of us. And also, it's the handle on the coffee cup. There's a lot of steaming hot resentment out there. It's hard to understand all those zeros. But it's easy to understand the handle, the little bit you can see with these executives.

And it does have a political impact going into the next election. These Democrats out there are -- the outrage that they're trying to I think feign is a real problem. You know, how dare these AIG execs take the bonuses we gave them?

That's going to be hard to defend.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: But, Alex, it wasn't -- in fairness, it was not just Democrats who were screaming and yelling about this on Capitol Hill by any means. This was very much bipartisan rage.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: But it was Democrats who put it in there, Chris Dodd, and it's Democrats who control the Congress. And, look, the Democrats won the last election.

Congratulations. It's your problem now.

And, next election, I think, is going to be a brake pedal election. I think America's seen a ton of spending. We just spent $1 trillion today. We're evening Democrats bailing out Wall Street. We're seeing big bonuses. I think the next election is going to be a brake pedal election. We're going to send the new guys to watch the old guys.

(CROSSTALK)

JAMAL SIMMONS, ADVISER, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: ... reality check here?

BROWN: Yes, but let me ask you this, Jamal, because I want to address what Alex is talking about. Part of the problem, I think, in the president's defense, is Congress is jumping up and down and screaming before clearly they know even the facts, in response to the anger they were hearing from the public, the anger they're hearing on cable news. We now learned that about half of these bonuses aren't even going to be subject to the 90 percent tax that the House passed in their bill.

How does Obama do what he's trying to do if he says don't govern out of anger and convince Congress to chill out a little bit until we can figure out what the right path may be?

SIMMONS: Well, let's just remember first that when -- I know Alex doesn't like to talk about this. But George Bush had a $455 billion deficit before we started doing bank bailouts.

So, this isn't just a Democratic problem that we're in this mess. And we have got $5 trillion more in debt than we had when he came into office. So, imagine what it would have been like had we had $5 trillion less in debt to deal with this problem. But that's the past. So, we're going to move on to the future.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMMONS: Americans -- Americans -- Americans have had enough of the irresponsibility of Wall Street.

I think what you saw from some of the Canadian bankers when this whole problem started, they decided to forego their bonuses voluntarily. And they bought themselves a lot of goodwill. But the American bankers, it's like all of our skin is in the game. If they do well, they win. If they do poorly, they win.

And I think that's the thing that Americans have reacted against. So, now we're starting to get back to some balance. If these people give the money back, it's a good step. The president did a plan today that people may not like in the short run. But as someone like Barney Frank said, there are going to be some collateral benefits here. Sometimes, we have a collateral damage in war.

Sometimes, in this fight, we could have some collateral benefit. Some people will get benefits who don't deserve it in order to save it.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Gloria, go ahead.

BORGER: Can I just say one thing? First of all, I think the American public understands, if you look at polls on this, that there's plenty of blame to go around here. You're not just going to blame the AIG bonuses on the Treasury. You are going to blame it on the Congress and that they see a little bit of hypocrisy shall we say in members of Congress being shocked that these bonuses existed.

So, I think they believe there's plenty of blame to go around. They also are giving the president the benefit of the doubt right now because he is so popular and because he seems to be an activist. He is trying to do something. Whether it's the right thing or not remains to be seen.

And I think the Republicans, to your point, Alex, are not getting any benefit in the polls right now. The public believes that they're just standing there saying no, instead of becoming involve in trying to come up with solutions. And that's a problem for the Republican Party.

BROWN: And the question is how long will that situation remain before things shift in one direction or the other? But we're going to talk more about that in a second.

Panel, stay with me.

Lots of other news to tell you about, though, tonight, folks, including we're going to have the latest on Lance Armstrong. He had a serious cycling accident today, one that could derail his hopes of a Tour de France comeback. We're going to have up-to-the-minute details on his condition when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: As always, we are "Cutting Through The Bull" right now.

And whether by omission or commission, both the White House and Congress get a dose of blame for not living up to this new era of transparency promised by President Obama.

The president's old campaign Web site still have this commitment there for all to see. It says -- quote -- "As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days."

Well, the president broke that promise barely a week after taking office, when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter bill dealing with equal pay for men and women, a good bill, certainly one that could have survived, though, a five-day comment period. So, maybe the White House folks just forgot.

But then there is Congress and this, the stimulus bill. How fast could you get through this? According to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, lawmakers had just 13 hours to read the 1,100 pages of material that would cost the American taxpayer $787 billion. That's less than a minute-and-a-half per page, with no time for bathroom breaks.

No wonder so many of our lawmakers didn't seem to notice that last-minute exemption clearing the way for bailed-out companies like AIG to pay out big bonuses. So, the House tried to clean up the mess last week by rushing through another bill, a tax on AIG bonuses, that bill just 11 hours old before it went on the floor to be argued and then quickly approved. and the list goes on.

The bank bailout got all of 29 hours. The rescue of Fannie and Freddie was only available for 19 hours. This is how bills could literally become, to borrow a phrase, too big to fail and too fast to stop.

The Sunlight Foundation is calling on Congress to allow the American people three days, 72 hours, to read a non-emergency bill online before debate begins.

We strongly agree with that. And, yes, lawmakers, you can have three days to read it over, too, before taking a stand.

As for President Obama's promise of a five-day public review once a bill leaves Capitol Hill headed for his desk, it would be nice if he kept his word on this going forward.

And coming up, there are deeply moving images that we do want to share with you. This is from the funeral for actress Natasha Richardson, her husband, Liam Neeson, joined by families and a host of show business greats at this moment of remembrance. We're going to share the last goodbyes when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Our usually pitch-perfect president had a bit of an off note some believe last night in his interview on "60 Minutes." He rubbed some people the wrong way by chuckling several times during a discussion of the economy. And all the presidential chuckles prompted CBS's Steve Kroft to ask what's so funny. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KROFT: You're sitting here and you are laughing about some of these problems. Are people going to look at this and say, I mean, he's sitting there just making jokes about money? How do you deal with -- I mean, explain the mood in your laughter?

OBAMA: Well -- yes, I mean, there's got to be --

KROFT: Are you punch-drunk?

OBAMA: No, no. There's got to be a little gallows humor to get you through the day. You know, sometimes my team talks about the fact that if you -- if you have said this a year ago that the least of my problems would be a rock which is still a pretty serious problem, I don't think anybody would have believed it. But we've got a lot on our plate and a lot of difficult decisions that we're going to have to make. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So will the president's gallows humor come back to haunt him? Gloria Borger, Alex Castellanos and Jamal Simmons back with me right now.

Alex, what did you make of that, joking about the economy? Is he punch-drunk as Steve Kroft said, or are people just totally overreacting to this?

CASTELLANOS: No, I don't think -- I don't think he's punch-drunk certainly, but there is a little bit of a political difficulty for him in the sense that, on the one hand, it's his job to inspire confidence and demonstrate optimism. That's the good news.

The bad news is that when you have somebody who's young and inexperienced in the job, and you see them get a little too optimistic, a little too giddy almost, you start -- you raise the issue of well, is this guy really prepared for the job? And then at the same time, you see him campaigning all over the country going back to the political campaign on "60 Minutes." I mean, he's in your soup. He seems to be everywhere, and you're thinking why isn't this guy on the job doing the job?

So I think any one of these things alone is not a problem, but when you see a giddy president, politicking instead of paying attention to the burning house, it raises some questions about his experience.

BROWN: Jamal, I'm going to let you respond to that. But let me ask you first because I heard that sort of that comment he made on "60 Minutes," and I didn't think anything of it. It didn't bother me at all.

I was so surprised that people were reacting the way they were. But at the same time, I have to say that if President Bush had done that, you could certainly see people going crazy and saying, you know, very intensely that he's making light of a very serious situation. How much does the president's demeanor matter ultimately? And these are serious times.

SIMMONS: The president's demeanor absolutely matters, and I think what Alex is disparaging which is him going out into the country and talking to people, getting back in touch with the voters, that that actually is what has connected him to people and something like this will kerfuffle over him chuckling some gallows humor in the middle of an interview, people really don't mind so much.

I mean, I can remember -- I can remember a very sad moment, my grandmother died. We're in the funeral home. The funeral director says to my dad, I'm going to put mama in the Excalibur -- the Rolls Royce of caskets. And my father turns to him and he says, yes, my mother was a little bit more modest. You got anything in a Buick. And the whole family breaks out into laughter. We were crying. We're laughing through our tears. I think this is one of those moments where the president can certainly say, listen, it's a bad thing out there but let's just all take a minute.

BORGER: Campbell, you know, he's human. I had no problem with this as you didn't have any problem with it.

I think the real issue here is whether we're seeing a little bit too much of President Obama. You know, it's clear he wants to get out of Washington, go over the heads of Congress, talk directly to the American people. Tomorrow night, he's having a press conference.

BROWN: So, is he making mistakes then, Gloria, by doing this news conference tomorrow night?

BORGER: You know, it's interesting. I don't think he's making a mistake. At this point, it's very clear that he wants to explain his economic programs directly to the American people without having us interpret what he's saying. He needs to keep his popularity up, because he's going have to dip into that political capital over and over and over again.

It's very much like what Ronald Reagan did in the '80s, only we live in a different era. So time will tell. But right now, that's their strategy and they're sticking to it. Get out of Washington.

BROWN: All right, guys, we got to end it there. We're out of time. But Gloria, Alex, Jamal, many thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

BROWN: In the middle of all the shifting news on the economy, some people clearly don't get it. She says she needs $53,000 a week just to get by. He says he spends four times that every week. It's not the economic plan, but we admit it, we're all talking about the stunning details of a very messy divorce. We'll have that coming up.

And later tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE," John McCain's outspoken daughter Megan McCain will be with Larry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Lots of news beyond the economy to tell you about today. Joe Johns joining us right now with "The Briefing" -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, investigators want to know if a plane that crashed Sunday in Montana was overloaded. The single-engine turbo prop was designed to carry 10 people, but there were 14 onboard. All of them, including seven children on their way to a ski trip were killed when the plane plunged into a cemetery about 500 feet short of a runway in Butte.

Wind shear may be the cause of a crash of a FedEx cargo jet in Japan. The crash caught on camera. Video shows the plane bouncing on the runway before flipping and bursting into flames at a Tokyo airport. The pilot and co-pilot, both of them Americans, were killed.

A somber scene as Natasha Richardson is laid to rest. The actress died last Wednesday, two days after she fell on a ski slope. Her husband, actor Liam Neeson, was seen outside the private funeral Sunday in Upstate New York. Neeson was among the pallbearers carrying the casket. Afterward, he huddled with Richardson's grief-stricken mother, Vanessa Redgrave. Richardson was 45 years old.

A bad fall for cyclist Lance Armstrong. Armstrong crashed during a race in Spain today breaking his collarbone. The seven-time Tour de France champ needs surgery and could miss this summer's tour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANCE ARMSTRONG, CYCLIST: I'm miserable right now so now's not the time to ask. But, you know, I need to just relax for a couple of days and fix the problem and then make a plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Armstrong was in the midst of a comeback after a three- year retirement from cycling.

David Letterman surprised his audience late today with a revelation that he is now a married man. Letterman and Regina Lasko had been dating since 1986. They got hitched Thursday in Montana. And that, Campbell, is what I call a long wait for wedding bells. 1986.

BROWN: '86? I can't even do the math.

JOHNS: It's amazing.

BROWN: Great. She's a patient woman.

Joe Johns for us tonight. Joe, thanks.

Fear of losing your job? That is one thing. Fear of getting shot or blown up, that is quite another. Meet some Americans going to extremes to try to make ends meet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The desperate search for a job has some Americans doing things they wouldn't have dreamed about just a few months ago. Some are giving up the comforts of home, trading one type of anxiety for a whole different kind. Tonight, our look at the economic ripple effect on Americans reaches beyond our borders and in to a war zone. Paula Newton reports from Kabul, Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VICKI TATE, HUSBAND WORKS IN AFGHANISTAN: Order up -- sherry (ph)?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Business may be good for Vicki Tate, but the struggling economy has changed her life.

TATE: I think about him all the time. I think about his safety. I think about the fact that you just can't pick up the telephone and call. The telephones are down a lot.

NEWTON: Vicki's husband, Scott, took a job in Afghanistan trading his personal security for the peace of mind only money can buy.

SCOTT TATE, AMERICAN CONTRACTOR: You're away from your family. You really give up a lot personally to come over here, but sometimes you can't have everything the way you want it. You have to make sacrifices.

NEWTON: That sacrifice could potentially double Tate's $70,000 a year salary. So he's left behind all those sleepless nights worrying he'd be laid off from a construction job just as he was for a year after 9/11.

TATE: How much electrical rough ends (ph) do you think we have in these slabs?

NEWTON: Usually cocooned on base working seven days a week, today for the first time, he's inspecting a construction site in a bulletproof vest with armed guards.

TATE: I feel much more secure here than I did back in the states because I know the work that's out in front of us to be done.

NEWTON (on camera): There are thousands of job vacancies around the world in combat zones, but even with the extraordinary pay incentives, it can be a tough sell back home.

(voice-over): Contractors face all sorts of dangers here -- roadside bombs, kidnapping. Sherry Gilbert worries about all those things?

SHERRY GILBERT, AMERICAN CONTRACTOR: This is Micaela (ph). This is my baby girl. She's 7. And this is my oldest, Michael (ph), she's 9.

NEWTON: Last fall just as she was about to lose her state job in California, this mom left her two girls and husband to take an administrative job in Afghanistan.

GILBERT: Just to see the disappointment in my girls' face when I left, it was a lot to bear. But I know in the end they know that mommy wouldn't do this unless it was going to benefit us all in the long run. So, I mean, it hurt really, really bad. I still get choked up from just the looks on their faces.

NEWTON: Gilbert says she's doing the right thing, sacrificing so her girls don't have to. She realizes the job isn't for everyone.

And for Scott Tate, this is an opportunity he wouldn't have elsewhere. He's braving war here to keep his family from having to battle the tough economic times back home.

Paula Newton, CNN, Kabul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And apparently, the ripple effect has not reached to one bickering couple in Connecticut. Have you heard about them?

She says she can't get by on less than $53,000 a week. We've got the details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: "LARRY KING LIVE" just minutes away with John McCain's outspoken daughter, Megan, tonight.

Larry, what are you going to talk about?

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: About everything, Campbell. She's going to say exactly what she thinks about the president, the economy -- President Obama, the economy, the Republican Party, which, by the way, isn't sitting well with some people.

And we'll be talking about those issues with some political observers as well. Why did the stock market soar today? And why do the treasury secretary still remain a target? Plus, Joel and Benji Madden will join us, all next on ""LARRY KING LIVE" -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Larry, we'll see you in a few minutes.

A divorce case in Connecticut that has the whole country talking. She's demanding more for skin care than some women spend for child care. That when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: It's hard to believe that in this economy with so many people struggling to get by, there is a woman in Connecticut, we're not kidding, claiming that she can't live on less than $53,000 a week. And get this -- her husband spends about four times that much each week. What is with these people? David Mattingly has the story of their outrageous divorce.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was a wealthy executive. She, a Swedish countess. And now the couple is tangled in a divorce surrounded by giant dollar signs.

DAVID PATRICK COLUMBIA, NEWYORKSOCIALDIARY.COM: It's only people like us who don't have any money who think it's a lot of money. But people who do have a lot of money, they don't necessarily think it's a lot of money.

MATTINGLY: In these days of belt tightening, Countess Marie Douglas-David is making headlines as she wonders how she's going to pay all her bills after her divorce. Just to get by, she says she needs a whopping $53,000 a week. Here's how she breaks it down.

There's $8,000 a week for travel, $4,500 for clothes. Her personal assistant costs $2,000, and taking care of her horses costs $1,500. On top of that, throwing a cool grand a week she spends on her skin and hair and well, what's a countess to do when tumbling stocks make the rich less rich?

COLUMBIA: A lot of people in the marriages want to get out while there are still some assets to get. So we don't know this, but, you know, she may actually feel that she's got to get going before she can't leave.

MATTINGLY: The countess's soon to be ex has his bills to pay too. According to the Hartford Courant former United Technologies CEO, George David, says he spends an astonishing $200,000 a week, four times as much as she does.

Almost $96,000 of that just to operate his yacht, $18,000 on charities, $7,500 on travel, $7,100 on entertainment, and more than $4,200 on food and clothes. With times so tough, the divorce is getting ugly.

MARYELLEN FILLO, COLUMNIST, HARTFORD COURANT: She's portraying him as cold, calculating, manipulative, and somebody who has essentially made her dependent on him by virtue of controlling all of their assets. He is portraying her as somebody who is manipulative, prone to tirades, and not as needy as she would like people to think she is.

MATTINGLY: Attorneys for the couple did not return our calls. The countess is arguing that an earlier settlement worth $43 million is just not enough. She's hoping a Connecticut judge will agree and order her husband to pay more -- a lot more.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And how much more? Well, he's worth about $330 million. And she's looking for a third of his wealth in alimony-- alimony and assets. If she gets that third, it will more than take care of her $53,000 a week in expenses -- Campbell.

BROWN: David Mattingly for us tonight. David, we're going to actually take a legal look at this case right now. Joining us, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and Lisa Bloom, anchor of truTV's open court.

And $43 million I think is what? Is not enough for her? But you actually think she's getting a bum deal.

LISA BLOOM, ANCHOR, "TRUTV'S "IN SESSION": That's not -- this is not the point. Look, ordinarily in a divorce, the couple split roughly 50-50 the assets gained during the marriage. If he made hundreds of millions of dollars during the marriage, she would ordinarily get half. She wants more money. He wants more money. Why do we all call her greedy?

BROWN: And she's not getting half because of a post --

BLOOM: Because of post-nup, OK, an agreement entered into after the marriage. She says it was under duress. But if that's thrown out, there's no reason why she wouldn't get substantially more.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Under duress, someone should put me under duress and give me $43 million. There's no duress here. The fact is she signed an agreement. Both sides had lawyers. She's getting a substantial amount of money.

BLOOM: Yes, she --

TOOBIN: End of story.

BLOOM: Well, that's not the end of story because what offends me about this case is everybody looks at her expenses, because frankly, I think he had a better publicist and got the story out first on his side. Oh, she wants thousands of dollars.

Look, these documents they're legally required to be filed during the divorce. It's their financial affidavit, how much they currently spend.

BROWN: David Mattingly looked at his expenses too.

BLOOM: Yes, four times what hers are. And you don't see every cable news organization out there saying he's greedy. He overspends. It's all just piling up on her.

BROWN: OK, so we know where you stand on this but how do you think honestly, how do both of you think this case is going to turn out?

TOOBIN: He's going to win. I mean, a deal is a deal. And the deal is pretty fair, it's $43 million. It's not -- you know, (INAUDIBLE) it's not her having to go to the poorhouse. It's $43 million. She signed the agreement. Enough.

BROWN: What are the chances the judge is going to say look at what is happening in our country right now. Look at what most people are going through.

BLOOM: Yes, but --

BROWN: You two are the most ridiculous people.

BLOOM: But Campbell, there's only two people here who can get the money. The money isn't going to go to the poor, all right? It's going to be divided between the two of them. The question is, does he get most of it or does he get half of it? That's all that the court will be deciding.

BROWN: And you think he's --

BLOOM: I think the court is going to look at whether there was duress. TOOBIN: Any judge --

BLOOM: She's got a lot of claims to these fetishistic games that he was involved in, controlling, manipulating her.

BROWN: There's more?

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM: Oh, yes. A lot of sex games involved here.

TOOBIN: Believe me, there's a lot. Even on basic cable, we can't do the whole story.

BLOOM: So we'll see how it turns out. I'm just saying don't pile on her just because she's the woman and she filled out the affidavit.

BROWN: We'll have you both back as we learn more details about this fabulous case.

TOOBIN: More fetishistic games.

BROWN: Jeffrey Toobin and Lisa Bloom, thanks guys.

BLOOM: Thank you.

BROWN: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: That is it for us tonight. Remember CNN brings you live coverage of President Obama's news conference. Tomorrow night, we're starting at 7:45 Eastern time. We will see you then.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.

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