Return to Transcripts main page


How Banks are Being Tested; Deadly Attacks Surge in Iraq; Pakistan Power Grab

Aired April 24, 2009 - 15:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, dozens of innocent people slaughtered again in Baghdad. A sudden spike in violence renewing fears about Iraq's future and whether U.S. troops will withdraw as planned. Stand by.

Secret records reveal a growing danger in some of America's busiest airports from birds. The crisis that forced a jet to land on the Hudson River is much more common than you might think.

And as President Obama nears his 100th day in office, Republicans are accusing Democrats of declaring war. Is the president's party crossing a dangerous line to help promote health care reform?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.


We begin with new information unfolding about the health of America's troubled banking system. Federal regulators now offering a glimpse into the so-called stress tests for 19 big banks.

Our Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi is joining us now.

We're getting new information coming in pretty quickly, Ali. What are we learning?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right. What we've got now is the information, the criteria that the government has used for these stress tests. We're going to get the results of the stress tests probably around May 4th, a little more than a week from now, but here's what the government's been looking at.

They're looking at banks that have assets of more than $100 billion. And those banks account for two-thirds of the assets of all banks in America and more than half the lending. So these are the banks we're looking at, the biggest of the big.

Now, what are they looking for? They're looking for all sorts of things on the banks' books.

A stress test, if you went to the doctor to get one, it would evaluate a number of things about your body. So they're looking at the loans that these banks have outstanding, what the dangers are of those, the investments that they got, whether they bought other dangerous investments, the trades that they make and the revenue that they get.

Now, what they're doing is they're putting all this through a system. Obviously, they're using computers for it, which are going to take into account two scenarios. One is the scenario they expect the economy to go through. The second one is a worst-case scenario.

Now, if we have an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, the worst- case scenario is looking at an unemployment rate that surpasses 10 percent. Since the beginning of this recession, we have seen home prices drop by more than 20 percent. They're looking at home prices dropping more than 20 percent over the course of the next two years.

The idea here, Wolf, is that if this goes into the worst-case scenario situation, will the biggest banks in the country be able to survive, and will they need more money from the government? And the government is then going to be able to say, we'll need X amount of money to keep these banks afloat in a worst-case scenario -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And so once again, I assume you still believe, as far as whether now is the best time to go ahead and buy a house, make an investment like that, it depends on location, location, location. Is that right?

VELSHI: Absolutely. In fact, I would say that the one thing we're learning, we can use average numbers for a lot of things. For the next couple of months, I think average home prices are going to be of no use to anybody who's watching us.

Your prices now have to be based on where you live, how much it's fallen, what your interest rate is, and where that particular market is going to go, because at this point, there's no point in using averages. If you're looking to buy a house and lock in, rates are very low, but get a sense of where your community is in the trent of home prices.

BLITZER: Good point, Ali. Thanks very much.

Almost 100 days into his presidency, the commander in chief is juggling dangerous new threats to his war strategy and to global security. In Pakistan right now, despite a modest withdrawal today, Taliban fighters continue pushing dangerously close to the capital.

And in Iraq, suicide attackers are making a bloody comeback. They're raising questions about President Obama's timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson is standing by in Pakistan, but let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's got the latest on what's going on in Iraq.

In the last three, four days, Barbara, we have seen a horrendous increase in suicide bomb attacks throughout Iraq.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very terrible developments, Wolf. And the general who led the successful surge in Iraq was back on Capitol Hill today reminding lawmakers security is fragile, the war in Iraq is not over.


STARR (voice-over): Suicide attacks killed at least 60 people near a holy Shia shrine in Baghdad. More than 100 others wounded, many said to be Iranian pilgrims. It came just one day after suicide bombers killed nearly 100 people in attacks in Baghdad in Diyala province.

It's the deadliest 48 hours in Iraq this year. Commanders say it's not unexpected.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Some of this is actually a bit of the result of the relaxed security, to some degree, over the very, very tight security in the innumerable checkpoints and walls and barriers and all the rest of that, some of which has been taken down over time as, in fact, the security has been improved.

STARR: U.S. commanders in part blame the latest violence on foreign fighters who have snuck back into Iraq posing a direct challenge to Iraqi security forces. Insurgents are expected to launch more attacks as U.S. forces get ready to withdraw from the cities by the end of June, when still fragile Iraqi forces are scheduled to take charge.

LT. GEN. RAY ODIERNO, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL CORPS, IRAQ: The one area I'm still not sure about is Mosul. But we will do a joint assessment, we'll provide recommendations to the prime minister. And he ultimately will make that decision whether we stay with combat forces in the city.


STARR: Now, Wolf, the spike in violence is not just challenging Iraqi security forces, but raising real questions about whether the Obama administration can live up to that timetable to get all U.S. troops out of Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Still a very, very dangerous and fluid situation, Barbara. Thanks very much.

Let's get to the situation in Pakistan, which clearly is very dangerous and fluid as well.

Our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson is in Islamabad for us.

Nic, there were reports that some of these Taliban fighters were withdrawing a little bit, although I sense those reports may be overly optimistic. What do we know?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that the Taliban spokesman has said that they are going to pull back, and we know that the Taliban are giving access to cameramen and reporters to see some of their fighters pulling back out of Buner. But it's not clear how far they're going -- are they going all the way back to Swat, which is where many of them came from, or are they just moving around into other parts of Buner?

Amnesty International, who has people in Buner, say that what they are seeing is that there are many local Taliban who are staying behind, Taliban from Buner and Taliban from outside of that particular area that are pulling out. So it seems that the Taliban still remain.

Amnesty International says they have been having -- reigning with brutality while they've been there, forcing girls as young as 7, if they leave their houses, they have to wear the burka, closing down music stores, video stores, forcing barbershops to close down as well. So exerting their influence is the way that they have done.

This does seem to be a sort of a tactical pullback by the Taliban, but it's absolutely not clear, Wolf, how far they're going to pull back or when they may come back into Buner.

BLITZER: And as you know, Nic, and our viewers know, the stakes are enormous because Pakistan itself is a nuclear power.

The nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, what do we know? How secure is it?

ROBERTSON: Well, the prime minister here said yesterday that it is secure, that the country's nuclear program is in "safe hands." But then he went on to say that Pakistan's army is professional and is capable of handling any situation. He also said it is the most professional army in the world.

The army itself would feel that it has come up short in some of the situations it's faced here in dealing with the Taliban. Indeed, they couldn't face down the Taliban in Swat and the government had to do a deal.

So, the prime minister says the nuclear program is safe, certainly the Taliban are not knocking on the door of the capitol in a sense that they're going to walk through the front door. But they are increasing what are a multitude of pressures on this country, internal.

The Baluchistan province in wide revolt. Much of the border with Afghanistan and north of the capital here controlled by the Taliban. Even Taliban in this central Punjab province, a province that's the economic and breadbasket of the country. So huge internal pressures, not to mention all those external pressures we know about -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson is in Islamabad. It's only about 60 miles from the front lines of the Taliban.

Nic, be careful over there.

All right. There's a winner in that congressional district in New York State. They had elections about a month ago.

Let's go to Mary Snow. She was up there covering that election. This is that seat, Mary, that Kirsten Gillibrand, the new senator from New York State replacing Hillary Clinton. It was her seat, and it was a pretty fierce battle between the Democrat and the Republican.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was, and it was closely watched. It was too close to call, there was a recount. And now it's been determined that Democrat Scott Murphy has emerged as the winner. This, after Republican James Tedisco has conceded this afternoon, congratulating Murphy.

Unofficial results from the New York Board of Elections showed there was about a 400-vote difference. And this had been watched, Wolf, because James Tedisco was much better known, and it was traditionally a Republican area. So, the fact that Scott Murphy had been able to -- who was an unknown -- had been able to unseat him was pretty significant in this district.

BLITZER: We're told the exact count was 399 votes, which underscores, Mary, what we have been telling our viewers for a long time -- every vote counts in these elections. A lot of close elections.

Thanks very much, Mary Snow, for that. Another win for the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: So the question is, if New York can determine a winner in a Senate election that was decided by a few hundred votes, why the hell can't they do it in Minnesota?

BLITZER: They're getting close in Minnesota, but they're not there yet.

CAFFERTY: Getting close. So is the 4th of July.

The torture debate continues in Washington. President Obama, top Senate Democrats are pushing back now against the idea of creating an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration's approval of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. Some Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been calling for an independent panel like the 9/11 Commission to look into waterboarding and other harsh techniques, but the president says that a special inquiry would take away time and energy from his policy agenda and would simply end up being a distraction.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid backed the president on this, saying everybody should wait for the results of an investigation of the Senate Intelligence Committee that will be due out later this year, but it's unclear how much we're going to find out from that since most of that investigation deals with mostly classified information that we're not privy to anyway.

Meanwhile, a new Senate reports shows that top Bush administration officials approved the use of waterboarding as early as 2002. The harsh methods signed off on by the likes of then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, CIA Director George Tenet, and, of course, Vice President Dick Cheney, which might explain why we're hearing so much from Cheney these days.

And expect for more of this stuff to keep dribbling out. The ACLU says the Defense Department will soon release a substantial number of photographs showing abuse of prisoners in both Iraq and Afghanistan which could prove that prisoner abuse during the Bush administration was widespread and reached far beyond what we saw at Abu Ghraib.

So here's the question: Will Bush administration officials who authorized and oversaw the enhanced interrogation program ever be prosecuted?

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the former vice president, Jack, is continuing to speak out. He just spoke with Steve Hayes, our CNN contributor from "The Weekly Standard." Wait until you hear what he's now saying about all of this. I think you'll be interested.

We're going to have it. That's coming up, Jack. Stand by.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: The auto industry is reeling amid fresh losses, new government loans, and the closing down of what was once a hugely popular car brand. Ford Motor Company CEO talking to CNN about auto industry turmoil, among other things.

And fears of a global flu killer. A disturbing new virus mixes genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in ways never seen. Did it kill at least 60 people?

And regarding health care, Democrats do something so controversial, one Republican is calling it -- and I'm quote now -- "a declaration of war."


BLITZER: On this, his 95th day in office, President Obama is trying to make a college education more affordable during these very hard economic times. He's renewing his call for the government to stop backing private loans to college students and give them direct financial aid instead.

The president says that would help an additional 8.5 million students secure the money they need to pay for college. Right now, access to higher education is shrinking as costs rise.


BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This trend, a trend where a quality higher education slips out of reach for ordinary Americans, threatens the dream of opportunity that America's promised to all of its citizens. It threatens to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. And it threatens to undercut America's competitiveness, because America cannot lead in the 21st century unless we have the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world.


BLITZER: The president says by the end of the next decade, he wants to see America have the highest percentage of college graduates anywhere in the world.

Democrats in Congress are going to dramatic new lengths to help the president make good on one of his campaign promises -- health care reform. That might boost his grade on CNN's "National Report Card," marking his 100th day in office. That comes up on Wednesday.

But don't expect high marks from Republicans, who say the president's party isn't playing fair.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash is working the story for us.

Dana, there's a lot of controversy over some of the process, how the president and the Democrats would like to get health care reform enacted.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Big controversy, Wolf. Democrats effectively struck a deal today that allows them to work around Republicans in getting health care passed. So Republicans, who are actually in the trenches with Democrats trying to find consensus, those Republicans say this tactic is Exhibit A of why so far the bipartisanship President Obama promises barely exists.


BASH (voice-over): The Democrats' decision to use controversial rules preventing a GOP filibuster against health care reform almost guarantees the president will get his wish.

OBAMA: We need to get health care reform done this year.

BASH: But the move means Democrats do not have to make concessions to Republicans to pass health care. So GOP lawmakers working with Democrats on a bipartisan bill call it...

SEN. MIKE ENZI (R), HEALTH COMMITTEE: A declaration of war.

BASH: It's too early to know if the bipartisan work on health care is over. But if Democrats ultimately pass it without much GOP support, health care will look like a lot other key Democratic victories during the president's first 100 days.

Take President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus plan. It passed with just 300 votes. Earlier versions of his budget, no GOP votes at all. Even $410 billion to fund the government became a partisan clash. Promises made 100 days ago seem like ancient history.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: If we renew in this body our commitment to bipartisanship, the 111th Congress will be a tremendous success.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: If we see sensible bipartisan proposals, Republicans will choose bipartisan solutions over partisan failures every single time.

BASH: In the blame game over the bipartisan breakdown, Republicans say Democrats shut them out. Democrats call the GOP the "Party of No," but the real reason for the partisan divide may just be a genuine philosophical one, especially on the economy. Republicans returning to their small government roots.

MCCONNELL: We're on a spending spree of gargantuan proportions here.

BASH: And Democrats using their power to push their very different approach.

REID: Now, we're going to have to spend some money to get out of this hole. The government's only body that has any money.


BASH: Now, there has been some bipartisanship here in Congress. President Obama has had a lot of support from Republicans on his policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that is pretty surprising, Wolf, for an accomplishment for his first 100 days given the big divide on those issues back during the campaign.

BLITZER: So the first 100 days have been contentious. The second 100 might even be more contentious, but we'll see.

Dana, thank you.

Dick Cheney essentially says this: No one -- repeat, no one -- is going to sensor him. The former vice president speaking out once again today, saying he'll keep on talking, maybe even blasting President Obama. Wait until you hear his reasons why.

And a place that made peanut butter ingredients rife with mice, testy animals, and other problems. Did these disturbing conditions help cause a salmonella outbreak that killed nine people?



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Gore versus Gingrich. A clash of wills as two political titans go head-to-head over global warming.

Stand by. The inside scoop on the '08 presidential race. The pilots of the Obama and the McCain campaigns share their insights and who they both agree was the biggest long shot of all.

And how do you swindle people out of billions and billions of dollars and not get caught for decades? Bernard Madoff isn't saying, but we'll talk to one investigative reporter who went looking for Madoff's secrets, found some. He's going to be sharing them with you.

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

The U.S. auto industry continues to see cash problems. We've learned the Treasury Department loaned General Motors $2 more on Wednesday. And a source says GM is set to announce its Pontiac brand will be killed off. GM's government loan now stands at $16.4 billion as the automaker tries and tries to avoid bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy protection could be the final option for Chrysler. According to reports, Chrysler could enter Chapter 11 next week if it can't close deals with creditors and the Italian automaker Fiat.

Meanwhile, Ford. Take a look at this.

Ford, considered the healthiest of the three big U.S. automakers, loses $1.4 billion in the first quarter of this year. And that's slightly better than expected.

Poppy Harlow of spoke with Ford's CEO, and she's joining us now with more.

What did he have to say, Poppy?


You know, the big headline beyond that, better than expected first quarter results, out of Ford this morning was the CEO, Alan Mulally, confirming once again that his company, Ford, does not need bailout money and won't need it unless the economy gets worse or if we see an uncontrolled bankruptcy of GM or Chrysler, which could significantly disrupt Ford's supply chain.

Ford beat expectations. Take a look at the numbers here -- a $1.4 billion loss. But analysts called for a $2.8 billion loss.

To give you some perspective, Wolf, this company has lost more than $31 billion since 2006. But Mulally says it's on track to meet its financial target to break even in 2011.

We spoke with him today, this afternoon. He really emphasized, Wolf, the importance of the fact that when he came in, the company took significant action before the economy turned south.

Listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALAN MULALLY, CEO, FORD MOTOR COMPANY: When we initially put our plan together two and a half years ago, and went to the credit markets, we assumed that the economy was going to degrade not only in the United States, but worldwide. So we also borrowed extra money to have a cushion for this situation.

So, we think we have sufficient liquidity to continue the investment in the new products that the people really do want and value.


HARLOW: Another strong headline today for Ford. It is slimming down how much cash it is burning through quarter by quarter.

In the first quarter, Ford said it spent $3.7 billion more than it took in. That is a lot, but it trimmed that down, Wolf, from more than $7 billion that it burned through in the last quarter of 2008. Things are getting better at Ford -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, what if GM and Chrysler are forced in the coming days, Poppy, to declare bankruptcy? And that's very, very possible. How does that impact Ford?

HARLOW: It could have a major impact on Ford and the entire industry.

Ford's biggest concern right now has to be that that could happen. And that could significantly interfere with Ford's supplier chain. The ripple effect, a lot of these U.S. automakers rely on the same supply companies. Mulally says, though, he's confident -- he reiterated this -- that the Obama administration fully understands those risks, and they will take action.

Listen to that.


MULALLY: All of our suppliers are very interdependent, as -- as you well know. And they not only support Ford, but Chrysler and GM and Honda and Toyota in the United States.

And, so, as we go through this restructuring, I have a lot of confidence, from -- from talking to the participants, that the auto task force really understands the importance of the suppliers, and, as we go through this restructuring, that we make sure that they stay healthy and viable, so we can continue the whole value chain.


HARLOW: All right, Wolf, our in-depth interview's with Alan Mulally all right, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Poppy, thank you.

Let's turn to another story Americans care deeply about. Now that there's a possibility Bush administration officials could be prosecuted criminally for what some call torture, what would be the legal paths or obstacles to doing precisely that?

We asked our Brian Todd to take a closer look -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, most experts agree it is rare for government lawyers to be prosecuted for their advice and tough to do it. But there could be at least one opening to bring the authors of those memos into court.


TODD (voice-over): They give legal justification for techniques like water-boarding, which has been deemed illegal by the U.S. military in the past and by the current attorney general.

How tough would it be to prosecute the authors of the interrogation memos? Experts say it's rare for lawyers to be tried for giving legal advice, even bad advice.

STEPHEN SALTZBURG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: What they really would have had to do is say, to themselves, we know that what we're writing is wrong, and we intend, essentially, to write this because we want to join in the effort to violate the torture statute.

TODD: Did these Justice Department lawyers know that? Legal analysts say one path to prosecution could be through the 1996 War Crimes Act.

It says, a person who commits or conspires to commit an act intended to inflict severe pain is in violation of the Geneva Convention. In a 2002 memo to President Bush, then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales recommends that Mr. Bush not recognize the Geneva Convention in the war on terror.

Gonzales writes, if he opts out of the Geneva Convention, it "substantially reduces the threat of criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act."

SCOTT HORTON, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: An independent prosecutor, stepping back and looking at this memorandum, could well very say, this is mens rea. That is, it reflects a guilty mind. It reflects his recognition that what he's doing is a crime.


TODD: But that Gonzales memo only shows that some members of the administration at least thought of the possibility of future prosecutions.

And we need to make clear, Alberto Gonzales was not one of the drafters of those interrogation memos -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There are other reasons, though -- and I have spoken to some legal scholars -- and I know you have -- other reasons why it would really be tough to go over -- to go after those who actually wrote these legal opinions.

TODD: That's right. Experts say that public officials get certain levels of what's called qualified immunity, meaning, if you are acting in the scope of your duties as a top public official, as a government official, you may not be prosecuted. You could have some protection from prosecution. That's one of the things that's going make it tougher to prosecute these now.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

A deadly flu, could it now be spreading from Mexico into the United States? What you need to know to keep your family healthy.

Also ahead, when birds strike -- the danger to airplanes is more common than you might think. Secret records are now out about the problem at major U.S. airports.

And on Capitol Hill today, a clash of the titans -- Al Gore and Newt Gingrich at odds over global warming.


BLITZER: To the developing story we're watching very closely right now: fears of a global flu killer.

Health officials suspect they may have a new strain of swine flu on their hands in California and Texas. And they're looking into a possible connection between eight known flu cases, with an especially deadly outbreak in Mexico. That outbreak is now blamed for the deaths of at least 60 people.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is joining us. She's been looking into this story.

Who else do we know, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what know is that the head of the CDC says he is more worried today than he was yesterday about this outbreak of (INAUDIBLE) flu.


COHEN (voice-over): Mexico city, schools closed, people wear masks because at least 60 are dead from a strain of swine flu that's never been seen before, and now more cases in the United States.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: And -- and we are worried as well. Our concern has grown since yesterday.

COHEN: Today, an eighth case of swine flu in the U.S., this one in San Diego, a child who's recovered. The other seven cases, in California and Texas, have also recovered.

Now Mexican and U.S. authorities are investigating. Is there a connection between the cases in the two countries? Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control, told reporters they have examined 14 Mexican cases so far, and seven have the same genetic fingerprints as the cases in the U.S.

Now the CDC is warning doctors to be on the alert.

BESSER: Having a high index of -- of suspicion is -- is -- is a good idea. Travel histories are useful. If -- if you have a patient who has traveled to Mexico, to a part of the country that's been affected, it's really important that you do the proper testing.

COHEN: The symptoms of swine flu include fever, nausea and vomiting. According to the CDC, some antivirals are not working against this strain of swine flu.

In the U.S., there are usually only a few cases of swine flu each year, if any, not usually eight, like this, all at one time.


COHEN: Now, swine flu, as you can guess from the name, originates in pigs, but then can be spread from person to person.

And, Wolf, interestingly, none of the eight cases in the United States of -- of swine flu, none of those people had any contact with pigs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Elizabeth. I know you will stay on top of this story for us.

Many travelers have experienced plane turbulence, but few have seen it so violent, they have actually gotten hurt. On an Air Canada flight from Sydney, Australia, to Vancouver, Canada, today, the air was so rough, 11 people suffered minor injuries. The plane was forced to make an unscheduled landing in Honolulu.

Meanwhile, we're seeing the first-ever release of comprehensive information about birds that strike planes.

Let's go to CNN's Jeanne Meserve. He's got the -- she's got the report.

Jeanne, what do we know?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today, all the data about wildlife strikes was put online. And it is startling.


MESERVE (voice-over): There is no more dramatic illustration of what a small bird can do to a big plane than the so-called miracle on the Hudson.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Cactus 1539. Hit birds. We have lost thrust on both engines. We're turning back towards La Guardia.


MESERVE: The plane put down on the river. No lives were lost.

But, according to date made public for the first time, there have been 11 fatalities in more than 98,000 wildlife strikes reported since 1990. Denver's airport reported the most strikes, followed by Dallas- Fort Worth, Chicago's O'Hare, New York's Kennedy, and Memphis International.

The FAA says more birds and more flights have led to an exponential increase in bird strikes. But the data doesn't reflect it, because only about 20 percent are voluntarily reported by airports and pilots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you strike a bird, you really don't have to report this to the FAA, which means we're really not getting the full picture.

MESERVE: The NTSB wants reporting to be mandatory to better guide research on how to keep birds away from planes.

RAY LAHOOD, U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Look it, safety is number one. And the way people learn about safety is through information.

MESERVE: Birds aren't the only issue. The FAA database provides details on planes hitting deer, caribou, and even a fish.


MESERVE: According to records, in May of 2000, a fish hit a U.S. Airways flight as it landed in Warwick, Rhode Island. The fish had been dropped by an Osprey. The plane put down safely. The Osprey got away. And the fish -- well, you can imagine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Who would have thought?

All right, Jeanne, thank you.

Who's afraid of being criticized? Apparently, not the former Vice President Dick Cheney. He says, he will keep on speaking his mind, even if it means criticizing President Obama. But wait until you hear what Cheney is saying now to explain his reasoning.

Also, regarding health care reform, should President Obama think small? One of our "Strategy Session" guests says, yes. He's here to explain.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us right now, the Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee, who served as a spokesman for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and John Feehery. He's the Republican strategist.

Steve Hayes of "The Weekly Standard," one of our CNN contributors, had a chance to sit down with the former vice president, Dick Cheney, and -- and asked them about Cheney's decision to go forward and openly criticize the president, whereas the former president, George W. Bush, is staying away from there.

And here's what Cheney told Steve: "I worked in the trenches, and I was a loyal and supportive vice president. And when the president made decisions that I didn't agree with, I still supported him and didn't go out and undercut him. Now we're talking about after we have left office. I have strong feelings about what happened and what we did or didn't do and what's happening now. And I don't have any reason not to forthrightly express those views. I feel it's important to do so, especially when President Obama is wrong on important issues facing the nation."

What's wrong with that line of thinking, if anything?

MO ELLEITHEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I actually never thought I would say this publicly.


ELLEITHEE: I actually agree with George W. Bush on this one.

I think that there is a reason -- and a good reason -- why the tradition is that the outgoing president and vice president wait some time before they start being critical of the -- of the new administration.

But, having said that, my problem isn't with Dick Cheney speaking out. He has every right to, if he would like. My problem is what Dick Cheney is saying. For eight years, he was one of the leaders of an administration whose policies have been completely repudiated by the American people.

We're on a new course. The American people support this new course. And he just keeps trying to drag us back into the partisan morass that has flustered this country for too long.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Dick Cheney is a patriot, and he strongly loves this country, and he wants to protect this country. So, he has a right to say it. And he's doing it out of passion, I think much the way, the same way, that Al Gore felt passionate about global warming and spoke out against George Bush and felt what he felt.

Now, there's disagreements. There's going to be disagreements. But everything that Dick Cheney says, he says, not for political reasons, because he believes that he's right, and he wants to protect the country.

BLITZER: And he also wants to protect his own reputation, because if he's getting criticized severely, he wants to come out and defend himself, which is the natural instinct of anyone, especially a politician.

ELLEITHEE: Well, look, for -- again, for eight years, they have been pushing policies on national security and on the economy that have proved to -- to fail and have proved to be repudiated by the American people.

So, yes, I can understand why he's feeling a little defensive these days, because he sees the new administration actually turning things around. But I'm not sure he's being productive in our national debate.

FEEHERY: Well, he didn't fail in one sense, that he kept the country safe after 9/11. And that is not an easy task.

After 9/11, people thought there were going to be a lot more attacks. There haven't been. And his policies did not fail on that part. And that's the part that...


BLITZER: Let's look ahead now to health care reform, which, in the second 100 days, it could be the big story.


BLITZER: And we're all gearing up for it right now.

You have a piece that you have written for Among other things, John, you write this: "The experience of the past 100 years of health care reform suggest that efforts to nationalize the whole industry usually fail, but smaller, discrete bites of the apple usually succeed."

Your point is, you don't want President Obama right now to go for the whole nine yards.

FEEHERY: Well, I say -- this is advice that he's probably not going to take, but my advice is get the discrete parts, and get it in a bipartisan way. If you do that, target it to specific parts of the population, you're going to be more successful.

And history has proved that. For example, if he went after, said, I want to fix health care for small-business owners, I think he would be very successful and wouldn't have any real problem getting that passed. But, if he tries a big nationalized health care program, it might fail. And that's what I'm hearing about what is going on, on the Hill.

BLITZER: Do you think that strategy works? Because he did work with the so-called SCHIP, the children's health insurance. He did get some bipartisan support. And even though it didn't pass during the Bush administration, it did pass during the first 100 days of this administration. It was a modest, but significant development.

ELLEITHEE: Yes. Look, John's piece was -- was well-written and articulate. But I just -- I -- I don't think it's the right approach. I don't think the American people are looking for incremental change. I think President Obama campaigned heavily on the notion of universal health care. He's got a mandate in his -- the beginning of his administration for universal health care. I don't know their legislative strategy. I don't know if they're going to focus on smaller pieces.

As you said, they started with SCHIP. But this is a big issue. It deserves big, bold plans and agenda. He's got one. And he ought to push it.

BLITZER: And John's full article is on If you want to read it, if you want to comment on it, that's a good place to go.


BLITZER: Give me a grade for the president right now, the first 100 days, on bipartisanship.

FEEHERY: I would give him a C. I think he has said a lot of the right things, but I don't think he has done a lot of the right things. I think a lot of Republicans would give him an F. But I think he gets some style points, which are important.

But, when it comes to actual substance, I think he gets -- doesn't do very well.

BLITZER: Well, give me a grade for Congress, the Republicans in Congress, specifically on bipartisanship, during these first 100 days.

ELLEITHEE: Yes, I would -- I would give the Republicans in Congress an F. I think every time the president has reached out to them with an open hand, they have batted it away and just been the party of no.

BLITZER: Do you accept that?

FEEHERY: I think the Republicans have tried to reach out. I think the biggest problem with the Republicans right now is that they have the Democrats running the Congress and they have no access to actually having an input on what is going on legislatively.

Guys, we will leave it right there. Thanks very much.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

ELLEITHEE: Thank you.

BLITZER: On Wednesday night, don't forget, you can grade the president and the Congress. We mark President Obama's 100th day in office with the "CNN National Report Card: The First 100 Days." We will begin our coverage at 7:00 p.m. Eastern with a prime-time special, including a presidential news conference, live from the White House, that night.

I will be joined by Anderson Cooper, John King, Soledad O'Brien, and the best political team on television. And you will be able to take part in live voting online at That's Wednesday night. It all begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Al Gore is giving Congress a piece of his mind today about one of the most passionate issues on his agenda, global warming. But he's getting pushback from another veteran political heavyweight, Newt Gingrich. Gore vs. Gingrich, that's coming up.

Also, a Los Angeles landmark at the center of the debate over torture -- was a terror attack prevented because of harsh interrogation techniques?

And a husband wanted a divorce, so he told his wife by text, and the marriage was over. Find out where that was legal, and why.


BLITZER: Between now and next Wednesday, you will be hearing a lot about the president's first 100-day milestone. And you may be wondering, 100? Why not 200 or 300 days?

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider is here looking at this.

Remind us all, Bill, how this 100-day benchmark became so popular.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It began, Wolf, with Franklin D. Roosevelt, another president who took time -- took office, rather, at a time of dire economic crisis.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Senior White House adviser David Axelrod has called the 100-day benchmark -- quote -- "an odd custom, the journalistic equivalent of the Hallmark holiday."

The custom goes back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used his first 100 days in 1933 to launch the New Deal. Democrats had just won huge majorities in Congress and were ready to do the president's bidding. But, if Congress should fail to act, Roosevelt warned in his inaugural address, he would ask for:


FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.


SCHNEIDER: Congress gave President Roosevelt nearly everything he wanted, 15 major bills in the first 100 days, including the Emergency Banking Relief Act, the Public Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation -- oh, and the Beer-Wine Revenue Act that set the stage for the end of prohibition.

A White House adviser remarked that members of Congress had forgotten to be Republicans or Democrats.

Congress doesn't pass legislation anymore, Will Rogers said. They just wave at the bills as they go by.

Nothing since has equaled FDR's first 100 days.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A week from tomorrow marks the 100th day of my administration.

SCHNEIDER: President Obama may have the boldest 100-day agenda since FDR, but Congress has passed only a few major bills, including the economic stimulus package, the public lands preservation bill, and an expansion of children's health insurance.


SCHNEIDER: What's changed? Presidents can no longer count on the kind of bipartisan cooperation that FDR got in 1933, even at a time of crisis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point, Bill. Thanks very much for that.

Remember, on Wednesday night, we will be marking President Obama's 100th day in office with the "CNN National Report Card: The First 100 Days."

We will begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern with a prime-time special, including a presidential news conference from the White House. I will be joined by Anderson, Cooper, John King, Soledad O'Brien, and the best political team in Washington. And you will be able to take part in live voting online at That's Wednesday night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Let's go right back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You will also be here in New York City for that broadcast.

BLITZER: That's correct.

CAFFERTY: Will you not?

BLITZER: We will be in New York next week for our live coverage.

CAFFERTY: We're all -- we're all anticipating your arrival with...

BLITZER: Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Yes. The question this hour, will Bush administration officials who authorized and oversaw the enhanced interrogation program ever be prosecuted?

Seth writes from Brooklyn: "I feel like some of the minor, behind-the-scenes Bush era officials might face the music, but I have a hard time believing the bigwigs will ever be prosecuted. It's a shame, really. They used the broad brush of protecting the USA to go out and engage in widespread unethical and illegal activity, the effectiveness of which can never really be proven. Sure, we haven't been attacked since then, but we also haven't been attacked since I started parting my hair differently either."

Eric writes: "Hopefully not. President Gerald Ford had it right. Don't linger on the past. The future is where a president is supposed to take the country. President Obama should immediately pardon, excuse, forgive, or whatever you want to call it, the entire staff of the Bush era, tell Congress not to bother with the Bush presidency, and then continue to lead us forward as he sees fit."

Michelle in Philadelphia: "I sure hope so, Jack, but I can't be sure. We haven't been holding people accountable for real mistakes in years. Perhaps if we found out that Vice President Cheney had an affair with an intern, we would be mad enough to do prosecute him. But for war crimes? Come on. This is America."

Dan in Kentucky: "This is insane. I am a Democrat. I voted for Obama. But with all of the problems we now face economically and with continuing security threats, this prosecution is not only a distraction. It would bitterly divide the nation, when unity through compromise and consensus is most important. President Ford's pardon of Nixon is a good analogy."

And Boz writes from Boston: "Ever notice the people who are the strongest defenders of torture are the same ones who keep calling this a Christian nation? If they don't get punished here, they certainly will come judgment day."

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

Perhaps you can take us all out to dinner, Wolf, when you come to New York next week.

BLITZER: I will be working really hard, many, many hours, Jack, as -- as you probably know.



BLITZER: But we will see what we can do.



BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: a new twist in the torture debate. Did water- boarding the 9/11 mastermind uncover a plot to fly a hijacked jet into a Los Angeles skyscraper? A declassified memo now shedding some new light.

Also, secrets of the biggest scam in history revealed -- exclusive new details of Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme come to light, as a former partner now reportedly seeks a plea deal.

And a divorce by text message is upheld in Saudi Arabia, but only men can do it -- a landmark case underscoring the plight of women in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

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