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President Obama Speaks About Civil War in Sri Lanka; Detainee Photo Release Blocked; Boat Capsizes off Florida

Aired May 13, 2009 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Allegations of torture under investigation. A former FBI interrogator tells U.S, senators that harsh techniques don't work and he accuses Bush-era officials of telling what he calls "half-truths."

Astronauts grab a hold of a telescope and brace for their most dangerous repair mission ever. We're tracking every step of this outer space adventure.

The Alaska governor plans to tell her story and likely make millions of dollars just in time for the next presidential race.

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

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, President Obama orders government lawyers to stop the release of hundreds of photos showing the alleged abuse of detainees. The White House says U.S. troops would be put in danger if the images of prisoners held in Afghanistan and Iraq were made public. This bomb sell decision from an administration that's been openness.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry. He was at the briefing with Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.

Ed, this is a major reversal from what we heard from the White House only a few days ago.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And you know something really strange is happening here at the White House when republicans like Mitch McConnell are praising the president and liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union is ripping him apart.

When basically is happening is one month ago, the White House basically said the president would be releasing these hundreds of photos that allegedly show prison abuse at the hands of U.S. military officials and others in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the president trying to block the release of those photos on the grounds that it could spark rage in the Muslim world, endanger U.S. troops.

Robert Gibbs, the spokesman, is now claiming that this is a new, legal argument that the president wants to make about potentially endangering U.S. troops. So I pressed him on the fact that Vice President Cheney and others have, in fact, been making this same argument for weeks. What went wrong?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Was there a failure here at the White House in the first go around in April to fully weigh the national security implications?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The argument that the president seeks to make is one that hasn't been made before. The -- I'm not going to get into blame for this or that, understanding that there was significant legal momentum in these cases prior to the president entering into office. We are now at a point where it is likely that some stay will be asked to prevent the release of these photos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now the White House does seem to be on firm legal ground here because the executive branch does have wide latitudes to protect documents, photos, memos on the grounds of national security.

But they could have a political problem more than a legal problem. As I mentioned, the ACLU, Anthony Romero, head of the ACLU, blasting this decision, saying, quote, "the Obama administration's adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president's stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government. This is decision is particularly disturbing given the Justice department's failure to initiate a criminal investigation of torture crimes under the Bush administration."

So what you can see is the promises of transparency turning the page on the Bush years that we saw in the first week of this administration now running into the reality of the difficulties that come with actually executing the war on terror, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the president getting ready to leave the White House and he's going out to Arizona State University for that commencement address later tonight, is that right?

HENRY: That's right. And then tomorrow, he'll be in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He's also going to be doing a town hall meeting. And we expect he's going to be making some comments on about the situation in Sri Lanka here at the White House before he leaves. This is in the next few moments. But we'll be watching very closely to see if he takes questions on this photo situation as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, there's a civil war in Sri Lanka, we'll see what he says. All right, Ed, thanks very much.

The Senate launched hearings today into waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration. Measures critics describe as torture. A top democrat vowed to expose lies. A top republican slammed panel leaders for getting only one side of the story.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

A lot of drama unfolded during that hearing today, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, you know, the president has said he does not want Congressional investigations into those Bush-era techniques to become partisan affairs, but today's certainly did. And it was in part because of gripping testimony from somebody who used to be on the front lines fighting terrorism who agrees with democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Behind the wall, identity hidden, a former FBI agent who personally interrogated top al Qaeda operatives and says harsh tactics like waterboarding do not work.

ALI SOUFAN, CEO, THE SOUFAN GROUP LLC: These techniques, from an operational perspective, are slow, ineffective, unreliable.

BASH: In dramatic testimony, Ali Soufan said he got a treasure trove of useable intelligence from Abu Zubaydah. Found out about 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed without using extreme tactics. But when his team was replaced with CIA contractors using harsh techniques, Abu Zubaydah shut down.

SOUFAN: Waterboarding itself had to be used 83 times. An indication that Abu Zubaydah had already called his interrogators bluff. Within the first hour, we gained important actionable intelligence.

BASH: Also testifying, Philip Zelikow, former counselor to Condoleezza Rice, who criticized the tactics in an internal memo which he says Bush officials tried to destroy.

PHILIP ZELIKOW, FORMER COUNSELOR TO CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The U.S. government over the past seven years adopted an unprecedented program in American history of coolly calculated, dehumanizing abuse, and physical torment to extract information.

BASH: This was the first hearing on extreme tactics since the president released classified Bush-era interrogation memos. And it was partisan from the start.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The lies are legion. President Bush told us America does not torture.

BASH: Lindsay Graham who questioned whether this hearing was just a political stunt. He has long opposed the policy of harsh interrogation methods, but said it was not criminal.

GRAHAM: One of the reasons these techniques have survived for 500 years is apparently they work.

SOUFAN: Because, sir, there are a lot of people that don't know how to interrogate and it's easy to hit somebody than outsmart them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now the democratic senator who chaired this hearing, Sheldon Whitehouse, says he hopes that this will be a first in a series of hearing to expose what he called an avalanche of falsehood from the Bush administration.

And that republican that you saw there, Lindsay Graham, he was actually the only one to show up and actual question these witnesses. He says that if there are other hearings, he hopes that they will be more balanced, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to be speaking to Lindsay Graham in the next hour. Dada, thanks very much for that.

President Obama lit a fire under House democratic leaders today in hopes of getting sweeping health care reform and getting it fast. After talks at the White House, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to deliver a bill this summer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have got to get it done this year. We have got to get it done this year. Both in the House and in the Senate. And we don't have any excuses, the stars are aligned.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: We promised him that we will have this important legislation on the floor of the House before the August break.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Democratic senators reportedly are leaning toward making affordability and choice the top selling points for a health care overhaul instead of focusing in on helping the uninsured.

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

Lots going on and a busy day in your world of news, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You're right there at the nerve center of civilization as we know it. Lucky you.

The recession is taking its toll on Social Security, the government says the trust fund will be paying out more money than it takes in by 2016, that's a year earlier than expected. And unless changes are made, it will be gone in 2037, four years sooner than expected.

As a result, Social Security recipients probably won't get cost of living increases either next year or in 2011. That's something that's happened every year since 1975.

Here's the problem. Social Security's funded by payroll taxes. With 5.7 million Americans out of work since the recession began and another 4.3 million jobs being filled on a part-time basis, there's just not as much money going into the Social Security coffers. And with 80 million baby boomers getting ready to retire, well, the demand for benefits is rising.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that the administration will tackle Social Security after health care is addressed.

They don't want to touch this stuff. Whenever they get around to it, the options are going to be limited. You're either have to raise revenues, which means an increase in the payroll increase tax that people pay into Social Security or you have to cut benefits. That could mean raising the retirement age even farther. It's already scheduled to increase to 67.

Both choices are considered political suicide, but something's got to give here. Washington has known about Social Security's problems for years and they choose not to do anything about it.

Here's the question: How confident are you that Social Security will be there for you when you retire? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

The aversion to doing anything meaningful about this entitlement program is breathtaking.

BLITZER: Something about a third rail of politics.

CAFFERTY: Yes, exactly. It's like only people with a death wish will touch this thing.

BLITZER: Yes, well they've got to do something otherwise that whole plan, including Medicare is going to be in deep, deep trouble.

CAFFERTY: Yes, and I'm a lot closer to needing that Social Security check than you are, by the way.

BLITZER: I think it'll be there for you. Your kids, I'm not so sure about, but for you it will be there, Jack.

CAFFERTY: OK. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

A boat flips over, people are thrown into the water and the Coast Guard rushes to the rescue. It's a story unfolding off Florida right now.

Also ahead, the investigation into a deadly plane crash reveals top members of the crew may have been running on fumes. Could the pilot on your next flight be too tired.

And Sarah Palin follows in Barack Obama's footsteps. Now that she has book deal, could a run for the White House be very far behind?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama speaking to reporters now outside the White House on what's going on, the civil war in Sri Lanka. Then we expect him to move on to other issues.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

OBAMA: ... women and children who are innocently caught in the crossfire, to put them first.

So I urge the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and let civilians go. Their forced recruitment of civilians and their use of civilians as human shields is deplorable. These tactics will only serve to alienate all those who carry them out.

I'm also calling on the Sri Lankan government to take several steps to alleviate this humanitarian crisis.

First, the government should stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken several innocent lives, including several hospitals. The government should live up to its commitment to not use heavy weapons in the conflict zone.

Second, the government should give the United Nations humanitarian teams access to the civilians who are trapped between the warring parties so that they can receive the immediate assistance necessary to save lives.

Third, the government should also allow the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to nearly 190,000 displaced people within Sri Lanka so that they can receive additional support that they need.

The United States stands ready to work with the international community to support the people of Sri Lanka in this time of suffering. I don't believe that we can delay. Now is the time for all of us to work together to avert further humanitarian suffering.

Going forward, Sri Lanka must seek a peace that is secure and lasting and grounded in respect for all of its citizens. More civilian casualties and inadequate care for those caught in resettlement camps will only make it more difficult to achieve the peace that the people of Sri Lanka deserve.

Now, let me also say a few words about an issue that I know you asked Robert Gibbs about quite a bit today, and that's my decision to argue against the release of additional detainee photos.

Understand, these photos are associated with closed investigations of the alleged abuse of detainees in our ongoing war effort. And I want to emphasize that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.

But they do represent conduct that did not conform with the Army manual. That's precisely why they were investigated. And, I might add, investigated long before I took office. And where appropriate, sanctions have been applied. In other words, this is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action. Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes, and the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.

It is therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefits to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.

Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse. And obviously, the thing that is most important in my mind is making sure that we are abiding by the Army manual and that we are swiftly investigating any instances in which individuals have not acted appropriately, and that they are appropriately sanctioned. That's my aim, and I do not believe that the release of these photos at this time would further that goal.

Now, let me be clear. I am concerned about how the release of these photos would impact on the safety of our troops. I have made it very clear to all who are within the chain of command, however, of the United States armed forces that the abuse of detainees in our custody is prohibited and will not be tolerated. I have repeated that since I have been in office, Secretary Gates understands that, Admiral Mullen understands that, and that has been communicated across the chain of command.

Any abuse of t detainees is unacceptable, it is against our values, it endangers our security. It will not be tolerated.

All right?

Thank you very much everybody.

BLITZER: The president of the United States speaking about the civil war in Sri Lanka, but then going on to defend his decision, a reversal from what the White House said only a few days ago, that it will try to block the release of these controversial photos showing alleged abuse of detainees by the U.S. military. The president insisting it could undermine the national security, the troops right now.

Our Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry is back with us.

Ed, the president getting ready to fly off to Arizona State, but wanted to make, I guess, two points on Sri Lanka, also to speak out personally on this decision.

They don't explain why it was a bad -- why it's a bad idea to release these photos now, but a few weeks ago, when they said they would release the photos, it was a good idea then.

Do you have a good explanation of what has happened in between?

HENRY: We don't, Wolf. And that was a question we were pressing Robert Gibbs on, and I find it significant that the president right there just made his statement to speak his peace, but did not take questions from reporters, because it seems very hard for this administration to explain.

You're absolutely right, and this is the criticism, again, that's not coming from conservatives, it's coming from liberals like the ACLU, that have supported this administration up and down on other issues, saying they're perplexed by this, because this argument about national security was certainly out there last month and the White House brushed it aside and said, look, we've already weighed all of this, we believe that this is a case where the photos are going to come out anyway. We've weighed the national security concerns, we're going to release them. Now this is a complete 180, and there's no clear explanation about what changed between last month and right now.

I think to wrap at one final thing, is that you're going to hear a lot from this White House that General Odierno in Iraq and other military officials have been saying in recent days they were quite concerned about the effect on U.S. troops. But again, General Odierno, other military leaders have been making this same case in public and in private for quite some time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I remember at the time when they said they were going to release the photos, they said they really didn't think they had a good case to defeat the ACLU and others who wanted these photos, and that's why they were going to go ahead and release them. But now, apparently, they think they do have a better legal case to try to block the release of those photos.

Is that right?

HENRY: That's right. And what's also interesting and contradictory for this White House is the fact that they used that same argument you just laid out about, look, we don't think we can win this lawsuit on appeal, we can't basically prevent the photos from coming out. That's what they said in April. They said the same thing about the so-called torture memos that were released as well, that same legal argument.

Those memos came out, even though Vice President Cheney and others are saying, look, that's going to harm the troops, endanger U.S. troops more. Now, if the same principle applies for the White House to say, look, we can't release the photos, it will hurt the troops, why then did they release those memos that a lot of critics have said could hurt the troops as well, Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Henry, stand by. This is a big story. We're not going to go very far away from it.

Also some other news we're watching. We're hearing the White House is considering about six finalists as possible U.S. Supreme Court picks. In a few minutes, we're going to be naming some names, at least who's on the list out there, apparently. And it's not often a rock star known for using fake blood and what's called shock rock performs before a presidential address, but that's what will happen tonight before a speech by President Obama to the school that ignited a controversy ahead of the president's visit.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A dramatic U.S. Coast Guard rescue operation is under way right now. A boat carrying 28 people has capsized off the coast of Florida.

Let's go to CNN's John Zarrella. He's in Miami and he's got the latest details.

All right, John. What happened?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, a massive air and sea search is under way right now off the coast of Boynton Beach. That's just north of Fort Lauderdale.

The Coast Guard is telling us that so far, they have pulled 24 people out of the water. At least eight of those -- and the number is expected to go higher -- are reportedly dead.

This is how it unfolded. A boater picked up three people about 12:00 this afternoon. They told him they were part of a larger group of 28 whose boat capsized about 2:00 in the morning.

Immediately, the Coast Guard was called, the air and sea search began, but they had already been in the water for a good 10 hours before that Coast Guard search began. Again, at least 24 people pulled from the water, but at least eight of those dead. We're not sure of their nationalities, believed to be from the Bahamas and Haiti -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll get back to you, John. Thanks very much.

A dramatic story unfolding off the coast of Florida.

Will Sarah Palin tell all? The Alaska governor is set to write a book. She says her agenda is to set the record straight. Is there also a political agenda?

And in the White House, a reporter is busted, then punished by the press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Don't worry. It's a funny moment, a lighthearted moment that you will want to see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, a rendezvous in space. The shuttle Atlantis rescues the Hubble telescope and prepares to make some key repairs. President Obama about to head to Arizona to give tonight's commencement address at Arizona State University. He won't be getting an honorary degree, and controversy awaits him at Notre Dame's commencement on Sunday.

And a warning from the federal government to one of America's best known cereals. Cheerios is being told to stop claims about the food's health benefits.

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

One of the biggest guessing games in the nation could soon be solved regarding the search to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. We're now hearing top White House officials have narrowed a list down to about six finalists.

Let's name some names.

Sources tell CNN on the list, the Federal Appeals Court Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood, and Solicitor Elena Kagan. Sources also say women make up all but one of the top candidates. The other name, we're told, is California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno.

Our CNN National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Happy talk all around after the president's meeting with Senate leaders about the Supreme Court vacancy.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The most important thing is that we -- we come together on the nominee.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: We may disagree on how to vote on a nominee, but we can agree on the process.

YELLIN: The White House is hopeful the confirmation hearings are equally civil.

GIBBS: There was agreement that the process would be civil and allow the nominee to get a fair hearing, in which their views could be thoughtfully discussed.

YELLIN: The president is looking for a justice who does not view laws in the abstract, but thinks hard about the way they affect people's lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 1, 2009)

OBAMA: I view that quality of empathy, of understanding, and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: With political stakes high, Republicans warn the president, don't appoint a judicial activist.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I thought empathy implied that you were on somebody's side before you heard the case. We did have a discussion about the -- the importance of -- of following the law and not acting like a legislator on the bench.

YELLIN: The president has made it clear he would like his nominee confirmed before Congress goes on recess in August. It would seem he would have to name his pick soon.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We look forward to the name coming forward as quickly as possible.

YELLIN: Expect Senate Republicans to flex their muscle through the confirmation process. They say they will not be rushed into shortened or early hearings just to meet the president's schedule.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, Wolf, President Obama is expected, in fact, to name his nominee before months, and, typically, the Senate has 60 to 70 days to consider the nominee. And the Republicans expect to take all that time. So, with health care reform also before the Senate this summer, it's going to be a very busy one on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: A hot one in more ways than one, too.

All right, thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

Right now, state governments are deciding the best ways to try to use some of the economic stimulus money from the federal government. But some state officials would rather not spend it.

In South Carolina, for example, the House hopes to pass a budget that would force the governor in requesting hundreds of millions in dollars in stimulus money for various uses, especially for public education.

South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford is joining us now.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: My pleasure.

BLITZER: The federal government wants to give your state $700 million, but correct me if I'm wrong, you're saying thanks but no thanks.

Briefly explain why you don't want the money, especially given the tough economic times your state is facing right now?

SANFORD: Well, Wolf, that's just a portion of what they want to give us. If you look at the package in its entirety, it's about $8 billion. So what we said is given the 10 percent that we control -- that's $700 million -- we think it would be prudent to actually use basically an amount of similar size at the state level to paying down debt.

That if you won the lottery tomorrow, a prudent family would set some money aside to pay off the credit card balance or to pay down the mortgage, and we don't think a state government should operate any differently. Because if we spend all this money, we end up $700 million in the hole 24 months from now, and the question is, and then what? We don't think we want to get to that point. We don't think it's in the best interest of our economy going forward or, for that matter, the state budget.

BLITZER: But apparently a lot of the lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, in your state disagree with you. Right?

SANFORD: Yes, but let's be honest about the conventional political wisdom. The conventional political wisdom is you throw $700 million on the table and everybody grabs for their piece and asks questions later. And I think that particularly in the state we're in -- you know, we're fourth in the nation, what we allocate to paying down debt. You know, and that's money that doesn't go to school teachers. It doesn't go to health care. It would in fact be prudent to take this windfall and to pay some money down.

BLITZER: One of our reporters, Drew Griffin, went to South Carolina, went to a school that was in deep trouble in Dillon. He had this exchange with one Republican state lawmaker. I'm going to play the exchange for you because I want you to respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Are you telling me that this school in Dillon, this junior high school, that this governor is willing to let that school deteriorate over a political issue that he can run on in the future?

HUGH K. LEATHERMAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATOR: Absolutely. This governor, in my opinion, cares nothing about this state, cares nothing about the people he governs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was Hugh Leatherman. I'm sure you know who he is, but he said you care nothing about the state, and the suggestion is, and it's been made by others, you're more interested in a national political profile than you are in helping the folks in South Carolina, especially the poor ones.

SANFORD: Well, I would say Senator Leatherman and my disagreements have been long and well chronicled.

But what I would also say is, look at the totality of my 15 years in politics, and in every instance when it comes to sustainable spending, which is ultimately about watching out for the neediest of the needy because if you continue this peak-and-valley approach to government spending, it in fact hurts both the taxpayer and it hurts the needy of the needy, because the people who most depend on government are the folks that oftentimes are facing those cuts in government programs when you end up over-spending.

All we've said is, look, that which we spend ought to be sustainable. And going out and spending a bunch of money that we don't have, that causes us to end up $450 million in the hole next year and $700 million a year after that is in fact not prudent from a financial standpoint and not in the best interests of the kids at that school being alluded to there in Dillon.

BLITZER: But when the political dust settles in Columbia, South Carolina, are they going to force you to accept the $700 million from the federal government?

SANFORD: Yes, that's what it's looking like right now, but then we'll look at the different chess cards that come in the wake of that. But yes, the House and Senate, the easiest thing of all would be just to take the money and spend it, and that's why that's probably the course that will be played out in the House and Senate over the hours ahead.

BLITZER: Governor Sanford, I appreciate your coming in. Thanks very much.

SANFORD: Yes, sir, a pleasure.

BLITZER: New developments regarding a U.S. soldier accused of killing five fellow troops at a stress clinic in Iraq. The father says it was not combat that caused his son to act, but the father says fellow soldiers pushed the son over the edge.

How to avoid situations like these were part of the discussion today, as the defense secretary, Robert Gates, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, testified before a House committee.

Let's go straight to our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He was watching what was going on.

How did it go, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, what came out of it was, dozens of congressmen are now urging their leaders to back a big increase in the budget specifically to help soldiers deal with mental stress.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The country's top defense officials answering Congress' questions about soldiers and stress. Weeks before Monday's soldier-on-soldier killing in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had asked for another $300 million to improve mental health programs in the military.

Now members of Congress are pushing to get that part of the budget passed.

REP. THOMAS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: As we saw in Iraq earlier this week, that money that we're requesting can also help the soldiers that are still deployed.

LAWRENCE: During Wednesday's hearing, Admiral Mike Mullen described a recent town hall meeting where some troops complained they didn't know how to deal with combat stress.

SERGEANT NICOLE HUFFMAN, U.S. ARMY: They have been shooting and killing people, and then seeing the bodies and -- of women and children, and we're not getting enough training, sir.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: My expectation is -- are that leaders be in touch with their people enough to know when it's going well and when it's not going well.

HUFFMAN: They're hiding it, though, sir.

LAWRENCE: One program, the sergeant suspected of killing his fellow service members was in a leadership position, a combat vet on his third deployment.

MULLEN: I have long believed that the stress of multiple deployments and the institutional pressure, real or imagined, to bear this stress with a stiff upper lip is driving some people to either leave the service or leave this life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: You know, a lot of troops were surveyed in a recent poll. More than half said that asking for psychological help would lower their status among their fellow troops -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chris, what a disturbing story. Thanks very much, Chris Lawrence over at the Pentagon.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session": Move over, Sarah Palin. One columnist says Dick Cheney is the new rogue diva of the Republican Party.

And, later, the Atlantis astronauts grab and go forward with an incredibly risky space repair mission. Stand by for some truly remarkable pictures.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Whether or not you're a fan of Sarah Palin, most would agree she has a fascinating story to tell. And she's going to tell it.

The Alaska governor and former vice presidential nominee has signed a book deal with the publisher HarperCollins.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's looking at this story for us.

I guess the immediate question a lot of people will have, does the book deal signal a presidential run? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, these days, writing a book is part of the ritual of running for president. But this could be a different kind of campaign book.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: You guys are wanting to dissect the past, and you're already worrying about and kind of playing that pundit's role on what's going to happen in 2010.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): We do know one thing that's going to happen in 2010. Sarah Palin's book is set to come out in the spring. Good timing. Palin may run for a second term as Alaska governor next year. There's a wide-open race for the Republican nomination in 2012.

These days, writing a book has become part of the campaign ritual. You have got your autobiographies, like John McCain's "Faith of My Fathers." You have got your thoughtful reflections, like Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope." You have got your political manifestos, like Ross Perot's "United We Stand."

Sarah Palin's book may be different. She told "The Anchorage Daily News," "There have been so many things written and said through mainstream media that have not been accurate, and it would be nice, through an unfiltered forum, to get to speak truthfully about who we are."

Governor Palin intends to set the record straight, the controversy over her wardrobe.

PALIN: You know, I have tried to just ignore it, because it's so ridiculous.

SCHNEIDER: Anonymous criticism by McCain aides.

PALIN: That's cruel. It's mean-spirited. It's immature.

SCHNEIDER: The gossip about her family, and the merciless satire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

TINA FEY, ACTRESS: And I can see Russia from my house.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Opinions of Palin or divided. She needs to create a more sympathetic figure. How? As a Washington outsider victimized by the establishment and the national media.

PALIN: I am, obviously, an outsider of the Washington elite.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Governor Palin has declined to disclose how much she's being paid for the book, but several publishers have estimated that it could be upwards of $7 million. That's not a bad start for a campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Seven million for a book, for an advance, that's pretty good. And if the book does really well, that $7 million could be just the beginning. It could be a lot more.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

BLITZER: All right, we will see how it works out. Thanks very much, Bill, for that.

Guess who's being called a -- quote -- "rogue diva"? Dick Cheney. That's what one newspaper columnist calls him. Is that title deserved?

And a reporter is busted in the White House. It's a lighthearted moment I think you will want to see.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBBS: ... enhanced interrogation technique.

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: I will be right back.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Joining us now, our Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist, the former Bush White House counselor Ed Gillespie.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

All right, let -- let me start with this notion that they're -- on the Supreme Court, Donna, it looks -- it looks like it's down to about a half-a-dozen names so far.

And we got an iReport from someone in Atlanta named Zennie Abraham. And I'm going to play it for you. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZENNIE ABRAHAM, CNN IREPORTER: Hi.

It's vitally important to have a diverse Supreme Court in a diverse society. Otherwise, a monoethnic Supreme Court would be accused of coming up with laws for some of us, and not all of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Donna, I assume you agree with him.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- I clearly believe in diversity.

But, at the same time, Wolf, that -- I believe that the president should pick someone who is not only up to the task, but can get confirmed by the Senate. I'm sure that he has on his small list or long list of names of qualified women, minorities, men as well.

And I -- I know, just based on the -- the Cabinet, the president will make a -- a good selection.

BLITZER: We're told there's about a half-a-dozen names now on that list, Ed, five women and one man, Justice Carlos Moreno.

But you were involved, in the Bush White House, in coming up with names. You tried Harriet Miers. That didn't work out. And you eventually got two guys to become United States Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice.

How does this work behind the scenes, at least over at the Bush White House?

ED GILLESPIE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, there are a lot of suggestions that come your way from senators, from governors, from others who say, you ought to take a look at this potential nominee or this person to be considered, a lot of input.

The Department of Justice, I'm sure, has prepared thick books on -- on different potential nominees for the president to review and for his others, his White House counsel, to -- to look through.

You know, let me just say, in terms of a woman or an Hispanic or an African-American, I think it would be a wrong approach to say, you know, give me a list of five women or five Hispanics or five African- Americans.

I think you have to get a list of the most qualified people to serve on the Supreme Court in this very important lifetime appointment. I do think, at that point, if on that list are women or Hispanics or -- or African-Americans, that -- at that point, clearly, that's a factor amongst others, amongst qualified people.

But I -- I don't think it would be right to say, we're going to put a woman, or an Hispanic, or an African-American on the court solely for that reason. I do think that it's a -- it's a consideration once you have determined a pool of -- of qualified potential nominees.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Donna, we have got some names up there, some possible Supreme Court nominees, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Judge Diane Wood, the solicitor general, Elena Kagan, and the Justice Carlos Moreno.

Take us behind the scenes, behind, the past, in all the years I have been covering Washington, official White House -- officials at the White House will deliberately release, leak some names, in an effort to see if there's any problem out there, to get it out there before they formally go forward with the nomination. If there's some complaints, they want it to be vetted a little bit in the media, if you will.

Is that what -- is that what's going on right now?

BRAZILE: I think so, Wolf.

I received about three e-mails today, one from the National Organization for Women, with a petition drive. Barbara Boxer as a petition drive on "The Huffington Post." So, people out there are vetting a lot of names in the public.

You know, Wolf, quite honestly, everyone is quite excited that President Obama will -- will get to make this selection, given the -- the current makeup of the court. And Justice Souter has been a reliable and strong supporter of civil rights and a woman's right to choose.

And while I agree with Ed, but let me just say that, throughout our history, 96 percent of the people who have been put on our Supreme Court have been white men. So, it is important that women and minorities are on that short list, so that they can receive the type of consideration and scrutiny that others have received in the past.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about the former Vice President Dick Cheney for a moment.

Maureen Dowd, "The New York Times" columnist, Ed, who wrote this in the paper today: "Cheney has replaced Sarah Palin as rogue diva. Just as Jeb Bush and other Republicans are trying to get kinder and gentler, Cheney has popped out of his dungeon, scary organ music blaring, to carry on his nasty campaign of fear and loathing."

Is this whole debate among Republicans right now, who's more beneficial to the party, Colin Powell or Rush Limbaugh, is this really helpful to the Republicans? And I ask you as a former chairman of the RNC.

GILLESPIE: No, it's a false debate, Wolf.

The fact is that, if you're going to be a majority party in a country of 300 million people, you're a party that would include people who have a view of -- like Rush Limbaugh, very pure in terms of the philosophical approach, and a view that accommodates people like Colin Powell as well, a little bit more pragmatic in terms of their approach.

I -- you know, I am someone who is, you know, a conservative in terms of my philosophy and my -- my political outlook, but I also am someone who understands that the Democrats have done a very good job of getting candidates in districts where maybe the -- the candidate doesn't agree, the Democratic candidate doesn't agree with the Democratic Party platform on gun control or on abortion.

But, at the same time, they have been able to elect enough candidates to get a majority. I would say, in the -- that process, by the way, the Democratic Party hasn't moved to the right. If anything, it's moved left.

BLITZER: All right.

GILLESPIE: And, so, I think that we should take a page from their playbook.

BLITZER: The former President Bill Clinton was out campaigning for the Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, his good friend. He was out in Herndon, Virginia.

And we caught up with him, Bill Clinton.

Donna, listen to this little reaction we got from him on the whole Dick Cheney business.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish him well. It's over.

I wish him well. It's over. But I do hope he gets some more target practice before he goes out again.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: "I do hope he gets some more target practice before he goes out again."

All right, what do you make of that, given the -- I guess it's the implication of the -- the shooting incident when he went out hunting a few years ago, shot a friend in the face.

BRAZILE: Well, I also think the former president was referring to the fact that the former vice president this past weekend made, I thought, an incredible mistake in saying that he would pick one over the other, pick Limbaugh over Colin Powell.

Ed knows this very well. In order for a major political party to survive in the kind of country we live in, you need to have, you know, diversity within your party, a more inclusive party.

I think Dick Cheney is a distraction for the Republican Party as they try to rebrand themselves, reinvent themselves, and to connect with the American people on the values that most Americans care about.

So, it's not always left vs. right. It's right vs. wrong. And the American people have judged the Republicans to be wrong on the issues.

BLITZER: All right, guys, we will leave it there.

Donna and Ed, thanks very much. We will continue, though. Both of you will be back.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: The president's chief spokesman is confronting a threat to his briefings. And that threat would be coming from cell phones.

And why political candidates may want to think twice about posting messages or Twitter, or at least try to figure out how to use it first.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker," it's embarrassing, of course, when you forget to turn off your cell phone during a meeting, but not one, but two reporters, their phones went off today, right in the middle of the White House briefing.

Take a look and see what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBBS: Law enforcement...

(PHONE RINGING)

GIBBS: Give me the phone.

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: All right?

This is -- here. Let me see it.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GIBBS: ... enhanced interrogation technique.

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: I will be right back.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: He threw your phone.

GIBBS: No, no, somebody caught it. Don't worry.

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: I made the determination that...

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: ... the illumination of the sound was distracting to the briefing, as the press secretary to the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE)

(LAUGHTER)

(PHONE RINGING)

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: You, too? Do you want to do this, too? Here, come on.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Gibbs wants to take my phone, but I don't think it's a good idea.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No favoritism. (OFF-MIKE) Let me -- I will explain...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: Yes, there you go. All right. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: Come on.

I assume it's your banker, with a suit like that?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

I don't know why they can't just put it on silent or on the vibrating mode, as opposed to the ringing, Jack.

CAFFERTY: They ought to confiscate them when they come in the room. I mean, there's no excuse to -- for the -- who needs other have those things going on in their pocket while they're supposed to be listening to this very important blather that comes out of the White House every day?

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The...

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How confident are you Social Security will be there for you when you retire?

R. in Chicago: "This has been a problem on the horizon for years, if not decades. Nobody seems to have made it a priority to figure out the solution. I'm 42. I don't expect to see a dime if and when I ever get to retire, and yet I have been paying in my whole adult life. Maybe I should ask for my money back now, while they still have it."

Katie writes: "As a 30-year old, I have been saving/investing under the assumption it would never be there for me. I just wish the money my employer and I are putting into Social Security would be invested in something investing for my future."

Mike writes: "Jack, why isn't the complete income of people taxed for Social Security? I think it's only the first $105,000. Think of the taxes on the millions that some people draw for a salary, not including their bonuses, and, yet, poor people are taxed on every dollar they make."

Patrick writes from Washington: "I am confident it will still be around, Jack. For years, people have been predicting the end to Social Security, but it has not happened."

Nathan in Oregon: "If Social Security, the biggest government entitlement of all, doesn't work and is going broke" -- well, it does work, but it's going broke -- "then, why do we think" -- oh, never mind. I don't want to read that.

Patty in Bristol, Pennsylvania: "Jack, good lord, no. I'm 42 years old. With two wars to pay for, a broken health care system and don't forget the obscene tax cuts for the super-wealthy, people of my generation will be lucky if we are not living in the street."

And, finally, Terrance in Missouri writes: "I don't know, Jack, but one thing is for sure: If we had put it into the stock market, like the Republicans wanted to do, it wouldn't be here now."

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

I'm sorry I'm running over. I'm late -- Wolf, back to you.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. No problem.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.

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

Happening now: a stunning reversal by the Obama administration. The president wants to block the release of hundreds of photos allegedly showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. I will speak about that and more with the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has a long history as a military lawyer.

It's the size of a school bus. Astronauts snag the Hubble telescope, reeling it into the shuttle Atlantis, just the start of a very risky repair mission in space.

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