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New Move to Crush Dissent in Iran; Defiant Clerics Joining Protests; Signs of Regime in Disarray

Aired June 23, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: We're about to hear from two women whop have just escaped from the country. They're revealing new details of the horror unfolding in Tehran.

Also, the searing image of a young woman's death helps prompt President Obama to take his toughest stance yet against Iran's brutal crackdown.

Will his sharper tone have any impact?

And the death toll in Washington's Metro train crash climbs to nine. We're standing by for a live news conference this hour. Plus, a top transportation expert says safety officials should have seen this disaster coming.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But first, the breaking news from Iran this hour -- a forceful new sign from the country's Guardian Council that it intends to crush political dissent. The powerful body says bluntly there is there is no possibility it will annul the disputed presidential election. But in a mixed message, the Council also says it's extending the deadline for complaints about the vote until Sunday.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is monitoring all the new images coming in from Iran.

She's over at CNN's Iran Desk at CNN Global Headquarters.

Abbi, what's the latest?

What are you picking up?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we just got pictures in from Tehran, from iReports sent to us through a third party. The story today is the heavy militia presence on the street corners -- out in the streets of Iran.

While we do see, in Tehran, some pockets of demonstrators, these are not the mass demonstrations that we have seen in previous days.

This is the picture that I want to show you, if we can just advance this one -- one that shows a different street scene. If we can just pull that up right now. I'm trying to show you a picture here of a different street scene -- a street corner where I count 16 police members, all in riot gear, with helmets, heavily uniformed. Small pockets of bystanders there, as well.

What's interesting, also, about this picture, sent to us through iReport, is where it was taken -- from a safe distance, across the street, standing behind some kind of structure.

And this iReporter showed us other pictures, as well, that appeared to show members of the police lining the streets.

So that's really what we're hearing from the streets today. It's not mass demonstrations. It's the intimidation by these pockets of militia members who are on the street corners warning people away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's an amazing, almost police state like situation. And Roger Cohen of "The New York Times," who's still in Tehran, he's going to be joining us to describe in greater detail what he's actually seeing and hearing.

Meanwhile, two women who have just arrived in the United States from Iran are revealing new horrors of the crackdown.

Let's go to CNN's Ted Rowlands.

He's joining us now.

You had a chance to speak with these women -- Ted, what are these women saying?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're saying a lot. But they are very concerned about their identity being released. In fact, they didn't want to tell anybody -- they didn't want to tell us what -- they didn't want us to report, rather, what airport they landed in, in the United States. They've just arrived here.

But they do say they want their story told.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Two women, one in a wheelchair, neither one wants to be identified. They've just arrived in the U.S. from Tehran. Their story mirrors the horrifying images and reports that are trickling out of Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's beyond fear. The situation is more like terror. I mean it's a state of terror. It was a police state before, but now it's incredibly, incredibly horrifying to see and experience.

I mean, they're cracking down on old, young, every class of people. It's -- it's -- people are dying. And if you hear otherwise, do not believe it. We've seen instances of people being beaten to death.

ROWLANDS: The woman in the wheelchair broke an ankle and her thumb during a demonstration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we were both just bystanders looking at the people who were chanting "Death to Dictator!" at one of the major streets in Tehran. And the motorcyclists who are from the regime started coming down hard on people. And the -- everyone started running down the street and we got trampled.

ROWLANDS: The women say fear kept them from going to the hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had a doctor come and visit her at the house. The point is when they take them to the hospitals, the stories are that they don't actually get there. Just like the reporters are being told not to really report what they see, hospitals -- all the administrative kind of levels are being told to stay out of the public because that's like -- what they're saying is that you're accusing the regime of being hostile so...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what to say besides the fact that it's really a state of terror. And they actually -- they really, really need help. I should be crying right now, but I'm kind of too frazzled to even cry. But we basically cry every night over there.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROWLANDS: Now, Wolf, it's really extraordinary to -- to see these women, who just don't look like your average demonstrator, if you will. And one of them actually sustained injuries in one of these demonstrations in Tehran.

They are here in the United States. And they are staying here for now. Again, but very, very concerned about the Iranian government figuring out the identity -- their identity. They didn't want any information about who they are or even their family structure released on CNN. But they did want to share with us.

Basically, what we've been hearing from reports out of the Tehran, now we're hearing it from two people that -- that actually witnessed it that are now here in the United States.

BLITZER: Yes. You can't blame them for wanting to protect their loved ones still back there. A huge Iranian population in Los Angeles, as we know, as well.

Ted, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty has got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, there is growing speculation in Alaska that Governor Sarah Palin will not run for reelection next year.

Politico reports that top Republicans and Democrats are quietly lining up to run for that state's highest office should Palin decide not to. Nobody' has filed the paperwork yet, but many are taking the governor's silence as a sign that she will opt out of a second term in order to get more involved in national politics.

One politician who is weighing in on a run put it this: "If you're Palin, once you've flown first class, you don't go back to coach. She's been to the show and certainly seemed to like it there."

He suggests that barring some unforeseen collapse on the national stage, Sarah Palin will not run again for governor of Alaska.

Some experts expect the governor to wait as long as possible, though, before announcing her plans. That way, she can keep her options open, minimize her lame duck status as governor if she decides not to run for reelection.

Although Palin's approval ratings have taken a hit since she ran with John McCain, she's still strong enough to scare off most challengers in her own party. One former staffer says if Palin files for reelection, the race, at least among Republicans, is over.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 21 percent of Republicans would back Sarah Palin as the 2012 presidential nominee. And that puts her near the top of the pack among Republican potential candidates.

Here's the question -- what message would Alaska Governor Sarah Palin send if she chooses not to run for reelection?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

The new face of Iran's opposition -- the powerful and the usually conservative clerics. The mullahs, some of them -- yes, some of them are now marching side by side with protesting women and students.

What does this mean for the regime?

Roger Cohen of "The New York Times" is there for us. Stand by. We'll talk to him.

Also, President Obama speaks out on the image seen around the world and now a symbol of Iran's brutal crackdown -- the death of a young woman named Neda.

Plus, we're monitoring a news conference here in Washington -- the deadliest Metro train crash in DC's history. And we're going to talk to a transportation safety expert who says there were warning signs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's really an amazing development -- some mullahs in Iran are actually joining the demonstrations.

What's going on here?

Let's bring in our senior editor of Mideast affairs, Octavia Nasr -- Octavia, explain what's going on here.

OCTAVIA NASR, SENIOR EDITOR, MIDEAST AFFAIRS: You know, Wolf, Iran has seen major protests since election results were announced. And as we monitored these demonstrations through social networking sites, one can't help but notice changes in the opposition picture in comparison to what it looked like prior to the elections.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NASR (voice-over): Iranian clerics join a demonstration against the government in the streets of Iran -- a rare act of defiance.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, mullahs rule supreme. They are the country's conservative clerics, guardians of the Islamic Revolution and its ideologies. They're loyal only to God and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

These pictures speak volumes about the post-election protests that have filled streets and squares of the capital, Tehran, and throughout Iran.

When the Iranian opposition took to the streets in protest of their candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi's loss, in what they called rigged elections, they were young people -- students, for the most part -- and women. The numbers dwindled over time, some say because of the crackdown by police and militia.

We've seen protesters beaten, shot at, their screams of pain and even death caught on tape by fellow protesters.

Throughout all that, some clerics of the Islamic Republic have spoken up. On his Web site, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri describes the protests as a challenge to the "very legitimacy of the Islamic Republic."

Mousavi ally and former president, Mohammad Khatami, said in a statement: "Protest in a civil manner is the definite right of the people and all must respect that."

The Iranian opposition now has new faces, made up of those who had opposing ideologies before the election.

Secular or religious, Iranians go to the rooftop every night and shout-out "Allah Akbar!," "God is Great!."

(END VIDEO TAPE)

NASR: And, Wolf, while many clerics who spoke up against the government have been keeping in touch with their supporters via official Web sites and Facebook pages, none of them have been seen in public since the days following the elections. And that's making people a bit uncomfortable and nervous.

BLITZER: Yes. And they should be. A lot of people are nervous right now, for good reason.

Thanks very much.

Let's assess what we just heard with Rudi Bakhtiar, former CNN anchor, now director of public relations for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, and Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Guys, thanks very much for coming back.

What -- what does that mean to you when you not just see women and young people, but actually see some mullahs who are protesting?

RUDI BAKHTIAR, PUBLIC AFFAIRS ALLIANCE OF IRANIAN AMERICANS: I think this is very significant, Wolf. We have known for some time that there are deep divides brewing among the higher up clerics inside of Iran. This isn't something new. This has been going on for years now.

But right now, we're seeing it played out on the streets. We're seeing actual dissent of the supreme leader -- people who are joining with the crowds, which I think you wouldn't have seen before a week -- a week-and-a-half ago.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say that two of the pillars of the revolution '79, Mohammad Khatami and Rafsanjani, the former presidents, that they hate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Is it fair to say?

Is that going too far?

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: No, that's fair to say, Wolf. In fact, former President Khatami told me this personally, that he thinks Ahmadinejad is crazy. And Rafsanjani certainly, as well. There's a deep contempt they have for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And they fear that he has really unsettled the pillars of these -- this revolution and he's put Iran into great danger.

BLITZER: And today we learned that a bunch of people connected with them have been arrested and are just disappearing from the streets.

SADJADPOUR: That's right, Wolf. This regime is really an equal opportunity oppressor. We mentioned mullahs earlier. They have oppressed mullahs. They have oppressed the youth. They've oppressed women. And we now have a government in Tehran which has alienated, I would argue, the majority of Iranian society -- wide swaths of the Iranian society.

BLITZER: These are former prime mi -- former deputy prime ministers, former foreign ministers. It's not just your average Iranians.

But I want to get back to an average Iranian, Neda, the 26-year- old young woman who was killed on the streets of Tehran. The "L.A. Times" had some amazing pictures. Take a look at that picture, Karim, right over there behind you. You can -- you can turn around the other way and you'll see her.

The pictures of her -- a striking, beautiful young woman. And it's not going away, by any means -- a period of mourning in Iran and what this -- this killing of her actually means, Rudi.

BAKHTIAR: I think this shows the Islamic Republic's brutality for the whole world to see. They have been brutalizing people for -- since they came into power 30 years ago. And this is just one example caught on tape.

And I think what's very significant about this poor girl who showed up to protest peacefully for her right to vote is, is that she was basically picked off from above by one of these Basijs -- just a target. This is just cold-blooded murder.

And this happened the day after the spiritual leader in Iran issued the edict that if you come to the streets, we will shed blood. And so her blood, her face, her beautiful demeanor and all that she had, her future, everything that was taken away from her is now put directly on his head.

BLITZER: Are we over exaggerating her importance in her death?

SADJADPOUR: I don't think so, Wolf. I think, again, as we saw with the revolution 30 years ago, the iconic images were of bearded, middle-aged traditional men. Neda is really the iconic image of a new Iran, which is a young, educated female.

And I can tell you that over the last few days and the last week since Neda has passed, the response internationally has been absolutely overwhelming, with not only Iranians but many Americans, Europeans, Asians saying that they've really been deeply moved by -- by this horrific death of Neda.

BLITZER: And "The Wall Street Journal" had a story today -- I don't know if you've heard about it -- that an Iranian family whose son was killed in one of these demonstrations are now being told by the authorities you must pay for the bullets that killed your son.

Have you heard this?

BAKHTIAR: I heard that, as well. This is a story that was circulating on Facebook a couple of days ago. And when I heard it, I was horrified.

But, again, it doesn't surprise me. This is this regime. And these are the tactics that they use to inflict pain on people and make things difficult. They -- you know, the Basijs are an interesting militia. They start training them at the age of 13. And they basically -- they're almost like the child soldiers that you see in Africa.

And they've been letting these Basijs out loose in Tehran to beat up the women and the grandmothers and the 7-year-olds.

And it's really an indication of what this regime represents. I mean I remember living in Iran. And my father would tell me that if they stop you for your hejab or whatever, do not get in the car with them under any circumstances. There are all sorts of -- of horrific things that these -- this group would inflict upon women.

BLITZER: Because these are the guys on the motorcycles with the batons and they're -- and they're just -- it's not just batons. They have other, more lethal equipment, as well.

SADJADPOUR: Yes. I'll tell you, Wolf, that the -- the more militant of the Basijs I would compare to a cross between the Hells Angels and Al Qaeda. They're very ideologically committed and they used violence indiscriminately against women, the elderly and even children.

BLITZER: Karim and Rudi, thanks very much.

We'll bring you back.

SADJADPOUR: Thank you.

BAKHTIAR: Thank you.

BLITZER: This story is not going away.

The death toll climbs to nine, making this Metro train crash the worst in Washington, D.C. history. Now, some say there were warning signs that were ignored.

And did President Obama have advanced knowledge of one of the questions about Iran at today's news conference?

We're going to talk about that and more.

James Carville and Dan Senor, they're standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?

NGUYEN: Well, Wolf, there are more signs of a recovery in the housing market, but they're considered fragile, at best. The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes rose 2.4 percent from April to May. That is the third monthly increase, but it still falls short of analysts' expectations. The average price of a home was down 16.8 percent from a year ago.

Well, he has eyebrows, eyelids, a mouth and almost a personality. Check him out. Scientists at Tokyo's Waseda University today unveiled the next incarnation of a humanoid like robot. Creators of a machine these call KOBIAN say it is the first of its kind -- expressing emotion with its entire body, including happiness, fear, sorrow, anger, even disgust. But they say it will be decades before a KOBIAN might be used to help people with tasks like housework.

I could use him at my place. Well, "The View's" Elisabeth Hasselbeck is accused of plagiarism. A federal lawsuit filed in Massachusetts accuses the TV co-host of copying word for word portions of a diet book on Celiac disease. Hasselbeck's book, "The G-Free Diet

A Gluten-Free Survival Guide," has made its way to several best- seller lists. Author Susan Hassett alleges Hasselbeck plagiarized her self-published book, which she sent to Hasselbeck after the TV celebrity revealed she suffers from the condition. So far, no comment from Hasselbeck.

Well, the keepers at a Berlin zoo are tickled pink about Maya. No wonder, since they've been waiting 15 years for a baby tapir to be born there. Maya is 12 days old and made her debut at the zoo today. She will stay with her mother for at least the first year of her life. Tapirs are an endangered species related to horses and rhinoceroses.

And as you can see, that's a face only a mother could love -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I've never heard of a tapir.

NGUYEN: Me neither.

Had you ever heard of tapir?

Yes, I'd never heard of them.

NGUYEN: Well, now we know.

BLITZER: They look cute. I don't care what anybody says.

Thanks very much for that, Betty.

NGUYEN: Sure.

BLITZER: Most Western journalists have already been booted from Tehran. But I'm going to be speaking with one journalist who's still there. We don't know how much longer -- probably not a whole lot longer. But Roger Cohen of "The New York Times" -- I spoke with him today. He's still there, at least right now.

President Obama reacts to images of the young woman whose death has galvanized the uprising in Iran. Now Neda's death may also be igniting the president's rhetoric.

And Jack Cafferty's question of the hour -- what message would Alaska Governor Sarah Palin send if -- if she chooses not to run for reelection?

We're taking your e-mails.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, they survived a miraculous landing on the Hudson River earlier this year. Now some passengers of Flight 1549 have filed claims saying that even though they've received their belongings back, the airline owes them more.

It has the makings of a techno revolution -- cell phone video often the only link for protesters to reach the outside world.

But at what risk?

Iranian authorities are -- may already by listening and watching.

And inside the uprising -- two women escaped the horror of the streets of Iran and we have their powerful firsthand accounts of what's really going on.

I'm, Wolf, blitz ore.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Iconic images of a woman's death help prompt President Obama to step up his rhetoric against Iran on this day.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I don't know if it's fair to say he came out swinging today, but he was certainly more assertive.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was certainly a different tone, Wolf, that's for sure. You know, moments in history are often encapsulated in pictures. There's 3-year-old JFK, Jr. saluting his father's casket; a lone protester facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square; and Neil Armstrong taking man's first step on the moon.

But now we have what may have moved the president -- the pictures of an Iranian protester killed in the streets of Tehran. Her story may sear itself into history, but it certainly can't be ignored in the present.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): A single shot ended the life of Neda Sultan, a young protester in Tehran. Grainy cell phone imagery of her last moments jolted the world and framed the story of the struggle on the streets.

The naked brutality of ruling forces challenges the new president's nuanced, calibrated approach to Iran.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's heartbreaking. It's -- it's heartbreaking. And I think that anybody who sees it knows that there's something fundamentally unjust about that. CROWLEY: As the Iranian upheaval has played itself out, the president has stepped up his language, today using words like "appalled" and "outrage," condemning the threats, beatings and imprisonments by the Iranian government. The president denies his tone is any harder and scoffs at the notion that he is responding to Republican critics.

OBAMA: What do you think?

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: More likely, the president is moved, as so many others have been, by those grainy pictures -- by the sheer guts of the protesters, many of them women.

OBAMA: We've seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats. And we've experienced the searing images of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful, we also know this -- those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

CROWLEY: An expert on the role of women in Iran says they have long been the leading edge of calls for reform and more freedoms. Despite criticism President Obama has not been forceful enough, she says the president's voice is not the only and not the most important one Iranian women hear.

AZAR NAFISI, "THINGS I HAVE BEEN SILENT ABOUT": So we are not just looking to the West when we ask for freedom of choice. We are looking to our own mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers. We are looking to our past. Neda is the voice of Iran's present, Iran's future and Iran's past.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY: I asked Azar Nafisi why women had always been so prominent. And the answer is pretty simple, Wolf. Women repressed by the Islamic regime have the most to gain by change.

BLITZER: They certainly do and they're very, very courageous. They've been instrumental in getting this -- this whole -- people want to call it a revolution -- underway and we salute them.

CROWLEY: Pretty amazing.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Candy.

An excellent report.

Our condolences to that entire family of Neda.

Despite efforts by Iran's government to black out the political turmoil, we are seeing signs of growing cracks in the country's power structure. Just a little while ago, I got an update from one of the last Western reporters still on the ground in Tehran, Roger Cohen, the columnist of "The New York Times." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: ...disarray within the ruling regime?

ROGER COHEN, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": I don't know about disarray. There's certainly discord and a rift that has grown there between the founding fathers of the revolution. Khamenei, who I mentioned, is very much at odds with Ali Akbar Hashemi, Rafsanjani. They're fighting. The speaker of the parliament has said that the opposition's voices should be heard and for that he was roundly criticized today by a regime newspaper.

And even within the security forces, I've seen evidence that some units are much more favorable to the opposition than others. And the Basij and Revolutionary Guards, of course, are the most hard-line.

That said, Wolf, you know, there have been -- I think it's much more extreme than it was. And Khamenei has come off his perch as supreme leader and is now a kind of factional fighter on the side of President Ahmadinejad. And I think that weakens the structure of the regime.

But you have to say that these guys have fought battles before. Many of them have been comrades since 1979. And they find a way, quite often, to at least paper things over.

Whether that will be the case this time, I don't know. I think there are going to be much greater pressures on them than in the past, because millions of Iranians have, as I think I've mentioned, have made this transition from acquiescence to antagonism, hostility and the determination to change something.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: We're going to have more of Roger Cohen's eyewitness account of what's happening in Iran on this day. That's coming up in the next hour.

And this just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. The White House is now sending out messages in Farsi. We're getting new information on what's going on from the White House. We'll check in with our Iran Desk and Abbi Tatton.

Plus, Jack Cafferty with your answers to this hour's question -- what message would Alaska Governor Sarah Palin send if she chooses not to run for reelection?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're hearing much sharper words today from President Obama on the violence in Iran, after days of pressure from critics seeking a tougher stance. The president is now condemning what he calls "unjust actions of the Iranian government" and he's defending his own responses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: In your opening remarks, sir, you said about Iran that you were appalled and outraged.

What took you so long?

OBAMA: Well, I don't...

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: I don't think that's accurate. Track what I've been saying. Right after the election, I said that we had profound concerns about the nature of the election, but that it was not up to us to determine what the outcome was.

As soon as violence broke out -- in fact, in anticipation of potential violence, we were very clear in saying that violence was unacceptable, that that was not how governments operate with respect to their people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about what -- what's going on with CNN Democratic strategist and political contributor, James Carville, and Dan Senor, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a former official in the Bush administration.

Was that a fair question to the president -- Mr. President, what took you so long, 10 days into this crisis -- James?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CLINTON SUPPORTER: Well, of course it's a fair question. His response was a very good response. Look, to the people that like bring it on, wanted dead or alive, mushroom clouds, axis of evil, that kind of bellicosity, they're not going to like this. I think this president has been very measured in this. Republicans like Richard Lugar, Henry Kissinger, James Baker and George Will agree with him.

But, you know, there's some people that like to think the meat cleaver is the chief it instrument of foreign policy. This president believes in the scalpel. I'm sort of refreshed that we have somebody that -- that has that kind of view in the White House.

BLITZER: For days, Dan, you've been urging him to get more -- more aggressive in his statements.

DAN SENOR, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Yes. I'm actually pleased with some of what he said today. I think his language was much stronger. I think he's -- I'm glad he's joined President Sarkozy of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Harper of Canada, in speaking out strongly on this.

And this resolution that passed in the Congress as bipartisan. It was co-authored by Howard Berman, who's the Democratic chairman -- moderate Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

So -- and, by the way, if you look, Wolf and James, "The New York Times," people like Bill Keller, the executive editor of "The New York Times," was saying the president should speak out louder -- that people in the streets in Iran were calling out for that.

So by no means is this some sort of right-wing democracy in position program.

CARVILLE: Right. Sure.

SENOR: I think there is a sense, though, that a strong American voice in this moment is important and we should be participants in this historic moment...

BLITZER: Did he, James...

SENOR: ...not observers.

CARVILLE: I think...

BLITZER: James, did he strike the right note today?

CARVILLE: Well, yes, I mean, look, he -- he's responding to events as they're coming. And, again, if you like the bring it on, wanted dead or alive, axis of evil crowd, they're the (INAUDIBLE) -- you know, and if you thought the Iraq War was always a nifty idea, you're always pushing for more and more.

I think he's responding to the events as they are. I think most people think that he's handling this very well. And, you know, hopefully, this thing will -- you know, there will be some real changes over there.

But this is up to the Iranian people. It's not up to the American president as to what happens.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by for a moment.

Abbi Tatton is over at the CNN Iran Desk.

She's getting new information coming in right now -- and related to what we're talking about, Abbi, what are you picking up?

TATTON: Wolf, we've had so many conversations about what's been going on on Twitter in terms of Iran in the last few days. Well, we now have the White House posting a Tweet in Persian, telling people on their official feed on Twitter.com/whitehouse that they've now posted that section of the press conference earlier on, that opening remarks from President Obama, with Persian subtitles -- with Farsi subtitles -- telling people this is where they can go to listen to the Persian version. There's also the transcript there online at WhiteHouse.gov.

This is the second time that the Obama administration has reached out on YouTube. When he recorded a message in March, you'll remember, too, the people of Iran at the time of the Iranian new year, reaching out at that point. And now you have today's remarks -- strong remarks on Iran posted on the White House Web site with subtitles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let me bring back James and Dan -- Dan, first to you.

Would that be meddling in domestic Iranian affairs, to send out a Tweet like this?

SENOR: Of course it would. I mean I don't quite understand why the president felt it was OK to speak forthrightly today in today's press conference but it was inappropriate a few days ago. A few days ago, he said it would be "meddling."

And I think what he's realizing is his restraint in his rhetoric and the strength and the passion with which he spoke today compared to how he spoke earlier on, earlier on, it didn't buy him anything. The Iranian regime blamed America. The Iranian foreign ministry blamed the United States and the U.K. for meddling, for stoking these protests.

So I think what the White House realized and what the president disabused some of his administration officials of is this notion that showing all this restraint is not going to buy us any goodwill in terms of the optics of how this plays out. It's important to speak loudly.

And I think these Twitter messages -- and I think they're doing much more than -- than being reported internationally -- are important.

BLITZER: James, do you want to respond to that?

CARVILLE: Well, yes. Well, yes, axis of evil, that worked out great, didn't it?

That really -- that really slapped them around and put them in line.

Look, they're -- it's what he said at the press conference, that they're using this, is fine. And they're not putting words in anybody's mouth and they're just translating what the president of the United States said to us. There's no reason that people shouldn't know what he said.

And there's no reason that he shouldn't respond to events as they go along.

As I say, most people have been pretty impressed with his response so far. Right now, it seems like the mullahs are having a dickens of a time trying to keep these people in line over there. And so, you know, hopefully, they can make some real changes in Iran. And with this...

BLITZER: And everyone I've spoken...

CARVILLE: ...this kind of...

BLITZER: Dan, everyone I've spoken to in Iran, including Roger Cohen of "The New York Times," one of the few remaining Western journalists there, says that President Obama is extremely popular with the opposition, with the demonstrators -- maybe a lot more -- maybe one of the most popular guys there in Iran right now and has an enormous influence. And it may be one reason the regime is sort of low key in going directly after him.

SENOR: You know, I think that's right. I can't think of anyone in my lifetime -- any president who's had more political capital in that region than Barack Obama. I think his Cairo speech was important in that regard. I think his decision to meddle in the Lebanese elections a few weeks ago by dispatching Joe Biden to Beirut on the eve of those elections to galvanize the anti-Shiite coalition, which was a successful strategy, I think he's extremely popular.

In fact, if you look at Mousavi's campaign, he modeled so much of his campaign after the Obama campaign. The speeches -- the signs that the protesters have in the streets today are in English. They're screaming out to us, to our government, to our president.

I think a stronger voice is not axis of evil, James. A stronger voice from this president...

CARVILLE: Yes, he...

SENOR: ...can actually have an enormous impact. And I would encourage him to do more, rather than simply saying, as he said today, which I didn't like, we'll just see how things play out.

CARVILLE: Right.

SENOR: We shouldn't be observers to this.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note.

Guys...

CARVILLE: Again, I think -- I think you look at his response and his popularity is fine. And I think he's continuing -- he's moving -- or he's doing the right thing here.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.

James Carville and Dan Senor, appreciate it.

We're monitoring a news conference here in Washington on that deadly Metro crash yesterday. There's a consequence to the accident. Now, the D.C. subway system is taking action. Stand by.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a challenge because the two trains...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, this just coming in. The Metro rail car that broke up yesterday over the other train -- the image you're looking at was a so-called Series 1000 car. They're more than 30 years old -- the oldest cars in the current Metro fleet of more than 1,100 cars. Another Metro crash back in 2004 looked eerily similar to yesterday's crash and also involved a Series 1000 car. Federal investigators found then that the Series 1000 was prone to the type of damage you see here and recommended they be retired or retrofitted to improve crash worthiness.

Now we have an announcement from Metro's chairman.

Take a listen.

JIM GRAHAM, CHAIRMAN, D.C. METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY: We are aggressively seeking to replace the 1000 Series railcars. These cars were purchased between 1974 and 1978. And we have already taken action before this terrible tragedy in order to achieve that objective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now is Peter Goelz, the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is the lead investigator in this crash.

It sounds potentially like negligence here.

What do you think?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, they've taken their time in replacing these cars.

And what's true is earlier designed railcars did not have the kind of engineering for collision posts that are available today, that would deflect the impact from colliding cars.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say there was a warning and that the local Metro system did not take action?

GOELZ: The NTSB was very clear after the first accident that these cars did not meet the standards. And they recommended in strong language to replace them as quickly as possible.

Now, this is a budgetary issue. The city and the federal government have to look at did they apply the right resources to replace these cars in a timely manner?

BLITZER: Had they taken action, would there have been nine dead?

GOELZ: It's too soon to say that. But you really, you want these collision posts as part of the structure of the railcars to deflect this kind of accident. But this was a very -- you know, a tough accident in terms of speed, I think.

BLITZER: Two hundred and ninety-eight of the cars in the system here in Washington are still these Series 1000 cars.

Should they be grounded? GOELZ: Well, I think that that's got to be considered. It's going to mean service cutbacks if they are. You've got a third of the rolling stock.

Can you take them off immediately?

I'm not sure that that's the -- the only solution. But certainly, that's something that's got to be considered.

BLITZER: Is it a ticking time bomb?

GOELZ: They've got to replace these cars.

BLITZER: And...

GOELZ: And they've got to do it soon.

BLITZER: And they need money to do that. That's the -- that's the issue.

GOELZ: And they need an appropriation. Yes, they do.

BLITZER: Peter Goelz, thanks for helping us, as always.

GOELZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Ed McMahon is being remembered by all of us who met him and admired him as one of the most famous sidekicks in television history. He was unique. Ed McMahon died early today in Los Angeles, He was 86 years old.

I first met him when I appeared on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" shortly after the first Gulf War. And I interviewed him several times thereafter. He was really, really a remarkable guy -- a lovely guy. I enjoyed every conversation I had with him.

Let's bring in Jack Cafferty -- Jack, you and I grew up with Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. And it was an amazing time in American television.

CAFFERTY: Arguably, the greatest late night television show ever. And there hasn't been anything that's come along since, in my opinion, that's come close. I, too, interviewed Ed McMahon many times when I did local news here in New York at WNBC Television. He was a class act, a very talented guy, always a gentlemen. And that -- and that was the top of the mountain as far as late night TV is concerned, I think.

BLITZER: You know, I think that the relationship that Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon had -- it was just an amazing relationship.

CAFFERTY: It was kind of like the relationship you and I have, don't you think?

BLITZER: Those guys are funnier. They were...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Johnny Carson is a lot funnier, you've got to admit it.

CAFFERTY: I don't know, some days you're pretty funny.

The question...

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The question this hour -- what message would Alaska Governor Sarah Palin send if she chooses to not run for re-election?

Artisha in Virginia: "I hope by her not running for reelection, she's sending the message that she do us all a favor and go away. Governor Palin is one of the most divisive politicians in the country. We need politicians who are unifiers and believe in all Americans, not someone who thinks that only white Americans from small rural towns are real Americans."

Eric in Texas: "You just couldn't let a week pass without bringing up Palin, could you, Cafferty? Look, I get it. I understand Obama's approval ratings are falling. I get it already. You don't have to hammer the point. But you've got to stop throwing up these B.S. red herring Palin stories every time your messiah starts crumbling. Americans are wiping their eyes now and finally seeing the emperor's new clothes."

Dominic writes: "Jack, her message is that the GOP is over. That's the message."

S. writes: "She's a lame duck in Alaska anyway. She won't run for reelection because losing in her home state will boot her out of national politics once and for all."

Chaz writes: "Jack, why are you infatuated by this woman? I don't understand it. I'm a Republican. Out of 15 Republican friends, I don't know one who would vote for her. I know you want her to run so Obama would have a free pass, but it's not going to happen."

And Mike writes this: "Hopefully, it will be a message in traditional Palin grammar, 'I decided not to run for governor in 2010 so that I, as an American, as all of us are, together for prosperity and a functioning democracy, can, too, not reelect me for governor. Can we not, too, join together to take part in and of around and throughout a simply majority decipher this great promise of equity for all and oil money for some?' Wink."

If you didn't see your e-mail...

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I didn't think I could read that.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there among hundreds of others. It takes some talent to write the way she talks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Mike is very, very funny -- a good guy.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Very funny, indeed. Very creative.

All right, Jack.

Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Text messages and cell phone pictures -- they're pouring out of Iran. Increasingly, those are the only sources of new information. But now we're learning the Iranian government may be spying on those transmissions.

And the insurance company that received billions of dollars in government bailout funds is now refusing to pay medical bills for passengers on that plane that landed on the Hudson River.

New outrage at AIG -- what's going on. We'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He's the king of online celebrity gossip. Perez Hilton can dish it out, but can he take it -- especially if it's a punch in the eye?

CNN's Jeanne Moos dishes the dirt on a Moost Unusual smack up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Perez Hilton gets punched...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM PEREZHILTON.COM)

PEREZ HILTON: (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: He doesn't pull any punches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM PEREZHILTON.COM)

HILTON: You're shameful. You're disgusting. You are subhuman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: It's the battle of the post-fight videos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM DIPDIVE.COM) WILL.I.AM: This dude twists it and says that I insulted him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Pitting performer Will.I.Am versus the king of online gossip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM PEREZHILTON.COM)

HILTON: And Will.I.Am, (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) you, because you (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) lied you (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: It all started after the Much Music Awards in Toronto. Will.I.Am and Perez Hilton exchanged words over the fact that Perez is always insulting Fergie on his blog -- Fergie being part of Will.I.Am's group, The Black Eyed Peas.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The boom-boom part is coming, but first Perez used a gay slur against Will.I.Am.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM PEREZHILTON.COM)

HILTON: The worst possible thing that thug would ever want to hear. And you're a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: TMZ dug up shaky video of the exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY TMZ)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) artist, you're a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE)!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM DIPDIVE.COM)

WILL.I.AM: And I'm like, wow, dude.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Perez Hilton says after that, Will.I.Am's manager, nicknamed Polo, clocked him two or three times.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM PEREZHILTON.COM)

HILTON: I touched my eye and it was bleeding. I think my eye might be falling out of my head.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: Perez called Toronto police then started sending out Tweets asking for help. When police arrived, Perez asked his fans to stop calling them.

(on camera): Will.I.Am's manager did surrender to Toronto police. He was charged with one count of assault and released.

(voice-over): Talk about release, Perez let go emotionally, thanking well-wishers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM PEREZHILTON.COM)

HILTON: From the bottom of my heart, thank you, because I am a human being.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Shades of another infamous video.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Leave Britney alone!

MOOS: Some won't leave Perez alone: "I'm glad this happened to you. What goes around comes around." Perez himself Twittered: "I am honestly shocked at the amount of people saying I deserved to be hit.

This guy imitated him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut the hell up. You started this train wreck.

MOOS: A train wreck it was hard not to look at.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM PEREZHILTON.COM)

HILTON: Shame on you. Shame on you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): Shame on us for watching.

(voice-over): Jeanne Moos...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM PEREZHILTON.COM)

HILTON: And, Fergie, you ugly (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).

MOOS: CNN...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM DIPDIVE.COM)

WILL.I.AM: Peace.

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

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

Happening now, a state of terror in Iran -- a bloody crackdown keeps protesters off the streets and it prompts President Obama to talk tougher.

Is he giving critics what they want?

Plus, preventing another deadly train crash like this one -- investigators find clues in the D.C. subway wreckage -- a scene no one should have to see.

And they're paying a price for surviving the miracle on the Hudson. Brand new this hour -- an insurance company's shocking refusal to pay passengers' medical bills.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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