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Will President Obama Send More Troops to Afghanistan?; Fuzzy White House Math on U.S. Economy?

Aired October 30, 2009 - 20:00   ET



CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tonight, here are the questions we want answered.

With the U.S. death toll rising in Afghanistan, is President Obama prepared to put thousands more American lives at risk? Today, huddling with the Joint Chiefs, he is clearly feeling the pressure to make a decision.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will not meet in perpetuity.

BROWN: Will he decide to send more troops and will even that be enough to win the war?

Tonight, alarming news on the H1N1 flu, deaths now on the rise among the most vulnerable.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: This is a younger people's flu. There have been 114 laboratory-confirmed deaths among children.

BROWN: We were promised more vaccine by you now but the government admits, we still don't have enough. What can you do right now to protect your kids?

Tonight, the White House claiming credit for saving hundreds of thousands of jobs. But are they using hard facts or fuzzy math? When it comes to the overall economy, is the worst really over?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, I -- I'm confident we have hit bottom.

BROWN: Tonight, some of the smartest people from CNN's worldwide reporting resources on the biggest stories of the week, your opportunity to find out what this all really means.


ANNOUNCER: This is your only source for news. CNN prime time begins now. Here's Campbell Brown.

BROWN: Hi there, everybody.

We are going to start tonight, as always, with the "Mash-Up," our look at all the stories making an impact right now, the moments you may have missed. We're watching it all, so you don't have.

And we have some breaking news from Afghanistan, news that complicates the runoff election for Afghan president that is set for next weekend. CNN's Christiane Amanpour is reporting, talks between President Hamid Karzai and his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, have broken down, and that Abdullah is ready to pull out of the runoff -- that news as President Obama deliberates about what to do about sending more troops to Afghanistan.

The president met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his top military advisers just today.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This is the photo-op the president needed, meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, and the heads of all the military services.

The major concerns that the chiefs have is the health of the force, making sure that the troops have all the equipment and weapons that they need.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, HOST, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": This was a session where the president pushed his commanders for more options. We're told he is not particularly happy with any one of those on the table so far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House is not happy with the way senior military leaders, beginning with Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen, have handled the debate over Afghan strategy, boxing the president in with their public statements.

General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has told the Pentagon it would take more than a year to get all the troops he's asking for on the ground and in the fight against the Taliban.


BROWN: Much more about the president's deliberations coming up shortly.

To Pakistan now and the end of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's three-day tour, a tour that revealed strain between Pakistan and the United States. And that was strain that you could see in Secretary Clinton's round of interviews this morning. Take a look.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The Pakistanis have talked about a trust deficit. Trust deficit. Trust deficit. Trust has to go both ways. We have questions. They have questions. Trust is a two-way street. A two-way street. Two-way street. It's a two-way street.

We want to see Pakistan succeed, because there is just too much at stake. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Secretary Clinton also dealing with new revelations about how close she came to being Obama's V.P. pick, and that her husband, former President Clinton, might have been the problem. The details come from a book by Obama's campaign manager.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe, as he says in his book, that your husband lost you that job?


CLINTON: I have no idea. But I really am satisfied and happy to be doing what I'm doing. And I think Joe Biden is doing a great job as vice president. I'm not somebody who looks backward. I look forward.


BROWN: Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden was front and center with new numbers about the stimulus today, taking credit for 640,000 jobs saved a number of Republicans quickly questioned.

Talking to CNN's Ed Henry, the vice president said the stimulus is doing its job. Listen.


HENRY: And, so, do you think we have hit bottom?

BIDEN: Oh, I -- I'm confident we have hit bottom.

The question -- look, we're not going to be satisfied, Ed, until we're able -- I'm able to sit in front of you and say, look, this month, we grew jobs. The net effect is growing jobs.

It doesn't say a lot to people to say, you know, there would have been a million more or 1.6 million more jobs lost but for this. My grandpop used to have an expression, Ed. We lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He said, you know when the guy in Dixon City, a suburb, is out of work, it's an economic slowdown. When your brother-in-law is out of work, it's a recession. When you're out of work, it's a depression.

And it's a depression for millions of people.


BROWN: We are going to hear more from that interview coming up shortly. The White House says the stimulus will ultimately save or create 3.5 million jobs. But Republicans point to the unemployment rate, which keeps rising, as a sign that the stimulus is not working as planned. We turn now to the hostage drama. This is off the coast of Somalia. There is a new ransom demand by pirates holding a British couple, $7 million. Paul and Rachel Chandler were taken off their yacht last week. They have been able to talk to British reporters, who connected them with family today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It took hours of negotiations, but we managed to get through to Rachel Chandler and make sure that she had a chance to speak to her brother.

RACHEL CHANDLER, HOSTAGE: Please try not to worry about us. We're managing. I -- they're all planning -- they tell us that we're safe and that we shouldn't worry and that, if we want anything, they will provide it in terms of food and -- or, you know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We also spoke to Paul Chandler again. Unlike yesterday, he sounded more strained.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all working very hard for you, for your release.

PAUL CHANDLER, HOSTAGE: Thank you. Thank you. We know nothing here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell me anything of your conditions where you are?

BLUNT: I can only say we are well. And that's as far as I can say.


BROWN: Late today, the British government said it won't pay the $7 million ransom.

And now to rescue in Arkansas. One news crew out covering a storm got caught right in the middle of it. Take a look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We always say, if you run into standing water, turn around. We were just on the air from this location. Firefighters had just left from one side of this huge flooded area, seeing nothing, and then literally, right after we stopped talking, somebody decided that they were going to risk it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, guys, you can see this person running out there, a pedestrian, as Melissa pointed out, a passerby now just risking his life to get that rope out there to try to get this person out of the car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now you see all of these people running into the water to try to figure out what's going on with this truck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're carrying the person who was in the vehicle out. They appear to be standing up on their own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This person very, very lucky.


BROWN: Very lucky. indeed.

And that is getting us to the "Punchline" tonight, courtesy of Conan O'Brien, who found a way to connect the war in Afghanistan, our struggling economy, and actually make it funny.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": Did you hear this? President Obama has approved a new plan to pay members of the Taliban to switch sides and support the United States. Did you hear about that? Pay the Taliban to switch sides and support the United States.

Yes, and in a related story, 10 million unemployed Americans just joined the Taliban.


O'BRIEN: I don't know if you heard that. Yes. They just -- let's go.



BROWN: And that is the "Mash-Up" tonight.

Tonight, CNN's top medical correspondents are with us. They have advice that every parent out there is going to want to hear. With the government urging us to get our kids vaccinated for the H1N1 flu, there is still not enough vaccine to go around. So our Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Elizabeth Cohen are both here to tell you what you can do right now to protect your kids from the H1N1 flu, even if you can't get them vaccinated.


BROWN: Tonight, we're bringing together a wide-ranging group of CNN reporters to talk about some of this week's biggest stories. We're beginning with some scary news for parents on the H1N1 flu -- 19 more children have died in the past week. That brings the total now to 114 since April.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Children's Hospital Boston, because of the H1N1 virus, this hospital is as busy as it has ever been. And many of the kids look like Nate.

And, so, we meet the child. The child has symptoms that it just seems like all kids get.

DR. ANNE STACK, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL BOSTON: That's right, all kids get. And the reason specifically that this child came to the emergency department was because he was dehydrated, significantly dehydrated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Swine flu is now widespread in 48 states and visits to doctor's offices and hospitals for flu symptoms continue to shoot up, and still not enough vaccine.

FRIEDEN: What we have today is essentially more virus, more vaccine, and more treatment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The state of New Jersey has set up two hot lines.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As of right now, that is an open clinic. You do not need a reservation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One for the public.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We expect to reach 10,000 calls today since October 6. We're open from 9:00 to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. And actually this weekend, we're going to begin to go to a seven-day operation 9:00 to 5:00.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this one for health care providers.


BROWN: The government keeps telling us, get your kids vaccinated. And while there is more vaccine available, still not enough to go around. So, what can parents do right you now to protect kids?

Joining me is chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen with us as well.

Welcome, guys.

Sanjay, those new numbers from the CDC, scary stuff. I mean, 19 kids died this week alone. What is behind the uptick? Should we expect to see the death toll continue to rise?

GUPTA: Well, yes, it's interesting, these numbers, overall, trying to piece them together.

I do think that we're probably going to see them rise. When you talk about flu season overall, October is sort of in the beginning stages of it. So, I think you're certainly going to see more cases of flu. What is behind the numbers sort of interesting, Campbell, and I think it's sort of a good news/bad news situation.

On the one hand, clearly, some of these numbers were under- reported up until now. And as they start to revise the numbers, start to do more projections, the numbers were much higher than previously thought. That's the bad news part of it.

The good news part of it is, if you do you the math, what you realize, you take the number of deaths and this vastly increased number of infections, it turns out that the lethality rate, or the mortality rate, is whatever you want to call it, is probably much lower.

So, that is why you have some good news in there as well. The vaccines as well, which you mentioned, Campbell, this has been a source of frustration I bet for Elizabeth and me both, because we have been reporting that you expected 40 million doses by the end of October. Clearly they haven't been hitting those marks. They're getting better, but there's a lot of people wanting the vaccine and seemingly not enough to go around still.

BROWN: A huge worry, especially when we hear these numbers.

And, Elizabeth, I know you have been looking into that. What do you tell frustrated parents right now who are looking for it? Where should they go?


I think you have to take a two-pronged approach. First of all, call your state health department. And you can find a number for them on, if you click on your state. And a lot of states have clinics. And you can see if there's a clinic that is open near you.

The second thing that you can do, and this is time-consuming, but just randomly call pediatricians and obstetricians and ask them if they have the vaccine. I know, for example, a pediatrician here in town here in Atlanta, he had 200 doses. Now, it went in about three days, but if you called him at the right time, you could get it.

But right you now there isn't a really good centralized place that tells you, OK, it is here, here and here. You have to do the digging on your own. Now, when I was talking to federal officials at a White House briefing like a month or two ago, they said, oh, it will be clear where to get it.

Well, that's not true. It is not clear where to get it.

BROWN: Also, Elizabeth, I know we had you look into a question that came from one of our viewers on the blog. And let me just get you to you answer this from Sandy, who wanted to know -- she says, "We can't locate any information on what to do with a 14-month-old that has an egg allergy."

Are there some vaccine that's aren't made with eggs?

COHEN: Right. This is a tough situation they're in.

The virus -- a lot of people don't know this -- the virus is grown in chicken eggs. So, if you're allergic to eggs, that's problematic. What this family needs to do is, they need to take their child to an allergist to see just strong this allergy is to eggs.

It's possible that this child could get the vaccine, but it would have to be done by someone who really knows what they're doing in a specialized hospital setting in tiny little doses. So, it is possible. They really need to talk to an allergist.

BROWN: And, Sanjay, let's go back to the big picture here. I know you were in Boston this week reporting on about how hospitals are preparing for an onslaught of H1N1 patients.


BROWN: Talk to us about the steps they're taking and your take. Do you think they're ready?

GUPTA: Well, that's a good question.

First of all, they're already much busier this time of year as compared to same time last year, about 140, 150 percent busier. They're still giving out the same message, for -- the vast majority of kids who have flu-like symptoms should probably stay at home unless they're developing some significant problems.

As far as whether they're ready or not, Campbell, I was at Boston Children's Hospital. They are looking at turning conference rooms, for example, over into triage areas. They're looking at sort of making parts of the ICU solely for flu patients. There is a big concern about people developing staphylococcus pneumonia after the flu.

So, they get the viral infection, and then they get this bacterial pneumonia afterwards. So, they're coming up with strategies to try and fight that. I think they're ready up until a certain degree. I think they can sort of handle the volume now.

But if you start to see a 200 percent or 300 percent increase, a lot of these hospitals, including Boston Children's, just don't have that redundancy built into the system. And that's -- they're going to have to come up with different strategies. That's part of this emergency plan that President Obama has talked about and what is going on in New York, where you are, as well, Campbell.

BROWN: And, Sanjay, let me also ask you, still a lot of controversy, I know, over whether schools should close to try to help prevent the virus from spreading. And what is the latest thinking on this? A smart move or not?

GUPTA: Well, if you look at some of the data -- and, again, in New York, for example, in the spring, they closed a couple dozen schools, as you may remember, Campbell. And you still had about 800,000 people get the infection over the last several months.

Some would say, well, good thing we closed the schools, because the numbers would have been even higher. And some say, well, obviously, the school closing didn't really make a difference.

It is really hard to say. There are a couple of golden rules, if you will, here. It only really seems to make a difference if the school is closed in the very early stages of a potential outbreak. It may already be too late for school closings to make a big difference.

And going back to that earlier point again, this idea that it is the sick child, this child who has flu-like symptoms who is potentially contagious that should stay home, as opposed to having every other child also not go to school.

BROWN: Finally, Elizabeth, let me ask you this. Tomorrow is Halloween, plenty of germs floating around, kids running around all night, these candy bowls. What is the thinking? What is your best advice in terms of protecting our kids tomorrow when we're all running around?

COHEN: Well, let me tell you what you we're going to be doing in the Cohen household. And this doesn't come right from the CDC or anything. This is just something we're going to do.

I don't want kids putting their grubby little hands into our bucket of candy, because that's a lot of hands touching candy and potentially spreading germs. So, I will be handing them the candy.

I actually am going to wear gloves, because if I'm going to be touching lots of kids' hands, the chances of any one or more of those kids having H1N1 is huge. So, I'm going to hand it out with gloves. I'm also going to have hand sanitizer there. And I will be offering up squirts to the children.

BROWN: A bowl of Purell for Halloween...


COHEN: That's right.

BROWN: ... I'm sure that is what they all want.

GUPTA: That's called the trick part...


GUPTA: ... as opposed to the treat.


BROWN: I know.

Sanjay, Elizabeth, thanks so much, guys. We really appreciate it.

GUPTA: Thanks.

BROWN: All right. President Obama held another key meeting today on sending more troops to Afghanistan. We're going to have new information about what happened in that room.

Also, tornadoes rip across the South. We are going to show you the destruction they left in two states, and a pretty incredible story of survival that features a fallen church steeple, when we come back.


BROWN: A top White House aide talks about the time he woke up President Obama to face a crisis in the middle of the night. It's a CNN exclusive.


BROWN: Is President Obama prepared to put more U.S. lives at risk in Afghanistan? That's the question at the heart of all the deliberations about the troop levels taking place right now. We're using all the resources of CNN to look for answers tonight, bringing together our correspondents from New York to Washington to Islamabad -- that coming up.


BROWN: President Obama huddled with the Joint Chiefs of Staff this afternoon. It's his seventh and perhaps most important meeting in advance of his final decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan.

We're told each branch of the military was given a chance to explain what kind of impact sending additional forces could have. They also talked about Pakistan, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today wrapped up a three-day visit.

There was a deadly car bombing just after she arrived. And Clinton made headlines with her blunt criticism of Pakistani officials for not doing more to go after al Qaeda.

Our team of CNN correspondents is here tonight to break it down for us. In Islamabad tonight, CNN's Ivan Watson is joining us, and also from Washington, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, and Tom Foreman with us as well.

Candy, let me start with you.

Today's meeting with the Joint Chiefs coming obviously at the end of a very violent week in Afghanistan, the president has got to be feeling some pressure right you now. Any smoke signals on how he is leaning in terms of this decision?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They have been very good at not sending many smoke signals.

And I think, in part, that's because of the way the president makes decisions. He tends to listen to all comers. He's had, as you reported, so many meetings now. And he sends people back to get more information about particular spots.

They seem to be really going over this detail by detail, and has not given a signal as to which way he's going to go on this. Obviously there were earlier reports that he has told people he certainly isn't going to draw down troops. And most people think he will not in fact just leave it status quo.

So, we are looking at question, most people believe, as to how many more troops he would send. But it is complicated first by the violence there, by the shakiness, the continued shakiness of Pakistan. But it also has to do with what's going on with the elections in Afghanistan, and now these reports that we're hearing from Christiane Amanpour that in fact Abdullah Abdullah is going to boycott the election, thereby undermining, again, Karzai, who in fact was going to have a runoff, and still have a runoff.

But it will still have sort of an illegitimate feel to it -- so, lots of moving parts here. And I just don't think there are smoke signals, because I think no one is really sure at this point, reading the president, which way he is leaning.

BROWN: All right, that is the big wild card, Candy, as you pointed out.

But, Tom, I'm going to ask you to you play this out for us anyway. Assuming we have troops, new troops, at some level, just show us on the map how this looks, where they would be deployed, where they would most likely need to be sent.


Well, the thinking right now, Campbell, is that they would go to where the Taliban is. So, look, here's Iran, Iraq. Here's Afghanistan over here. If we zoom in, I'm going to bring up where the Taliban is strong.

The reddest area is where they are strongest. This is based actually on a map from the Afghan army where they believe the Taliban is strongest. This is also where most U.S. troops have died, down in here and up in this area. This is Helmand Province, one of the biggest targets in all of this, where they would probably go in and try to do a good bit of work.

However -- and this is important -- one of the strategies that is being favored by the Pentagon right now is not trying to hold all of this territory, because it is a lot of ground. And, when you do that, you need a tremendous number of people.

So, I will fly you in and show you specifically what they're going to try to do. The idea is here to try to go in and stabilize the urban areas, the places where people live. The idea is, if you can protect people here, and sort of cede this territory out here, you can build up some rapport, some support among the Afghan population, people saying, you have kept us safe. There is a reason for us to stick with you, as opposed to dealing with the Taliban out here in the mountains. And they can deal with the Taliban attacks, respond to them quickly from here, but not just try to hold all this tremendous amount of turf out here, which, Campbell, as you know, takes a lot of troops and is very, very tough.

BROWN: And -- and, Tom -- oh, well, let me ask Ivan this.

I mean, Ivan, I don't have to tell you. We all know how -- how tied Pakistan is to what's happening in Afghanistan and what will happen. Secretary of State Clinton spent three days in Pakistan this week. She pretty much called out the Pakistani government for being soft on al Qaeda and it was surprisingly blunt language for America's top diplomat. And CNN's Jill Dougherty asked her about that. Let's listen to that first.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think the way you deal with negative feelings is to pretend they're not there or to gloss over them or come with happy talk. There exists a trust deficit, certainly on the part of the Pakistanis, toward our intentions and our actions. Yet we have so much in common. We certainly have a common enemy in extremism and terrorism. So part of what I've been doing is answering every single charge, every question.


BROWN: So how tense, Ivan? Give us your take for the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan?

IVAN WATSON: It is difficult. Hillary Clinton came here and she mounted a three-today charm offensive. She is really trying to reach out to the Pakistani people shelf visited mosques. She attended all sorts of meetings Campbell, meeting with university students and businessmen and TV anchors and newspaper editors. She was a bit of a punching bag with a lot of criticism being lobbed at her. She took it and she argued back saying more has to be done. Right now the Pakistani military is attacking one of the Taliban strongholds right on the border with Afghanistan. A region called South Waziristan. Two more Pakistani soldiers killed in the last 24 hours in that battle. It has been going on two weeks. She says more has to be done because there are other groups of pro Taliban fighters along that bored per the Pakistani military is not touching right now, Campbell.

BROWN: And Tom, Clinton, as you said, sorry, Clinton I just wanted to ask you about the bombing also that took place. Over 100 people killed and the timing obviously horrible. Give us a sense for how bad the situation is internally in Pakistan?

TOM FOREMAN: Well, you know Campbell, Ivan hit on a very good point. I want you to you look at this and think about geography. That's what really matters here. Here's what we're fighting in Afghanistan. Pakistan really is the back door to everything that we're doing to this war that we're in. When we zoom in, here's Kabul, here's Islamabad. This is South Waziristan. All through here and up into the swamp valley, pushing on Islamabad, a lot of pressure here from the Taliban in these areas. This area is tense and it is tense for a lot of reasons, including the fact when we pursue the war over here, we often run right up to this border here and sometimes with predator drones. That's very tough for the Pakistani officials to sell at home and very tough for them to take. This is the problem. This is where the enemy is and they're straddling this line and we're trying to fight in two different countries with two different governments. That's really tough.

BROWN: All right. Tom Foreman for us tonight along with Candy Crowley and Ivan Watson. Guys, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

At the end of the deadliest single month of the war in Afghanistan, a political question President Obama, is he a good time war time president? In the words of Dick Cheney, is he dithering? Joe Biden's answer coming up. He sat down this morning for an exclusive interview with CNN's Ed Henry.

Later, stories you may have missed this week. We're bringing together a panel of CNN reporters to look at the under covered news of the week.


BROWN: Tonight President Obama is absorbing what the Joint Chiefs of Staff told him hours ago in "THE SITUATION ROOM." The president has a vital choice to make on sending more troops to Afghanistan and the clock is ticking. Is he ready for his biggest test as a war time commander-in-chief? That's one of the big political questions. We're bringing our CNN team together to talk about in this special program. Senior correspondent Joe Johns is here with me tonight, along with senior white house correspondent Ed Henry and once again, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Ed, let me start with you. You did an exclusive interview with the vice president this morning. You asked about the president's deliberations on Afghanistan. I know we all remember Joe Biden predicting the world would test the new president at one time. Let's listen to what he said to you today.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dick Cheney is saying the president is failing that test because he says he is dithering. You and the president are dragging your feet on this decision.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: I like Dick Cheney personally but I really don't care what Dick Cheney thinks and I'm not sure a lot of Americans do. Look at the policy they left us. Look at the policy neglect they left us in Afghanistan. Look at the policy we inherited in terms of their foreign policy. Look, I think the president is doing exactly what any president should do. And by the way, the military thinks that, too.


BROWN: So Ed, lots of pressure on the president to make up his mind. Talk to us about the competing forces within the administration. Who is listening to Biden? Or who was listening to whoever else? What are they telling us?

HENRY: I think early in the process there was an expectation that Joe Biden wasn't being listened to and that General McChrystal was likely to get what he wanted, up to 40,000 more U.S. troops. In recent days, it really appears from senior officials I have talked to inside and outside these deliberations, those close to deliberations, they're telling me that it appears that Vice President Biden has had a pretty strong impact behind closed doors. He's went arguing that yes, we probably need to send more troops but we need to send a smarter force. We don't just send a lot more without making the mission clearly defined. All the indications right now are that it is likely the president will send more troops but not necessarily the 40,000 General McChrystal wants. Maybe something more in the range of 10,000, 20,000, 30,000. More in line with where Biden has been. I think in the early months, Vice President Biden was maybe laughed at a little bit, there were some gasps, he's showing behind closed doors he has more influence than people expected.

BROWN: Candy, with all eyes on Afghanistan, there is another major issue reaching a crescendo now. Health care reform coming to the house floor next week. Democrats look to the president to take a stand, to reveal exactly what he wants in the bill. Any indication at all that he will do that?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't see him selling exactly what he wants in the bill. I think in part, particularly on the senate side, where the rules are such that you can do a lot of changing on the senate side, a lot more than you can on the house. That what they were looking for all along, what they were looking for when they went behind closed doors with just four senators, was the president to say, or someone speaking for the president to say, this is the kind of public option he would take. However, he doesn't necessarily need a public option and those sorts of specifics. Although the president sort of ratcheted up in the form of Rahm Emanuel, the input, are going to be saved for the conference committee. As you watch these bills go through the house and the senate, in some ways, the president is still hanging back, watching what comes. And the real input always really in most cases, most administrations, will come in those conference committees when one bill comes out.

BROWN: Joe, how frustrated are congressional Democrats? The president is sort of playing it safe. You have Joe Lieberman threatening this filibuster you now. Talk to me about anger order Capitol Hill from lawmakers. What do they want from the white house?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As far as Lieberman goes, there is a lot of anger. There are Democrats who are asking, why are you to us? But the fact is, Joe linebacker is the type of guy who loves to be in the middle. He loves to be the one who has people on the right and the left coming to him. He likes to be the broker. He is giving some back bone if you will to those Democrats on the hill who also want to say things like he says. So people in the left are very frustrated with Joe Lieberman. But he has only said, this is his position for now and through the debate, he might be changing his mind. Who knows where he'll end up?

BROWN: Let me ask you but the elections. A smattering of races. Still getting lots of attention. The white house is taking them very seriously.

HENRY: They said look, we're not paying that much attention. It won't have that much of an impact and be a report card on the president. Mean while the president himself is going back to New Jersey, again working for Governor Corzine to pull him across the line. When I talked him to, he said I'm exhausted. I've done something like 52 political events, mid-term elections, so they want to have that reputation of we're not paying that much attention but they're working hard. They wanted to set expectations low. If the president doesn't win some of these races, if Democrats take a beating on Tuesday night, they really want to downplay it. It is his first report card.

BROWN: Candy, is it? What this, they tell us about the mood of the country? And how they feel about the president?

CROWLEY: There is a limited amount. I think if the Republicans pull out Virginia which it looks like they may, New Jersey which is pretty iffy for Republicans, those are two big things to post on the wall as victories. But it is short-lived. There will be a lot of analysis about what it says about the economic shade of affairs. A good house special election going on which will tell us a lot with the push and pull of the Republican Party, between conservatives and moderates. So there will be some interpretation and some of it will be veiled but it is a really short time to sort of say, okay. Here's what this means for 2010. That's a year away.

BROWN: All right. We'll end it. Joe Johns, appreciate it. We'll be seeing you in a few moments to talk about other things; Ed Henry, Candy Crowley as well. When we come back, tonight's news makers. Three of President Obama's closest advisers, and an exclusive with CNN we get their insider's view of life at the white house including those urgent 3 a.m. phone calls.

ROBERT GIBBS, PRESS SECRETARY: For some reason, waking the president up from slumber falls unnecessarily on the press secretary.


BROWN: So has the new president had any of those 3:00 a.m. crisis calls since taking office? Tonight's new maker, senior white house advisor, David Axelrod, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and communications director Anita Dunn in this exclusive with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Take a look.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Was there a 3:00 a.m. wake-up call with the president over the last year that you remember where there was some sort of international crisis?

GIBBS: For some reason, waking the president up from slumber falls unnecessarily on the press secretary.

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: The scary thing is the person who has to wake Gibbs up.

BLITZER: The chief of staff should do it.

GIBBS: I'm going to give him that job the next time there is something. We all were in a room on the first foreign trip in Prague of the Czech Republic when we were notified of the North Koreans testing a long range missile. Something we had expected to happen over a certain amount of time. And I think it was about 4:00 in the morning. We were in there and we then discussed that. And I went to wake him up. And he soon joined all of us in getting intelligence briefings from in the room as well as back in D.C.

AXELROD: We were kind of a mess. He came in there.

GIBBS: Speak for yourself.

AXELROD: I was a bigger mess than you. Physically. He came in, sat down, got a read-out from the military people. Got on the line with Secretary Gates, General Cartwright, I think, and then he, he said okay, here's what we're going to do. He went out to the gym and said I'm going to go work out.

BLITZER: He's more of a morning person than an evening person, right?

GIBBS: Both.

AXELROD: A morning workout person, an evening reading person. He does a lot of heavy reading at night. About two hours of homework every night and then books and magazines after he is done with that. So he squeezes the day.


BROWN: And you can see more of Wolf Blitzer's interview with the president's closest advisers next week. Watch THE SITUATION ROOM. That's Monday, 5:00 eastern time.

President Obama back on the campaign trail. A new corruption investigation in Alaska. Those are two stories you may have missed this week. You can catch up. Our panel of CNN correspondents will be here with note of under covered stories.


BROWN: This is the part of tonight's special program, our CNN correspondents have been waiting for. Time for all of us to dig a little deeper to bring you stories you may have missed, our under covered stories of the week. And back with me right now, Joe John, Ed Henry, Candy Crowley.

Candy, I want to start with you. Even though you're the queen of politics, your undercover story of the week has nothing to do with politics. It is about environmentalists and hookers. What you have you got?

CROWLEY: It's all about the economy, and you know, there is a global recession going on. I love the story out of Berlin about a brothel that was having -- business is down. It's down everywhere and it is down in the brothels in Berlin where prostitution is legal. They decided to attract customers and to go green that they would offer a discount to any customer who bicycled in or took mass transit, $7.50 less. And I thought it would be good. We could go do the story but so far, I haven't been able to convince anybody the expense budget could take that one.

BROWN: I'm shocked that's not on the front page of the New York Times. All right. Ed Henry, a story that has long been under covered is the story who have gets to visit the white house socially. And presidents have been reluctant to give out that information. Today team Obama released the visitor log, right?

HENRY: That's right. It is kind of hard to top Candy's hooker in Germany brothel story. Nevertheless I'll try because I have celebrities involved here. This is a big sort of win for transparency in terms of what Barack Obama promised. For the first time they're opening up the visitor logs. They're at right now. Who has been visiting? It includes Newt Gingrich, Alfred Sharpton, Alan Greenspan but also celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt and eat your heart out Candy and Campbell, George Clooney. I was here at the white house that night when he visited the president and vice president and I got to talk to him and actually got to meet him. The other funny side bar here real quick, is that there are names on this list of people who have visited like William Ayres and Jeremiah Wright and a lot of reporters started running around saying Jeremiah Wright you was here. It turns out Bill Ayers, it's a different William Ayers. Somebody who came for a tour of the white house with the same name. The white house was saying, look, this is one of the problems with transparency because people are making connections that don't exist.

BROWN: OK. Well Joe Johns top that one if you can. I know you've been hunting down corruption on Capitol Hill. Who is in hot water?

JOHNS: This is the story nobody wants to touch with a ten-foot pole.

BROWN: What?

JOHNS: You remember Senator Stevens, Senator Ted Stevens. He went through this big trial. He ended up being exonerated because the justice department pretty much admitted it screwed up the case, from Alaska. It involved a guy named Bill Allen who was an oil field services executive. He was the guy who basically ratted on Stevens. Now up in Alaska, the only congressman from Alaska, Don Young, is looking at allegations in public that he actually got a bunch of money from the same guy, Bill Allen. The reason why nobody wants to touch it with it a ten-foot pole is because it has already gone down once and Ted Stevens ended up on top. So do we really want to go down this road again with Don Young? BROWN: Hopefully, if the justice department, they'll get it right this time if they actually have the goods, right?

JOHNS: He said he hasn't done anything wrong you but people don't want to deal with this one. You just don't want to get it splashed all over you again for a second time.

BROWN: Obviously. We'll be watching this one closely to see what happens. Finally, Candy, I know you ever another pick. It involves the ever expanding tentacles of Wal-Mart.

CROWLEY: What's really interesting here, there has been a huge book price war going on online. Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target. That's been going on for a couple weeks for the presales. You can go get Sarah Palin's book right you now for about $8.99. We're talking about a $25 book, a $30 book. A loss leader for these guys but it brings people in to look at what else they have at full price. It caught the attention of all the small book stores who realized they could buy their books from Amazon or Target or Wal-Mart a lot cheaper than from the publisher. So they were putting in for 50 of these at $8.99 because they could still make a profit off this. But the three big ones go on to it and now you're limited to only getting two or three in the case of Wal-Mart, up to five books. So they were almost on to something there.

BROWN: Very interesting. Candy, thanks. Ed and Joe, good to see you guys. Appreciate it.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just a few minutes. On Halloween eve, he has ghost hunters, plus Dan Aykroyd and Joan Rivers. And up next, tonight's guilty pleasure. The video we just can't resist.


BROWN: "LARRY KING LIVE" up shortly. First, guilty pleasure, the video we just couldn't resist.

MIKE GALANOS, HLN PRIME NEWS: All right Campbell. It is that time of year. Break out the Halloween costumes. Let's get a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Larry King is getting ghoulish. He will talk with real life ghost hunters and hear supernatural stories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look a little like a black Austin Powers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop staring at my articles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let bygones be bygones.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get right back to it. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On our show?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bon jour. We're making eggs!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am the bar true blood, we're humans come to mingle and they all hit on me. And I used to be --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Speak up, you old thing! We can't hear you over here. Speak up! Speak up, girl!



BROWN: Is that Barbara?

GALANOS: Barbara Walters? Yes, Barbara Walters. Okay. We have to get to the star. You're familiar with this little guy. Aren't you?

BROWN: I am.

GALANOS: Let's show the picture.

BROWN: How cute does he look! I had to make sure the costume fit. That's it for us. Mike Galanos, happy Halloween, everybody. We'll see you on Monday.