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Tiger Woods Bows Out of Own Tournament; Nuclear Face-Off; Iran Holds British Sailors
Aired November 30, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: But first, more on the breaking news, the new developments in a story that has a sports superstar under the hottest spotlight of his career. We're talking about Tiger Woods. He now says he will not -- repeat -- not be playing in his own charity golf tournament out in California this week. He cites injuries from the Friday car accident that remains shrouded in mystery as Woods is repeatedly refusing to talk to the Florida Highway Patrol. His silence though is fueling speculation about the circumstances surrounding his crash.
Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti is in Orlando. She's got more on what's going on.
Susan, the story continues to evolve.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure does, Wolf. It may be a minor accident, but Tiger Woods' crash is causing a major debate over his right to privacy to the public's curiosity about one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): First sign of fallout from Tiger's accident turmoil, Woods is pulling the plug on a news conference at his charity tournament in California Tuesday.
KEN SUNSHINE, PUBLIC RELATIONS CONSULTANT: Yes, I think they are listening to lawyers and agents and not listening to people who have ever dealt with the media.
CANDIOTTI: And his agent says Woods won't be playing either. A statement on his Web site says he's too sick to swing a club in competition the rest of this year. Woods says, "I'm extremely disappointed that I will not be at my tournament this week."
Woods hasn't been seen in public since he rammed his Cadillac SUV into a fire hydrant and then a tree coming out of his driveway last week at 2:30 in the morning. A neighbor called 911, but if he recognized Woods he didn't say so.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
911 OPERATOR: Is he unconscious?
911 OPERATOR: OK. Are you able to tell if he is breathing?
CALLER: No, I can't tell right now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: Investigators were turned away three times from Woods' home over the weekend. By law, he didn't have to talk with investigators, and he didn't. Instead, the golfing phenom issued a statement on his Web site accepting responsibility but gave no details about what happened that night.
A public relations consultant says Woods has a right to privacy but adds -- silence may not be the best idea.
SUNSHINE: Cooperate when legitimate questions are being asked. You don't have to give details of anything. You should never have to give details about your personal life, but to stonewall and clam up is an ingredient to more attention.
CANDIOTTI: It's getting a lot of attention on Orlando talk radio.
JASON "BUCKETHEAD" BAILEY, THE BUCKETHEAD SHOW, 104.1 WTKS: I think Tiger is not talking because he does not know how to handle it. He has never been in any type of trouble like this before.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tiger is going to roll through it and, you know, it will wash off his back.
CANDIOTTI: On the line, potentially millions of dollars in corporate sponsorships. Today, Gatorade, Nike Golf and Gillette were among those supporting him. On his Web site, Woods called rumors circulating about what happened malicious and unfounded.
The "National Enquirer" reported he's allegedly seeing another woman. She told "The Associated Press" it's not true.
SUNSHINE: The media doesn't go away in these situations. And when you're that famous, they are going to only have more interest if there's anything scandalous or potentially scandalous involved.
CANDIOTTI: Now, added to the mix, investigators say they are decided whether they are going to subpoena Woods' medical records to document his injuries -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Is it still a sort of a media circus out that -- outside that gated exclusive community where he lives, Susan?
CANDIOTTI: Oh, yes. I would say it's doubled in size over the weekend, but now, we're hearing that everyone is going to have to clear out. The police are saying we're no longer allowed to park where we are across the street from the development where Woods lives.
BLITZER: So, presumably, all those media representatives -- they'll park a few blocks away and find some other location.
All right, Susan. Thanks.
CANDIOTTI: Yes, we will.
BLITZER: I'm sure you will, Susan. Thanks very much.
Let's bring in our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeff, he's refusing so far to speak to police. He's really under no legal mandate to speak to them, is he?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. You know, this is a public relations problem for Tiger Woods. It's not a legal problem. There is no evidence that a crime was committed here. This was a minor traffic accident.
He doesn't have to talk to the police, and it looks like he's just going to tough it out and not talk about it at all.
BLITZER: There are suggestions that the police want his medical records when he was taken to the hospital. They want to see what was going on, suggestions that, you know, somebody else's property was damaged. I -- why are they doing this, the police? I should -- I guess that's the question.
TOOBIN: Well, I think we have to keep in mind, we don't know what the police are doing. There have been reports on some news outlets that the police are considering a search warrant. That's a pretty tenuous connection.
As far as I'm aware -- and obviously I was not there, I don't know what happened -- there is no evidence that a crime took place. And in order to get a search warrant you need probable cause that there will be evidence disclosed of criminal activity. And as far as I can tell, there's no evidence that a crime took place. So, I don't know why the police would be getting a search warrant.
BLITZER: Well, some have suggested that there's a separate standard for a celebrity like Tiger Woods. If he were just a normal guy who left his house at 2:30 in the morning, got into a little minor car accident, it would be over and done with. But because he's Tiger Woods and there's so much media attention on all of this, the police sort of feel they have to look into this more aggressively.
TOOBIN: You know, I think if the police are thinking that way, that's a mistake. The goal in these situations, and I realize it's difficult whether it's Roman Polanski or O.J. Simpson, is to try to treat the celebrity involved as -- the same as you would treat everybody else. And if this is just a weird fender bender in the middle of the night that you wouldn't follow up in a criminal investigation, then they shouldn't follow it up. And in the absence of evidence of a crime -- and as far as I can tell, there is no evidence of a crime -- the police probably should leave it alone. But they may have evidence that I'm not aware of.
BLITZER: You heard in Susan Candiotti's piece, the lawyers are always telling the clients, "Don't say anything, just be quiet and shut up." The P.R. guys are always saying, "You know what, you've got to get ahead of the damage control. You've got to get out there and explain your side of the story."
All right. You know something about public relations, about the law, the media. What do you think he should be doing?
TOOBIN: Well, I think the great unknown, the great variable in that calculation is what happened. I don't know what happened between Tiger Woods and his wife that would lead him to drive off at 2:30 in the morning.
I think the safer course, certainly, for the short term, is to say nothing. You never have to correct anything. You never have to issue a clarification if you say nothing. If Tiger Woods down the line wants to say something, believe me, there will be plenty of time and attention. But I think what his advisers are counting on is that people will lose interest after a few days and the story will dissipate and that's probably what they want.
BLITZER: Yes. That's probably what they are thinking, just shut up and people will forget about it and move on. We'll see if that happens.
Don't go away. We've got some other issues to discuss with you as well, Jeff. Thank you.
Let's go right back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CAFFERTY FILE: The White House crashers, is just the latest example of why reality television may have entered some dangerous territory.
Michaele and Tareq Salahi -- I believe is the way to pronounce their names -- got past the Secret Service and into the White House for President Obama's first state dinner. They weren't invited. They met the president. They met the vice president inside the White House.
President Obama insists he still has full confidence in the ability of the Secret Service to protect his family, but agency has said, it's, quote, "deeply concerned and embarrassed," unquote, as it should be.
Some lawmakers want criminal charges brought against the couple. That's an excellent idea. There are reports that the couple wants in the neighborhood of half a million dollars for an interview about their story. They deny it.
The couple is being considered for the cast of a reality TV show called "The Real Housewives of Washington, D.C." They had television cameras following them around the day of the state dinner. Another grab at 15 minutes of fame by people who would live their entire lives unnoticed otherwise.
Remember the Colorado father of the so-called "balloon boy"? This loser was trying to get media attention for his own reality show when he made up a story about his 6-year-old son being carried away in a homemade helium balloon. He eventually pled guilty to a felony charge and is facing some additional penalties.
Reality TV has given these people the idea that anybody can be a celebrity, and some are committing dangerous and potentially criminal acts just to get on the tube. And to think it all started with a fat naked guy wading around in some lagoon looking for fish on a CBS program called "Survivor." In retrospect, it seems pretty harmless.
Here's the question: Has reality television gone too far when it comes to folks like the White House party crashers?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog.
Wolf, these reality shows are a lot cheaper to produce than the dramas and the sitcoms and stuff that are produced in Hollywood with the union crews. You get a couple of cameras and go follow a couple of losers like these people around for a few days, and you have a segment for a reality show.
BLITZER: Yes, it's true. It's absolutely true what you say, Jack. It's sort of somebody saying, you know what, I'll take your balloon boy hoax and raise you with the White House...
CAFFERTY: And raise you a White House dinner, yes.
BLITZER: I mean...
CAFFERTY: Although, you know, it's a little scary. I mean, these people getting into the receiving line inside the White House. What the hell is going on with that?
BLITZER: I know. You know, somebody -- I covered the White House for a long time, and went through the northwest gate almost every day during the Clinton administration, I know how good the Secret Service is, the uniformed guys, the non-uniformed guys, if you will, and it's -- I was stunned when I heard about this the other day.
CAFFERTY: They always let you in?
BLITZER: They usually let me in. Once in a while they would kick me out.
CAFFERTY: See? I mean, reason to be concerned right there.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point, Jack. Thank you.
By the way, we have relatively new way for to you follow what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. For the past couple of months, I've been on Twitter. You can get my tweets at Twitter.com/WolfBlitzerCNN -- that's all one word. The nuclear standoff with Iran takes a new twist. We have details of an ominous announcement from Tehran that's pushing the stakes even higher.
Also, Iran is detaining the crew of a racing yacht. Five Britons are now being held by the Islamic republic.
And he's subject of a massive manhunt. Now, new information is coming to light about the man accused in a deadly police ambush and his bizarre criminal past.
BLITZER: There's a new round and new face-off involving Iran's nuclear program, and it's happening right now. It began on Friday. The International Atomic Energy Agency demanded that Iran cease all nuclear enrichment activities. Yesterday, Iran responded by saying it would build -- get what, get this -- 10 more enrichment facilities.
So, what's really going on in this high-stakes game?
Let's go to our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty. She's over at the State Department.
Jill, what are folks over there saying about this?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, no direct response, but it's very interesting, Wolf, that behind the scenes here, they are saying that there's a lot of -- there are a lot of voices coming out of Iran. In fact, they are talking about political posturing, political gesturing, et cetera, jockeying.
And so, they are not really buying in or responding to any one statement from Iran, but they are saying that that offer to Iran to take its nuclear fuel out of Iran and reprocess it is still on the table, but if Iran doesn't take it, then they are going to have to move to something else and that something else, of course, is tough sanctions.
BLITZER: A lot of experts, as you know, Jill, inside the government, outside the government, saying the Iranians government is simply playing with the U.S. and the international community right now.
DOUGHERTY: Yes. That's a very strong argument coming from the critics of all of this engagement policy. So, it's a very sticky situation for the Obama administration, because on the one hand, for the domestic audience here in the United States, they have to look tough. They can't look as if they're being taken advantage of -- by Iran. On the other hand, if they play it too hard, then they risk alienating Russia and China, and they need Russia and China to sign on to those very serious sanctions that could be coming up.
BLITZER: How long is the Obama administration prepared to let this thing go on?
DOUGHERTY: Well, they don't use the word "deadline" over here, Wolf, but that said, President Obama has said that Iran essentially has until the end of the year to fish or cut bait on these offers. And if they don't take it, then you can expect that the United States is going to move forward and really push, hoping that Russia and China will come aboard. Everybody else seems to be, and that they will move to what Hillary Clinton has called "crippling sanctions."
BLITZER: Well, it sounds like they have a month to make up their mind, the Iranians.
Thanks very much, Jill, for that.
Let's check in with Betty, who once again, she's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
Betty, what's going on?
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, Wolf.
Well, the number of H1N1 cases in the U.S. is down right now. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32 states are reporting widespread flu activity, that's compared to 48 states three weeks ago. The CDC does warn that although reported cases seem to be waning, they are likely to pick up again as they have in previous pandemics.
Well, the trial of an 89-year-old accused Nazi war criminal began in Germany today, and from his wheelchair, John Demjanjuk faced charges of helping murder nearly 28,000 Jews as a Nazi prison guard -- as a Nazi prison guard in Poland. Now, he had been living as a retired auto worker in Ohio before being deported to Germany last May. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted.
Tennis great, Serena Williams, has broken a dubious record. Listen to this -- to date, tennis authorities fined her an unprecedented $82,500 for her profanity-laced outburst at the U.S. Open in September. Williams also faces a two-year probationary period. Now, if she commits another so-called major offense during that time, she could be suspended and her fine doubled. That's a lot of cash.
And the Pope officially on the pop charts. A new C.D. featuring Pope Benedict's voice along with a mix of modern and ancient music hits stores today. Merchants admit sales have not been so brisk but they do hope the recording will be a popular holiday gift. The C.D.'s producer says part of the proceeds will go to music education for underprivileged children around the world.
And, Wolf, no word on when there will be a remix.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, just in time for Christmas, I'm sure...
BLITZER: ... the C.D. will do just fine.
Thanks very much, Betty, for that.
NGUYEN: All right.
BLITZER: The daunting logistics behind deploying thousands more U.S. forces to Afghanistan. Where will they sleep, eat and shower? We're on the ground seeing the challenge up close.
BLITZER: The British government announced today that five British citizens, the crew of a racing yacht, were detained by the Iranian navy five days ago and remain held in Iran.
The yacht was en route from Bahrain to Dubai to sail in an offshore race, part of efforts to establish the United Arab Emirates as an enclave for the wealthy and a good investment. This effort has been badly hurt over the past week by the near meltdown of Dubai's investment corporation, a major player in the region's break neck development.
CNN's Stan Grant has more now from Abu Dhabi.
STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the five crew members were part of a team Sail Bahrain. They were aboard the racing yacht the Kingdom of Bahrain, sailing to Dubai for the Dubai Muscat open water yacht race.
Now, according to the U.K. Foreign Ministry, the crew was seized by the Iranian navy after straying into Iranian waters. The crew is in Iran, is believed to be safe. Their family members have been contacted. The names of the crew not yet released.
U.K. foreign officials have been in contact with their counterparts in Tehran. They are trying to get the men released. Now, the U.K. foreign secretary, David Miliband, says he hopes this issue can be resolved as soon as possible.
Just repeating again, five British nationals, members of the sailing crew, the Sail Bahrain, who are traveling from Dubai, they have been seized by the Iranian navy on the 25th of this month and now in Iran. Efforts are under way to try to get them releases -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Stan Grant reporting for us from Abu Dhabi.
Along with the British sailors, Iran has been holding three young American hikers since July when, according to the hikers' families, they accidentally crossed into Iran, across the Iranian border. Tehran has indicated that they may be accused of spying and actually put them on trial.
Switzerland is known for its neutrality, but on one controversial issue the Swiss people are adamantly taking sides: the construction of new minarets, the towers from which the Muslim call to prayer goes out five times a day. CNN's Morgan Neill has more.
MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new campaign played on fear. Posters showed minarets rising like missiles from the Swiss flag. And apparently, it worked. Though there were only five minarets in Switzerland, 57 percent of Swiss voters supported a ban on the construction of any more.
"While we are in Switzerland," said this man, "and if I go to another country, I can't build up my church or represent my faith. So, they have to adapt to us in Switzerland, too."
The result was a victory for the Swiss People's Party which called minarets symbols of Muslim political power which threatens to transform Switzerland into an Islamic nation. Some Swiss worry about possible retribution.
"I'm very disappointed," says Anne Mary Burnstew (ph). "I really have to say that, and I'm afraid of the consequences."
On Sunday, the Swiss People's Party said their headquarters in Zurich were attacked. A door was smashed.
International criticism of the result came almost as quickly. France's foreign minister called it an expression of intolerance. Sweden's foreign minister said it was a negative signal that showed prejudice and fear.
Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote. In Lebanon, newspaper headlines read "Swiss People Biased Against Minarets."
"Look at us here in Lebanon," said this woman, "we have churches next to mosques. I think it is the wrong decision."
One Swiss Muslim group said, "The worst part wasn't the ban on minarets but the message it send to the country's Muslims, that they are not accepted."
Morgan Neill, CNN, London.
BLITZER: The official announcement is tomorrow night, but in Afghanistan right now, the work to prepare bases for the influx of fresh American troops has already begun. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen will report from Camp Wolverine.
Also, in Seattle, a massive manhunt is underway right now for the suspect in the shooting deaths of four police officers.
And the Treasury Department is putting the squeeze on mortgage companies to get them to take the squeeze off homeowners. Allan Chernoff is here to explain how it will work. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, under scrutiny, Mike Huckabee's role in commuting the sentence of a man accused of killing four police officers. Their grieving colleagues want to know why, given his criminal history, the suspect was free.
More on the couple who made it into the president's state dinner uninvited. A family member tells what he thinks about the stunt and the gate-crashing couple. Plus, the White House talks about the major security breach.
And his making home affordable program promised to help millions, but it hasn't -- at least not yet. How the Obama administration plans to pressure lenders to help home owners who are at risk right now.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The orders are out. Top military leaders and diplomats are being briefed, and tomorrow night, President Obama will make it official. He will reveal his strategy for the war in Afghanistan to the rest of the world. He's expected to send more than 30,000 additional U.S. forces, short of the 40,000 requested by the top U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan.
Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is joining us now with more.
Chris, what are you picking up?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the big question right now is how and where will these additional troops be used?
LAWRENCE: Most of the new combat forces will be sent south, to help shrink the huge battle spaces troops are trying to cover in places like Kandahar province.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to have help down here, even though we're handling our own but we need more forces down here.
LAWRENCE: NATO has nearly 37,000 troops in southern Afghanistan. More than the rest of the country combined. But officials admit they still don't have the manpower to remove the Taliban from parts of Helmand province and other areas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More infantry, get another battalion or brigade out here to help us out. LAWRENCE: But defense officials says the U.S. marines will nearly double their numbers there, with 1,000 expected to deploy in late December and 8,000 more over the next few months. Troops say it will allow them to get to know Afghans in their area which could encourage more of them to cooperate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To give us any information if they have anything about where the Taliban are and what they are doing.
LAWRENCE: IEDs kill more troops in Afghanistan than any amount of enemy artillery, but sometimes insurgents replant bombs after their trucks go through. They say more soldiers mean more eyes on the road.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to make sure that the -- that the routes stay clear.
LAWRENCE: The Obama administration also emphasizes quickly increasing the size of Afghan forces, nearly 40,000 more soldiers and nearly 70,000 more Afghan police in the next year. That's why the U.S. troop increase will include thousands of additional trainers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pull it out.
LAWRENCE: The key will be the trainers' backgrounds and how experienced they are in actual police work. Right now units like the 82nd airborne are training Afghan police, but combat paratroopers are no experts in evidence collection or investigations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of those guys don't have that skill set so we're working now to try to get more law enforcement professionals attached to us.
LAWRENCE: Just last week the Afghan army and police got a pay raise. We'll have to see if that solves some of the problems with not only recruiting but retention because it will be impossible to meet these goals with the sheer number of officers that quit. Wolf?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You just came back through Washington, Chris, from several weeks in Afghanistan. Were you embedded with U.S. troops? Do they really trust the Afghan soldiers who they often go out on deployment with?
LAWRENCE: It depends on the units, some say they have a very good relationship with some of the Afghans that they work with. We saw what looked to be some very capable units that were working with some of the Canadian forces. Other times some of the soldiers say that they simply are very, very nervous around some of the Afghan forces so it really is a very individual unit assessment.
BLITZER: We're glad to have you back safe and sound here in Washington. Chris Lawrence did a great job for us in Afghanistan. Thank you.
Right now there are some 68,000 U.S. service members serving in Afghanistan, plus just over 10,000 American civilian contractors. In addition there will be almost 1,000 American civilians working for the State Department and USAID and other organizations in Afghanistan by the end of the year. We're watching what's happening.
The logistics of deploying tens of thousand more U.S. troops to Afghanistan are daunting, not least among them, housing. CNN's Frederick Pleitgen is in the southern Afghanistan region with that part of this story. Fred?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. military is gearing up to put thousands more U.S. soldiers on the ground here in southern Afghanistan, and this place where I'm at, Camp Wolverine in Zabul province, is a case in point. There's a massive construction effort under way.
PLEITGEN: Tens of thousands more American soldiers in Afghanistan leads to a basic question, where will they stay? Tech sergeant Nicholas Caldwell is building a new road at Camp Wolverine in the south. He says the navy and air force engineers are working overtime to expand the base.
TECH SGT. NICHOLAS CALDWELL, U.S. AIR FORCE: We're working hard and doing as much as we can. It would be nice if we could get some help
PLEITGEN: The base commander staff says they have been prepared to told an increase from 1,800 soldiers to about 5,000. Navy Lieutenant John Critch is in charge of construction. New roads, a new airfield, more housing units and a tight schedule.
LT. JOHN R. CRITCH, U.S. NAVY: 20 soldiers is one toilet, so many soldiers to a shower. There's nowhere, you know, we're still doing a lot of that right now just to get ready to bring in the mass of troops.
PLEITGEN: The workload is huge, and subcontractors don't always perform. Lieutenant Critch says this Afghan contractor he caught on camera shows up with a few men and some wheelbarrows, and only managed to lay a tenth of the agreed upon concrete and even that needed to be torn up because the quality was poor, set backs the military doesn't need anywhere in Afghanistan. Bases like this one in Kandahar are already overcrowded, and many soldiers wonder aloud where to put the new arrivals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The force of nature can be brutal.
PLEITGEN: Much of Camp Wolverine looks like this. They call this moon dust, and the engineers are trying to clean it up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll put concrete in there, and then we'll backfill this whole area and come across the top of it with rock.
PLEITGEN: Right now we're standing at the perimeter of the base, and some expansion is going to happen in this direction, but most of it is going to be right over here. As you can see right now, not much of the space is occupied but only a couple of months from now this will be full of tents, containers and all sorts of other living quarters for the many soldiers that will be coming in here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good, go.
PLEITGEN: And that means more work for these men who have to make sure there's space for every new soldier on the battlefield.
PLEITGEN: Wolf, just to give you an example of how big the task is that the engineers face here, they say in only about two months they have to make the space three times the size that it is right now so certainly a big effort that's going on here. Wolf?
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen at Camp Wolverine in Afghanistan; Fred, thanks very much.
And stay with CNN to see and hear the president's announcement on Afghanistan live. Our special coverage tomorrow will begin at 7:00 p.m. eastern right after THE SITUATION ROOM. We're harnessing our global resources to bring you all the angles on this very important story as no other network really can.
They are virtual slaves right here in the United States and in some cases hidden in plain sight. A disturbing look at human trafficking and one man's nightmare in America.
Plus, President Obama's mortgage relief plan is under fire. Now, there's a new effort to help millions of Americans stay in their homes.
BLITZER: Getting some more on the so-called party-crashers over at white house state dinner. Joining us now is Angie Goff. She's a reporter at our affiliate here in Washington, WUSA.
I take it you've spoken with the Salahis now, Angie. Tell us about that conversation.
ANGIE GOFF, WUSA: I did, you know. It was very, very brief. They were on the go. They gave me a call around noon this morning, and basically what they could tell me was the whole thing with the Larry King, that was the first thing that they said, that those -- the rumors that they were circulating or the story or shopping it around for six figures, that was not true, that they did not cancel on Larry's show, they actually just postponed the interview and eventually the story is going to come out and they were looking at speaking out eventually sometime this week.
BLITZER: Where do you know them from, Angie?
GOFF: You know, we go to a lot of the same social events, and I kind of have to put the disclaimer out. I did host a Halloween party recently with kind of our entertainment channel to channel 9 here, and -- and Michaele kindly accepted to be a judge at that costume party and so we kind of know each other on the social circuit. I do consider her to be a friend and, you know, when she was at the event she was very, very professional and there to do her business and to find the winners and no complaints. She was on time.
BLITZER: Did she tell you anything about the invitation or lack thereof to the state dinner at white house?
GOFF: You know, that was the big question obviously on any reporter's mind. I said what can you tell me about this invitation? Was there an invitation? And right now because of the legal process they said they cannot comment on it, and as you know they have been called to testify on Thursday before the House Homeland Security Committee, so perhaps if they show up we're going to hear more then, but the one thing that Tareq did say over and over again and once again our conversation was very brief was that we did not -- did not, and he emphasized, that crash the white house.
BLITZER: But did they say they actually had an invitation?
GOFF: They would not comment on that.
BLITZER: So I guess it depends on the definition of the word crash, what that means. Is that your understanding?
GOFF: It is my understanding, but, you know, one thing to note, one of our producers actually went over to Rosemary Holt's house who lives in Fairfax, Virginia, she's Michaele's mother and they actually call her Missy and what he was told is Mrs. Holt told J.R. that she did receive an invitation, a verbal one and an electronic one. Now, you know, I've talked to a lot of Washington insiders who say that kind of thing doesn't happen with an event of this caliber, as can you imagine, but, again, nothing coming directly from the Salahis on that invite.
BLITZER: Angie, thanks very much. We'll check back with you. If you get any more from them, let us know, okay?
GOFF: Sure thing.
BLITZER: Angie Goff from our affiliate WUSA here in Washington.
Jack Cafferty's question this hour is also about this story. Has reality TV gone too far? Jack Cafferty has your e-mail. That's coming up.
BLITZER: It's the kind of horror many people assume simply couldn't happen here in the United States of America, but each year countless numbers of impoverished people are brought here by human traffickers, and they are looked into virtual slavery. CNN's Sean Callebs has one man's story.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chinnawat Koopeemay's nightmarish ordeal began four years ago.
CHINNAWAT KOOMPEEMAY, HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIM (through translator): I never imagined that this kind of thing would happen in the United States.
CALLEBS: Desperate to provide for his family, he says he answered an ad from a job recruiter rural Thailand. The recruiter promised an $8 an hour job in America, he says, picking tobacco in North Carolina, and he'd get a U.S. visa.
KATE WOOMER-DETERS, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: When they heard there was a job in the United States and not just a job but a job on a legal visa in the United States, I think that was really the golden ticket for them.
CALLEBS: But there were problems from the outset. First, he says there was a payment up front, $11,000 U.S., money he borrowed from loan sharks before he left his home in Thailand. Once in North Carolina, Koompeemay says there was no work. No money, and his passport was seized by the recruiter Million Express Manpower. Koompeemay says he and the other 29 farmers who came with him realized they were trapped.
KOOMPEEMAY (through translator): Some of the men were so stressed out to the point that they seemed suicidal.
CALLEBS: Koompeemay says he begged for work, and when Katrina hit the gulf coast Million Express Manpower brought some of its employees to New Orleans. He says the men were told to gut this condemned hotel and were forced to live there while doing the job, and all of this without pay.
KOOMPEEMAY (through translator): We couldn't find anything to eat. We happened to have some uncooked rice with us, so we trapped pigeons and cooked the pigeons to feed ourselves.
CALLEBS: Eventually they were brought back to North Carolina where one night they say they escaped. Luis Coebaca is the U.S. ambassador charged with fighting modern day slavery.
LUIS COEBACA: This is a hidden crime. The very nature of this crime masks it from us.
CALLEBS: Eventually the man and 21 others sued Million Express Manpower under the Trafficking Victims' Protection Act. The company never responded and the court said the evidence justified a default judgment of nearly $1 million.
WOOMER-DETERS: These men don't look like the typical trafficking victims. They are not women. They are not in the second trade. They are not behind a barbed wire fence.
CALLEBS: Koompeemay has been reunited with his wife and two children. He asked us not to say where he's living, still concerned about the traffickers.
You do feel lucky, even after everything you've been through, you do feel lucky?
KOOMPEEMAY (through translator): I do feel very lucky that I could turn crisis into opportunity.
BLITZER: Sean Callebs reporting on that. Hard to believe that kind of stuff happens here in the United States.
The senate has begun debate on its sweeping health care reform bill, the center piece of President Obama's agenda. He originally wanted a bill on his desk this summer and then by the end of the year, but all signs now point to a long, hard slog with no end in sight, at least right now. CNN's Jim Acosta has more.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: You are hereby pardoned.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If only the president could get a pardon for health care reform, his signature initiative that's in danger of being plucked to death in the senate. Already calls to delay the bill are coming in, including one from a key Republican, once a close colleague of Mr. Obama's in congress who argues there are more pressing issues to tackle.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: The war is terribly important. Jobs and our economy are terribly important, so this may be an audacious suggestion, but would I suggest that we put aside the health care debate until next year.
ACOSTA: Democrats are staring at their calendar with dread after hoping to wrap up their work by December 18th, less than three weeks from now, congressional leaders are warning members they may work weekends right up to Christmas fearing any delay on health care will kill the bill.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: We have to go ahead and conclude this debate. To stop now would be stopping on the edge I think of significant reform which is so important for the country.
ACOSTA: And any amendment could drag down the bill in the senate from anti-abortion Democrats who want to restrict spending on abortion to party conservatives who want to water down the public option.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be very reluctant to support legislation that did not have a strong public option.
ACOSTA: Some Democrats aren't even sure the bill lowers health care cost, one of the president's chief objectives.
SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: We want to cover the uninsured but not in a way that's going to drive up the costs for folks who currently have it.
ACOSTA: And with time winding down, health care will have to share the spotlight. There are congressional spending bills to keep the government running. Unemployment is the one issue many Republicans hope to ride into next year's midterm elections.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The number one issue in this country is jobbing, getting people to work.
ACOSTA: Now that the debate is moving forward, Democrats will need 60 votes to stop the bill and schedule a vote. The political obituary for health care reform has been written before. And Democratic leaders have had plenty of chances to leave it for dead. But there are no signs they are backing down know.
Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack Cafferty for "the Cafferty File." Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour, another media issue that we're tackling here in the file, has reality television gone too far when it comes to folks like these white house gate crashers that worm their way into that state dinner?
Brian in Atlanta writes, "These crashers should have criminal charges file. This is a test case. If this is not handled properly, the nut jobs will come pouring out of the woodwork doing whatever they want without consequence. I hope these folks are locked up and star in the San Quentin version of "Survivor."
Calhoun writes, "Reality TV is like any other business, it supplies based on demand. The issue is not with the genre but rather what our society finds to be entertaining."
Ed says, "Suggesting that this is nothing more than reality TV going too far is the liberal media's way of deflecting blame away from the White House. The real story here is the Obama White House is amateur hour."
K. in Wisconsin, "Absolutely. Reality TV is only encouraging these misfits. It's far past time to stop publicizing already dysfunctional people for the sake of entertainment."
Matt in New York says, "I don't think reality TV has the ability to go too far. There will always be brainless people out there who eat that nonsense up. Personally, I agree with your statement that it's much easier to produce. But look at it, it's just stupid. There is no talent, no point, no brains behind it at all."
And Diane writes, "Here's a reality TV show for you: Auction off the clothing and jewelry warn to the party by the White House party crashers and donate that money to a soup kitchen. Now put the couple on house arrest and sentence them to serve two meals a day for a year in that soup kitchen. Maybe they'd learn an important lesson about reality. That's a show I'd watch." Me, too. If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile. And that's all I have at this time, Mr. Blitzer.
BLITZER: Did you get more e-mail on the Tiger Woods story or the white house crashers story?
CAFFERTY: A lot more on the Tiger Woods story.
BLITZER: That story is not going away. All right. Jack, thanks very much.
We have a new way for you to follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm now on Twitter. You can get my tweets at twitter.com/wolfblitzerCNN. Try it, you might like it.
A plan to help millions of Americans hold on to their homes. Can it succeed where the last one failed? We have details of what the Obama administration is now trying to do.
Plus, liberal congressional Democrats are breaking with President Obama on a troop increase for Afghanistan. Can they be persuaded to change their minds? We'll talk to one of them.
BLITZER: Despite billions dedicated to the problem, Americans are still defaulting on their mortgages in record numbers. Today the treasury department today said they were trying to reenergize the assistance program. Let's bring in our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff. He is following the story for us.
The administration promised help was on the way. Have they delivered, Allan?
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, about 650,000 borrowers have received help but only on a trial basis. The vast majority are still waiting for permanent help.
CHERNOFF: Catherine Brown would have lost her home had it not been for President Obama's making home affordable program. The monthly payment on her three bedroom Brooklyn house is down to $1,300 a month, a third of the original amount which was way over her budget.
CATHERINE BROWN, "MAKING HOME AFFORDABLE" CLIENT: I knew at any time or any moment, I could be thrown out in the streets. That's what I know. Nowhere else to go. I could become homeless.
CHERNOFF: The threat of homelessness remains a cloud above Catherine's head because her mortgage modification is only temporary.
BROWN: I would like to have it permanent, to continue with it permanent, yeah.
CHERNOFF: Do you need that to hold on to your home?
BROWN: Yeah, I sure do. This is what I need, yeah.
CHERNOFF: Catherine and more than 600,000 other American homeowners have gotten trial mortgage reductions. Yet a recent report from the Congressional Oversight Panel analyzing the housing bailout found only 1,711 homeowners had gotten permanent reductions in their mortgage debt, as of the beginning of September, the latest stat on record.
OTENCIA CHANCE, BROOKLYN HOUSING & FAMILY SERVICES: We have so many people on trial payments right now that we don't know if they're going to be permanent.
CHERNOFF: Now the Obama administration says it will push loan service companies to move faster to permanently reduce mortgage payments and require them to report the status of each modification. Companies that fail to act may be fined. Homeownership is at stake for millions of Americans struggling under the weight of mortgage debt. And the credibility of the Obama administration is on the line as well, since its making home affordable program has promised to reduce payments for 3 million to 4 million homeowners at risk of losing their homes.
CHERNOFF: About 375,000 homeowners are scheduled to have their trial modifications made permanent by the end of the year. The administration wants to be certain that happens otherwise the program could be labeled a band aid instead of a long term fix to the housing crisis. Wolf?
BLITZER: There are a lot of aspects of this housing crisis. This is not the only one that's plaguing the administration and plaguing Americans who are desperately trying to cling on to their homes.
CHERNOFF: This is so essential because if you remember, housing, the collapse of housing was really the core of the financial crisis. Here we have this economy seeming to begin to turn, but if you're talking about personal housing, well, people need a job to make those mortgage payments. As you know, unemployment has been rising in spite of the apparent improvements we've been seeing in the economy. So housing can still be a major drag on the economy. This is a problem that needs to get fixed.
BLITZER: Certainly does. Allan, thanks very much for that report.
Happening now, the best political team on television on these stories. President Obama spreads the word about his new war plan in Afghanistan. On the eve of his announcement, some liberal Democrats already are very skeptical about his strategy.
New and angry words about the white house party crashers from a member of their own family. The Obama administration also is now talking about the security breach and whether the president was actually at risk.
And Tiger Woods skips his own golf tournament and stays silent about his mysterious car crash.