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Major Security Failures; Health Care Divide; Afghanistan's Intel Failures; Deadly Deep Freeze; California Education Overhaul
Aired January 5, 2010 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, red flags missed, intelligence botched. President Obama admits major security failures leading up to the Christmas Day terror plot.
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.
YELLIN: The big question tonight, what, if anything will change?
And a deadly deep freeze, extreme winter weather gripping the country and taking lives. And the worst is still to come. How low will it go?
Also, the lifestyles of the rich and famous can be dangerous. Another young celebrity dies suddenly. Why does this keep happening?
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN TONIGHT live from New York. Here now Jessica Yellin.
YELLIN: Good evening. President Obama today conceding that the attempted Christmas Day terror plot should have been stopped, his bottom line, the government failed to connect the dots. The president was briefed this afternoon by top national security advisers on the investigation. Plans to beef up airport security's screening measures have been put in motion. The president also halted plans to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees back to Yemen where there has been an alarming surge in al Qaeda activity.
Dan Lothian is at the White House for us now and Dan, tell us did the president put security fears to rest today?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, you know one meeting or one speech won't calm everyone's fears, but what the president wanted to do is to show the extent of the security failures and then to press his top security officials, intelligence officials, to do better. Now, two senior administration officials who were inside the secure situation room said that the president was very firm, that the mood was one of a sense of urgency, that the president made it very clear that these problems need to be corrected. And, you know, the reason the president was so firm was because, as he pointed out, clearly the intelligence community had enough information to prevent this foiled attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It now turns out that our intelligence community knew of other red flags, that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula sought to strike not only American targets in Yemen but the United States itself. And we had information that this group was working with an individual who was known -- who we now know was, in fact, the individual involved in the Christmas attack.
The bottom line is this: The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack. But our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: Now, the president used even stronger language inside the meeting. According to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, the president saying quote, "this was a screw-up that could have been disastrous. We dodged a bullet but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals, not because the system worked, and that is not acceptable. While there will be a tendency for finger pointing, I will not tolerate it."
I'm told by senior administration officials that inside that meeting, there was no finger pointing, that all of these agency heads, these department heads took responsibility for their failures and then pointed out how they will be correcting the system and make sure that this does not happen again. We should be hearing more on the specifics of that in the coming days -- Jessica.
YELLIN: All right, Dan, thanks for staying on top of the story.
And the president is also being targeted today over promises to keep the health care debate open and transparent. The television network C-SPAN is pleading with Democratic leaders to let them broadcast the negotiations, but Democrats are likely to do most everything behind closed doors.
Lawmakers are at the White House tonight meeting with the president, hashing out the differences between the House and the Senate health care bills and our Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill, following it all. Dana, first tell us what do you know so far about the negotiations?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, look, as you can see from the empty hallway that goes very far behind me, Congress is not here. They're still officially in recess. However, earlier today, just down this hall where the House Speaker's office is, there were initial conversations just between House Democratic leaders. They're trying to figure out actually plot strategy for how to meld the health care bill, their health care bill with the Senate's, and remember, this is Democrats negotiating with Democrats, but there are a lot of differences in these bills.
In fact the House Democrats, their aides, they made about an 11- page document that anybody can access. It's public. It's on the House Speaker's Web site, Speaker.gov, which lists a lot of the differences and they really range from how they're going to pay for health care, what kind of taxes to impose for reform and things that really affect consumers like what kind of government assistance people will get to pay for health care reform and who will get it and how much -- Jessica.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well I don't know who you're talking about, but what I will say that they...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: (INAUDIBLE) to actually broadcast the health care debate on C-SPAN. So what are lawmakers' reaction to C-SPAN's call to televise it?
BASH: There was a very ironic visual today up here, Jessica. You remember times like this covering Capitol Hill. House Democrats came out of the closed door meeting right down there and they punted on questions about whether or not cameras would eventually be allowed into formal or even informal negotiations between House and Senate Democrats.
That was officially requested today by Brian Lamb, the head of C- SPAN and Democrats both in the House and the Senate frankly they wouldn't answer the question. Instead, they gave some talking points about all of the reasons they believe this has been a transparent process when it comes to health care, all of the committee hearings that were public, the legislation that has been online, but as you can imagine, and as I know you know, Republicans, they're having none of it.
They believe that this is a great political issue for them, because they think that this is proof that in the year since President Obama has been in the White House, he's promised to change the way Washington works, that it hasn't come to fruition, because as you said, he did promise in the campaign trail that things would be open, and C-SPAN cameras would be in meetings like this.
YELLIN: OK, so on that question, Speaker Pelosi I know was asked about the president's promise. She had an interesting response, didn't she?
BASH: Yes, I think odd is probably the best way to phrase it. I was standing right next to her and somebody did ask, well, what about the president's campaign promise to open negotiations like this in C- SPAN? And she said, quote, "Well, there are a number of things he swore on the campaign trail." It was unclear what she meant. It sounded like a little bit of a jab at the president, but look, I got to tell you, if it was a jab at the president, there are a lot of liberals who are probably applauding her right now, because there are a lot of members of the president's base when it comes to health care and other issues who think that he is not standing up for them.
YELLIN: All right. Thanks so much Dana -- Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.
BASH: Thank you.
YELLIN: And we'll have much more on the health care debate and President Obama's agenda for the new year, all of that later in the broadcast with our all-star panel.
Tonight we're learning a lot more about the deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA officers last week. It turns out the man who carried out the attack was an al Qaeda double agent. U.S. officials were convinced he was working for them, so he was never searched. Chris Lawrence is at the Pentagon tonight with more on this. Chris, you have some new information on how the U.S. first came into contact with the suspect. Explain.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jessica. They got the information through the Jordanians. This man, Human Khalil Abu-Mulal Al-Balawi was a Jordanian doctor. He had been arrested and interrogated in Jordan more than a year ago for some suspicious activity, but the Jordanians didn't have enough evidence to hold him. They let him go.
He moves to Pakistan for what he claims is studying and then over the course of a year, he starts e-mailing the Jordanians, giving them information about potential attacks not only in Jordan but against the West as well by al Qaeda. So the Jordanians then start sharing this information with their allies, including the United States, and he is then looked at as a potential very prime source. In fact, one former U.S. intelligence official said he was giving very good information about high-level targets.
YELLIN: But given his background, how did he wind up back inside that base unsearched?
LAWRENCE: That's right. They met him in Afghanistan outside the forward operating base, the intelligence officers met him. They put him in a car without searching him, and they drove him through those three levels of security inside the base. Once he got there, he was being debriefed, all the intelligence officers and contractors around him. That's when he detonated his suicide vest and killed seven of them and a Jordanian military officer.
But remember this. He had been taking a year to build up the trust. They thought he was on their side. And also when I spoke with a former intelligence official, he said another caveat to this is that the CIA officers were trying to win his trust. He was promising information about al Qaeda's number two man and they were trying to win him over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a normal job. This is not people who are flipping hamburgers at Wendy's. This is someone trying to convince someone to betray a tribal interest or an interest of a group, and they know that that betrayal could cost them the death of their entire family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE: Instead, trusting that man led to the deaths obviously of those seven officers and contractors -- Jessica.
YELLIN: So Chris, this also comes as a top U.S. official is now blasting American intelligence in Afghanistan. What do you have on that?
LAWRENCE: Yes, scathing report, this is on military intelligence, not what the CIA is doing necessarily, but one operations officer said in this report, "I don't want to say we're clueless, but we are." The top military intelligence chief says when military commanders come to these intelligence folks in Afghanistan and ask them for information on fighting the Taliban, on targeting al Qaeda, he says basically all these intelligence officers can do is shrug their shoulders. They really are not clued in. He says the big problem is they're focusing on enemy tactics and they don't have the resources to figure out who the power brokers are and to take the information that they do get and disseminate that throughout the chain of command.
YELLIN: All right, thank you so much, Chris Lawrence reporting from the Pentagon. Thanks.
And moving now to the brutally cold weather that has much of the country in a deep freeze. Record low temperatures are being recorded, and it's supposed to get even colder. Meteorologist Chad Meyers is in the CNN Weather Center tracking the winter blast. Chad, how long is the extreme cold expected to last?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, I'm thinking at least another week. And this is a long-term event now where temperatures don't even get above 32, so pipes that have frozen don't even thaw during the day. Look at some of these temperatures right now across South Florida and Atlanta and Charleston. Orlando now 40.
The wind chill for much of the day at Disney World was 34. That doesn't sound like a vacation. Take a look at what we're going to see tonight. Miami, all the way down to 36. Now I want to take you to some of the pictures, the best pictures I have seen today, Miami Metro Zoo. You just have to see it to believe it. Samantha -- Samantha and a burlap bag.
And now we will go to Ben and his shawl. They threw these burlap bags in there kind of as blankets. And they picked them up and they said, yes, let's play with them. And I don't know if that's hide and go seek or that's this is just too darn cold. Chilly chimps.
MYERS: But they were adorable and great pictures as well.
YELLIN: All right. Thanks so much, Chad.
YELLIN: Coming up, we'll look at why Yemen may now be the most important factor in the war on terror.
Also, it's been said that nothing is certain but death and taxes. Well, that's especially true in the New Year. The government has a slew of new taxes in store.
And they're young, rich and famous, so why do so many of them end up dying tragically?
YELLIN: Tonight the government of Yemen is vowing that it can lead the fight against al Qaeda in the Middle Eastern nation. But the Obama administration seems unconvinced. The president today said he is suspending transfers of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Yemen.
And the U.S. Embassy, they are just reopened after being closed for two days due to the threat of an al Qaeda strike. Joining me now, Edmund Hull, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Yemen from September 21st to July 2004. Ambassador, thanks for being with us. Can you begin by helping us understand, what light can you shed on the decision to first close and reopen the embassy within just a few days?
AMB. EDMUND HULL, FMR. U.S. AMB. TO YEMEN: First of all, let me clarify for your viewers, I am a former diplomat. I'm not privy to current intelligence, and I don't speak for U.S. government. But that said, I do have a lot of experience with counterterrorism and I have a lot of experience in Yemen. The closing of an embassy in this situation is often a tactical measure.
It's based on some rather specific intelligence that means the embassy is a target, and by changing the modus operandi by lowering the profile, it makes it more difficult to mount an attack. It's a very sensible strategy. The important thing is that the closure is not prolonged. The important thing is that the U.S. government does not degrade its efforts across the board in this kind of a situation and the prompt reopening indicates that that will not happen.
YELLIN: So in order to have success there, the U.S. does need a strong partner in the government. The president has been accused of corruption, but he's also a U.S. ally, so what can you tell us about the president of Yemen?
HULL: Well when I was ambassador, I asked a Arab colleague about President Salih and he replied with one Arabic word, and that was daki (ph) and that translates to shrewd or cunning, and that is the dominant personality characteristic and it has kept President Salih in power since 1978. That doesn't mean President Salih doesn't have strategic vision.
The unification of North and South Yemen certainly is a historic accomplishment as is his (INAUDIBLE) with the Saudis and resolving the border dispute up there. But the big challenge for the United States is to have President Salih expand that strategic vision to include counterterrorism against al Qaeda and that is a formidable challenge.
YELLIN: And what will it take to make him prioritize the fight against al Qaeda? Is there something he wants in particular?
HULL: No, I think there's something he wants in particular. I think it's important that the fight first be cast in terms of Yemen's interest and protecting the interest of the Yemeni people. Without that, he won't have broad, popular support for the measures he needs to take. And beyond that, the Yemenis are looking for a long-term relationship with the U.S. and a broad relationship with the U.S. that not only addresses security issues but also addresses development issues. During my time in Yemen, we had a saying (INAUDIBLE) which was no security without development and no development without security.
YELLIN: It is a very poor country, we understand that. Why is it then also such a fertile breeding ground for al Qaeda right now?
HULL: Well, you have to understand that al Qaeda has been in Yemen, really, since its inception. The first -- one of the first attacks against U.S. targets was against U.S. servicemen deploying to Somalia while they were transmitting aid in 1992 when al Qaeda was in its early years. And I like to compare the phenomenon to that of a virus in a host.
The al Qaeda virus is long-standing in Yemen, sometimes it grows stronger and erupts. Sometimes it is successfully repressed and it cannot do very much. But the whole trick is to develop indigenous antibodies that can attack that virus and keep it under control.
YELLIN: And how well is the Obama administration helping to develop those antibodies? Do you approve of their approach?
HULL: Well I think we took our eye off the ball in Yemen, really around 2006. There was an escape of very serious al Qaeda prisoners from a jail in Sanaa and that led to a retaliation on our part, cutting economic assistance and a downward spiral in the relationship and really, neither the Yemenis nor the U.S. paid sufficient attention to the al Qaeda threat. President Salih was distracted by the Alhothe (ph) rebellion in the North. We were moving on and dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan.
And al Qaeda is very resilient and if you ignore it, it will come back. Now I do think we have seen in the Obama administration significant attention to Yemen, particularly in the security area. There have been a number of operations with U.S. support that seem to have had effect. Also there has been no lack of visitors, security, U.S. security officials to Sanaa, so the attention is there.
YELLIN: Thank you so much, Ambassador. We all continue to learn about Yemen. Ambassador Hull, formally represented the U.S. in Yemen.
Still ahead, the countdown -- to the countdown -- what's at stake as the federal government get ready to start the 2010 census?
Also, California rushes to pass a major education overhaul to beat a deadline for winning $700 million of your tax money.
YELLIN: The new decade means a new count of the number of people living in this country, 2010 census forms arrive in mailboxes in March, but the government has already launched a big campaign to have Americans fill out those forms. What's at stake? Political power and federal dollars. Christine Romans has our report.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In New York's Times Square, the launch of a road show. Not a Broadway show, but a national tour sponsored by the U.S. government to get America ready for the 2010 census.
GARY LOCKE, COMMERCE SECRETARY: It will have enormous impact on communities and people all across America.
ROMANS: Commerce Secretary Gary Locke heads up the agency that's supposed to count every single person in the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the responsibility of every person living in America, whether they're a voter or not, whether they're registered as a voter or not, or even whether or not they're a natural U.S. citizen.
ROMANS: The government is spending more than $340 million, including a massive ad campaign in 28 languages to get people to fill out this census form. At stake? Power and money. Congressional seats are doled out depending on a state's population, and so is $400 billion in federal funding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want your fair share, be counted, because this is money for schools, for human services, for medical services as well as for transportation.
ROMANS: Things got so contentious during the 2000 count that Utah sued the Census Bureau.
PAMELA PERLICH, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH: In the end, we were 856 persons short of having that congressional seat.
ROMANS: The Supreme Court ruled Utah couldn't count missionaries serving overseas. Since congressional seats are limited to 435, the extra seat instead went to North Carolina. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who knows exactly what that would have meant as far as dollars and cents and programs and policies, but at the margin to have one more person there in the Congress working on behalf of Utah does make a difference.
ROMANS: This time around, Utah is likely to get that House seat. According to one projection, eight states in the South and West are expected to gain at least one seat after the big 2010 census. Texas could gain as many as four. Ten states, most located in the Northeast and the Midwest, may well lose at least one House seat. But those numbers could have been far worse.
LARRY SABATO, UNIV. OF VIRGINIA: The recession has actually frozen a lot of people in place. And so people who might have left the North and Midwest and gone South or West stayed. They stayed where they were. And that's saved some seats for the North and the Midwest.
ROMANS: All of this depends on how many people actually fill out the form. Historically, counting minorities has been an issue and the Census Bureau is working hard to combat mistrust.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There are some, a vocal minority, I would say, who have been cautioning against some people in the Latino community actually participating in the 2010 census. What do you say to that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't obtain political empowerment unless you're counted so that we know exactly how strong and how large you are. So I think that boycotting the census is actually counterproductive to their goals of greater political participation.
ROMANS: Christine Romans, CNN, New York.
YELLIN: California lawmakers are racing to beat a January 19th deadline to reform that state's failing school system. As Casey Wian reports, the state stands to lose $700 million in taxpayer money it desperately needs to help solve its budget crisis.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California public schools are being described as dismal, sad, hemorrhaging, in crisis, frightening and unacceptable. Those aren't the words of school critics but of state school districts describing themselves. The California School Boards Association plans to deliver a stack of letters from its members to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Wednesday, urging him not to make further cuts in education funding to reduce the state's budget deficit.
SCOTT PLOTKIN, CALIF. SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION: They're doing things like closing schools, increasing class size, especially at the lower grades where it is so important to have as much of that one-on- one contact as you can have when you're trying to teach kids how to read. You're completely disintegrating the support system for schools, whether it's counselors or librarians or nurses in every school.
WIAN: The group says during the past two years California has made larger per people cuts in education funding than at any time since the great depression. To stop the bleeding, the State Legislature is about to overhaul its public school system to make California eligible for $700 million in federal race to the top education funding. Its controversial provisions include allowing parents to remove their children from under-performing public schools and enroll them in a school of their choice, giving parents more power to force changes in schools and requiring weaker schools to conform to new federal guidelines.
BRIAN NESTANDE (R), CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY: It's somewhat embarrassing I think for the state of California to have to have the federal government, President Obama come in and say here's how you should fix your schools in California. I think that's a problem, but I don't other solutions.
GLORIA ROMERO (D), CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY: For too long we in Sacramento have to some extent looked the other way when it comes to in particular dealing with students in California who have languished in persistently under-performing schools.
WIAN: Governor Schwarzenegger visited one of those under- performing but improving schools Tuesday.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: We want to basically say in education we don't want to take it any longer. The status quo is not acceptable. We can make changes.
WIAN: As Schwarzenegger begins his last year in office, the former movie star is asking California's media to shift the spotlight away from him to the state's under-served school children.
WIAN: California's failing schools will be just one of the items the governor is expected to discuss in his final State of the State address Wednesday. And on Friday, he will unveil his last budget which is, as of now, $21 billion in the red -- Jessica.
YELLIN: Wow. Thank you, Casey.
And still ahead, the universal cure for $183 billion in red ink in state capitals all over the country, a new year and new taxes.
Also ahead, will the president and Congress go along with a call to televise the final negotiations on health care overhaul?
YELLIN: This New Year brings with it a little something extra: new taxes. Virtually all 50 states are putting new taxes or fees in place, from taxes on alcohol to a proposed streetlight tax in Washington. Americans will have to dig deeper to pay the bill. Bill Tucker has that story.
BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: California is the poster child for financially distressed states, but truth is, California has a lot of company in its financial misery. State budgets have been bursting out all over, and in 2009, states raised sales taxes, motor vehicle taxes, alcohol taxes, to back owe taxes and just about any other taxes they could get to close the gaps. No sooner did they offer to close billions of dollars in projected budgets this year, than revenue started yet again this year. And yes, they're already being factored in to balance those budgets.
SCOTT HODGE, THE TAX FOUNDATION: We don't know which taxes are going to go up especially at the state level, but we're certain some taxes certainly will because 49 states are facing budget shortfalls.
TUCKER: Along with that certainty comes some uncertainty. The Bush taxes are set to expire this year. Unless Congress takes action, it will come back next year, increasing the tax rate to 55% on estates worth more than $1 million. Personal finance experts say that when looking at the impact of all of this on family budgets, don't forget the simplest general guideline.
JANET BODNAR, KIPLINGER'S PERSONAL FINANCE: A lot of these tax increases may affect your spending. They may be additional fees, sales taxes, that kind of thing, so you're trying to plan for them in your budget and you're trying to address your other spending to make room for additional taxes you'll be paying.
TUCKER: As the need for revenue grows, state municipalities are going after new sources, like Washington, D.C.'s bag tax for shoppers who want a bag with their purchase. A proposed tax on soda pop or fattening food items, known as food taxes.
TUCKER: Ben Franklin once observed, nothing is certain but death and taxes. 221 years later, Franklin is dead and taxes are higher. Jessica?
YELLIN: All right. Thanks for that Bill.
Moving on, a struggling economy, national security, health care, all big topics in the days ahead, but can the president do it all? With us now our distinguished panel to discuss and debate President Obama's agenda for the New Year. Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake.com, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, and right here Ed Rollins, senior contributor and former white house director. Thank you all for being here. Let me start with you Ed and I'll give everyone a swing at this one.
The president is under enormous pressure to be strong as our commander in chief and reassure as chief. How did he do today?
ED ROLLINS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I don't think he did great. What he has to realize is the incompetent bomber, which is really about his incompetence, could have basically confirmed everything Bush and Cheney and everything else has said, this guy's team is not ready for prime time, not ready to basically stop terrorism. I think the combination of the terrorist bombing in the CIA last week, this situation going on, he just didn't look like he was in charge today.
YELLIN: Jane, let me give you a chance to respond to that. Do you agree? Did the president look like he was in charge today?
JANE HAMSHER, FOUNDER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM: Absolutely, and I think a lot of the criticism that's being leveled at Obama over this was not leveled at George Bush. George Bush actually took longer to respond to the Richard Reid bombing than Obama did, and yet nobody said he was soft on terror as a result of it. So I think it's being demagogued way out of proportion to what actually happened.
YELLIN: Chris, democrats are always accused of being soft on terror. Is it going to stick with this president in this instance?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, "THE FIX," WASHINGTONPOST.COM: In a vacuum, no. I think if we see more attempted terror attacks, if we see a rising fear in the public, maybe. But I thought he was firm. I thought he was better. He has a tendency -- the president has a tendency to be a little bit dispassionate at times so his natural inclination is to look intellectual, to look at things antiseptically. That's not good, you want people to know he's in this emotionally as well. He acknowledged we have to do better. Is it a speech he preferred not to have given? Of course, but it's a recognition of where they are today. Acknowledging mistakes, moving forward, showing they're being active, not passive, in this fight.
YELLIN: A lot of the post-game analysis has been that he seemed angry today, but the question is, how will he follow up? Do you think that someone has to get fired?
ROLLINS: I think personally you have two breaches of security under the homeland security, the secret service and others who allegedly came. As Gates has done at the pentagon, he's held people accountable. I think the president has to make an example of somebody here, otherwise, it's business as usual.
YELLIN: So you see a firing ahead?
ROLLINS: I would see a firing ahead.
YELLIN: OK. Jane, there are a lot of folks on the left who are going to be very critical of the president because he's decided not to release some of these detainees from Yemen back to Yemen, but do you think he should be cut a little slack in this instance given the security concerns he's dealing with?
HAMSHER: Absolutely. You know, it's a big challenge. I know there is an attempt to rewrite history right now. To say George Bush inherited 9/11, but that's what happened when George Bush was president. And the fact that Barack Obama is dealing with this situation rather soberly, rather, you know, calmly, and I think actually showing quite admirable leadership in the situation is going to accrue to his credit long-term because I really don't think the country's heart right now is in terror, terror, terror. I think they're very concerned about jobs, the economy and what's happening at home, and they are going to not be interested in taking up that banner.
YELLIN: Chris, do you think most members of the president's base are going to agree with that? I foresee probably a little bit of criticism for him for not releasing everybody back to Yemen that he had originally planned to. Do you?
CILLIZZA: Jessica, I think a little bit of criticism is inevitable. There has never been a president that did everything the base of his party wanted, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat. I think liberals within the party would have to be happy with an element of his address today in which he said, some people have said I should not close Guantanamo Bay, that this action is evidence we should not do that. I do not believe that. He said that al Qaeda had used Gitmo as a recruiting device. I think a lot of those things are very much in line with the way liberals in his party view Guantanamo Bay and view this fight on terrorism. So was it everything they wanted? No. Is it possible for a president to deliver everything the base wants on any issue, much less one as contentious as this? Absolutely not.
ROLLINS: This discussion would be different if there were 300 dead Americans. There could have been 300 dead Americans except for the in ineptitude of the bomber. I don't think we should forget that.
YELLIN: We are going to continue this discussion. We will be back with more on the panel on the other side of this break. We'll talk about the president's agenda, the health care break and much more.
And later, a rash of young celebrity deaths. We'll look at what could be causing this disturbing trend.
YELLIN: We're back now with our political panel. The president is obviously now having to add into his agenda the terror concerns. Is it going to derail, in your opinion Ed, at his efforts to push through health care, push through a jobs bill? He wanted to take on immigration overhaul, even education overhaul. Can he do it all?
ROLLINS: He can't do it all but he's certainly he doesn't have to move away from health care. It's a focus he has to have. He shouldn't be fighting three or four battle at the same time. I think immigration will get pushed off the plate and I think this will be part of the death nail to that. I think at the end of the day, health care is still his big initiative. If he doesn't get that through, he's in big trouble and in for a long road.
YELLIN: There's a new thorn in his side on health care which is that he had vowed to ---- let's listen to what he vowed. He said that he believes in transparency, and when it comes to health care on the campaign trail, this is what President Obama said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Part of what we have to do is enlist the American people in this process and overcoming the special interests and the lobbyists, and Senator Clinton is right, they will resist anything that we try to do. My plan, her plan, they will try to resist. The antidote to that is making sure the American people understand what's at stake. I'm absolutely committed to making sure that anybody in America that needs health care is going to get it.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I just want to be precise and I'll let Senator Clinton respond, but you were saying broadcast on CSPAN these deliberations. Is that a swipe at Senator Clinton?
OBAMA: No, it's not a swipe, this is something I've been talking about consistently. What I want to do is increase transparency and accountability to offset the power of the special interests and the lobbyists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: All right. In point of fact, Jane, the health care final bill is being negotiated by approximately a dozen people, mostly in closed rooms. So is this change you can believe in?
HAMSHER: Well, I think the health care bill was actually negotiated a long time ago. As Tom Carper said in CSPAN in business, we did get to see the Senate Finance Committee negotiations. Pharma paid $150,000 for their deal, and it was the senate's obligation to honor it. I think we just saw today the first casualty of that deal when Byron Dorgan who had the votes to get his drug amendment passed in the Senate, it was held up for seven days procedurally by Harry Reid who actually as Senate majority leader has tremendous influence over what that process is until the Pharma could put the Republican and Democrat votes to see it.
YELLIN: Jane let me jump in for a moment just because I want to give Chris a chance and I want to point out that Brian Lamb of CSPAN has actually sent a letter to Democrats saying, we request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American. And a number of Republicans have jumped on board saying - calling on them to broadcast this. How big a problem is this for the Democrats, Chris?
CILLIZZA: I think it's a little bit of a perception problem. The president, as you played in that clip, let me also say Jessica that that made me nostalgic for the 400 debates that happened during that campaign.
YELLIN: Can't get enough of those.
CILLIZZA: As he said in the campaign trail, transparency bringing openness to government. I think most people, long-time Washington folks, rolled their eyes even at the time and said, there is no way this is going to happen. But lots of people believed that, lots of people bought into it. Again, in 2012, two years from now, is this something Republicans can say, Barack Obama broke his pledge. They'll say it. I don't know if it moves a lot of votes unless something else big about him breaking a transparency pledge enters into the equation.
YELLIN: All right. As Nancy Pelosi said today, the president promised a lot of things during the campaign. Thanks to all of you for joining us, panel.
Up next, the death of yet another young celebrity. What's behind this recent string of tragedies? That story is next.
YELLIN: The death of Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson is one in a long line of young celebrity deaths. The exact cause of Johnson's death is not yet known, but in a number of high-profile cases, prescription drugs were to blame. Ines Ferre has more on young celebrities' untimely deaths.
INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At just 30 years old, Casey Johnson's death makes her the latest in a string of Hollywood celebrities to die young. The daughter of the New York Jets owner and fiancee of Tila Tequila was a diabetic. The cause of her death is still a mystery. But her death and that of other young celebrities leaves the public fascinated with how they lived and died.
GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHOLOGIST: We think of someone who is on a trajectory of fame and potential accomplishment and that is abruptly ended, we do, of course, think about what was the potential loss. Who could they have been? That adds some mystery, some mystique, to their death.
FERRE: Last month 32 year old actress Brittany Murphy collapsed in her Hollywood home and later died. A toxicology report is underway to determine the cause of her death. The coroner's office says prescription drugs were found in her name but none were illegal. It's not known if they had anything to do with her sudden death.
Last August, D.J. Am who had been scheduled to have a show on TV, overdosed on a combination of illegal and prescription drugs, only adding to the list of young stars whose lives were cut short in recent years because of prescription drugs.
DR. NORA VOLKOW, NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE: These are medications that are prescribed by physicians, so they think, well, if a physician prescribed them, they cannot be so dangerous as an illegal substance like heroin or methamphetamine, when, in fact, when used inappropriately, these drugs can be as dangerous as illicit substances.
FERRE: The National Institute of Drug Abuse says prescription drug use has been on the rise with an estimated 48 million people or 20 percent of the population who have used them for non-medical reasons in their lifetimes.
FERRE: For Casey Johnson, police say there is no evidence of foul play and investigators are awaiting toxicology reports to determine what caused her death. Meanwhile, Casey's family put out a statement saying it is mourning the tragic loss and asks for privacy during this difficult time. Jessica?
YELLIN: Thank you, and our heart does go out to Casey Johnson's family.
Joining us now for more on young stars and drug abuse are Peter Davis, contributor for the Daily Beast and Dr. Carol Weiss, addiction psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Weil Cornell Medical Center. There's a mouthful. Thanks to both of you.
Peter, I'd like to start with you, emphasizing that while we don't know how Casey Johnson died or Brittany Murphy died, there have been a great deal of speculation lately that drug use is on the rise in Hollywood in general. Is that so?
PETER DAVIS, CONTRIBUTOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes I think right now it's at epidemic levels, especially with prescription drugs. People are popping Xanax, unfortunately, like tic-tacs and the danger is unlike cocaine or alcohol, it's almost a secretive, legal way to get high, and I think it's just going to get worse and worse.
YELLIN: Dr. Weiss, we're talking about prescription drugs. That seems to be the new variable here. Is there a general rise in the abuse of prescription drugs?
DR. CAROL WEISS, ADDICTION PSYCHIATRIST: Yes, absolutely. As the doctor mentioned in the opening segment, there is this paradox that people think that prescription drugs are safe, and for the most part they are safe when taken as prescribed. However, when you take more than prescribed or for non-medical use or you have multiple doctors prescribing, then it can be very dangerous. And there is a rise of prescription drug use in the community, for young adults as well as older adults.
YELLIN: And you also argue that there's a new path of people using drugs. Can you explain that? It's sort of the middle class, the upper class?
WEISS: Absolutely. The celebrity class has always had the means and the access and the pressure to use prescription drugs to excess. Now prescription drugs have so saturated the market. It's so easy to get them. In the latest survey of high school students, the vast majority of them get it from friends, get it from doctors who prescribed it to them, get it from their families, relatives, so it's very accessible.
YELLIN: Peter, you know, there's no secret that celebrities are very influential on young people. There's almost a way in which rehab itself has become fashionable. Is that your observation, too? DAVIS: I think so. Unfortunately, shows like Celebrity Rehab make it look like you're going on vacation when you go to rehab, and watching Brittany Spears and Lindsey Lohan smoke a cigarette, it makes it look like an attraction.
YELLIN: There's actually a study by the National Institutes of Health that shows this isn't only true in Hollywood but that among 12th graders, seven of the top ten drugs they use are prescription drugs. In Hollywood, Peter, is it your sense these drugs are initially used because they make some of the celebrities thin?
DAVIS: Yeah, I think people take them also for stress, but, you know, if you're prescribed Xanax or Klonopin for stress, you're supposed to take one a day or two a day, but these people take ten or 15. They basically abuse them. They take drugs to stay thin and not be nervous, and it leads to full-blown addiction.
WEISS: And to stay awake. There is pressure on them to stay awake, to perform, to be present for the shoot, to get plenty of sleep so they're rested for the next day, so there is insomnia, there is performance --
YELLIN: Doctor, how does a 12th grader get their hands on a prescription drug like OxyContin?
WEISS: It's remarkable. Many people have been prescribed it. It's readily available.
YELLIN: Doctors are writing these scripts?
WEISS: Doctors are writing the scripts, for OxyContin not necessarily for the children. For Adderol and other drugs on the rise, and doctors are prescribing that for children and there is an increased acceptability for writing prescription drugs for children that there wasn't in years past. But these kids are getting them from friends' medicine cabinets, their parents' medicine cabinets. People sell drugs, but that's a very small percentage of how people are getting it.
YELLIN: Thank you so much, Dr. Weiss, Peter, thank you for joining us.
DAVIS: Thank you.
YELLIN: All right. Coming up at the top of the hour is the Campbell Brown show.
Hi, Campbell. What do you have on your show tonight?
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Jessica. We are going to be talking to President Obama admitting that the homeland defense system just did not work. A lot more on that.
Plus, five years ago, the 9/11 Commission told us to watch for a cleric who could take Osama Bin Laden's place. Why didn't we listen to them? Also tonight, our CNN special investigation, a nationwide chain of yoga and wellness center, two dozen of former employees of Don Yoga's say it is a cult. Don Yoga's lawyers say it isn't a cult, no one was abused. We have more on that, a very fascinating investigation coming up as well.
YELLIN: Sounds good. Thanks Campbell.
Still ahead, Google unveils its new Smartphone, but will it live up to the iPhone killer hype?
YELLIN: Google has unveiled the new Smartphone, the Nexus I. Some are calling it the Google killer. Google announced today the phone will be available on line, and unlike other phones, you can buy it without a contract. That's known as an unlocked phone which will work with several different carriers. But the phone is cheaper if purchased with a two-year t-mobile contract.
Thanks for being with us tonight. I'm Jessica Yellin. Please join us tomorrow. Next up, Campbell Brown.