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Fighting al Qaeda; President Obama's Way Forward
Aired January 8, 2010 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, everybody.
Kind of a rough week for President Obama, a massive intelligence failure in the war on terror, a weak economic report just out today, critics crying foul, supporters increasingly disillusioned. Well, James Carville is here tonight to tell us how the president gets back in the game.
But we start as always with the "Mash-Up." We're watching it all, so you don't have to.
And our top story tonight, jobs, jobs, jobs. New unemployment numbers out today show that we're still mired in an economic mess. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The unemployment rate remained grim last month, holding steady at 10 percent. The first year of the Obama presidency has been a rough one for workers -- 4.2 million jobs were lost in 2009, on this president's watch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Layoffs are abating, but businesses are not hiring. Until they do, the coast isn't clear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: UPS said today it will cut 1,800 jobs. The so-called underemployment rate, which includes workers who have given up looking or have been forced to take part-time jobs, is now at more than 17 percent.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hours after a disappointing jobs report was released, President Obama freed up more stimulus money for clean-energy jobs.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The road to recovery is never straight.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We knew this was going to be a long road and we knew that along that road there would be ups and downs and bumps along the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House maintains things would be much worse if it were not for the stimulus package, $377 billion of which remains to be spent to create jobs this year.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, HOST, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": We always talk about the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. Well, Wall Street heard this jobs news today. The Dow was actually up over 11 points, after a late-in-the-day rally. Blue-chip stocks were up almost 2 percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The White House calls today's jobs numbers a slight setback.
Turning to Detroit now, where the accused Christmas bomber was in court today. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab pleaded not guilty to all six charges filed against him. He said little, other than to acknowledge that he was taking painkillers, but he reportedly did a lot of talking to investigators shortly after his arrest.
Check this out from "The CBS Evening News."
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CBS News has learned that British intelligence has confirmed perhaps the most chilling boast Abdulmutallab made to investigators after his arrest, that close to 20 other Muslim young men were being prepared in Yemen to use the same technique to blow up airliners, which is why sources say the U.S. government issued this directive last Sunday, announcing enhanced screening for every individual on U.S.-bound flights from 14 countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.
In addition, a team of FBI agents is now on the ground in the West Afghan nation of Ghana, where Abdulmutallab stayed for two weeks just before his attempt to bring down Flight 253 over Detroit. The federal agents are investigating where he went, who may have helped him, and if it was there in Ghana, Katie, that he obtained the explosives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: CNN is on the trail of this developing story. Stay with us for the latest details throughout the night.
As is often the case, terror in the air means Rudy Giuliani on the airwaves, and there he was today on "Good Morning America" bright and early, perhaps a little too early, because listen to what he said.
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RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: What he should be doing is following the right things that Bush did. One of the right things he did was treat this as a war on terror. We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We have had one under Obama.
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BROWN: Right, no domestic attacks under Bush, except for, of course, 9/11, the whole reason Giuliani's thoughts on the war on terror carry any weight at all. Well, needless to say, the comments are burning up the blogosphere. This evening, Giuliani tried to clarify things on CNN's "SITUATION ROOM."
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GIULIANI: I did omit the words since September 11. I apologize for that. I should have put it in. I do remember September 11. In fact, Wolf, I remember it every single day and usually frequently during the day.
BLITZER: I know you do.
And then you said this, though, and it needs some clarification."We've had one under Obama," meaning a terrorist attack.
What -- what specific -- which specifically are you...
GIULIANI: I would...
BLITZER: ... which attack are you referring to?
GIULIANI: I would consider the one -- well, I mean the -- the -- the attack on Christmas Day was an attempted attack. I was talking about Fort Hood. Fort Hood was clearly an Islamic terrorist attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Giuliani calls the whole kerfuffle silly.
We do have some very sad news out of Wilmington, Delaware, tonight. Vice President Biden's mother, Jean, died in her home today. She was surrounded by her family. She was 92 years old.
And you might remember Biden paid tribute to his mother at the 2008 Democratic Convention accepting his nomination as vice president. Take a look.
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SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: When I got knocked down by guys bigger than me -- and this is the God's truth -- she sent me back out and said, "Bloody their nose, so you can walk down the street the next day."
And that's what I did.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
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BROWN: And Jean Biden is survived by her four children. She had 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Our sympathies tonight to the entire Biden family.
From Wilmington, to Los Angeles, where NBC is finding it self with two unhappy late-night stars on its hands right now. "The New York Times" reports, Conan O'Brien is none too thrilled at the prospect of losing his time slot to Jay Leno. Leno's 10:00 p.m. show is floundering. NBC is considering moving him back to his old perch at 11:30. Now, theoretically, that would push O'Brien to midnight.
"The Times" reports Conan is not a happy camper, and the folks at FOX are already trying to woo him over to their network. O'Brien himself has been keeping quiet. Leno, not so much.
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JAY LENO, HOST, "THE JAY LENO SHOW": As you may have heard, there's a rumor floating around we were canceled. I heard it coming in this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard it, too.
LENO: On the radio, yes, yes, yes. So far, nobody has said anything to me. But, Kev, if we did get canceled, it would give us time to maybe do traveling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be wonderful, man.
LENO: Yes. In fact, I understand FOX is beautiful this time of year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really is.
I don't think there's any truth to the rumor. You see, it's always been my experience NBC only cancels you when you're in first place. So we're fine.
LENO: Hey, Kev?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's up, Jay?
LENO: What does NBC stand for?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's that?
LENO: Never believe your contract.
But, you know, hey, I want to tell you -- hey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Good times in late-night land. We are going to have a lot whole more on this story coming up in a few minutes. But now it is on to the "Punchline," and we're going to give it to Conan tonight. After the last 48 hours, he deserves it.
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CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": A giant cold snap across much of Asia. China is being hit particularly hard with snowstorms right now, big snowstorms in China. Apparently, the weather is so bad in China, most children can't get to work.
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BROWN: Conan O'Brien, everybody. That is the "Mash-Up."
James Carville is here with me tonight. He of course came up with the phrase, it's the economy, stupid. We will hear his advice now for President Obama right after this.
BROWN: Today, President Obama tried to end a turbulent week on an up note, but with mixed economy numbers. He has been getting a lot of heat lately from multiple fronts.
And, tonight, the president gets a reality check from someone who knows how the world changes between the campaign trail and the Oval Office.
BROWN: Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville is joining me now from New Orleans.
And, James, here is your mission, if you choose to accept it. Tell the president what he ought to do. And let's talk first a little bit about the economy.
The president tried to turn the attention away from his administration's national security mistakes to jobs. But with unemployment around 10 percent, can they be claiming success here?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think he can claim success right now, but, look, the truth of the matter is, if there's a double-dip recession or we're not creating jobs by next October, then we're going to lose bad in the congressional races. Nothing can be done to avoid that.
What I would -- my strategy would be, let's bet on good news. So, let's talk about we're making some progress here. We have got to keep -- we have got to stay the course. We have to push ahead, because we can't go back.
And if you can make the case and if things have improved, if they improve as much in the next nine months as they improved in the previous nine months, then he will be in pretty good shape come November. But you have to bet on the come here. You don't know if you're going to win, but it's the only possible way that the Democrats can avoid really major losses in 2010.
BROWN: And as a lot of people may know, you coined the phrase it's the economy, stupid. Even if the president gets big initiatives, even if he gets health care effort done....
BROWN: ... if the economy is in the tank or we have a double-dip recession, all bets are off, right? This is everything. This trumps everything.
CARVILLE: Well, it sure does. If it doesn't get better, you know you're going to lose. Hey, it could get better and you could lose, but not as bad.
But we do know that. And, look, this unemployment has been high for a long time. People have been out of work here for a long time. This is a really, really nasty recession. And one of the things -- he's got to do two things, remind people of what the situation was when he took over and remind people that progress is being made.
And the consequence of that, if you put the Republicans in charge is, they will take you back to the way it was. It's a very -- it's a difficult -- it's difficult, but I think it's the only way that the Democrats can do it where they can cut their losses short.
BROWN: Let's move to the terror front. The president said yesterday -- and these words were striking for a lot of people -- he said we are at war against al Qaeda.
Some critics are saying that came too late. People really needed to hear those words from him. How does he show forceful control of national security?
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, I thought it was a pretty good start. I mean, look, in two weeks, we got, you know, acceptance of responsibility, we got answers, we got increased security, we got a real good reaction.
Now, look, I think there was a reasonable criticism to make of the administration right out of the chute. And, of course, the Republicans do what they always do. They made an unreasonable criticism. But I think he got it right. I thought yesterday was I think exactly what people wanted to see in a president.
BROWN: He did, though, promise accountability, and nobody's lost their jobs over this yet, over the Christmas Day attempted attack.
BROWN: Do you think heads should have rolled?
CARVILLE: It wouldn't have bothered me, because as I have said any number of times, I fly a lot, and when something happens, at a minimal, I want to know what happened.
Look, if an airplane crashes, we sure want to go in and find out what went wrong and we know that we're fixing it, so it doesn't go wrong again. If there are measures that are put in and we improve the systems with something, then I guess it's less important that somebody get fired. But it wouldn't have been the end of the days if somebody would have, but maybe there was no single person responsible. I don't know.
BROWN: On health care, do you ultimately think the president's going to get the health care reform bill that this country needs? And did he do everything he could to fight for what he wanted in that bill for what was essential?
CARVILLE: Well, look, he hasn't gotten it yet. I suspect that the political consequences of not getting it would be pretty dramatic for the Democrats. So, I think that they are kind of forced to -- going to be really forced to try as hard as they can to come up with.
He's not through and he has said that he's going to get very involved in the negotiations between the House and the Senate, and we will have to see. But, you know, and if they get this, this will be a pretty doggone major accomplishment. And if they get some improvement in job numbers, they could cut their losses short.
Or we could, I should say. We could cut our losses short in 2010.
BROWN: All right, stand by, James Carville. I have got a couple more questions for you. Namely, we're going to ask about politics and whether bipartisanship is ever going to have a prayer with any president. Stand by.
BROWN: Back with me now offering more advice to President Obama is Democratic strategist and CNN contributor James Carville.
James, let's talk pure politics.
BROWN: There has been a total failure to deliver on promises of bipartisanship. Should he stop promising that and become a little fiercer and really take Republicans on, because they're certainly going to be taking him on in 2010?
It is a very fair observation, I guess, even criticism, to say that the president when he ran said no more business as usual, we're not red states or blue states or Republicans or Democrats. And it didn't take very long to see that the ways of Washington won.
I would argue -- and I think correctly -- that the Republicans never had any intent on working with him with anything. But it's pretty clear that between now and the election of 2010, anything that he gets done in the foreseeable future is going to have to get done with just Democrats. That's the way that Washington is. It was the way it was. And as far as I can see, it will be that way for a little while.
BROWN: So, I'm going to ask you to take a look at this graph and ask our viewers to take a look at it. Blue line is President Obama's approval rating, yellow line his disapproval rating. And his support has really dropped off.
Just bottom-line this for us. How does he get it back?
CARVILLE: Well, it's not a very encouraging line to look at. That's what you would expect if someone took office and you had these kind of job numbers that keep pouring in.
I think that people still believe, I think the president has many things going for him. He's a superb communicator. I think he has put some policies in place that have a real chance to start to work for people. And he's got to hope that these things sort of come better for him. And he's just got to take it one day at a time and don't try anything drastic or go long, any of that foolishness.
I think he's got to plod away. And I think if these economics start to tick up, which hopefully they will, I think you will see the blue line start to move up a little bit and the yellow line move down. But that's where we are in politics today.
BROWN: James Carville with us from New Orleans tonight -- James, as always, thanks.
CARVILLE: Thanks, Campbell, you bet.
BROWN: When we come back, I'm going to talk with one former Marine who says he knows how to kill al Qaeda in three easy steps. We will see.
BROWN: As the president made clear this week, the way we fight al Qaeda has to change. The terror group's new hot spot -- we have been talking a lot about it -- is Yemen now. The new threat appears to be lone operatives like Abdulmutallab, operatives easily influenced by radical clerics and Internet propaganda.
So, will wiping out al Qaeda now require a major change in our thinking?
With me to talk about that is Gary Berntsen, who is a former CIA officer. He was on the ground helping to lead the search for Osama bin Laden. He was also involved in tracking down information used against attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid. And he's the author of the book "Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda." Howard Clark is also joining us. He's a former Marine who is now a senior intelligence analyst for the Defense Department contractor Black Watch Global. And he is also the author of "How You Can Kill Al Qaeda (In 3 Easy Steps)."
Gentlemen, appreciate you being here tonight.
Howard, President Obama is talking about how we I guess need a new strategy to deal with this new threat of more lone recruits or this changing threat, I guess. No offense, but I have a hard time believing it can happen in three easy steps, but bottom-line for us, if you will, what your strategy is on this.
HOWARD CLARK, AUTHOR, "HOW YOU CAN KILL AL QAEDA (IN 3 EASY STEPS)": Absolutely. We do need a new strategy.
Right now, there is no plan to strategically defeat al Qaeda. So, we do need to do something to look at the long-term threat. I mean, look, I agree with most people in Washington that there are hardened radicals out there that want to kill Americans. And so we need to go after terrorist cells, we need to kill their leaders, and we need to arrest terrorists here in this country and abroad, absolutely.
But, in addition, we need to get to the root of the threat, and that is what I'm looking at.
BROWN: So, be specific about that. What do you mean?
CLARK: OK. Well, we have to go first of all to what al Qaeda's most important safe haven, which is their virtual safe haven, which is the Internet.
And so what I'm proposing is a strategy to use the Internet and other media means, because of course the Internet doesn't reach everyone, like most of the people in Afghanistan. And what I'm proposing is to drive a wedge between al Qaeda and any Muslim community that might provide them with support. Basically, I want to starve al Qaeda of any future recruits.
BROWN: OK, but how do you do that? I'm just unclear on -- OK, we should use the Internet more, but what does that really mean?
Well, in my book, what I discuss is how any reader from any background, any citizen anywhere in the world, how they can do exactly what al Qaeda does, and that is identify, translate, and then market credible messages that will inspire, but, in this case, inspire all Muslims to hate al Qaeda. Basically, what we want to do is supersaturate the Internet with these credible messages.
BROWN: With a massive propaganda campaign, right, like we just out-message them?
CLARK: Not the U.S. government, because we lack a credible voice in most Muslim communities. So, I'm asking people to do this.
Anybody, basically, you can -- anybody from the Internet can do this. My book, which you discussed earlier, you brought up earlier, is really -- what I did was, I took al Qaeda's playbook that they really created back in 1998, and I mirrored it. And I said, how can we do this and how can we do this better? How can we create a viral campaign to inspire all Muslims to hate al Qaeda? How can we turn the apathy of Muslim communities into hatred, so that my sons and daughters don't have to keep fighting this war?
BROWN: All right, Gary, give me your take on Howard's strategy. It's all about the Internet.
GARY BERNTSEN, AUTHOR, "HUMAN INTELLIGENCE, COUNTERTERRORISM AND NATIONAL LEADERSHIP: A PRACTICAL GUIDE": Well, the Internet is a tool which al Qaeda uses to communicate. But even if you were to attack them on the Internet, just like the Iranians in Tehran, they can migrate to cell phones, to Facebook, to sending faxes to each other.
The Iranian Revolution was done with cassette tapes. That's how Ayatollah Khomeini got his voice out there to all of his followers and inspired a revolution. So it's not just the Internet. The Internet is a tool with which they communicate. And I agree that the Internet is a tool that we need to use better, and because we're having serious problems, because they're using the Internet successfully to recruit people.
But it's not the basis of al Qaeda. The basis of al Qaeda is a belief that they need to return to the seventh century and a caliphate, and that bin Laden plans to put himself atop of this. And they're against all things Western, all things U.S. So, I understand the point of wanting to focus on the Internet, but that's not going to destroy al Qaeda, not by any means.
Another example, almost a third of the people in the world have never used a cell phone. They will never look at the Internet. And there are 200,000 young men in madrasas in Karachi that don't look at TV, and are not using the Internet that are being recruited by mullahs.
BROWN: Howard, let me do -- let me give you an opportunity, though, to take this concept just a little bit further, like let's say there is an Abdulmutallab out there and you're trying to communicate with him and you're trying to, with your propaganda, win him over.
What is the message that you deliver that's going to turn him off of that path?
CLARK: Well, first of all, it is more than the Internet. I think Gary really hit the nail on the head.
And he saw it first. You know, he saw it on the ground in East Africa. He's seen it in Eastern Afghanistan, certainly all over the world. It's also night letters. It's also mosque networks. It's social networks. It's more than the Internet.
But al Qaeda starts it on the Internet, because it offers anonymity, flexibility, and instant worldwide reach.
CLARK: It's more powerful than cassettes.
BROWN: So, what is the message?
The messages that I'm suggesting readers identify are messages that tell the stories of the innocent victims, the handicapped, the elderly, the women, the children, the true martyrs, messages that define al Qaeda as unholy, that they're not even Muslims, they're an aberration, and, finally, messages that talk about al Qaeda's -- basically, their inability, their failed tactics, the fact that they will never defeat the United States.
People are less likely to join an organization that's destined to fail and ultimately serves no purpose, except the narcissistic, egotistical, sociopathic strategies of these individuals that are hiding like cowards in caves in Western Pakistan.
BROWN: All right.
BERNTSEN: One of the things that has happened is, is the U.S. has done very poorly on information operations. Al Qaeda sees an incident, they respond immediately. There's a bombing, they put something out.
One of the problems that the U.S. has, they have got all these procedures, and you have got get this cleared at this level and that level. And so the military and the agencies very slow in responding on the Internet. It's a part of this that we have done poorly. I.O., that's what it is, information operations. We're doing it poorly.
I agree we need to improve this, but there are so many other areas that we need to improve in. And this will be only part of it.
BROWN: So, let me get your bottom line on this, because we're talking about the threat being sort of this imam in Yemen, whoever that may be, and it can be any number of them, frankly, who are sort of operating in the shadows, and recruiting these individuals and sort of sending them. How do you fight that? You certainly can't fight that militarily, can you?
BERNTSEN: We need greater human sources. We need to leverage liaison services. Part of the problem is, we have become too reliant on liaison services, like the Yemeni security services or the Saudi security services. We have to have our own improved unilateral capabilities. That's more people who speak native Arabic that can penetrate these groups, that can provide reporting to us.
You have to a unilateral capability -- that's us on our own -- and a liaison capability working through our allies in the region. Both of those things have to be done. We need enhanced human. We need to double the size of the human intelligence at our program in the agency. The clandestine service has got to be doubled in size and higher-quality officers that speak Somali, Arabic, Pashtun, Urdu. We don't have very many of these people. We really have to get to it.
BROWN: I know you have been frustrated with the slowness by which you see change happening, some of the things you're talking about. How much of a disconnect -- because you have spent so much time in the field as a CIA officer, how much of a disconnect is there between Washington, the decision-makers in Washington, and the guys out in the field who know what's going on?
BERNTSEN: Our policy-makers in this administration and in others have not really gotten it. They didn't understand.
They have really never -- I think the only president in 25 years that's understood this was George Herbert Walker Bush, because he had been director of CIA.
BROWN: Because he was...
BROWN: Right. Right. He knew...
BERNTSEN: He understood this.
Most of the other presidents have been slow to pick this up. And, frequently, they're hostile to the clandestine service for the couple of years of their -- their early years in their presidency. And then they realize before it's over that, oh, my goodness, this is something that can help me, and they start to support it, i.e., the Clinton administration.
Toward the end, they realized they had done too many cuts. And they tried to start to build it back up, but it was too late. And we suffered for that on 9/11, because he had cut too deeply into the clandestine service.
BROWN: Well, an interesting conversation, and certainly one we need to be having more about.
Gary Berntsen, appreciate it, as always, Gary.
And, Howard Clark, Howard, thanks for joining us tonight. Thanks very much.
CLARK: Hey, thanks so much. Appreciate it, Campbell.
BROWN: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in hot water with his critics. Coming up next, I'm going to talk to one congressman who is calling for his resignation. Stay with us.
BROWN: New problems tonight for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Newly revealed e-mails indicate that when Geithner was still running the Federal Reserve Bank in New York lawyers for the New York Fed wanted crippled insurance giant AIG to hide information about its dealings with certain banks from the SEC. The story had White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on the defensive today. Take a look.
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ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Secretary Geithner was not involved in any of these e-mails. These decisions did not raise to his level at the fed. He wasn't on the e-mails that have been talked about and wasn't party to the decision that was being made. There are not e-mails that involve Secretary Geithner in this instance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Various liberals have jumped on this and other stories about Secretary Geithner to say he really is not fit to serve as treasury secretary. He still has the president's full confidence?
GIBBS: Of course.
BROWN: Here now Republican Congressman Darrell Issa who obtained those e-mails. And also with us, political financial correspondent Eamon Javers joining us as well.
Congressman Issa, let me start with you here. You have caused some heartache I think over at the Treasury Department over these e- mails that you made public. These are, of course, e-mails between the New York Fed and AIG from when Geithner was head of the New York Fed. Explain to our viewers why you think these e-mails are problematic or why they are problematic.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, because they reflect information that always should have been public. The idea that $62 billion at 100 cents on the dollar is essentially given to Goldman Sachs and other banks through an AIG bailout, never to be returned, should not have been something done in secret. And I appreciate the fact that the White House is saying that Secretary Geithner was not involved, but you can't have it both ways. You can't say he's the one that steered us through a difficult period and then say every time something went wrong he had nothing to do with it and knew nothing about it.
BROWN: But, I mean, is it possible that he isn't involved here? I mean, are what you're saying by releasing these e-mails and sort of going on the war path is that you believe he was explicitly involved?
ISSA: Well what I believe is that you know, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch's problems happened on his watch. Certainly $62 billion or more dollars that will never be returned to the taxpayers went out in these counterparty claims or these AIG insurance claims as most people understand it, that didn't have to go out, it happened on his watch. So the real question is, you know, has he been a good steward of the American people's money or has his organization in this case the New York Fed simply taken care of their own at the expense of the taxpayers?
The latter seems to be the case. We want full disclosure. We want transparency. We now have Chairman Towns saying he will have Secretary Geithner there to talk about those days and how we lost so much money never to be returned in the case of the AIG bailout.
BROWN: And just to be clear here because you've said this before, you think he should step down. Geithner should.
ISSA: As far back as March, I failed to have confidence that he was the right person for the job. Now the president can have anyone he wants advising him, but there are statutory powers, things which Secretary Geithner does every day, does much of it without good oversight of the Congress that I'm still concerned about so he doesn't have my confidence and will unlikely get it. But I certainly want to know why he gave 100 cents on the dollar to AIG to pay off foreign banks when clearly it could have been negotiated for less. And that's really where these things come from, is our trying to get to the bottom of why we gave away more of the American taxpayers' dollars than was necessary or appropriate.
BROWN: All right. Let me go to Eamon on this.
Eamon, we just heard Congressman Issa say that his chairman is calling Geithner, who is a Democrat, by the way, to Capitol Hill to testify.
EAMON JAVERS, POLITICO: Right.
BROWN: You heard Barney Frank, a Democrat, and possibly one of the most influential members of the House on Treasury and banking issues saying that he thinks Geithner needs to answer some questions here. What does that tell you if Democrats are willing to take this on or frankly do you think they really are going to take this on?
JAVERS: Well, you know, that remains to be seen how intense of an effort Democrats make. I'm sure Congressman Issa and fellow Republicans will make a pretty intense run at this. But the question here is, you know, are there holes in the dike of Democratic support here for Secretary Geithner. We don't see a lot but you are right. You know, Barney Frank, who's an important player on the Democratic side did come out and say he finds this issue troubling. But what the folks over at treasury are trying to do is they're trying to put a wall around Tim Geithner on this e-mail issue and say Tim Geithner at the time this happened had already been chosen by Barack Obama to be the next treasury nominee so he recused himself. He said I'm not going to be involved in any decision about any individual company. Therefore, they're saying, he had nothing to do with this particular thing which is handled by lower level aides. They're trying to put a damage control wall around Geithner here on those and really protect him.
BROWN: So let me push you a little bit, Eamon, though. That's what they're saying but, you know, objectively, does it looks like there's anything there?
JAVERS: Well, we don't know. And Congressman Issa has been getting some of those e-mails out. I'd love to see more. I'd love his office to send me some more whatever they have. But, you know, as a reporter, you know, it's our job to investigate and find out. I mean, there are clearly thousands of pages of documents here. There are lots of meetings. There are lots of people who are witnesses to this. We should continue to find out what happened exactly inside the New York Fed at this time.
The New York Fed is saying today that Geithner didn't have any role in this, and so we had to take them on their word unless there's some evidence to indicate otherwise.
BROWN: And let me just finally ask you, Eamon, this isn't the first time Geithner has had to defend himself, you know, from his very initial tax problems to some early missteps at treasury. Does this become a narrative, sort of the hapless Tim Geithner? Or is that unfair? I mean, does it inhabit his ability to be effective as treasury secretary?
JAVERS: Well, it is far too early to start writing the obituary for Tim Geithner here. But you're right, he has had trouble in years. He started off the year with some tax problems. Now we have this thing.
This issue on its own if nothing more comes out beyond what we know right now is probably not enough to cause major political damage for Tim Geithner. The White House is saying that the president has, you know, Geithner's confidence. This is not going to cause Geithner to go away, but these things do cumulatively sort of add up for a major political figure like Geithner and at some point, you know, after 18 months in office or two years in office, you know, he's been there a year, you might see the treasury secretary move on, somebody else would come in. And that would be portrayed as sort of, part of the natural evolution of that job. Treasury secretaries don't stay around for all that long in administrations after all.
BROWN: All right. Congressman Issa, we know you're going to stay on this one. We appreciate your time tonight. And Eamon Javers from Politico as well, thank you very much.
ISSA: We sure will. Thank you, Campbell.
BROWN: High stakes tonight for Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. We got new details for you on the possible late night shakeup at NBC. Stay with us.
BROWN: We have the latest on the possible shakeup of Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. That's up in a few minutes. But first, HLN's Mike Galanos here with tonight's "Download."
MIKE GALANOS, HLN PRIME NEWS: Hey, Campbell. First off, new charges tonight in connection with an alleged plot to detonate weapons of mass destruction that was this past September 11th. Two New York men were arrested today. Both are American citizens. One was born in Afghanistan. Now both have traveled to Pakistan in 2008 with a Denver airport limousine driver also charged in that bomb plot.
Ice, snow, blustery winds are blown across the frigid east coast tonight, and a deep freeze settling into the deep south making highways especially hazardous. Really ice rinks out there. Parts of Florida may endure record low temperatures Saturday and Sunday. People watching oranges, strawberry crops as well through that.
This will turn your stomach. How clean is your favorite convenience store soft drink dispenser?
Well, a new study shows nearly half of the 90 beverages from soda fountain machines around Roanoke and southern Virginia tested positive for coli form bacteria, which is associated with sewage. The study published in the January issue of the "International Journal of Food Microbiology" says many of the beverages from the dispensers fell below U.S. drinking water standards.
Finally this one, check this out. A couple of base jumping daredevils taking a flying leap from the world's tallest building. Look at that, the back flip. That happened today in Dubai. The feat breaks a new record for the highest base jump from a man-made structure, 2,020 feet. The tower just opened for business on Monday. These guys helped christening it in style with a couple of safe landings.
GALANOS: That's amazing.
BROWN: It sure is crazy.
GALANOS: All is well. Yes, thank you. Thank you.
BROWN: Mike Galanos for us tonight. Mike, thanks very much.
GALANOS: Thanks, Campbell.
BROWN: Another story-making headlines, the first couple are at the center of two controversial advertisements much to their surprise and CNN's Ines Ferre has the story for us. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On this busy Manhattan street corner, a bigger than life advertisement that's taken on a life of its own. A photo of President Obama during a visit to the Great Wall of China, with the tag line "A Leader in Style. In the photo, the president is wearing a jacket made by the Weatherproof Garment Company.
The White House never authorized the company to use Obama in its advertisement citing a longstanding policy disapproving of the use of the president's name and likeness for commercial purposes. But the head of Weatherproof is making no apologies.
FREDDIE STOLLMACK, PRESIDENT, WEATHERPROOF: We're very proud of the fact that of all the coats that President Obama could have chosen to wear in China, he chose our best selling coat. We like to think of it as a great depiction of President Obama wearing a weatherproof coat.
FERRE: The company licensed the photo from the "Associated Press," but nonetheless, legal experts say if the White House asked them to take it down, we'll have to do so.
BARBARA SOLOMON, FROSS ZELNICK LEATHERMAN & ZISSU, P.C.: This is a pure commercial appropriation. The first amendment does not really protect somebody who is making purely commercial use with no expressive element. This is an advertisement and nothing but an advertisement.
FERRE: The former president of Perry Ellis says it's a different way to promote a brand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I give them credit for that. You look around it the sea of sameness in most apparel brand advertising, and this is doing something different.
FERRE: And Mrs. Obama is getting her share of advertising attention, too. Recently the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PETA, put out this image of the first lady in their fur-free ad. PETA says the White House politely asked them to stop using the ad, but they say they don't plan to stop telling CNN they're not selling anything but the picture is a public service announcement, not an advertisement.
(on camera): And Weatherproof told us that they've been playing phone tag with the White House. They said if they were asked to take the billboards down, they would. But marketing experts we spoke with say that it's more than served its purpose because of the amount of attention it's gotten.
Ines Ferre, CNN, New York.
BROWN: The question everybody in television asking right now, what will NBC do? We have the latest details on the reported Leno/Conan shakeup for you next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BROWN: Tonight, reports of growing tension in the world of late night TV. Conan O'Brien apparently is not rushing to sign off on a plan to bump his show to midnight and move Jay Leno back into the 11:30 timeslot. This is according "New York Times" which reports the NBC standoff smells like a real opportunity for the network's competitors. Leno himself joked about the possible switcheroo last night. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, HOST: I don't think there's any truth to the rumors. See, it's always in my experience, NBC only cancels you when you're in first place so we're fine.
Actually, you know -- you know, what happened? NBC found four guns in my locker. The Justice Department announced they will conduct an anti-trust review of Comcast proposal deal, you know, the merge with NBC. Yes, yes, yes. Anti-trust review, which is the relationship I have with NBC, anti-trust. There's an anti-trust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Joining me right now, Sharon Waxman, who's editor-in- chief of TheWrap.com. And on the telephone with us is John Ridley who's head writer of "The Wanda Sykes Show" and a very good friend of our show.
Hi to both of you. Sharon, everybody is still buzzing about this. You at The Wrap, you guys are reporting that FOX may actually be interested in Conan. What's the very latest? Tell us what you know.
SHARON WAXMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THEWRAP.COM: Well, that is the very latest and that's a pretty interesting story that FOX is putting out feelers to steal Conan O'Brien. If the plan is to put Jay Leno back at 11:30, and bump Conan to 12:00, as you said earlier, Conan may not be so eager to do that and that may be a real opportunity for FOX to start becoming a player in the late night environment which it has not been. So it's pretty interesting. It's been a crazy, crazy ride for two days actually.
BROWN: John, you know, what's the -- whether Conan would leave NBC. He's been there. He's been part of the late night lineup since 1993. Do you think he'd actually make the jump?
JOHN RIDLEY, FMR. NPR CONTRIBUTOR, SCREENWRITER (via telephone): Well, let me say first, I'm on FOX late night so I don't have any privileged information. But whether he would make the jump, look, at this point, any performer who probably feels like they're sort of the Aaron Rogers of late night TV would probably want to make the jump. The question is can he make the jump? What does his contract look like technically? He's still going to be host of "The Tonight Show." Does he have a no compete clause? So are they going to bench this guy? Are they going to move him back? Are they going to demote him? Again, a lot of people say he's already been demoted. He never really has that time slot. So the question is if he wants to get out, can he get out?
BROWN: So, guys --
WAXMAN: Oh, John, you know how these things get worked out. It's never about contracts. They can't have a reluctant host in that slot who feels like an ulcer, who feels completely dissed this week by the leaking of this. He's been waiting for that slot as everybody knows for years and years. Jeff Zucker finally gave it to him.
He committed to this for a year, for two years. They were saying that as early as this week, I was talking to very senior people at NBC and asking them about Leno. They said, oh, no, they're committed to that two year thing. And lo and behold, literally two days later, it leaks out that they're under such pressure from the affiliates they're going to put Leno back. I mean, Conan just must feel completely dissed.
BROWN: So how -- I mean, how close do you think, Sharon, this is a done deal based on what you're hearing?
WAXMAN: Well, "Access Hollywood," which is an NBC-owned show is talking about it like it's a done deal. And what we're hearing is that this is the plan, but it's not a done deal and has a lot to do with getting the players to sign up. I think that Jay Leno is not going to give them any problems about going back to his old timeslot, but the question is, how does that actually, how does that actually work? It's not a done deal but what they would like to see happen.
BROWN: Let me take a look or have everyone, or share this with our viewers, have everyone take a look. We went back into the TV vault and found this. This is from April of 1993, the first time Jay Leno introduced Conan O'Brien. Take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, HOST: Conan O'Brien. Come on out here. How are you doing?
CONAN O'BRIEN: I'm thrilled. I mean this is, it's something I've wanted to do all my life. I'm ecstatic.
LENO: And like right here tonight is like your first time on TV.
O'BRIEN: Well --
LENO: Well, you know, you know.
LENO: Dave Letterman is a legend here at NBC and if anything's fun to do is replacing legends at NBC.
LENO: Oh, yes.
O'BRIEN: Oh, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Boy, can you believe how baby faced both of them looked.
John, what do you think watching that, kind of ironic, huh?
RIDLEY: Well, it's funny because I remember as a TV writer being on set once when Leno and Letterman, when Leno was actually on Letterman's show, people forget they were really, really good friends. And as you say, Campbell, 17 years ago, NBC went through this exact same consternation when it came to replacing Leno with Letterman in the Johnny Carson slot. So 17 years later, nobody is really learned anything and NBC in about five months is damaged about five or six properties, not only these two guys, "The Tonight Show" fell and prime time space, 10:00 to 11:00 East Coast time.
BROWN: We'll see how they are able to sort all of this out. Everybody certainly watching. High drama in late night. Many thanks, Sharon Waxman, for your reporting on this, and John, to you as well.
We'll be back in a few. "LARRY KING LIVE" is starting in just a few minutes. But up next, Emeril, Rachael, Bobby Flay, tonight's "Guilty Pleasure." It is all about the Food Network. We're going to explain.
BROWN: "LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just a few minutes but first, why some Food Network fanatics are finding themselves in the dark tonight without their favorite celebrity chefs. Kareen Wynter serves up tonight's "Guilty Pleasure."
KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Emeril.
EMERIL LAGASSE, FOOD NETWORK: That's what's on the menu today.
RACHAEL RAY, FOOD NETWORK: You've always got time for a great meal.
WYNTER: And Bobby.
BOBBY FLAY, FOOD NETWORK: I really, really, really wanted to win.
WYNTER: Celebrity chefs of choice for Food Network fanatics like Teresa Padilla who never misses a minute of her favorite cooking shows.
LAGASSE: Oh, wow.
TERESA PADILLA, FOOD NETWORK VIEWER: I've like fallen in love with all the chefs, like they are a part of our lives. It could be anywhere from four to six hours of catching episodes.
WYNTER: But this upstate New York stay-at-home mom was left with a sour taste when she recently tuned in to the popular cable channel --
PADILLA: I am so angry.
WYNTER: And saw this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scripps decided to pull its channels effectively holding its viewers hostage.
WYNTER: A programming message that the Food Network Channel had been yanked off her local cable system.
PADILLA: That recording just goes right through me. We pay for cable. We're customers. You know, we -- I just think that in this day and age, they're making a decision for us.
WYNTER: Padilla isn't the only Cablevision subscriber fuming. Countless cooking fans have been sounding off online over the contract dispute between Cablevision and Scripps networks.
FLAY: Carrots and mango.
WYNTER: Scripps pulled the Food Network and HGTV off Cablevision after midnight New Year's Eve when neither side could agree on distribution rates. Three million subscribers like Padilla were left without their foodie fix. And the company's released dueling statements with Cablevision saying, quote, "Scripps Networks pulled its channels off Cablevision, we didn't. We have called upon Scripps Networks to put the channels back on while we negotiate, but they have refused."
BROOKE JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, "THE FOOD NETWORK": We are asking Cablevision to agree to the same thing that all of our other distribution partners have agreed to, which is a marked adjustment in recognition of the enormous increase in the popularity of Food Network.
RAY: Give that a little shoosh (ph).
WYNTER (on camera): In this changing landscape where some networks are now demanding bigger payments from cable systems, industry experts say more and more customers are looking for alternatives like Dish Network or DirecTV.
(voice-over): Meantime, this Food Network junkie is still feeding her habit.
PADILLA: It makes me feel better, but this is another thing that I've resorted to just to get a fix from it.
WYNTER: For now, Padilla says catching her favorite chefs on a mini screen will have to do. But she can't wait for the sweet sounds of her cooking partners.
RAY: Hey, guys, welcome back.
WYNTER: To echo again inside her home.
Kareen Wynter, CNN, Hollywood.
BROWN: That's it for us. "LARRY KING" right now.