Return to Transcripts main page


Egypt Standoff Continues; Hosni Mubarak's Fortune

Aired February 7, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Deb Feyerick, thanks very much.

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

Happening now: a death in Egypt and the video that went viral around the world. We have tracked down the woman who taped it, and they share -- they share their chilling story with us, the woman -- women, I should say, who found it.

Also, the billionaire president. If Hosni Mubarak leaves his poverty-stricken country, will his fortune go with him?

And journalists recounting their nightmare in an Egyptian jail and the screams of beating victims that still haunt them.

We have breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following all the latest developments this hour in Egypt, where the standoff continues, with protesters insisting they won't leave Cairo's Liberation Square until Hosni Mubarak goes. But President Mubarak isn't budging either.

Our senior international correspondent-, Nic Robertson, is joining us now from Cairo. He's joining us live.

First of all, Nic, a leading Google executive picked up by Egyptian police almost two weeks ago has now been released. We just got the tweet from Google, a huge relief. Wael Ghonim has been released. Our love to him and his family.

Tell us what we know about this.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when he was released as well everybody became aware of it when he treated, "Freedom is blessed." And that was really the indication that he was out of jail after 12 days in detention.

He was last tweeting on his way to Tahrir Square the 26th of January, one day after the big protests began. And now he's been freed. He's been freed with the help of the new head of the National Democratic Party here, who is seen as a reformer. But such is the feeling of Mr. Wael -- of Wael Ghonim is that he said, I won't be happy until this man has left that office. He believes that the National Democratic Party, the party of Hosni Mubarak, should be finished and should be ended. So clearly 12 days in government lockup has done nothing to take the edge off of what he feels.

But he gave a very emotional interview on local television here. He was in tears at one point. He has revealed that he was the site administrator behind the Facebook page that helped drive and generate this 100,000 signatures of people who would come out and join the protests on January the 25th, when everything began.

And he was crying because he said, I didn't want word to come out of this while I was in jail. He said, I didn't want to be -- I didn't want to appear as a hero. This is the work of the youth, the youth on the Internet in Egypt, so a very emotional moment, but the realization of a lot of people that this senior Google executive who has been locked up here by the government for the past 12 days has played a major, major role in helping organize this -- the demonstrations on the 25th of January that have led to everything else we have seen since -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's encouraging, although I suspect there are still others being detained by Egypt's secret police.

You are now in Cairo. Nic, you were in Alexandria. We were watching and listening to your riveting reports from Alexandria last week. You have got some fresh eyes now Cairo. Give us your impression of what's going on in Cairo right now on this day, lots of uncertainty still.

ROBERTSON: You have sort of tighter checkpoints around the city than ever than were two or three weeks ago.

But the other thing that you notice now is this country is sort of picking up a more normal rhythm. There are lines at the banks. People have been going to the gas stations. The roads are busy. One of the things about Cairo that I have heard from -- from my CNN colleagues is that while all the trouble has been going on, the roads have been relatively empty.

Well, we drove back in to the city today down busy highways from Alexandria and the roads are jammed in the middle of Cairo. So, Cairo away from Tahrir Square is -- really feels as if it's picking up and you do get the sense that this is getting into a long-term dialogue stalemate, standoff between the government and the protesters at the moment.

And, meanwhile, a large percentage of the rest of the population here is really going back to work, as we have seen, and getting on with their daily lives, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, thanks very much. We will check back with you.

Hosni Mubarak isn't just Egypt's president. He's also one of the world's wealthiest men, amassing a fortune while he has ruled a country racked by poverty. And that raises this serious question. When and if he goes, what happens to all that money?

Lisa Sylvester is here. She's looking into this.

I got a lot of tweets on Twitter, at my Twitter account, WolfBlitzerCNN, over the past week: Check into the money. Follow the money, Mubarak's money. A lot of outrage, Egyptians especially. So, we asked to you take a closer look and tell us what you discovered.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is an issue that certainly has resonated with a lot of people. They have a lot of questions.

And we got to say we don't know exactly how much Mubarak has in bank accounts, real estate and other investments, but we do know that President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons are all billionaires. And now, as you mentioned, Wolf, the question is if, and it's a big if, but if he steps down, what happens to his personal fortune?


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Protesters gathering outside a home in London owned by son Gamal Mubarak not only want to see the family guy. They want billions they allege the Mubarak family stole from the country.

Academic experts who have studied the Mubarak regime for decades say along with money tucked away in Swiss and British bank accounts, Mubarak and his two sons reportedly own sprawling mansions, penthouses and vacation homes.

AMANEY JAMAL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: The portfolios themselves are not probably all in Hosni Mubarak's name. They're scattered across several countries. You -- I think if you are not his personal accountant at this time, it's really hard to really know where things stand.

SYLVESTER (on camera): According to Princeton University Professor Jamal and other prominent Middle Eastern experts, Mubarak's net worth is estimated to be between $25 billion to $40 billion, and it could be as high as $75 billion.

To put that into context, the average Egyptian's income is only about $6,200. And one-fifth of the country, according to the United Nations, makes only about $1 a day.

(voice-over): That's part of what's fueling all of the rage you see on the streets.

MICHAEL RUBIN, RESIDENT SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, the question of Hosni Mubarak's assets is a real time bomb. Right now, the Egyptians just want Hosni Mubarak out. What worries me is that any of these political factions are going to try to play the nationalist card. They're going to try to do that by determining a wedge issue. And a safe wedge issue is repatriating Hosni Mubarak's money.


SYLVESTER: Now, we reached out to the Egyptian Embassy asking for a response, but they have yet to get back with us.

And one of the reasons why they -- the Mubarak family was able to amass such a fortune is because Egyptian laws are actually written in a way to financially favor the current regime, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Even if it's only -- only -- $25 billion, this is an individual who was an air force commander. Then he became vice president under Anwar Sadat. And then he took over, became president after Sadat was assassinated. So he amassed billions and billions of dollars in a personal fortune while he served as president of Egypt; is that what I'm hearing?

SYLVESTER: That's right. And now people want to know where that money is, but tracking it down may be difficult. And there's this whole question, is this actually illegal?

And I asked the Professor Jamal with Princeton University that question. She said that's a little bit tricky because, keep in mind, they did have Egyptian laws on the books which actually allowed the regime to amass this current fortune, which, as you said, on the low end, $25 billion, on the high end, possibly $40 billion, even -- possibly even $70 billion, one report said.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Lisa, thanks very, very much.

All right, let's go to Jack.

Presidential approval ratings, Jack, I take it that is on your mind right now.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Among other things, correct.

President Obama has the most polarized approval ratings for a second-year president since Dwight Eisenhower.

A new Gallup Poll shows 81 percent of Democrats, 13 percent of Republicans approved of the job Mr. Obama was doing as president during his second year in office.

This 68-point gap is up from a 65-point gap during President Obama's first year. That also was a record.

Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are the only other presidents who had gaps of at least 50 points between party approvals by their second year in office.

Now, this isn't to say that Mr. Obama is the most polarizing president ever. Nay, nay. That award goes to President George W. Bush. He had three years in office with a gap in party ratings that topped 70 points.

But Bush's earlier years in office were less polarizing mostly due to the widespread support he got right after the 9/11 attacks.

As for President Obama, he arrived in Washington full of talk about unity and bipartisanship. And his initial approval ratings were among the highest for any post-World War II president. But he quickly lost most of the Republican support, while maintaining high marks from Democrats.

It's worth pointing out, too, that this just isn't about President Obama. Our country seems to get more polarized every year on just about everything. On average, nearly all of the presidents since Reagan have more polarized ratings than those that came before Reagan.

And we can probably thank hyper-partisan news on cable, the Internet, and talk radio for some of the growing divide.

Anyhoo, here's the question: Why is President Obama such a polarizing figure?

Go to Give us your thoughts.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Thanks very much.

A living nightmare in an Egyptian jail. We're going to hear from journalists from around the world who were detained and are now haunted by what they saw and heard while in an Egyptian jail.

Also, lots of questions about the evolving U.S. policy on Egypt and the unrest. We're going to put some of those questions to the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley. He's live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Sarah Palin is speaking out about Egypt as well -- details of what she's saying and who she is criticizing.


BLITZER: When Egyptian authorities started detaining journalists from around the world, the government inadvertently shined a spotlight on the country's notorious jails and the chilling abuses that happen inside.

CNN's Brian Todd is working this part of the story for us.

And it's chilling, indeed, Brian. What are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, many of the journalists who have been treated the worst are those from Egyptian news services or other Arab outlets. As for the others, some are just now getting the chance to describe their detention after spending days trying to get to safety.


TODD (voice-over): They have been beaten, harassed, threatened and now some journalists are giving the first real detail of their experiences in Egyptian custody. Two print reporters have written an account of their detention after they were stopped at a checkpoint in Cairo.

(on camera): I'm on the phone Souad Mekhennet from "The New York Times." She and her colleague Nicholas Kulish were detained during the height of the unrest by the Egyptian secret police. We are asked not to reveal her location out of concern for her security.

Souad, can you tell us, when you were taken to the secret police facility, were you blindfolded, were you mistreated?

SOUAD MEKHENNET, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": No, at the beginning we were not blindfolded. We were -- actually it was the army who handed us over to the intelligence service.

And what happened then was that someone from the intelligence service asked the army officer to leave, and they started to search our luggage and our stuff. And then my colleague, Nicholas Kulish, and I were taken for interrogation separately. We were in two separate rooms.

TODD (voice-over): Mekhennet and Kulish write about hearing dull whacks and screams for much of the night. At one point, Mekhennet says she could hear the jailers speaking to a man who she believes had been in Tahrir Square.

MEKHENNET: The people told him, well, you're a traitor. You were -- you talked to journalists and you spoke badly about your country. And the man answered, no, I love my country and I just wanted to tell the truth. And we could hear how they were beating him up and how he was screaming.

TODD: Mekhennet says she and her colleagues were not physically abused, but during her interrogation, she had a question for an official.

MEKHENNET: After half-an-hour, I asked him, I said, well, I would like to know, where are we? And he said, you are nowhere, and was smiling.

TODD: They were released the next morning. Separately, officials from Radio Free Europe tell us two of their journalists had a very similar experience, and one of them was beaten.

FRANK SMYTH, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: Clearly the government is attempting to eliminate witnesses to the unrest that is occurring on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere. It is clearly a government policy to try and silence the press.


TODD: We tried several times to reach officials at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington to respond to these specific accounts.

Despite our repeated calls and e-mails, we have heard nothing back. Now, in recent days, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. has called the overall treatment of journalists deplorable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It was -- certainly was deplorable.

Let's talk a little bit about what's happening right now, Brian. Are you seeing any evidence that Egypt's security forces are changing their policies right now? Are they easing up?

TODD: Not really easing up, Wolf, but they're kind of changing the way they are approaching journalists on the streets. Now, this is according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which says that in recent days, Egyptian forces in some cases have tried to prevent journalists from even getting to the streets, detaining them, forcing them to stay in their hotel rooms, taking away their credentials.

And they have also told us that right now, it's the Egyptian military, rather than the plainclothes police, that are most responsible for detaining journalists, confiscating their equipment. So that tactic has shifted from the secret police in plainclothes to the military now doing it. That's according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

BLITZER: We applaud, of course, all the journalists who are risking their lives right now under dangerous circumstances to bring us the news.

Brian, thanks very, very much.

They're among the most disturbing images to come out of the uprising until now. We're about to hear from the woman who recorded a death in Egypt. Stand by.

And a former U.S. president suddenly cancels an overseas trip. Was it because of possible legal action?



BLITZER: A death in Egypt caught on tape and a video that went viral around the world. We are going to get the story behind it from the women who recorded it.

Also, Sarah Palin slamming the Obama administration and the president himself over the crisis in Egypt -- details of what she is saying.

And when does the U.S. think President Hosni Mubarak should go? Should it be in September? Should it be earlier? I will ask that and more questions to the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley. He's standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We want to warn our viewers that the next story contains some disturbing images of a death in Egypt and the equally disturbing story behind it. Once again, here is CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): It is 2:28 in the afternoon January 28. This man is walking to his death. The video went viral, but we wanted to know more. Who was he and who recorded his last moments?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were like, what the hell is he doing? He shouldn't be doing this, because the situation doesn't look that good.

ROBERTSON: Speaking out for the first time, two young women who videoed the killing. They're afraid to be identified.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He did nothing. He was -- he had nothing. He was like, I have nothing in my hands.

ROBERTSON (on camera): He had nothing in his hands?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And he was doing that in the video.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even he didn't have stones or something like the other protesters. So, it was not a -- he was not a threat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is when they started shooting the tear...

ROBERTSON: Ah, the tear gas.

(voice-over): They show me photographs they took from the same balcony.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see here an injured man.


ROBERTSON (on camera): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were like putting him on a lowering -- or on a truck to take him to hospital.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In the hour before the man is shot, the streets around their building become a battleground, rock-throwing protesters facing off with police.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These were the police.

ROBERTSON (on camera): And here you can -- we have got riot shields, batons here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's here throwing the rocks that the protesters are throwing at...

ROBERTSON: Yes, as he is bending -- the policeman here is bending down to pick up a rock.


ROBERTSON: And that's a policeman with a tear gas...


ROBERTSON (voice-over): The situation deteriorates. Police arrive with rifles.

(on camera): No, that's a proper gun.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think it's a proper gun.

ROBERTSON: It is a proper gun, yes, a rifle. And he's pointing it at the protesters.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Not long after, the man begins his walk up the street.

(on camera): What it appears on the videotape is that he's standing on one corner, and the gunmen are literally just across the road.

Is that what -- that's what...


ROBERTSON: So they were just, what, a few yards away from him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, not that far, a few yards.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They -- the man shot him first, but it didn't get through -- through him. But the second one, I think he -- he zoomed in his face because he was like standing like that. And...

ROBERTSON: So the man who shot him took very careful aim?


ROBERTSON (voice-over): When we go to the same street corner today, it's still tense, so we use a tiny camera.

(on camera): This is where the man was standing when he was shot. The gunman was just across...

(voice-over): Our hidden camera breaks up as I count the paces across the road.

(on camera): Seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, oh, about 12 paces away, about 12 yards away. He had a clear line of sight, an unobstructed view of his target just over there.

(voice-over): What the women's cell phone camera doesn't show so well is the crowd cheering him on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The protesters got encouraged, because he was standing right there, and they didn't do anything, the -- the police. So, they were encouraged. So, they were about to go there to him and protest. And that's why they shot him.

ROBERTSON: They tell me they hold President Mubarak and the police responsible. They want justice for the man whose name they still don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel sympathy to him, his family. I don't know. I just feel like I need to get back his rights. That's it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like for his rights to get back. For him and his family, you know? He deserves it. He did nothing for it. It's so unfair.

ROBERTSON: The neighbor videoed the body being carried away by other protesters. In the chaos, no record of where he went.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Alexandria, Egypt.


BLITZER: Let's bring in State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. That's a disturbing, disturbing story. Is the U.S. government familiar with this particular case?

P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I can't say that we are. It's entirely possible our embassy is. It's a dramatic and powerful and disturbing video. That's why the president said last night that Egypt cannot go back to its old ways. The suppression of the people is the thing of the past. They now have to move forward and construct a different relationship.

BLITZER: Have you seen any evidence that they -- you've been saying that for years, the State Department has for decades, and we haven't seen any change.

CROWLEY: But there is a different dynamic in the Middle East, and there's a clear opportunity here for both the government and the people to move in a different direction. There are meetings going on. There's some contacts between the government and official figures. That has to broaden. Most importantly this process has to yield concrete actions that convince the Egyptian people that change is on the way.

BLITZER: Well, have you seen any evidence over the past few days that change is on the way?

CROWLEY: It's early in the process and there's much more that the government needs to do.

BLITZER: So the answer is no? CROWLEY: Well, but look at what the military did last week, in standing between various reporting factions. So the government is beginning...

BLITZER: Forget about the military. What about the police?

CROWLEY: The police have been responsible for some very significant violence. The military stepped in to help stabilize the situation. But clearly the government has to do more. Clearly, the government has to take concrete actions that lead to...

BLITZER: Are you confident that they -- are you confident that they will let journalists, not just American journalists, but journalists around the world, including from the Arab world, do their job?

CROWLEY: We've made that clear to the Egyptian government at the highest levels from the president to the secretary on down that this kind of attacks on journalists and other citizens...

BLITZER: Human rights activists?

CROWLEY: Absolutely right.

BLITZER: And Egyptians.

CROWLEY: It has to stop.

BLITZER: But I guess let me just repeat the question. Has it stopped?


BLITZER: That's a fair answer. Do you want President Mubarak to stay in office until the next scheduled elections in September?

CROWLEY: You know, it's not important what we think. It's important what the Egyptian...

BLITZER: It's very important what the United States government thinks.

CROWLEY: Wolf, these are decisions to be made in Egypt. There is a process under way, and it will be -- and we're not going to dictate what roles particular peer (ph) persons...

BLITZER: Because I'm confused.

CROWLEY: ... including President Mubarak.

BLITZER: I'm confused what the president wants right now as far as President Mubarak, because I heard the special envoy, Frank Wisner, a retired U.S. diplomat, say he wants President Mubarak to stay until September.

CROWLEY: Well, you're personalizing this like a political campaign. What we want free, fair, competitive and credible elections. Now there's a process that needs to take place to get there. The role that Mubarak or others within the government, that's a decision to be made inside Egypt and not for us to dictate.

BLITZER: You want stability leading up to the elections. And I guess the question is, will it be a more stable environment with President Mubarak as president or someone else?

CROWLEY: Well, the answer to that is in Tahrir Square. The answer to that is not in Washington, D.C. The people will decide whether the process that goes forward is credible enough and delivers real change for them.

BLITZER: If Mubarak were, tomorrow or next week or a month from now, to say, "You know what? I'm going to go to Sharm El Sheikh. I've got a summer home or a winter home over there in the southern tip of Sinai." Or "I'm going to go to Germany and get my annual medical examination there," do you want the vice president, Omar Suleiman, to be in charge?

CROWLEY: Again, those are Egyptian decisions not ours. What we want is a process, and whoever is participating in this process has to yield concrete results for the Egyptian people.

BLITZER: So you're not going to say about Omar Suleiman? You want it to be vague?

CROWLEY: This is not -- these are not our decisions. We don't have a favorite horse in this race. We want to see a process; we want to be inclusive.

Now there are some people who have been invited into the dialogue that has already started. Those invitations need to broaden. That participation needs to broaden. Ultimately, what figures emerge from this process to both run the transition or lead up and run for the elections, not our decision.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. government speaking to representatives as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?



CROWLEY: We have concerns about the Brotherhood, but we're going to wait and see what -- what they do in this process. We have questions about whether they are committed to a peaceful democratic process, but we'll have the opportunity to see what they do.

BLITZER: Because you regard Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organizations, right?

CROWLEY: You're talking about our contact...

BLITZER: The State Department. But is it the same as far as the Muslim Brotherhood is concerned? CROWLEY: Well, the Muslim Brotherhood is a fact of life in Egypt. They have signed on to this process. We'll see what they do.

BLITZER: Well, I guess the question is why not speak to them if they're not considered a terrorist organization? They do -- they do have sizable support.

CROWLEY: But, again, what's important now is there is a dialogue between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government and other opposition figures. That's the conversation that does need to take place for Egypt going forward.

BLITZER: If Egypt has fair elections, should the Muslim Brotherhood be allowed to run or should it be banned?

CROWLEY: Again, these are -- these are...

BLITZER: What does the U.S. think?

CROWLEY: These are decisions to be made inside Egypt. It's not for us to dictate who runs, who wins. That's not our role. We will advise the Egyptians on how to move forward. We'll offer technical assistance on how to develop real political parties in the process at least for a competitive election. You know, we want to see...

BLITZER: But just to be precise on the Muslim Brotherhood, Washington, the State Department has instructed U.S. diplomats in Cairo. You cannot speak to the Muslim Brotherhood...

CROWLEY: That is our standing position. We have not changed our position.

BLITZER: And it doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon?

CROWLEY: We'll see.

BLITZER: If a new Egyptian government were to emerge and it broke or repudiated, ruptured the peace treaty with Israel, what would happen as far as U.S./Egyptian relations would be concerned?

CROWLEY: Well, that would be a mistake. We think this has been a cornerstone of stability in the Middle East, and we think that the Egyptian government will recognize -- the future government will recognize this is important to Egypt; it's important to the region. It's fundamental to our relationship with Egypt.

BLITZER: Would the U.S. sever military aid to Egypt?

CROWLEY: Again, you're asking a hypothetical question. We think at the end of the day that Egypt will recognize how important this is.

BLITZER: You believe that they will maintain the peace treaty with Israel?

CROWLEY: We do. BLITZER: Right now, the U.S. gives Egypt, what, about a billion or a billion and a half dollars a year in military assistance? But you've known, I've read the State Department human rights reports for years, and every year it's the same. Violations of basic human rights, arrests, torture. All of that kind of stuff is documented, but it doesn't seem to have ever had an impact in terms of reducing U.S. military aid to Egypt.

CROWLEY: Well, again, we have assistance. We have relationships that serve our interests. We have...

BLITZER: And those trump the human rights interests?

CROWLEY: Well, but Wolf, you saw last week the constructive role that the military played in separating the pro-government and protesters in Tahrir Square. This is a professional military.

Now we do have concerns about certain activities in Egypt. We've never hesitated to raise those concerns. But the aid, we believe, serves our national interest. As we've said, as things go forward, if we have concerns about how our assistance is being used, we won't hesitate to review that. But right now there's no reviewing.

BLITZER: And one final question: was it a mistake to use Frank Wisner as the special envoy in delivering a message from the president to President Mubarak?

CROWLEY: We thought that Frank Wisner was uniquely qualified to deliver a very candid, very sharp message to President Mubarak and then make sure that message was...

BLITZER: And the suggestion that his business contacts as a senior executive or adviser of Patton Boggs (ph), which has a lot of business relations in Egypt, is that a conflict as far as the State Department is concerned?

CROWLEY: We gave him a very specific mission. We're grateful that he did it. He brought back his perspective on the current situation, and now he's back to being a private citizen.

BLITZER: No regrets using it?

CROWLEY: Not at all.

BLITZER: Will you use him again?

CROWLEY: We'll see.

BLITZER: P.J. Crowley, thanks very much. Good luck.

CROWLEY: OK. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tough story. Tough issue. But it's mostly tough for the people of Egypt, as we all know right now.

Sarah Palin is criticizing the White House response to the unrest in Egypt. She's not alone. Stay with us.


BLITZER: The former Alaska governor, possible presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is speaking out about Egypt right now. Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here. She's working the story for us. What is she saying?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, she is very critical of the White House, Wolf. You might not be surprised in their handling of Egypt. She didn't weigh in until speaking to David Brody on his show, "The Brody File," which airs on the Christian Broadcasting Network, and she rifted on the 3 a.m. phone call ad that we all remember from the 2008 campaign.


SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: This is the 3 a.m. White House phone call, and it seems for many of us trying to get that information from our leader in the White House, it seems that that call went right to the answering machine. And nobody yet has -- nobody yet has explained to the American public what they know -- and surely they know more than the rest of us know -- who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak.

And, no, not -- not real enthused about what it is that is being done on a national level from D.C. in regards to understanding all of the situation there in Egypt.


YELLIN: Well, at the White House Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, was asked about Sarah Palin's comments, and he said this.


GIBBS: I've got to tell you: I read that answer several times, and I -- I still don't really know what -- I still don't really know what she said.


YELLIN: Wolf, no love lost there.

BLITZER: Some other potential Republican presidential candidates, what are they saying about the president's strategy in Egypt?

YELLIN: A number of them have weighed in. Former speaker Newt Gingrich was scathing in his criticism, saying that the president hasn't prosecuted the war on terror enough. Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, they say the administration got off on the right foot to begin with, although Romney says the president did correct himself.

Maybe the most interesting was from Mike Huckabee, who expressed some sympathy for Mubarak and then openly worried that the U.S. backing away from Mubarak could send other allies the message that the U.S. could back away from them. In Huckabee's words, quote, "when it comes to difficulties and troubles a nation might face."

So plenty of criticism from the other side.

BLITZER: Why should we not be surprised?

YELLIN: Right.

BLITZER: This is politics.

YELLIN: Politics.

BLITZER: OK. Thanks. Thanks, Jessica.

Senator Lindsey Graham, by the way, will be among the guests on "JOHN KING USA" later tonight. He'll weigh in on Sarah Palin's comments. "JOHN KING USA" starts right at the top of the hour after THE SITUATION ROOM.

Egypt certainly has taken the focus off another world hot spot. We're talking about North Korea. But you're about to get a firsthand glimpse at my recent journey there.


BLITZER: In less than two hours, representatives from North and South Korea will meet for what's being called working-level military talks, colonels from both sides starting the discussions. These are the first talks since the showdown in December when I traveled to North Korea with Governor Bill Richardson.

It was a tense time, and many were calling the Korean Peninsula the most dangerous place on earth. I've just completed a one-hour documentary on the trip. Here's a little piece of it.


BLITZER (voice-over): We land in North Korea late in the afternoon on Thursday, December 16. I have no idea this is going to be the strangest journey of my life.

The North Koreans take us into a room and confiscate our passports and cell phones.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: It's an eerie feeling. It's like you're stepping into the '50s, into a city with old cars, very cold. It's like Dr. Strangelove.

BLITZER: One of the first things you can't help but notice: the propaganda murals everywhere. Huge pictures of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-Sung, and his son, the current leader, Kim Jong-Il, all over the place, almost at every corner. But we don't see any pictures of the new heir apparent, Kim Jong-Il's youngest son, Kim Jong-Un.

We head to the foreign ministry.. RICHARDSON: This will be our first meeting where we try to ease tensions.

BLITZER (on camera): Ease tensions? Easier said than done.

(voice-over) That morning Richardson has his first meeting with North Korean officials. This one would with Ri Yong Ho, the new vice minister who's their expert on the United States. CNN is allowed in at the start of the meeting but then asked to leave.

(on camera) Governor, how did it go?

RICHARDSON: Well, it was a decent start. Both sides are feeling each other out.

BLITZER (voice-over): This journey is nothing if not surreal. In the morning, meetings that could make the difference between war and peace. In the afternoon, our North Korean handlers, all of whom are very polite and speak English well, take us sightseeing.

(on camera) We're on top of the world's tallest stone tower here overlooking Pyongyang. It really is majestic. You see what's going on. You see the river and you see the bitter cold, the freezing snow.

(voice-over) Our first full day in Pyongyang. But the next day will be critical. Richardson will be meeting with North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, the man who invited him to visit this country, just as tensions on the Korean Peninsula are mounting.

(on camera) The whole world is watching right now. One miscalculation could cause a full-scale war.


BLITZER: All this week we're going to be showing you parts of this amazing journey. Please be sure to tune in this Saturday, 6 p.m. Eastern, for my full one-hour documentary, "Six Days in North Korea." I think you're going to want to see it.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next. Then the star-spangled blunder seen and heard around the world.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "Why is President Obama such a polarizing figure?" From the second year in office, the most polarizing president since Dwight Eisenhower.

Michelle writes, "I blame the right-wing media for throwing chaos into the mix by pumping the public with lies and manipulated information. I believe fear is their motive, fear of this new guy who threatens to work for the middle and lower classes, and best of all is the fear of the color of his skin. I really don't know how these people sleep at night."

Paula writes from Oregon, "President Obama's polarizing effects easily explained by the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of Republicans and right-wing media blowhards expected Obama to clean up Bush's mess within 20 months. The remainder, like Limbaugh and Beck, expected it in 20 minutes."

Seth writes, "Egocentric attitude on display. His answer to Bill O'Reilly's question yesterday, asking what was the worst thing about his job as president. Instead of the obvious: visiting wounded soldiers, meeting the parents of soldiers killed in action, et cetera, he said it was being in a bubble where he couldn't do things like have a regular conversation because everything he says is analyzed, critiqued, reviewed, et cetera. Self-absorption is a polarizing characteristic."

Paul writes, "I think the majority of Americans are center right. I believe most people don't agree with President Obama's policies. The direction he would like to take the country is not in step with what most Americans think is the right direction."

David in Phoenix, Arizona: "I don't think he is polarizing. I think FOX News makes him out to be."

Richard in Kansas: "Because he's an intelligent black man who also represents the changing demographics and cultural identity of the country. And that scares he hell out of a lot of white people."

And Marge in Vancouver writes, "It's not that President Obama's polarizing. It's that the country is bipolar. Republicans, Democrats, Christian right, everyone else. People who like Sarah Palin, people with brains, kids who are naughty, kids who are nice. If Santa Claus was in the Oval Office, his poll numbers would be evenly split."

If you want to read more on the subject, go to the blog:

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you. See you tomorrow

Super Bowl viewers saw more than a fiercely fought game. They saw companies spending millions of dollars on commercials. We'll have a sample of that coming up.


BLITZER: Super Sunday not so super for some. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She cares more about her bowl than the Super Bowl, but the pug is a million-dollar winner. Biggest loser besides the Steelers was Christina Aguilera. Her national anthem bombed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was offended that she couldn't get the words right.

MOOS: The pug luckily had no speaking lines. Doritos invited folks to make their own commercials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want a Dorito?

MOOS: This one featured a guy teasing a pug through a glass door.

(on camera) The budget for the pug commercial, $500. The prize, a million bucks.

(voice-over) The pug ad tied with a Budweiser ad for the most popular Super Bowl commercial, according to the "USA Today" ad meter. The creators just got engaged the other day, and the dog belongs to a friend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her name is Oko Nono.

MOOS (on camera): Oko Nono because she misbehaves and has to be told no, no so often that she thinks it's her name.

(voice-over) Now these two film-school grads have made their names. They'll use the million-dollar prize for their wedding and film projects. And for the pug.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some bling. We've got to pimp out the pooch.

MOO: But Christina Aguilera is the one in the doghouse for not singing the correct words, the ones on your screen.

CHRISTINA AGUILERA, SINGER (singing): What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last gleaming.

MOOS (on camera): She may have forgotten the words this time, but she used to know them. And here's the proof.

(voice-over) Eleven-year-old Christina at a hockey game got through the line that all these years later tripped her up. But hey, lots of folks get stuck on the ramparts.

Michael Bolton got over a million views on YouTube after he resorted to notes on his hand to get through the very same line.

MICHAEL BOLTON, SINGER (singing): ... was so gallantly streaming.

MOOS: This boy at a basketball game was another casualty of the ramparts.

At least Aguilera kept going and later apologized for getting caught up in the moment and losing her place. Some may criticize her... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's pretty disrespectful for this country.

MOOS (on camera): So you know the words?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course I know the words.

MOOS (voice-over): But even with a little prodding...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): What so proudly we hailed and the...

(SPEAKING) Oh, no, I just messed up on TV!

MOOS: At least in this country, we're free. Free to blow it.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



BLITZER: That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.