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THE SITUATION ROOM
Boeing Recommends 737 Inspections; President Obama Launches Re- election Bid; Role of Big Money in 2012 Campaign; Rebels: Gadhafi Troops Surrounded; Gadhafi Family Feud; 9/11 Suspects to Face Military Tribunal; Radioactive Water Dumped into Pacific; Massive E-mail Hack Sparks Worry; Shuttle Launched Delayed; Reports: Museum Painting Attacked
Aired April 4, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Brooke.
Happening now, Libyan rebels claim to have Gadhafi forces circled in an important oil town. We'll take you to the front lines.
Also, we'll look at how any truce deal or even a leadership transition may be up to Gadhafi's sons if they can stop fighting among themselves.
In a stunning shift, the Obama administration gives up on the idea of civilian trials for the admitted 9/11 mastermind and other suspects at GITMO.
And a huge rip in a plane leads to some terrifying moments on a Southwest airliner. Now breaking news, as Boeing recommends new inspections on its 737 jets.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
They lack weapons, training and manpower, but Libyan forces say they now have Gadhafi forces surrounded in one key oil town. And that's apparently without the help of any NATO strikes in the area for more than 24 hours.
Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, spent the days on the front line near Al Brega.
He's joining us now live from Eastern Libya with the latest.
What is the latest -- Ben?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we saw today, Wolf, was that the -- the rebel forces do seem to be a little better organized. And I think more than anything, the loyalist forces within Brega are beginning to feel the effects of two weeks of the no-fly zone, of the fact that their supply lines, which stretch several hundred miles back to the west, are being fairly constantly harassed by NATO aircraft. Now, I did speak to a commander of the opposition forces in the area of Brega and he said in the last 24 hours, there have been no NATO air strikes in that area. But they do detect that the Gadhafi forces inside Brega are running low on ammunition, low on supplies and basically feeling the heat. This despite the fact, as you said, they don't have much in the way of air cover.
The anti-Gadhafi forces remain fairly undisciplined, lightly armed, certainly compared to the people on the other side, the Gadhafi forces.
But it seems that the cumulative effect of these -- the no-fly zone is beginning to be felt in the area of Brega, one commander telling me that as early as this evening -- although now it's almost midnight here -- or within the next 24 hours, Brega will fall to the opposition forces.
But they've made predictions like that before and they haven't come true. So we'll have to see.
But certainly, we did see the rebel forces finally really making a sustained push to try to oust the loyalist forces from Brega -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Is it weather or is it another factor, based on what you're seeing, that has these NATO strike forces, these NATO attack planes, not very visible, at least on this day?
WEDEMAN: It certainly isn't weather, because today was a clear and almost cloudless day in this area. The weather has been very good now for the last four or five days. Back before that, there was a day of intense sandstorm. But by and large, weather is not the problem.
The possibility could be that some of the rebels are apparently ensconced in the refinery itself, which makes it a very dangerous target for any sort of air strike. Some of the commanders in the area -- the rebel commanders -- are saying, also, that the Gadhafi forces are among houses where there are still civilians living. So there's the possibility that if there were air strikes, they would lead to civilian casualties -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Which is, of course, what happened over the weekend, Ben. Some -- some -- some of the opposition civilian casualties were killed in one of these NATO air strikes. And I suspect,, based on what I'm hearing here in Washington, that some NATO planners are now a little gun shy. They want to avoid any so-called collateral damage, killing innocent civilians.
What's the reaction on this date to what happened with those civilians who were killed by one of those NATO planes?
WEDEMAN: by and large, it's been fairly muted. Even up there -- I was at the spot that was hit in that NATO air strike. They've set up a sort of small graveyard for those who were killed in that area. But there's no real anger and bitterness against NATO itself.
Some of the fighters say it may be the fault of their own people, who were firing in the air in celebration over the fact that they had made some advances in that area. And that was what alerted the NATO air -- airplanes in the area to strike them. So it's not at all clear.
But by and large, from Benghazi, we're hearing expressions of regret, but understanding that it happened. There really isn't much anger at NATO on the ground for this incident despite the loss of rebel life, as well as civilians.
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman on the scene for us in Eastern Libya.
We'll stay in close touch.
If there is to be a truce in Libya or even a change at the top, the Libyan leader's sons are likely to play a key role in any developments. But that may be complicated by a Gadhafi family feud.
Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story for us.
And it's fascinating, potentially, what could happen.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. But from all accounts, the Gadhafi brothers are not going to remind anyone any time soon of a tight political clan like the Kennedys. And now, reports of a possible cease-fire deal being floated by aloof Moammar Gadhafi's sons is raising a lot of questions about how this civil war might end.
TODD: (voice-over): They're said to be among Moammar Gadhafi's closest confidantes.
Are any of his seven sons now brokering a deal for his departure?
Sources close to the Libyan leadership tell CNN's Nic Robertson political solutions to this conflict are still possible and may involve Moammar Gadhafi handing power to others in his inner circle in exchange for a cease-fire. Those sources say his second son, Saif al- Islam Gadhafi, would play an important role in any transition.
The "New York Times" reports a top aide to Saif Gadhafi actually presented that idea in London in recent days. Contacted by CNN, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office wouldn't comment. Neither would the U.S. State Department.
What do the rebels say?
ALI AUJALI, FORMER LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Oh, this is a ridiculous offer. There is no one except this proposal of Gadhafi or his sons. The Libyan people, they have decided -- and they will not go back at all -- that Gadhafi or any member of his family, that they will be accepted. These -- his sons, they are killers. They are just like their father.
TODD: Ali Aujali, the former Libyan ambassador to the U.S., now represents the Libyan opposition in Washington. The "New York Times" says Saif Gadhafi has backing for this plan from one of his brothers, Saadi, a former soccer player who is now a businessman in Libya.
But some have their doubts about that.
VINCENT CANNISTRARO, FORMER CIA OFFICER: He has Saadi's name with him, but Saadi is really not a political player.
TODD: Vincent Cannistraro is a former CIA officer who investigated the Libyan connection to the PanAm 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. Cannistraro and other experts say any possible deal will be complicated by the intense rivalry between Gadhafi's sons. One son, Khamis Gadhafi, leads the 32nd Brigade, said by U.S. officials to have attacked innocent civilians.
Muttassim Gadhafi is his father's national security adviser. I asked Cannistraro about reports of a blood feud between two sets of Gadhafi brothers.
(on camera): Are Saif and Saadi pitted exclusively now against Muttassim and Khamis as the hard-liners in this equation?
CANNISTRARO: No. I think the real rivalry is just between Muttassim and Saif himself. The others are really peripheral. Saadi is not a political force at all. Khamis is not really a political force either. Those are the two key people. It's Saif with his rival, not with the other family members, as figures in this whole struggle.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: So if the rebels are rejecting deals involving any of the Gadhafi brothers, what do the rebels want?
Ali Aujali told me just a moment ago, the opposition is offering Moammar Gadhafi and his entire family safe passage out of Libya in exchange for an end to this fighting. And that's about as far as their offer goes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What else do we know about the Gadhafi brothers' rivalry?
TODD: Well, in speaking to experts and reading WikiLeaks cables and other things, you get a sense it's very intense. They have competed with each other over who controls certain militias in Libya. They've competed with each other over who controls a Coca-Cola bottling franchise in Libya.
In -- in the cables and in speaking with the experts, you really do get a sense, though, that it is Saif on one side, Muttassim on the other who are really after each other for power. They resent each other's influence over the father. They've each been given important titles. There were earlier reports in this conflict that they have put aside their differences to help their father survive. That doesn't really appear to be the case now.
BLITZER: Good reporting.
Thanks very much, Brian Todd.
He'll face military justice -- admitted 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will not -- repeat, not get a civilian trial.
So what's behind the stunning shift by the Obama administration?
Plus, breaking news involving air travel -- the new call for inspections on certain Boeing airliners.
And President Obama officially launches the 2012 reelection bid. And the bidding begins by all parties for billions of dollars in campaign cash.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Good news.
Jack Cafferty is back and he has the budget crisis on his mind.
He's here with The Cafferty File.
Good to go, good to come back -- Jack, as my father used to say.
JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: Yes, nothing much changes. We've got the prospect of a federal government shutdown hanging over the heads of Congress, and for that matter, all of us, again, on Friday of this week.
See, they still can't agree on spending cuts for the 2011 fiscal year budget, which has been put off since last October, when the then Democratically-controlled Congress decided they just wouldn't pass a budget -- just wouldn't bother with it.
They're not much closer to reaching an agreement all these many months later. President Obama now has summoned Congressional leaders to the White House tomorrow.
Don't hold your breath.
Meanwhile, a much, much bigger budget battle is shaping up, courtesy of Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan. He's the new chairman of the House Budget Committee and is expected to release the House Republicans' 2012 budget resolution tomorrow.
Ryan's plan calls for cutting the federal deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade, far exceeding what President Obama's Debt Commission called for last December.
The Ryan plan calls for tax reform, across the board spending cuts, including defense, returning discretionary spending to 2006 levels. It will dramatically change the Medicare program. Ryan's plan is the first one to touch the so-called entitlement programs -- a politically dangerous move, but a necessary one.
By the end of this fiscal year, our country -- our national debt will exceed $15.4 trillion. We are beyond busted.
The necessity of cutting spending and addressing our debt crisis may finally be getting some legs in the nation's capital. A bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Six is working on a proposal to cut the deficit by $4 trillion, using the recommendations made by President Obama's Deficit Commission -- recommendations that have been completely ignored so far.
Here's the question -- do you think Republicans are getting serious about making meaningful cuts in federal spending?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Don't get me wrong, $4 trillion is a lot of...
CAFFERTY: Over 10 years.
BLITZER: Over 10 years. That averages out to $400 billion a year. If the deficit this year is $1.5 trillion and you cut $400 billion, you still have a huge budget deficit. And it's not going away. It's going up and up and up, even if you cut $4 trillion over 10 years.
JACK CAFFERTY: Yes, but what are they talking about right now? So far, they have agreed on $10 billion --
BLITZER: It's a start.
CAFFERTY: In cuts - I mean, it's nothing.
BLITZER: It's a start, but let's not -- it's not going to lead to a balanced budget.
CAFFERTY: Four hundred billion is a much more aggressive step forward than the 10 billion that they've agreed on with no budget in place since last October.
BLITZER: I agree, but it's still not going to balance the budget?
CAFFERTY: Well, what do you want from me? I've been on vacation.
BLITZER: All right. We'll talk a lot about this. We got a lot --
CAFFERTY: All right. Thank you.
BLITZER: In a stunning reversal, the Obama administration gives up on the idea of holding civilian trials for the alleged 9/11 terrorists, including the admitted mastermind Shake Muhammad.
The attorney general, Eric Holder announced today they will instead face a detention tribunal at Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This case proceeded in Manhattan or in an alternative venue in the United States, as I explored in the last year. I am confident that our justice system could have performed with the same distinction. It has been its hallmark for over 200 years.
Now unfortunately, since I made that decision, members of Congress have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing any Guantanamo detainees to trial in the United States regardless of the venue. Members of --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. He's blaming Congress for this. He wanted to have a trial in the United States, preferably in New York City or in the New York City area. Congress won't let him. Is he right on that?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he's right that Congress won't let him. The question that we'll never know the answer to is, could Holder have handled the situation so that Congress did not rebel the way it did.
And if these trials had taken place, would they have been as disruptive as the local politicians predicted? The fact is, we will never know because Holder just faced reality today. There was no way that it was going to take place within the United States. So now Guantanamo will be the setting for this trial that is likely to go on for at least another year or two.
BLITZER: What's the basic difference between a civilian trial and a military commission or a military tribunal as far as the suspects are concerned?
TOOBIN: They are more similar than they are different, but there are certainly definite differences between them. A military jury versus a civilian jury, limits on some access to information that the defendants will have.
The defendants may not be allowed to see all of the classified information. Some hearsay testimony which is almost entirely excluded in civilian trials will be allowed in military commissions.
But they -- it will certainly look like a regular trial. There's a right to counsel. There's a jury. There's a judge, but it will be only military on both sides of the table there.
BLITZER: What's the difference as far as the sentence is concerned, specifically, capital punishment?
TOOBIN: No, no difference. Death penalty is on the table in a military commission just as it is or would be in a civilian case.
BLITZER: I mean, is it easier to get the death sentence in a military commission as opposed to a civilian trial?
TOOBIN: Not really. I mean, the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard is the same. All of the rules are a little more relaxed, but certainly on the death penalty, the rules are more or less the same. You just might be more likely to persuade a military jury to impose the death penalty than you would to impose a civilian jury.
BLITZER: All right, don't go too far away. We got some other stuff to talk about later this hour, Jeffrey. Thank you.
Breaking news, we're following - Boeing now recommending inspections of one of its most popular planes after a jet's roof cracks open mid- flight.
Plus, the race is on. President Obama officially launches his bid for re-election and for a record-breaking amount of campaign cash.
Also, workers in Japan are now dumping tons and tons and tons of radioactive water into the Pacific. We're going to tell you why and what it means.
BLITZER: A desperate rush to get rid of radioactive water at Japan's quake-battered nuclear plant. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. A lot of people are concerned about what is going on in Japan right now.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, and with good reason. Workers are now in the process of dumping thousands of tons of contaminated water from a waste treatment plant into the Pacific Ocean.
The facility would then be used to store even more toxic radioactive water being pumped from reactor number two that's where crack in the concrete shaft is causing a leak. The Japanese government calls the dumping unavoidable.
And it's considered potentially one of the biggest breaches of it its behind in U.S. history. The e-mail marketing company, Epsolon is reporting its computer system was hacked and an unknown number of names and e-mail addresses were stolen.
The breach has affected customers of a number of large companies including Tivo, Capital One and J.P. Morgan Chase. Security experts say you can start getting more sophisticated spam, but the breach isn't likely result in identity thefts.
The final launch of the space shuttle "Endeavor" has been delayed from April 19th until April 29th due to a scheduling conflict. NASA says a Russian cargo ship is set to duct at the international space station around "Endeavor's" original launch date. Just last week, the shuttle underwent two days of inspections after sustaining minor damage in a thunderstorm.
And a painting in a famous exhibit at the National Gallery right here in Washington, D.C., is being closely being examined after reportedly being attacked by a museum visitor. According to the "Washington Post," witnesses say the suspect was banging on the protective plastic cover of the painting, which contains some nudity, while screaming, this is evil. A spokesperson for the gallery says this is no apparent damage. What a bizarre story.
BLITZER: Sometimes going to these galleries I see these very beautiful paintings and they are obviously very expensive. I see a limited amount of security though.
And I wonder if some crazy person just decides to go ahead and do something, you got to protect these paintings.
SYLVESTER: They have a protective covering that's why --
BLITZER: I know. Unfortunately in this case - but some other galleries, they don't have that. Somebody could just go up there and rip it apart or whatever - yes, you're absolutely right. Thank you.
It's a story that's worry airline passengers around the country. A hole ripping through a plane's fuselage in mid flight. Now breaking news on what Boeing is doing about it.
Plus, wreckage and remains discovered nearly two years after an Air France plane mysteriously fell from the sky.
BLITZER: We've got some breaking news from aircraft maker Boeing. The company is now recommending that airlines carry out inspections and certain models of the popular 737 jet that followed some terrifying moments for passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight last week.
Many screamed as the five foot long hole ripped open in the fuselage. The plane lost pressure, but made a successful emergency landing. Southwest has been scrambling to inspect dozens of aging Boeing 737s, 300 in its fleet. Investigators have found indications of cracks in three planes so far.
Joining us now is the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, Peter Goelz. Peter, thanks very much for coming in.
This Boeing 737, 300, how worried should we be and there a lot of people out there watching right now who are air travellers. How worried should we be about flying these planes?
PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, I think the FAA and the NTSB and Boeing are on top of this issue. I mean, clearly, it was very troubling to have this piece of the fuselage ripped off particularly in the area that it ripped off.
BLITZER: Who screwed up here? I mean, who made a blunder that allowed a plane that was so vulnerable to -- that could have been horrendous disaster, who screwed up in this case? Somebody - there must have been a failure some place.
GOELZ: Well, I think if there is a failure, it's in the whole issue of aging aircraft and how do you monitor --
BLITZER: Somebody supposed to inspect these aging aircrafts?
GOELZ: Well, in this case, it just came from what is known as the decheck, 11 months before. That's where they strip this plane down and go over it. No one knew to look in this area of the fuselage. It had never caused a problem before.
BLITZER: So what is the most important lesson we have to learn from this near disaster?
GOELZ: I think people are going to take a hard look at how airplanes age and they are not going to just focus on the troubling areas that they have seen in the past. They are going to look at the whole aircraft.
BLITZER: Should passengers ask the airline carrier how old is this plane I'm flying on? Would that be smart?
GOELZ: Let's look. I mean, we have had a very safe number of years. The past five years have been extraordinarily safe. I don't think they need to do that.
But I think the air worthiness directives that will come out over the next day or so are going to drive this issue so that anyone who is flying a 737 300, 400, 500, those planes are going to be looked at.
BLITZER: Is it just those planes or are there other planes that potentially could have a similar problem?
GOELZ: I don't think there's any indication that the next generation planes are in any difficulty. They are going to look at this set of planes first.
BLITZER: The next generation Boeing, what about airbus?
GOELZ: There's no indication that airbus has a similar problem.
BLITZER: Are there some planes that are more dangerous than other planes?
GOELZ: I don't think so, but I mean, there is this question of aging aircraft that we've been wrestling with for some time and I think this is going to spur everybody into another look at it.
BLITZER: You can imagine how terrified those passengers must have been. They're flying, and all of a sudden, a big hole. They're at 30,000 or 35,000 feet, and all of a sudden, the pilot has got to go down to 10 ,000 feet because of the pressure. You can only -- describe what must have been going on in that plane.
GOELZ: Well, luckily, the flight crews train for this. I mean, you really are in some great jeopardy at that point. The flight crew had to get their oxygen masks on within 20 or 30 seconds before they start to feel the full impact of the loss of pressurization. But I'm sure the passengers were absolutely terrified.
BLITZER: And this is another good reason why, even if we're flying and cruising, you should always have your seatbelt on just in case.
BLITZER: I mean, it doesn't make any sense to ever -- if you've got to go to the lavatory, obviously, you've got to take your seatbelt off. But if you're sitting in your seat, you should where your seatbelt.
GOELZ: And keep it snug.
BLITZER: When you say snug, really tight or --
GOELZ: Well, just --
BLITZER: So that in case of an emergency, you don't fly out.
GOELZ: In case of an emergency, you're not leaving your seat, exactly.
BLITZER: Those seatbelts are secure, and they're going to save your life if there's an issue.
GOELZ: Absolutely. The seats and the seatbelts have been designed for the most serious events, and they have saved lives. Keep it on.
BLITZER: Was everybody just lucky in this case, or was there another factor?
GOELZ: No, I think it's a combination of training, of the ability of people to keep their seatbelts on, and that the flight crew really performed admirably.
BLITZER: Very quickly, all of a sudden Air France says they're going to search for the remains of this Air France jetliner that crashed, disappeared off the coast of Brazil. And they are looking for parts, remains, the black box. They have never recovered any of that.
GOELZ: No. This is an extraordinary event, and credit really has to go to the Woods Hole oceanography people. They developed the untethered vehicles that were able to search at that depth with that degree of accuracy. The photographs are extraordinary.
BLITZER: Do you think they will ever find that black box, as they call it?
GOELZ: I think they are well on their way.
BLITZER: You do? In the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean somewhere?
GOELZ: Well, I mean, the problem is, if it broke free, these things weigh 35 or 40 pounds. It could have buried themselves --
BLITZER: But two years later it's not pinging anymore.
GOELZ: No. It stops pinging after 30-plus days. It could have sunk into the sentiment in the bottom. We may not get it. BLITZER: So this may be a mystery forever.
GOELZ: Right. Could be.
BLITZER: Peter, thanks for coming in.
GOELZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: President Obama makes it official -- he's out to win re- election next year. And all of the candidates are out to win as much campaign cash as they possibly can. We're talking billions of dollars. How the Supreme Court changed the game when it comes to campaign finance.
CNN's Jeffrey Toobin is standing by. We'll discuss that and more with him when we come back.
BLITZER: "It begins with us." With those words, President Obama has officially launched his bid for re-election in 2012. And now that the race is on, so is the race for campaign cash. The president expects to raise a record-breaking -- get this -- $1 billion.
All this week, CNN is focusing in on the enormous amounts of money all the parties will pour into the 2012 presidential campaign. All told, it could be $3 billion, maybe even more.
Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's crunching the numbers.
What can I say? Wow.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wow. It's an astonishing amount of money, Wolf.
One top Democratic fund-raiser told me these days it's the Wild West when it comes to raising money for campaigns, and it's never too soon to start fundraising.
YELLIN (voice-over): This was candidate Obama's announcement four years ago --
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America.
YELLIN: Now, a very different approach. The president declared his candidacy in a video. He's not even in it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's so many things that are still on the table that need to be addressed. And we want them to be addressed by President Obama.
YELLIN: He's the first major candidate to officially jump into the race. Last month, his top strategist gave John King this insight --
DAVID AXELROD, TOP STRATEGIST FOR OBAMA: So it takes time to build organization, it takes time to raise the kind of money to compete with the kind of money we're going to see on the other side.
YELLIN: We're talking big money. Last time around, the Obama team raised $745 million. This time, campaign aides are telling donors it will cost $1 billion. That would break all records. The request for donations begins here, today.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is not focused on elections. He's focused on doing the work that he was elected to do.
YELLIN: Another reason they announced now, to mobilize grassroots activists who were crucial to their victory in 2008. That can be challenging when the candidate is in Washington, not an untainted outsider.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama is one person. He cannot go. Plus, he's got a job.
We're paying him to do a job. So we can't say, hey, could you just take some time off and come and get us all energized? So we'd better figure it out.
YELLIN: Republicans weren't caught off guard. They released this video attacking the president --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hoped and you hoped.
OBAMA: My hope is --
My hope is --
My hope is --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But hope isn't hiring.
YELLIN: And they are raising money of their own off Mr. Obama's news.
YELLIN: Now, keep in mind, last time around, the Obama campaign spent plenty of its $750 million in its primary fight with Hillary Clinton. Since the president is spared that fight, why raise so much money? Well, for one thing, the team wants to counter the outside money new Republican independent expenditure groups plan to raise.
And there's this. Democrats were surprised by the 2010 midterm elections. Republicans raised so much money at the very end of those elections. Democrats don't want to be caught off guard, Wolf, again.
BLITZER: Why can't the Democrats do what the Republicans do with these outside independent expenditure groups? YELLIN: They are. And they are starting at least three new independent expenditure groups, Democrats unaffiliated with the Obama campaign. But they're very concerned that they are a little late, Republicans got a jump-start, and that they won't be able to raise as much money.
BLITZER: Because the last time, as you say, $745 million they raised. But they had all those caucuses, all those primaries, all those other Democrats who were fighting the president. Now he is running unopposed, and he's the incumbent.
I tweeted this earlier and got a tremendous response on Twitter. He's the incumbent with a built-in advantage. So he needs $1 billion?
YELLIN: It's they are enormously anxious about all the money they believe the groups that Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are affiliated with and the Koch brothers are affiliated with will just dump money into ads attacking the president outside the campaign, that Democratic groups cannot compete with that. And so the campaign itself has to raise the money to compete.
BLITZER: When I say he's running on the post, for the Democratic nomination. He will have a an opponent in the general election.
YELLIN: Of course. Of course.
BLITZER: A Republican, maybe an Independent. Who knows?
YELLIN: Who knows?
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica.
Let's dig a little bit deeper on this. The Supreme Court is a key factor in this escalating amount of cash that we're likely to see in this coming presidential campaign.
Our senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin is back with more on this.
Explain, Jeff, why the Supreme Court has had an enormous impact on the political fundraising we are about to see.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: It's really one simple idea, which is starting in 1976, the Supreme Court said that spending money in a political campaign is an activity protected by the First Amendment like giving a speech, like carrying a protest sign. And what we're seeing, particularly in recent years, is the Supreme Court saying any attempt to regulate how candidates raise money or spend money is an interference with First Amendment rights. So what that means is there is a deregulation of campaign finance, of campaign spending, of campaign fundraising that is going on as we speak.
BLITZER: And the president's decision to go ahead and raise all this money, not only in his bid to get the Democratic nomination -- he doesn't have an opponent -- but to win the general election, for all practical purposes, he's announcing today he will once ago forego public financing of the general campaign. TOOBIN: Yes, but this campaign is likely to look like the good old days in short order if you follow the logic of the Supreme Court, because there are still rules in effect like how much an individual can give to a campaign. There is still the old, old rule that corporations can't give directly to campaigns
They can give independently to groups that support campaigns. That was the Citizens United decision of last year. But if you follow where the Supreme Court is going -- and you could really see it last week in an argument in a case about an Arizona law -- they are moving away from allowing any sort of campaign regulations. So even the contribution limits that are in effect now may well be gone by the time of the 2016 presidential campaign.
BLITZER: And you agree that the Republicans are simply better in raising these outside independent expenditure money than the Democrats are?
TOOBIN: Well, so far they have been. I mean, certainly Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie and company were much faster off the mark to take advantage of the Citizens United decision and organize expenditures that are independent.
Certainly, the Democrats are trying to catch up. But if you look at the money interest, if you look at corporations, if you look at the comparison between the economic power of corporations versus labor unions today, who support Democrats, it is certainly to the advantage of the Republicans, although having an incumbent president is a very, very big advantage.
BLITZER: I can't tell you how many people have just e-mailed me today or tweeted to me, they think it's obscene, billions of dollars in campaign money that is going to be spent when there are so many poor people out there, so much other better use for billions of dollars. They don't like it for the simple reason that it just -- you know, out of control, shall we say.
You know who is going to benefit the most?
BLITZER: All of us who work in the broadcasting business --
BLITZER: -- because the political advertising will be enormous. Web sites will get a lot of money from all of these campaign advertising dollars. So we'll benefit from it, but that's the nature of the beast, I guess, right now.
TOOBIN: And I promise you, 2016, it will make whatever happens -- I don't care how much Barack Obama raises -- these laws are going out the window. It's going to be the Wild West by 2016.
BLITZER: And you've got a great piece in "The New Yorker" magazine on the impact. Let me give our viewers a recommendation, they go and read your piece. Is it online already?
TOOBIN: It is, NewYorker.com.
BLITZER: Something like that. You don't tweet though, do you?
TOOBIN: Not yet. I know. I'm very 19th century.
BLITZER: Because I was looking for your name on Twitter, and I came up with a bunch -- "Jeffrey Toobin hates Twitter" and stuff like that.
TOOBIN: No. I'm not as young as you are, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Yes. You are younger than I am, but you should be tweeting, like all of us.
TOOBIN: I should. I know.
BLITZER: OK. Start. You know what?
TOOBIN: I can start.
BLITZER: OK, good.
Jeff Toobin, thank you. Good piece in "The New Yorker."
BLITZER: A check of today's other top stories coming up next.
But right now, Libyan rebels are fighting for the key oil port of Al Brega. We're going to Libya live for the latest on that fierce battle.
And time is running out for Yemen's president as thousands of pro- democracy demonstrators descend on the royal palace. Will al Qaeda try to take advantage of the instability?
BLITZER: A worsening crisis on Ivory Coast.
Lisa Sylvester is back. She's monitoring that story and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
This is horrendous, what's going on in Africa right now.
SYLVESTER: Yes. That's right, Wolf.
France is urging its citizens in one city to head to the embassy for safety. The move comes amidst intense fighting between those backing Ivory Coast's internationally recognized president and supporters of the self-declared president who is refusing to leave office. The International Committee of the Red Cross says in one town, 800 people were shot to death.
A United Nations official says there is only one survivor after the crash of a U.N. plane trying to land in Kinshasa. The Congo Transportation Ministry says the aircraft was carrying 33 people and belonged to the U.N. mission in the country. Strong thunderstorms in the area were reported at the time.
And severe weather is sweeping across the South here in the United States. At least seven people were injured, none seriously, after a tornado struck a manufacturing plant in southwestern Kentucky.
Officials in Arkansas are reporting at least three injuries from fast- moving storms. And in Tennessee, nearly 60,000 customers are reportedly without power.
And officials and volunteers on an island chain between Africa and Argentina are desperately struggling to save tens of thousands of penguins threatened by an oil spill. At least 300 have been killed and many more covered in tons of heavy and diesel fuel leaked by a cargo ship which ran aground in March.
So a recovery effort. Hopefully they will be able to rescue a number of those penguins -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa, for that. Hopefully.
Jack Cafferty is coming up with your e-mail.
Also, how serious is the crack in Gadhafi's inner circle right now? I'll ask someone who was held captive by Gadhafi's forces for six days, Anthony Shadid of "The New York Times."
And the U.S. abandons its support for Yemen's president as thousands of pro-democracy protesters march on the palace. Does this leave an opening for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula?
BLITZER: Jack is back. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is: Do you think the Republicans are getting serious about making meaningful cuts in federal spending?
David in Virginia writes, "I think they're very serious. The back and forth over the current budget is just the warm-up act. The real fireworks will start next week when the Paul Ryans of the world start talking reality about our fiscal crisis."
Bonnie in New Jersey, "I hope so. And I somewhat hope not. I know we have to reform Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. But why can't we also have some revenue increase from the richest?"
"It's so clear at this point that their gain over the last 10 years has come at the expense of the country. Why can't they share the burden? The Republicans are protecting the rich, the Democrats are protecting the poor, and no one is looking out for the middle class. We can't bear the entire burden." Deb in Montana writes, "No. The only thing the GOP's serious about are protecting their big money donors, eviscerating the middle class, and trying to prevent President Obama's re-election, even if they have to derail our recovery to do it. It's interesting how today's Republicans have never seen a billionaire's tax cut they don't love and they've never seen a social program that helps the struggling middle class that they couldn't wait to kill."
Steve in Virginia says, "Jack, please don't use the phrases 'meaningful' and 'budget cuts' together when referring to the Republicans. Those two terms can be used together only when the Republicans and Democrats conduct transparent, open, serious discussions on the defense budget, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security."
Alex in Washington writes, "Republicans are very serious about cutting the budget because they know that if they don't, they will face a Tea Party primary challenge come the next election."
And Pete in Georgia says, "The Republicans will be very serious, but the Harry Reids of the world can't survive two days without handouts, giveaways, always feeding cradle-to-grave parasites in order to continue their desperate, pathetic charade posing as civil servants. The only way these empty vessel politicians exist is giveaway handouts at the expense of decent, hard-working, legal, taxpaying Americans."
If you didn't see your e-mail there, you want to read more on this, go to the blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
The temperature's rising on this debate. Maybe it will actually get going here at some point.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, you know what? You think about it, because I got an e-mail from one of Paul Ryan -- the Republican congressman's --
CAFFERTY: I got the same one.
BLITZER: -- supporters saying even his 10-year, $4 trillion cut wouldn't balance the budget for at least 14 years. So, in the next 14 years, you know how much accumulated debt will go up? Right now it's about $14 trillion. Over the next 14 years, until there's a balanced budget, even if that budget were approved?
CAFFERTY: How much?
BLITZER: A lot.
BLITZER: Trillions and trillions of additional debt --
CAFFERTY: Many, many dollars.
BLITZER: -- would go up even if there were over 14 years of balanced budget. CAFFERTY: I understand that. But, I mean, we cannot just simply roll over and point our hooves at the sky and say, well, that's a wrap, we'll just go belly up. I mean, there has to be some effort made to address this or the dollar will be worth nothing.
All those dollars that you've accumulated over your lifetime, they'll be chump change. They won't be worth anything. We've got to address this in a meaningful way. And if it takes 14 years, it takes 14 years. I mean, it took a while to get in this position.
BLITZER: We spoke about it last week. You weren't here. But think about this -- General Electric makes $14 billion in profit last year, $5 billion profit in the United States, and they pay zero in taxes to the federal government.
CAFFERTY: But Jeff Immelt, the CEO of that company, his defense was we play by the rules, right?
CAFFERTY: Well, that includes using lobbyists and paying millions of dollars to those lobbyists who influence the writing of tax laws, doesn't it?
BLITZER: It certainly does. That's the nature of the game here in Washington.
We're going to talk about this some more, because there's a lot of outrage on this, $5 billion in profits.
CAFFERTY: Oh, it's criminal. I mean, that's nonsense.
BLITZER: And your secretary probably pays more in taxes. I'm sure she does. Do you have a secretary?
CAFFERTY: Well, Obama announced today he's going to run for re- election. How much money did you say he was going to raise, a billion dollars? Where do you think that's going to come from? It comes from the corporations that own this government.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, Jack. We've got a lot to talk about. I'm glad you're back.
CAFFERTY: All right.
BLITZER: Anti-government protests in Yemen getting deadlier every day. Now the United States apparently has abandoned its longtime support of Yemen's president. Will this leave an opening for al Qaeda?
Plus, President Obama wanted to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but now he's using it to put terrorists on trial there. What's behind this dramatic shift?
BLITZER: In Yemen, blood on the streets. Witnesses report at least 14 people dead, hundreds of people injured.
The violence came as tens of thousands marched in several cities demanding an end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's three decades of rule.
Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is joining us now.
Jill, the U.S. government, the Obama administration, apparently having a change of heart.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, just a few minutes ago, Wolf, I got off the phone with a senior administration official. And he says that there is a sense of urgency, that over the past few weeks they had an idea that things were coming together. But now there's a perception that President Saleh is digging in, that he's trying to hold on from week to week. And they said they really need a timeline before it is too late.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Facing increasingly bloody demonstrations, U.S. officials say Yemen's president has to follow through on his promise to get out, and soon. Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, vows he'll step down by the end of the year after constitutional reform and elections, but the opposition demands that happen now.