Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Aid to Afghanistan Under Fire; White House: Afghanistan Drawdown Decision "Soon;" First Democrats Call for Weiner to Resign; Rebels Refurbish Gadhafi's Weapons; Time Running Out On Debt Ceiling; Interview With Senator Bernie Sanders; 'Strategy Session'; Police Deny Shooting Video Allegations
Aired June 8, 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: Brooke, thanks very much.
Happening now, a cold hard look at American bloodshed and money spent in Afghanistan. A new Congressional report suggests the United States has been wasting billions of dollars trying to build up the country and -- and it may only get worse once the U.S. troops start coming home. Stand by.
Congressman Anthony Weiner reaches out to the master of surviving a political sex scandal. This hour, the Clinton connection amid new pressure for Weiner to resign or possibly get pushed out of the way.
And was the man behind a police shooting video telling the truth?
Officers are now fighting back against claims they tried to prevent the video's release through intimidation and harassment.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
You can bet President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai had a lot to talk about during their hour long telephone conference today. The White House prime minister Mr. Obama will make a decision soon on whether to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan sooner or later. Right now, the administration is also urged to rethink financial assistance to Afghanistan.
Over the past decade, the United States has spent a whopping $18.8 billion in aid to Afghanistan. And a new Senate report raises serious doubts about whether the money has been worth it.
Let's go to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty -- Jill, this -- these are shocking numbers, $18.8 billion in -- in economic assistance to Afghanistan, but hundreds of billions of dollars spent to maintain a military presence there. And now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee suggesting that $18 billion, much of it was wasted.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, what they're saying, Wolf, is Afghanistan is a very, very poor country. And so when you pump a lot of money into it, which the United States has, there is not a lot of accountability. And sometimes that money even swamps the ability of the local officials or the government to spend it correctly. And then it also can fuel corruption.
So, yes, I guess you'd have to say. It's a devil's dilemma, because they don't want to give the money directly -- or haven't -- to the central government, because there's worry about corruption. So you have all of these smaller projects all over the country not communicating with each other. It -- it adds up to a lot of waste.
Now, USAID and the State Department, who are the people who spend that money, say, look, we know there have been problems in the past. We've tried to improve it.
But what this report is saying -- and, by the way, the report is by the Democrat -- Democratic staff, not the Republican staff. The Democratic staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is saying that, essentially, this, with the best of intentions sometimes, giving aid money can make the problem worse.
BLITZER: And, you know, there's no doubt, Jill, that so many Afghans right now, they're not grateful at all for what the United States has done in treasure, in lives lost. In fact, even Hamid Karzai, with whom the president spoke today, is often suggesting maybe the United States and the NATO forces there are military occupiers of Afghanistan.
There seems to be little gratitude from the Afghani people now for what the U.S. and its allies have tried to do over a decade. And that's causing a lot of members of Congress, as you know, Jill, to rethink what's going on and say, you know what, it's time to get out of it.
DOUGHERTY: They are. And, Wolf, let me show you the package that we just did. And it starts with a place that I was in Afghanistan. I mean it's -- it's a good example of what they're trying to do. Sometimes it doesn't quite work.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): A dam building project in Jalalabad -- U.S. taxpayers giving local men jobs in hopes of weaning them away from the Taliban. That's how it's supposed to work. But a new report from the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warns many U.S. aid programs are unsustainable once U.S. forces withdraw. They can even backfire, fueling corruption, raising serious questions about a key element of the Obama administration's counter- insurgency strategy.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (R), NEW JERSEY: From 2009 to 2010, we have spent $19 billion in assistance -- $19 billion in assistance.
DOUGHERTY: Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the president's nominee as new ambassador to Afghanistan says some programs are working. But --
RYAN CROCKER, NOMINEE FOR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: I can tell you that if I am confirmed, I mean, going forward, our assistance has to make a difference and it has to be sustainable.
DOUGHERTY: Afghanistan is dirt poor and too much aid can have a destabilizing effect on local communities, the report says. Case in point. The Governors Fund that gives $100,000 a month to provincial leaders for development projects. "A tidal wave of funding," the report calls it, "that local officials are not capable of spending wisely."
The report says the State Department and USAID don't have enough staff in Afghanistan to oversee the money being spent. There are too many contractors, too little oversight.
The head of U.S. AID tells the committee he does endorse all the report's conclusions. "The U.S. and Afghanistan," Rod Shaw (ph) claims, "have accomplished some astonishing things." And the State Department says aid still is crucial.
MARK TONER, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: But it's an essential component of the national security strategy in Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DOUGHERTY: The single most important step the administration could take, this report says, is to stop paying Afghans inflated salaries that can be 10 times what the local people are paying. And here's another big worry, Wolf. The World Bank says that 97 percent of Afghanistan's GDP is related to spending by the international military and donor communities. And if aid money dries up, this report is warning it could trigger a major economic recession in Afghanistan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. I think the pressure is mounting, though, to stop all that -- those billions from going to Afghanistan, considering the needs right here in the United States.
But, Jill, thanks very much for that.
Let's get some more now on the president's teleconference with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president today and what is going on -- the future of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar is here to tell us what we know.
What do we know about this conversation today -- Brianna.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a scheduled conference that the president has periodically with Karzai. We know from the White House that they discussed transferring control of security from U.S. troops to Afghan troops. But in terms of the numbers, as we await the president making his decision on the troop drawdown, they didn't talk specifics. That's what Jay Carney said.
We know they also spoke about Osama bin Laden and how his death affects fighting terrorism in the region. But, really, we're waiting -- and will continue to do so for the next few weeks -- for those troop numbers. We heard from Jay Carney today, the president has not received formal recommendations from his advisers, like General Petraeus. And Carney said there are 31 days in July, Wolf, sort of hinting that this isn't necessarily something that we're going to see beginning -- at the beginning of the month -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Did the president read the riot act to an ungrateful President Hamid Karzai for suggesting last week that U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan were now, quote, "occupiers?"
KEILAR: Wolf, if he did, the White House is certainly not talking about that publicly. Of course, there have definitely been some tensions -- and I know you've blogged a lot about this -- between the Afghan government and Karzai and the U.S. government. His comments certainly were not received well here.
But a lot of criticism in general over, really, just how ready the Afghan government is, as this troop drawdown is -- is considered, Wolf.
But publicly, the White House trying to certainly put a positive spin on what's really a very complicated relationship.
BLITZER: Yes, what a -- what a tense situation, I must say, it is.
All right, Brianna.
Thanks very much.
Let's get to the scandal now surrounding Congressman Anthony Weiner and a graphic photo that's now splashed across the Internet.
You may remember the man who helped break the Weiner story, the conservative journalist, Andrew Breitbart, that claimed he had an X- rated photo of Weiner.
Today, Breitbart showed off the photo on his cell phone, apparently showing a man's private parts. The SiriusXM Radio hosts, Opie and Anthony. One of the hosts says he took an image of Breitbart's phone and then posted it on Twitter. It was quickly published by other online outlets.
We need to stress, we do not know if that's a photo of Weiner or not. But, clearly, this is more fuel to the fire, just days after Weiner's confession that he had racy online contacts with women and that he directly lied about it to all of us.
Meanwhile, many Democrats are shunning Congressman Weiner right now as the scandal surrounding him grows bigger and uglier. And for the first time, some high level members of his own party are now urging Weiner to resign.
Let's go to Capitol Hill.
Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has more on this story for us -- Dana, what is the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest, Wolf, is I am told that there is a new stepped up effort among Anthony Weiner's colleagues to try to force him to resign. You know, the sound we had heard -- heard mostly up until today, was the sound of silence from Democratic leaders. Not anymore. And I am told by a source familiar with conversations with Weiner and about Weiner that these -- that he is being called by his colleagues privately and being told it is time to step down to, quote, "preserve his own dignity." And those private calls are being done in concert with some public calls, new ones. In fact, Allyson Schwartz, she's a Democratic Congress -- Congresswoman from Pennsylvania. She is also the recruiter to try to get Democratic candidates to run in the next election. She publicly called this afternoon for Anthony Weiner to resign.
I'm told that's all part of a coordinated effort. And this -- this Democratic congressman who I spoke to, who didn't want to speak on the record to talk about these private conversations told me that there is increased resentment by his colleagues, that far from having a press conference where he was just going to tell the truth and -- do away with the flames, he says the flames are just getting worse and worse and he's dragging us through it.
And -- and, Wolf, this congressman actually cited that new X- rated photo that is going around the Internet right now as part of an example of that. There has been so much frustration -- we have been talking about it for days -- among Weiner's colleagues about the fact that they're off message. It's a distraction. They want to talk about Republicans and Medicare. They want to talk about the Republican budget and things that they think that they think that they could do well on. And this -- this just keeps going.
And this is new indication from this -- this -- this source that there is a very new effort to try to get Weiner out.
BLITZER: He may not even have a district when all is said and done, given the redistricting of New York State, which is losing two Congressional districts.
BASH: It's very interesting. All of this is going on, you're right, where the redistricting is happening right now. New York, as you said, is losing two districts.
And if you look at the map, all along, people in New York said that the thought was that they would get rid of one Republican seat upstate, one Democratic seat downstate. And the question is, which Democratic seat would go.
I talked to several New York sources today -- New York Democrats who said that everybody believes that it is most likely that if Weiner doesn't go or, at this point, maybe if he does go, that his 9th Congressional District is probably going to be on the chopping block. So even if he does stay, even if he decides to try to weather this, there are -- there's a lot of sentiment that he -- his Congressional seat won't even be there in the next election. And at least I am told that, perhaps, one of the reasons, Wolf, why some of his newer colleagues have not been calling on him to resign is because they are sort of hoping that it is his seat, not their seat, that gets the -- that gets the ax in this redistricting process.
BLITZER: Yes. There's a lot of politics in New York.
All right, Dana.
Thanks very much.
There's another Clinton connection to the Weiner scandal. His wife Huma is traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton right now. We're going to take a closer look at what she's going through, how she's coping. Stand by for more on this story.
Also, Libyan rebels are getting creative, turning parts of Moammar Gadhafi's arsenal into weapons they can use.
And just days before his first 2012 presidential debate, why is Republican Newt Gingrich on a luxury cruise in the Mediterranean?
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: For the first time since maybe the Vietnam War, certainly since the Civil Rights Movement, there are some darkening storm clouds on the civility horizon in this country.
A growing number of voices are continuing to suggest that if our economy doesn't turn around and people can't start feeling optimistic about their futures again, we could be headed for some ugly scenarios.
A new CNN poll suggests 48 percent of Americans think the country is headed for another Great Depression in the next 12 months. That is a stunning number.
James Carville, who in 1992 told Bill Clinton, quote, "It's the economy, stupid," says the current economy is so bad, there's a heightened risk of civil unrest. And unless things begin changing for the better, it's a distinct possibility.
Our country is bankrupt, our government refuses to anything about that. Unemployment is stuck above 9 percent, millions of Americans are out of work, some of them for a number of years now. The value of people's homes is sinking below the breakeven line. In the most recent jobs report, last Friday, more than half of the private sector jobs added were at McDonalds.
For the young people coming out of the colleges and universities, their families having investing hundred and thousands of dollars in their education, their outlook is grim. Add in the early record- breaking heat in the big cities in the East, we may not even have to wait until 2012. It could become a long, hot, ugly summer.
Here is the question: What are the chances that the U.S. economy could eventually trigger violence in our country?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tough stuff. Tough stuff, indeed.
All right, Jack, thank you.
Let's get to the battlefront in Libya right now. On the heels of yesterday's attack on Moammar Gadhafi's compound, NATO says it's extending its mission for another 90 days, past the end of this month.
Meanwhile, rebel forces are growing more frustrated with a lack of firepower on the frontlines. They are now turning to Gadhafi's own weapons in their desperate fight.
Here's CNN's Sara Sidner in Libya.
SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These men are working furiously to piece together the parts of weapons captured from government militia. The rebels are constantly trying to figure out how these killing machines work and modifying them for use on their side of the battlefield where weapons are in short supply.
Not one of these men is a mechanic and not all of the people working here are men. There are children, too. Fifteen-year-old Nasser spends six days a week and 10 hours a day meticulously scrubbing the different parts of massive guns that were removed from tanks.
(on camera): Nasser, a lot of people think children should not be doing the work that you are doing. What do you think about that?
NASSER SUELIMAN, 15-YEAR-OLD VOLUNTEER (through translator): I would tell them to get back to work and try to understand the situation that we are living here these days.
SIDNER (voice-over): The situation after months of shelling is there is no school for children and no end to the fighting on Misrata's borders.
(on camera): What does it do to you as a father to see a young boy to work on a gun?
ALI MOHAMED, VOLUNTEER: For me?
MOHAMED: When I saw young people, my feeling is great.
SIDNER: Why is it great?
MOHAMED: Why, yes, why. Because our children, they will be the future of our country and they should know what the situation we are in and how we defend about or --
SIDNER: How you defend your city?
MOHAMED: Yes, defending our city.
SIDNER: Defending the city means using all kinds of makeshift weaponry on Misrata's three battlefront. The heaviest and most powerful guns are usually fashioned to pickup trucks. There are no tanks in sight.
(on camera): This could be considered a tank graveyard of sorts. There are about 22 tanks here located in the main military base that Gadhafi forces used to use for Misrata, now taken over by the opposition. And since the opposition is using anything it can to try to fight off the regime, the question is, why aren't they using the few operational tanks that they have on the frontlines?
MOHAMED WABASH, VOLUNTEER (through translator): Most of the tanks have been destroyed and for those that are operational, NATO ordered us not to use them. They told us not yet.
SIDNER (voice-over): Around Misrata, they have been battling it out for the same positions for three weeks. The rebels tell us they are frustrated because they have been told to hold their positions, not to advance and not to use tanks against an enemy that can do both.
But on this day, opposition fighters are cautiously celebrating. An attack by Gadhafi forces ended in the rebels pushing them back and advancing three kilometers further towards Tripoli.
Sara Sidner, CNN, Misrata, Libya.
BLITZER: The Senate deals a major blow to banks. Just ahead, why your debt card could soon cost the industry billions of dollars.
Plus, a major development in the brought you about this disturbing police shooting video. We're going to tell you what the police are now saying about the man that shot it.
Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Mississippi is telling us that 77 Air Force cadet personnel have now been sent to the hospital after being in the area of a lightning strike. This information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Four people are believed to be in a closer vicinity of the strike. All the personnel are reportedly responsive and in stable condition.
Let's bring in our meteorologist Chad Myers, he's taking a closer look at this from the CNN Weather Center.
Lightning all of a sudden causing huge problems. CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And a lot of lightning strikes, Wolf. This has been kind of a very electrical day down across the deep south. Big storms, not hailing, not tornados, little bit of wind, but the main threat, lightning. Hattiesburg right there, Camp Shelby little bit to the southeast.
I'm going to take you to this graphic, although it is a still graphic, it will show you this number. Right now, in the past hour on this graphic, 6,956 strikes from cloud to ground. That's a big number. And so obviously, the cadets there got in the way of that one.
Here's what the camp looks like. There's Hattiesburg, Camp Shelby right through here. We zoom in, it's kind of an elongated east to west, it's to the southeast of Hattiesburg. They've all been taken, all of the cadets have been taken up to Hattiesburg hospitals, probably more for like EKGs top make sure all the hearts and all the pumps and all the signals are going in the right direction here.
But Camp Shelby kind of an east to west camp here for the Joint Forces Training Center. They were out here on the grounds when one of the lightning strikes came way too close.
BLITZER: Hope those cadets are OK. We'll stay on top of this story, Chad. Thank you.
The clock certainly ticking right now. Congress still hasn't agreed to raise the limit on the national debt. I'll ask Independent Senator Bernie Sanders if he's ready to give Republicans what they want -- massive budget cuts.
Plus, new political shock. The fire between the camps of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. Would there be room for both women in the Republican presidential race?
BLITZER: On Capitol Hill right now, big decisions to be made affecting the economy, the war in Afghanistan, and a huge distraction right now, the scandal surrounding Congressman Anthony Weiner, calls for his resignation.
Let's discuss with a liberal voice in the Senate, Bernie Sanders, he's the Independent senator from the great state of Vermont.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just briefly, I assume you want to raise the debt limit in the immediate future so that the country can move forward on that front, right?
SANDERS: Well, I think it would be a huge embarrassment and cause really international financial ripples if for the first time in the history of the United States of America we didn't pay our debts. So, obviously, I think we want to avoid that at all costs.
BLITZER: Are you ready to meet the Republicans halfway and do massive budget cutting in order to raise the debt limit?
SANDERS: No. Wolf, we have to look at what is happening in American society today, and that is that the middle class is collapsing, poverty is increasing, we have real unemployment is at about 15 percent, the highest since the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, the wealthiest people in our society are doing phenomenally well, corporate profits are at an all-time high. And over the last number of years, we have given huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires. You have corporations out there like General Electric making billions of dollars in profit not paying a nickel in taxes.
So the idea that the Republicans have brought forth that we're going to decimate Medicare and Medicaid and education, do away with Medicare as we know it, and at the same time not only ask the wealthy and corporations not to contribute one nickel towards deficit reduction, but give them a trillion dollars in tax breaks is totally, to my mind, insane.
BLITZER: Well, what if that's the only way, Senator, to raise the debt limit? In other words, if the Republicans are saying, and they are adamant they are not going to raise taxes on millionaires or billionaires or anyone else, they think it would hurt the economy, what if the only way to raise the debt limit is to engage in them and to come up with a number, a serious number, to cut the spending?
SANDERS: No. Wolf, I think our Republican friends listen to their Wall Street sponsors to a significant degree, and I think what the folks on Wall Street, the big money people, are telling the Republicans, don't do it. Don't vote against raising the debt limit.
So I think that at the end of the day, Republicans will understand that they cannot allow the United States to default on its debt, and I think we can reach a reasonable agreement which says that major corporations who pay nothing in taxes, a situation where all kinds of corporate loopholes in allowing companies to put their money in the Cayman Islands and other tax shelters, that we've got to do away with that. We need share sacrificed, not only moving toward deficit reduction on the backs of working families and lower-income people.
BLITZER: Well, there's a game of chicken, if you will, so we'll see who blinks on this front. But as you point out, the stakes are certainly enormous right now.
Let's talk about Afghanistan for a moment.
You know that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they come out with a report today that's saying billions and billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan is simply wasted. It's costing U.S. taxpayers $2 billion a week, $10 billion a month, $100-plus billion a year to keep 100,000 U.S. troops there. Is this a waste of U.S. taxpayer money?
SANDERS: Well, Wolf, I was in Afghanistan a few months ago. And I want to say very honestly, as somebody who is often critical of the military, our guys are doing a tremendous job under very difficult circumstances.
But we have a $1.5 trillion deficit. As you've indicated, we're spending $100 billion a year on Afghanistan, the war there. A lot of it goes to rebuild that country.
Well, you know what? I know a great country that needs to be rebuilt in terms of roads, bridges, schools. That is called the United States of America.
So, after 10 years, I think it is time to start rapidly withdrawing our troops, supporting the Afghan military and their police. We want a victory over the Taliban, but I think it is time to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can.
BLITZER: Because the president says they're going to stay there until the end of 2014. I take it three and a half years, that's way too much for you to accept.
SANDERS: In my view, it is. I think that the support for the Afghan military and police is imperative, but we've got to bring our troops home. And when we do that, we save substantial sums of money.
BLITZER: So how quickly?
SANDERS: I would accelerate -- I mean, I don't have a date in mind, but much faster I think than the president is talking about.
BLITZER: What would you do, if anything, to stop the slaughter in Syria right now?
SANDERS: Well, you know, there are a limits to the number of laws that we can engage in, and I think we can work with our allies in the region to do the best that we can. But I certainly do not think we can be involved in country after country after country.
BLITZER: Did the president do the right thing in launching Tomahawk cruise missiles and other strikes against targets in Libya?
SANDERS: I have reservations about our involvement in Libya. I mean, we are in a huge deficit. We are in two wars. And I would become somewhat conservative on that issue.
BLITZER: It's already cost U.S. taxpayers a billion dollars for what those Tomahawk cruise missiles, some of the other equipment that was used in Libya. A billion dollars is a lot of money.
SANDERS: It is a lot of money. And, you know, Wolf, there are a lot of horrible things taking place all over this world, but we have enormous problems ourselves -- anyone who gets in their car right now and drives home. We've got to rebuild our infrastructure. We've got to invest in our teachers. We have to build public transportation. We have to deal with global warming.
Believe me, we have enough problems right here at home. So I'm kind of conservative on getting involved in all kinds of wars abroad.
BLITZER: One final question before I let you go. The former Democratic National Committee chairman, Tim Kaine, says it's time for Anthony Weiner, the congressman, to resign.
Do you believe it is?
SANDERS: Well, I think what you're seeing there is a terrible personal tragedy and an embarrassment to the United States Congress. And I think Congressman Weiner will have to make that decision for himself.
BLITZER: But you're not saying he should resign?
SANDERS: I think that's his decision.
BLITZER: OK. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SANDERS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Newt Gingrich's campaign has hit some rough waters, and yet the Republican went on a luxury cruise. What's he thinking?
Stand by for James Carville and Rich Galen in our "Strategy Session."
And the pushback over a police shooting. Officers now deny a witness was harassed to try to prevent his cell phone video from going public.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What else is going on, Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, a blow to the banking industry today. The Senate failing to delay rules capping the fees banks charge retailers when they use their debit cards. The legislation, if approved, would have pushed back by one year a July 21st deadline requiring the Federal Reserve to cap the so-called swipe fees at 12 cents. On average, those fees are now about 44 cents.
Greek police have arrested an 18-year-old believed to have hacked into the electronic systems of the FBI and Interpol. The suspect also reportedly took over computers of unknowing users, accessed their data, and obtained new credit cards in their names. Authorities have been searching for him since attacks in 2008 and 2009.
Take a look at this. We have some amazing photos of the space shuttle Endeavour docked with the International Space Station last month. The images, the first ever of their kind, were taken by a European space agency astronaut aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft shortly before it returned to Kazakhstan.
Endeavour, as you know, it's completed its final mission to space last week.
So pretty cool pictures out there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very cool indeed. All right. Thanks very much, Lisa. Stand by.
There are dramatic new developments in the uproar over that deadly police shooting video. The man who took it says officers tried to destroy it. Just ahead, what police are now saying about him.
Plus, we're learning more about the wife of embattled New York congressman Anthony Weiner. Can their marriage survive? We're going to tell you what their friends are now saying.
BLITZER: So what was Newt Gingrich thinking? He announces he's running for the Republican presidential nomination, and then goes on vacation with his wife, Callista. Not just any vacation, not a vacation in the Grand Canyon, enjoying America's majesty. Not a vacation in Florida or California. But he goes on an exclusive cruise to the Greek islands and Turkey.
Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the Seabourn Odyssey is fabulous. I've been to the Mediterranean. It's wonderful. But if you're serious about becoming president of the United States, does it make any sense to go on a European cruise so soon after declaring your presidential candidacy?
Does it also make any sense to go on such a cruise after acknowledging you had a $500,000 credit limit at Tiffany's in New York? I know he paid off all of his bills, he says he has no outstanding debt, but these are not exactly actions that reinforce the notion that he's a man of the people. And the cruise occurred shortly after a surprising criticism of Congressman Paul Ryan's Medicare reform plan.
Gingrich is now home. He will participate in the CNN New Hampshire GOP presidential debate Monday night. I've covered him for many years. I know him. He's very smart, he has many intriguing ideas. But he has a lot of work to do right now to convince voters he's serious about this campaign.
You can read my thoughts, by the way, on our new blog at CNN.com/SituationRoom.
But let's discuss Newt a little bit in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, James Carville. Also, Republican strategist, the former Newt Gingrich press secretary, Rich Galen.
Rich, what was your former boss thinking?
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, knowing Newt as I do, this was probably a long-planned trip and they were just going to take it. Look, Newt's not 40 years old. He's been through the ringer. He's been through ins and outs. And I think he's just going to run this thing the way he wants to run it.
We're in June of the off year. We'll see what happens as we move through time.
But I don't think that a cruise -- I don't think it was a great idea, by the way. I would have added Lake Winnipesaukee to my list of choices for the ones that you -- that's a big lake in New Hampshire. But, I mean, the optics of this are clearly awful. But I don't think this a career ender or a campaign ender for Newt. It's just one of the things that he's likely to do, and people are either going to accept it or not.
BLITZER: He really stumbled on a whole bunch of issues, James, out of the gate. And a lot of people are wondering, what was he thinking?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I don't know. I know the Speaker. Not as well as Rich, but obviously he's a Tulane graduate, came down in my class.
Look, all I can say is, this is the year of the unconventional campaign. I mean, Sarah Palin takes off on a bus tour and doesn't tell anybody where she's going. And now Speaker Gingrich has gone to Greece. Maybe he's going to help with the bailout over there or something. I mean, who knows?
But people back in my day, when you ran for president, you kind of ran seven days a week, and you told the press where you were, and you try to do things. This seems to be a little bit of not politics as usual here.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Republican presidential politics for a moment, Rich.
Ed Rollins, our good friend, our former CNN political contributor, he is now going to be the campaign manager, chairman for Michele Bachmann's run for the Republican presidential election nomination.
Were you surprised when you heard that?
GALEN: I was a little, but, you know, Ed is, by training and temperament, a boxer. And he heard the bell and I think he was eager to look for a campaign. And when the Bachmann people came to him, obviously they reached an agreement. I talked to him today about this whole business about him jumping into -- or getting into a fight with the Palin people. And as far as he's concerned, it's the kind of thing that he's likely to do. And as I said, the bill rang, he threw a punch, he took a punch. He'll be there for the next round two.
BLITZER: He took a nice punch at Sarah Palin, as you know, James. And he's a straight shooter. He did a good job for Mike Huckabee four years ago. They won in Iowa, in part thanks to Ed Rollins.
But what do you think? Do you think that Michele Bachmann is really going to be a serious player on the Republican front?
CARVILLE: Well, I guess it's less what I think. But from Iowa, the reporting that I've read, is that she's been quite impressive there. And Ed ran Iowa for Huckabee and they won. So one assumes that he's got a lot of experience there.
He came out -- as Rich noted, he came out and said that Palin wasn't serious, and then apparently the campaigns have gotten in a little bit of a tiff here. You know, it's going to be a hotly- contested thing here.
He brings a wealth of experience. And one thing about Michele Bachmann, whatever you might think of her -- and I certainly don't think she's -- her politics are pretty far out there -- but she's pretty tough and Rollins is pretty tough. And I suspect that they are going to be there for the long haul.
BLITZER: Yes, she can do well in Iowa. She was born in Iowa, as you know, Rich.
CARVILLE: Sure was.
BLITZER: So she's got a following.
Here's the question. Is there room for her and Palin? Assuming Palin decides to run. Is there room for both of them right now in this contest?
GALEN: Oh, sure. There's room for --
BLITZER: Won't they be competing for the same voters though?
GALEN: But everybody is competing for the same voters in Iowa and in New Hampshire. And then when you get down to South Carolina, it expand a little, gets a lot bigger when you get down to Florida. But this is the discussion that we always have.
I mean, we had this four years ago. Aren't Hillary and Barack Obama competing for the same voters? Yes, they were. And it turned out that the president got more of them than Hillary did.
CARVILLE: But that's a little different, to be fair. There were two that were way out in front of everybody else. I mean, here, the idea -- and I don't want to come in to a charge of sexism -- they both happen to be women, but they also -- even if one weren't, they are appealing more to sort of your traditional religious conservatives in their message, on the harder right. And we'll see which one -- and I think that's why Ed came out and the first thing he did was take a shot at Governor Palin -- or ex-governor Palin, guess I should say. And that's why the Palin campaign reacted so soon and so viscerally, because I think that there's a sense that they are a little bit fighting --
GALEN: And I agree with James. And if Rick Perry were to get in, they would be within three feet of each other, all three of them, at that end of the pond (ph).
CARVILLE: Precisely right. Precisely right. And I'm glad that you brought that up.
BLITZER: Could that someone like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty or Jon Huntsman, let's say, Rich, if you've got all these other candidates who are competing for that more conservative vote, especially on some of the social issues? Does that help a Mitt Romney?
GALEN: Well, it would help him I think only because he could allow them to kind of -- as Ed did a little bit, they could snipe at each other while Romney and Huntsman and maybe Pawlenty probably are on the other end talking about their business background, their gubernatorial background and things like that. And if, as James said yesterday, or the day before, this really is an economic election, then that's probably more what -- even in primaries, Republican voters are going to be going --
BLITZER: A lot of us remember, James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid" back in 1992, James.
Give me one piece of advice you would give President Obama right now if you were advising him.
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, one of the things that they can't do that they did in 2010 is talking about how what they're doing is working. I think he can talk about the things that are going on, how he is fighting every day, fighting to try to build the middle class in this country, how he's fighting trying to reform Washington to make it work for the middle class.
I think he can do any number of those things. And the jobs numbers have to sort of improve here.
The three-month average is 160,000. I have no idea where it's going to go in the future, but for his sake and the country's sake, I hope that it goes better. But to get back over to one more point on the Republican side, Huntsman has dropped out of Iowa, and I don't think there is a lot of voters that are going to be torn between Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney. It looks like to me they're playing in a little bit of a different sandbox there.
BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note. James, Rich -- guys -- thanks very much.
GALEN: You bet.
BLITZER: An X-rated photo goes viral and adds more fuel to the scandal surrounding Congressman Anthony Weiner. We're going to have reaction, more on the growing calls for Weiner to step down.
And I will ask Republican Senator Rand Paul for his take on the Weiner controversy and the big decisions Congress must make in the days ahead.
BLITZER: An update now to a story we first brought you on Monday. Miami Beach police now disputing the account of a witness who said officers broke his cell phone after he taped a deadly police shooting.
Brian Todd is here with the latest developments.
What are you learning now, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pretty strong brush back now from the Miami Beach police, Wolf.
They are casting serious doubt on the credibility of the man who shot street-level video of an incident on Memorial Day. Here is the video.
Narces Benoit captured this on his cell phone, the shooting of a suspect in his car. The suspect was killed.
Benoit accused the police of then intimidating him and his girlfriend. The video you see there shows a police officer appearing to point a gun at Benoit's car.
Benoit says what happened next was that the cops got him down on the ground, they took his cell phone. He says they smashed it. And Benoit claimed that they used all sorts of intimidation tactics, including smashing his phone.
But the Miami Beach police now say they never smashed Benoit's phone, and they issued a statement with pictures of the phone. On the front of one of the pictures, you can see cracks in the phone's LCD screen. Police say it is unknown when that damage occurred. You can see the cracks on the right-hand side there. There is also a picture of the back of the phone where it does not appear to be very seriously damaged at all. I spoke with Benoit's attorney, Reese Harvey (ph). He says the damage in these pictures is consistent with the damage his client describes.
You know, they say he smashed the phone on the ground -- Benoit says that. The police say, we didn't destroy that phone. They issued that picture. You can kind of come to your own conclusions, I guess, on that.
BLITZER: The police are taking this one step further.
TODD: They certainly are. They say that they are seeking to justify their actions toward Benoit by saying in this statement, "Because Mr. Benoit matched the description of one of the subjects just reported fleeing the scene and, further, because he ignored repeated commands as he quickly walked toward his vehicle and entered it, he was detained by officers."
Benoit's attorney told me the police never told him or his client that Benoit matched a description of a suspect. Then he says Benoit's girlfriend, Erica Davis (ph), who was with him, and who police also pointed a gun at her, according to her, they say she did not match the description of any suspect, Wolf. So they are countering that. They say they were never told that he matched any kind of a description.
BLITZER: Interesting story, Brian. Thanks very much for that.
Let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What are the chances that the U.S. economy could eventually trigger violence in our country? A lot of people seem to think that's a possibility.
John writes, "The chances are getting better every day. Deficit spending, uncontrolled illegal immigration, sky-high unemployment, billions being sent to countries that hate us, out of touch government, and the list goes on. It won't be long, Jack. The people will revolt."
Mark in Oklahoma writes, "Obama better forget about that money pit called Iraq/Afghanistan and start focusing on getting those public works jobs that he promised, or he's going to need those troops over here to maintain order in our streets. People are only going to put up with the economic incompetence of this administration for so long."
Wilhelm writes, "Did the concentration of wealth among the aristocracy trigger violence during the French Revolution? How about the Russian revolution, or Germany in the 1930s? So, yes, if it gets to the point where the average working American feels totally hopeless and can't feed his family, It could lead to violence. It happened more than people know during the Great Depression."
Michelle in Delaware writes, "If the price of gas, groceries, and necessary items don't come down soon, and if people can't get jobs to support their families, then violence is definitely a possibility. We are a crumbling nation. Our politicians should spend a month living on our wages, have to pay for groceries, gas, and pay the bills on our salaries and not theirs. They have no idea what we working class citizens have to go through on a daily basis."
Ralph in Texas writes, "It already has triggered violence. I curse out loud and slam the dashboard every time I see gas prices go up."
And Bull writes, "I'm 70 years old, Jack, and fully think that I will see violence in this country before I'm gone. And it won't only be the economy that causes it. Just look at what is going on along our borders. The American people have had enough. Mark my words."
If you want to read more on this -- it's kind of scary, actually, but a lot of people are suggesting that violence is a possibility at some point if things don't turn around -- go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Did you get a lot of feedback on this question, Jack?
CAFFERTY: Yes, a lot. And people are frustrated, they're angry, they're disgusted with our government and the fact that they feel that they don't have a voice in Washington anymore, that it's all controlled by the big corporations.
You know, we've got this debt ceiling thing coming. We have got a national debt of $14 trillion. The government does kabuki theater, but nothing happens. People are very frustrated, and they're getting angry.
BLITZER: They certainly are.
Jack, thanks very much.