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THE SITUATION ROOM

Former Used Car Salesman Accused of Plot to Kill Saudi Ambassador; White House Insists on Iran's Involvement in Assassination Plot; Can Herman Cain Get GOP Nomination?; Interview with Jon Huntsman; Stunning Shift in 'Underwear Bomb' Trial; Fans, Businesses Brace for NBA Lockout

Aired October 15, 2011 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama insists Iran is to blame for an alleged assassination plot right here in Washington, D.C. But what proof does he have? His comments on the case leave some tough questions still unanswered.

Also, a former used car salesman stands accused of conspiring to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States. We're taking a closer look at the suspects including a member of Iran's military who is still at large.

And Herman Cain strengthens his hand as the leader, at least a leader of the Republican pact. As the GOP candidates gear up for the next debate, does Cain have what takes to go the distance?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama says one way or another Iran must be held accountable for an alleged plot to kill a Saudi ambassador to the United States. He is ramping up efforts to punish and isolate Iran, even as he puts pressure on Republicans in Congress for blocking his jobs bill.

Let's turn to our Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin; she is watching the story unfold.

Jessica, the president at his news conference this week, he was asked repeatedly about the alleged assassination plots, the links to the Iranian government. Give us the headlines.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president repeatedly, Wolf, declined to say that nation's supreme leader, the Iranian supreme leader and president were aware of the alleged plot. But he insisted that knowledge of it reached high into the Iranian government. Here's the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe that if -- even if at the highest levels there was not detailed operational knowledge, there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: He went on to say that U.S. government is using the evidence they gathered to push international partners to ratchet up pressure and further isolate Iran. That's where the president stands, Wolf.

BLITZER: Also, you had an opportunity to talk with him about the jobs bill that's going on right now. Give us the gist of how the president's juggling all the various initiatives this week.

YELLIN: Well, he wouldn't say which piece of the jobs bill he'd like Congress to take up first; even though I asked him that point blank. I also asked if he negotiate with Republicans in an effort to move something forward on the jobs bill. Here was his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I don't think the problem here, Jessica, is that I have not been unwilling to negotiate with Republicans. I've shown repeatedly my willingness to work overtime to try to get them to do something to deal with this high unemployment rate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Senior officials in the White House said that they expect that ultimately the payroll tax extension and unemployment insurance are the likeliest pieces of that jobs bill to pass Congress in the end, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of work to do on al of these fronts. Stand by, Jessica. Thank you.

In the Republican presidential race, Herman Cain is strengthening his place at the top of the pack and even leading in one national poll. CNN's Jim Acosta is taking a closer look at Herman Cain.

A lot of us are asking the question, can Herman Cain go the distance?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's been written of as the un-Romney or flavor of the month. But a lot of Republicans are starting to ask the question. Could Herman Cain somehow become the next president of the United States?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HERMAN CAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This long shot might not be such a long shot.

ACOSTA (voice over): Herman Cain is no long shot anymore. The latest CNN Poll of Polls shows the upstart GOP contender right on the heels of front-runner Mitt Romney.

CAIN: Thank you.

ACOSTA: For many conservatives, the sudden surge is as simple as 9-9- 9, Cain 's economic plan which would replace the current tax code with one that taxes individuals and corporations at 9 percent, and add a new national sales tax, also at 9 percent.

GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: It's bold. It's dramatic.

ACOSTA: But Grover Norquist, the man behind the anti-tax pledge signed by nearly every Republican politician in Washington, cautions against creating new revenue streams for the government.

NORQUIST: If you've got one needle in your arm drawing blood. That can hurt. You put in two more and you can really begin to move to drain the blood out of a person or the income out of people's pockets.

ACOSTA: Cain argues consumers could take steps to avoid that sales tax.

CAIN: Because you don't pay it on used stuff. It gives the decision as to how they stretch their dollar to the consumer.

ACOSTA: Cain is far from a conventional candidate. For economic advice he relies on a little-known Cleveland based financial planner name Rich Lowry, who says on his LinkedIn page he has a degree in accounting. For independent analysis of his 9-9-9 plan, Cain turned to husband and wife tax consultants based just outside of D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to help me cut the budget a little.

ACOSTA: It sounds like something out of the early '90s movie "Dave" in which a nonpolitician president calls on his accountant to fix the budget.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who does these books? I mean, if I ran my business this way, I'd be out of business.

CAIN: Our tax code is the 21st century version of slavery.

ACOSTA: Cain is going after those same evangelical voters, fiscal and social conservatives who once flocked to Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann.

CAIN: I felt like Moses, when God said I want you to go into Egypt and lead my people out. Moses resisted. I resisted.

ACOSTA: A darling of the right, Cain's challenge could come in a general election campaign. The former Godfather's Pizza CEO and radio talk show host rarely holds back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?

CAIN: No. I will not. As this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Another challenge, Cain's staff is small, just 35 people. But his campaign says it is ramping up. To do that, Cain will need cash to take on the likes of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. But he is already thinking about who his running mate might be naming Paul Ryan and Jim DeMint as possibilities. But that might be getting a little ahead of himself.

BLITZER: Since that initial comment about Muslims not being allowed to serve in his cabinet, he sought to clarify that. And what he now says is extremists Muslims would not be allowed to serve in his cabinet. So he's fixing some of the earlier statements.

ACOSTA: But a lot of these statements will come back to haunt him. The Democrats only have to look at some of the statements that he's made over the years on abortion, on putting Muslims in his cabinet, you name it, should he make it to the general election campaign.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt that teams and teams of journalists, but maybe even more important, teams and teams of opposition research experts are now beginning to take a very close look at some of those controversial comments.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

The Republican presidential candidates face off in Las Vegas on Tuesday, the CNN debate clearly coming during a volatile time in the race. All of this unfolding, remember, next Tuesday night, this coming Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. The next Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas.

I know our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger is going to be out in Las Vegas. I'll be in Las Vegas as well.

Let's talk a little bit about Rick Perry. Because finally on Friday he came out with a specific plan. This time an energy plan, designed to create jobs. I'll play a little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope I make progress every day in my life as well as my debate performances. But again, Americans aren't looking for the best debater. We have a slick talker in the presidency right now, that has lost 2.5 million jobs. At the same time we created 1 million jobs in the state of Texas. They're looking for someone who's got that chief executive governing experience that truly knows how to get America back working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He's lost a lot of support if you believe all the polls, Gloria. But he still has a ton of money out there that he can use. So the question is this -- can he come back?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Of course he can come back. And as he said, Americans aren't looking for a great debater. But, Wolf, Americans are looking for somebody to replace Barack Obama. If they want to replace Barack Obama, they want to fire him. You have to find somebody you think can go toe to toe with him in debates.

And the problem is that Rick Perry has not shown that he's able to do that. Debates are really job interviews. And so far Rick Perry hasn't shown people much. He said in the last debate, for example, that he was going to come up with his jobs plan. We heard an energy plan on Friday from Rick Perry. But we haven't heard the rest of his economic policy. So I think people are waiting for the specifics.

And now he's going to try and reintroduce himself to Republican voters. But he's got to introduce himself with specific plans for the economy because that's what they care about. Energy is one thing. But there are other things he needs to deal with.

BLITZER: If you believe the polls, almost all of the support that Rick Perry is losing seems to be going to Herman Cain right now.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: He's clearly got some momentum. The question, is will that last?

BORGER: Right. And I know I saw Jim Acosta's very good piece about that. The question is, can he withstand the scrutiny that he's going to have to withstand? It's one thing to be in the second tier or third tier as a presidential candidate. But when you move into that top tier, people want to know not only about your so-called 9-9-9 plan, which by the way has been criticized by lots of conservative Republicans.

But they are going to want to know about his foreign policy. They are going to want to know what kind of a person he is? Who he is? Everything about his life. And I think that's all going to be fair game. It's the kind of scrutiny he's not used to. He has come on the air saying things like I don't have the facts to back this up, but -- you can't say that when you're a presidential candidate. Michelle Bachmann got in trouble on that same issue with the HPV vaccine. So he's going to have to learn that he's playing in a different league right now.

BLITZER: I think at one point he's going to have to really give out his medical details. He's a stage four cancer survivor in his late 60s, right now. People are going to want to know is he healthy enough to be commander in chief.

BORGER: I think John McCain ran into that when he is a cancer survivor. He had to release extensive medical records. I think the same would be required of Herman Cain. And any presidential candidate, by the way, who makes it into the final round, people are going to want to know can you serve?

BLITZER: We'll see when he releases all those documents, if in fact he does release those documents. We'll see what happens.

You know, one of the most important photo opportunities I saw this past week was Mitt Romney getting an endorsement from Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. It was a very significant development. I suspect very helpful for Mitt Romney.

BORGER: I think it is helpful for Mitt Romney, first of all, because Chris Christie is a great advocate. He is known as the real deal. He is an authentic guy. And Mitt Romney's problem is that people worry that he's not an authentic guy. So to have Chris Christie's endorsement really helps on that front.

It doesn't help him so much with the Republican base which is still going to remain just as skeptical about Mitt Romney. Chris Christie was not a favorite with the conservative base of the party either. I think in the long term he's a great advocate. He's a great ally and he can help Mitt Romney raise a lot of money.

BLITZER: Despite all of Chris Christie's protestations that he is not interested in being a number two, is that potentially the ticket out there? Mitt Romney, Chris Christie?

BORGER: I think probably not. Because I think you don't want two Northeastern conservative Republicans because conservatives from the South or the West might question how conservative they are. And I think when I look at Mitt Romney, I say OK, well, he's going to want to win a couple of states if he becomes a nominee. So maybe Mark Rubio, for example, or Ohio, Rob Portman from Ohio, would be a very, very interesting running mate.

BLITZER: As Ohio goes, almost always goes the nation.

BORGER: You got it.

BLITZER: Florida, critically important, Marco Rubio, he's a huge rising star. And Portman is a rising star as well.

BORGER: And Portman is on the super committee which will be interesting to see how he behaves on that, and what he supports.

BLITZER: All right. A little early speculation is always fun.

BORGER: Yes, why not?

BLITZER: Thanks, Gloria.

Once again, a reminder, please be sure to join CNN for the Western Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas. It air this is coming Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

We're learning new details about the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, including the surprising past of one of the suspects, a former used car salesman from Texas.

Also, my interview with Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, the other Mormon in the White House race. He has some strong words about that pastor who called his faith a cult.

And Herman Cain 's plan to revamp the tax system. What would 9-9-9 really do? We're digging deeper.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An Iranian-American suspect in the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States is in custody in New York City. His next court date is October 25th. Manssor Arbabsiar is accused of conspiracy to murder a foreign official and commit terrorism.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is investigating this part of the story for us.

You're finding out fascinating new details about Arbabsiar?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Fifty- six year old Manssor Arbabsiar is the man investigators say is at the center of this plot. Authorities describe him as ruthless, unconcerned about killing innocent people. But Arbabsiar's close friends say they have a hard time making sense of all of this. They describe the guy they knew as a nice guy, someone who is disorganized, forgetful, and incapable of being a mastermind of this kind of plot.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice over): Manssor Arbabsiar went by the name Jack, according to Mitchell Hamauei, a friend of his who describes him as a normal guy.

MITCHELL HAMAUEI, SUSPECT'S FRIEND: He didn't care about what happened with governments. You know, that's why I found it very shocking to see that he was accused of doing this.

SYLVESTER: Arbabsiar lived a relatively quiet life. In the early 1980s he attended Texas A&I University, which has since become Texas A&M University in Kingsville, Texas. But he dropped out there. He tried his hand as a small businessman. At one point he co-owned this used car lot in Corpus Christi, Texas. He also owned a kebab restaurant in a local mall. But his businesses, one by one, folded. Investigative reporter Rick Spruill interviewed several of his colleagues. They say money was his main driver.

RICK SPRUILL, CORPUS CHRISTI CALLER: He was always looking for the deal. He was just a money hound. And they said there's just -- in their minds, no question that he -- whatever he put himself into it was specifically to make money. That there was no ideology. There was no jihad. There was nothing abstract about it. It was just money.

SYLVESTER: Arbabsiar home was put up for foreclosure sale in September 2010. Court records show some business disputes that wound up in small claims court and IRS liens from 2003 for $5,800.

A former college classmate who asked we not use his name said Arbabsiar was the victim of a violent mugging in the 1980s and from that he had short term memory issues for most of his adult life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the time he was forgetting titles to the cars, he would forget keys and documents and briefcases. He was traveling one time and he was supposed to go to Houston and come back. He left all the documents in my store here and he was gone driving and had to come back two hours. I did leave my stuff here? Yeah. You left it here.

SYLVESTER: His estranged wife, Martha Guererro also found it hard to believe he was involved.

MARTHA GUERERRO, SUSPECT'S WIFE: I may not be living with him. We're separated. But I cannot, for the life of mine, think he would be capable of doing that. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm sure of that. I know his innocence is going to come out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Friends say Arbabsiar moved back to Iran in 2010 and they didn't hear much from him, or about him, until they turned on the news and they started seeing the reports, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're learning a lot more about him every single day. I suspect there is a lot more to learn in the weeks and months to come. Lisa, thanks very, very much.

We're also learning a lot more about the other suspect, the suspect that is not in custody. There is another man who was allegedly involved. He remains out of reach at least for now. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He is taking a closer look at this other suspect in this alleged plot.

What you are learning about this guy?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the suspect is at large. He's apparently, as you mentioned, a long way from the reach of U.S. officials. He could very well be protected by a powerful and feared Iranian military unit. And he could still be very dangerous to Western citizens.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): U.S. officials say chief suspect Manssor Arbabsiar was given a codeword for the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador, Chevrolet. They say when Arbabsiar told his Iranian handlers the Chevrolet was ready, he was told buy it. Meaning, go ahead and kill him. The man who told him that, U.S. officials say, is Gholam Shakuri, an officer in Iran's feared Quds Force. Shakuri is charged as a conspirator in the plot. But where is he?

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Shakuri, based in Iran, remains at large.

TODD: At large, and experts say, very elusive. They say he's probably in Tehran, likely a focus of Western law enforcement but for now out of their reach.

(On camera): Is there no chance of getting him?

THOMAS FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, there's a chance. I think the next step would be for the U.S. to issue provisional arrest warrants for him, then go to Interpol in Lyon, France and submit their investigative package to Lyon, to the attorneys there. TODD: Former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes says then Shakuri could be apprehended, but only if he leaves Iran.

(On camera): U.S. officials say Gholam Shakuri, who they believe managed big money transactions in this plot is a deputy to one official in the Quds Force, identified as a cousin of suspect Manssor Arbabsiar. They all allegedly work for General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force.

(voice over): Under Sulamani's leadership, experts say, this shadowy secretive unit, an arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, uses terrorists groups around the world to do its lethal bidding.

PROF. VALI NASR, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Quds Force got their training, their army, their recruitment, all of that. And bombing attacks, use of IEDs, assassinations, all of these happen as part of the conflicts in places like Lebanon and Iraq.

TODD: I asked Fuentes if Western citizens should be worried about Gholam Shakuri.

(On camera): Is he a threat right now?

FUENTES: I would think he's a threat, yes. Because you don't know if this is the only person that he was dealing with. You know, if you has many operatives out in various parts of the world, or others possibly in the United States, although that seems probably unlikely in this case, but you would think that he would have responsibility for more than one potential attack.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Tom Fuentes says that means there could be other attacks being planned right now by Gholam Shakuri, and the Quds Force, possibly targeting Europe, South America, or elsewhere using different cells of operatives. Pretty scary thought, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very scary.

What you are hearing about the suggestion that's this alleged plot could have been Iranian retaliation against the Saudis?

TODD: That's right, you blogged this week about the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Analysts are telling us this could be retaliation for Saudi Arabia's actions during the Arab Spring, in Bahrain. The sent in troops to help the ruling family there put down a popular revolt. That ruling family is Sunni, like the Saudis. That really angered the Iranians. The majority there who staged that revolt, they are Shia, like the Iranians. That was a nasty situation. And the Iranians are still very angry about the Saudis doing that in Bahrain. This could be retaliation for that. It wasn't that long ago.

BLITZER: I suspect on this front, as well, more details are about to emerge. Brian, thank you very much.

A stunning turn of events if the trial of the so-called underwear bomber. We're going to tell what you happened.

Plus, an evangelical leader is calling Mormonism a false religion. So what does Republican presidential candidate, and Mormon, Jon Huntsman have to say about that? I'll ask him. That is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman says he'll boycott next Tuesday's debate in Nevada, which moved the caucus date up to January in violation of Republican Committee rules.

Also roiling the race, the controversy ignited by a Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, who calls the Mormon faith a cult, taking direct aim at two Mormon candidates, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR ROBERT JEFFRESS, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, DALLAS: Part of a pastor's job is to warn his people and others about false religions. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Mormonism are all false religions, and I stand by those statements.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: What do you want to say to this pastor?

JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's unfortunate that one person is driving the narrative during a time when we have 15 million unemployed. We have two wars abroad, we have an uncertain position in the world. We have failing schools. We have the most important election of my lifetime in the 2012 election cycle.

The fact that some moron can stand up and make a comment like that, you know, first of all it's outrageous. Second of all, we're spending so much time discussing it makes it even worse.

I mean, you give a major foreign policy speech today, as I did. The questions that come after the foreign policy speech are more focused on religion, as opposed to our place in the world. This does not help the American people come to terms with the choices that they have in the 2012 election cycle. And as far as I'm concerned, let's stick to the big issues that really matter and leave religion off the table. Last I looked that wasn't a prerequisite or requirement for the presidency.

BLITZER: Which is a fair point. I want to get to your foreign policy, your domestic policy in a moment. What do you say to some of your fellow Republicans presidential candidates who don't even acknowledge that you are in fact Christian?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I don't have any time to discuss this kind of issue. I say let less respect religious beliefs. Let's show a little more tolerance in terms of what people's belief systems are.

Thomas Jefferson got it right when he spoke about tolerance for religions, and the fact this they wouldn't play a role in American politics. And here we sit over 200 years later spending more time than it's worth on this very subject. Let's stick to the core issues that affect this nation and our position in the world, and regaining our competitive core in the 21st century and leave the rest to the side.

BLITZER: I suspect, I know you, Governor, if one of your supporters, someone who introduced you at a major policy conference were to say awful things about another Republican presidential candidate, you would distance yourself very, very quickly from that pastor, or someone else. Are you would run away as quickly as you can. Are you concerned that Rick Perry, who was introduced by this pastor at the Values Voter Summit, is really not distancing himself, challenging, going after this pastor in a way that you probably would like him to?

HUNTSMAN: Make an immediate and decisive break, period. This kind of talk, I think, has no home in American politics these days. You know, anyone who is associated with somebody willing to make those comments ought to stand up and distance themselves in very bold language. And that hasn't been done. And Rick ought to stand up and do that.

BLITZER: Why is Herman Cain doing so well in all of these most recent polls?

HUNTSMAN: Well, everyone has had an opportunity to be the flavor of the week. You know, we have been in this race a little over three months and we have had probably five frontrunners, four frontrunners in about five or six months and they go up and they go down.

I think Herman has captured the imagination of some of the activists in the party. He's made good presentations. He's had a good debate performance. He's a compelling speaker. What I hope these people begin to look at is beyond just the periphery.

What has a candidate done in terms of leadership and in terms of leading a state and in terms of leading large complicated entities? What do candidates know about America's role in the world in the 21st Century? What are they putting forward in terms of real proposals that are not just proposals for the sake of putting forward ideas, but that are realistic in terms of what can get done.

Now I put forward an economic proposal that "Wall Street Journal" has come out and endorsed as best of the bunch. Today, we had a foreign policy speech in where we talk about creating a vision that is 21st Century focused as opposed to based more on the George Kennan post- World War II model.

These are the kinds of things that ultimately are going to sink in with the voters first here in New Hampshire. And I like the fact that we're beginning to get traction in this state. I like the fact that as we had today and yesterday packed town hall meetings.

People are coming out. Republicans and independents are coming out who are looking for vision. They're looking for solutions. They're looking for a practical and visionary pathway forward. That's what we're providing. BLITZER: You've been certainly distinguishing yourself and moving away from some of the other candidates on some of these issues. But a lot of folks are wondering, do you regret in that first Republican debate raising your hand when you were asked if you would support 10 to one, $10 in spending cuts for $1 in tax increases, you went along with all the other Republican candidates. Was that a mistake?

HUNTSMAN: I don't like tax increases. But when you raise your hand, you don't have enough time to say well my tax policy actually calls for the phasing out of all the loopholes and deductions. I would take that revenue and reinvest it back in the tax code. You know, it shows how we have dumb down the whole debate process.

Where we talk more about vaccinations, talk more about books and what they have to say about Social Security nonsense. And we focus much less on the truly important issues like tax reform, like regulatory reform, like energy independence and like our position abroad.

But when you're asked just to raise a hand, you don't have any chance beyond that to explain it. It does it put people in an awkward position and, of course, your knee jerk reaction, Wolf, is to say I don't like tax increases, I'm not going to allow tax increases just like when I was governor.

But there is more to it than meets the eye. You've get the work of the country done. That is what not happening today. There is no leadership. There is no ability to get the work of the people done. We're at extreme ends politically.

We're finger pointing. We're taking cheap shots at each other. We're becoming more partisan with each passing month. All the while the American people want action. They just want the work of their country done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jon Huntsman speaking with me earlier in the week. Meanwhile, Herman Cain is certainly making a surge in the polls. He found himself in the hot seat at this week's Republican debate and at issue, his so-called 999 plan to restructure the U.S. tax code.

Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at his plan. Tom, the other Republican candidates, at least several of them, for the first time are really going after Herman Cain right now.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are. You know, the truth is, Wolf, I'm not the only one. People all over this town are scrutinizing this 999 plan, trying to say what does this thing really mean?

It's featured on his web page. What it means in a simple way is 9 percent sales tax, a 9 percent income tax and a 9 percent corporate tax rate that seems simple enough. That's why it's such a popular idea. It's easy to get the idea of what you're going to do with it.

But when you talk about what this would actually do, you have to say how much money would this generate if things went the same way? Now there have been various efforts to break this down. And I have to tell you right up front, all of these numbers are very, very squishy. Because he's talking about changing so much that he could actually change the way we buy things and the way we act, which would change all of these numbers.

Nonetheless, these are kind of the numbers we're talking about and let's widen that out to show the comparison. Right now, our current tax revenue is $2.16 trillion. Under this plan, one estimate, which is worked up here by "Political Fact, Washington Times" group came up with $1.76 trillion.

There are some others get closer to $2 trillion. And everybody says these numbers again are really squishy. We don't know what to make of this. Maybe that's right. Maybe it would come short like this. The Cain people say it would get up here and it would allow for growth.

The main problem is we're changing so much at once under this 999 plan that nobody seems to be able to prove with any reasonable certainty what it would actually do. But let's go beyond this and look at the impact it could have you.

Personal income tax 9 percent, well, one of the complaints people have about that is that it would replace payroll taxes. That's good for many people who want that changed, but poor and middle class Americans would clearly pay more under this, particularly poor Americans.

Corporate income tax, 9 percent there, well, on the surface if you look at the plan as he described it, this would probably be a huge drop in corporate tax rates if you like that, great. You're happy. A lot of people won't like that.

And the 9 percent national sales tax, this would be in addition to state sales tax. It adds a burden to lower and middle income earners, for sure. Let me put it this way. A 9 percent national sales tax, what that means is the car that you were going to buy for $20,000 is now going to be $22,000.

And you're going to apply that to everything you buy. So it's really hard to figure out what's going to actually happen with all of this. It's a very catchy phrase, 999, but the reality is going to be a lot more complex and nobody knows what it's going to be.

We do know this though. It's so catchy that even people like Spirit Airlines have jumped onboard now offering a 9-9-9 vacation plan, Wolf. So it's a catchy phrase. We just don't know if there are catches in the phrase that we may not like in reality.

BLITZER: Yes. People are looking closer and closer at 9-9-9. Tom, thank you.

A growing union problem for President Obama, at least potentially a key part of his base not very happy right now with the new free trade area agreement deals.

Plus, a courtroom surprise in a closely watched terror trial, the so- called underwear bomber.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A brief, very brief moment of bipartisanship here in Washington this week. Congress approving a number of free trade agreements that's both sides believe will help the ailing U.S. economy.

But a key part of President Obama's political base may not be necessarily completely on board. Let's bring in our White House correspondent Dan Lothian. Dan, what you are picking up over there?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're talking about here is some union members. They think that these trade deals that are being tout the by the White House and others as job creators will actually cost some 200,000 U.S. jobs through outsourcing.

So with the president's low approval ratings, the question is being asked whether this might further alienate some of his supporters. So we saw the president this week making the case to union members in the key swing state of Pennsylvania.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama was in friendly territory Tuesday as he toured an IBEW training center in Pittsburgh, seeing classrooms, labs and equipment.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Would this be a typical for a big industrial building?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.

LOTHIAN: All pieces of the president's effort to put unemployed Americans back to work.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Training workers with the skills they need to compete for good jobs.

LOTHIAN: Unions have largely supported the president, a group critical to his 2012 re-election success. But they're not buying everything in the president's economic basket. While unions seem squarely behind his $447 billion jobs bill, they've blasted the three trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

RICHARD TRUMKA, PRESIDENT, AFL-CIO: The first thing is they cost jobs when we have an 11 million job hold. We have a 9.1 percent unemployment rate. The last thing in the world we need to do is be putting more people out of work.

LOTHIAN: The AFL-CIO ran this ad opposing the trade deals aimed at members of Congress. Labor leaders also met with lawmakers face-to- face.

(on camera): How do you deal with this conflict with the president who really believes that trade deals will lead to jobs in the United States?

TRUMKA: It's tough. It dampens the enthusiasm of our membership.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): The White House clearly aware of their concerns is on a campaign to prove the president's point that the deals will help, not hurt the U.S. economy.

MELODY BARNES, WHITE HOUSE DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISER: To hear what they have to say, to explain why he's taken the position that he has, why he believes so strongly. And Ambassador Kirk believes so strongly that we have the best trade deals possible in addition to trade adjustment assistance that is going to help workers who are trying to maneuver through this new economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now to further drive this point home, the president traveled also this week to Detroit, Michigan. It is an area that has an unemployment rate of more than 11 percent. He toured GM plant there along with the president of South Korea, President Lee.

Talking about the tens of thousands of jobs that these trade deals will help create and how it will boost exports by $13 billion a year. But I'll tell you, Wolf, unions are still very skeptical and their also concerned that trade deals don't go far enough in addressing the problem of workers' rights.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, thanks very much. Dan Lothian is over at the White House. The so-called underwear bomber surprised just about everyone this week. You're going to find out what he did and said in a courtroom.

Plus, an NBA lockout brought on by a war right now between millionaires and billionaires. Just ahead, thousands of workers though, who are suffering the consequences.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A dramatic twist this week in the case of that now infamous 2009 Christmas Day terror plot, which nearly brought down a commercial airliner in the United States and changed airport security screening as we know it. Here's CNN's Deborah Feyerick.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a major surprise on day two of his trial, the accused underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty to all eight charges against him including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted murder.

After a long recess, Abdulmutallab replied, "I plead guilty to each count" read to him by the judge. Sounding defiant, Abdulmutallab read a statement admitting his guilt saying he did it to avenge the death of innocent Muslims.

I am guilty of this by U.S. law, but not in the Koran, he said. He warned the United States if it continued to kill Muslims, a calamity would befall the country.

"If you laugh at us now, we will laugh at you later". Abdulmutallab stand by counsel and legal adviser, Anthony Chambers spoke outside the courthouse.

ANTHONY CHAMBERS, ABDULMUTALLAB'S ATTORNEY: Pleading to something when there is a life sentence is not something that I recommend.

FEYERICK: It's been nearly two years since the Nigerian graduate student turned wanna-be suicide bomber and tried to blow up Delta Northwest Flight 253 with a bomb planted in his underwear. The bomb contained PETN, a compound that's been used in other al Qaeda plots. Prosecutors were pleased with the outcome.

BARBARA MCQUADE, U.S. ATTORNEY: There are other options available. There is a military tribunal system, but I believe that the civilian court system is a valid use. It's a good tool in the terrorism toolbox.

FEYERICK: Passengers aboard the plane were ready to testify against him in court.

DIMITRIOS BESSIS, NORTHWEST FLIGHT 253 PASSENGER: He was guilty. He put terror in children's eyes.

FEYERICK: Bessis says he sat two rows behind Abdulmutallab and tried to put the fire out with his hat.

BESSIS: But it's over with, thank God. We all made it.

FEYERICK: The underwear bomber now faces life in prison. His sentencing will be in January. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Detroit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The ripple effect of the NBA lockout, why it's impacting thousands of people's jobs, even if they have nothing to do directly with basketball. Plus, Jeannie Moos and the case of biker versus the antelope.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a labor stalemate that has already cost NBA players and coaches. I'm just one of the league's fans angered by the lockout. But my livelihood doesn't depend on whether or not they play. Our Casey Wian did speak to some who do rely on basketball -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from Atlanta to Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, there are worries about the impact a prolonged NBA labor dispute could have on local economies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN (voice-over): "The Farm" of Beverly Hills near Staples Center relies on customers going to Lakers and Clippers games for about a third of its business during basketball season. CEO Fran Berger is preparing for a long lull.

FRAN BERGER, CEO, "THE FARM" RESTAURANT: Staffing is going to get cut way back. Everything's going to get cut way back. We won't be buying as much. We won't be having as many people working those nights and those hours. It's going to hit a lot of people.

WIAN: Restaurant workers making minimum wage plus tips. Arena employees making $11 an hour.

DEMEK EMMONS, USHER, STAPLES CENTER: I understand as far as all the union talks. I know they have to negotiate everything, but there are other people out there that actually need the money.

ROBIM DEDEAUX, USHER, STAPLES CENTER: My wife and I, we can't go on vacations and that's just those things we have to cut back on. I have to make sure I watch out for the bills that I have. So I don't want to overspend myself now.

WIAN: The loss is particularly hard for workers in businesses near Staples Center, home to two NBA teams and the potential for 82 nights plus playoffs in lost revenue.

In Atlanta restaurants near Phillips Arena already are reeling from the recent relocation of the Thrashers Professional Hockey team. Now the NBA's Hawks are gone until mid-November at least.

SCOT HUMPHREY'S, GENERAL MANAGER, DANTANNA'S: There's definitely going to be a decrease in business on what would have been home games. We usually get a nice pop two hours before the game. Then depending on how they do some after-game business also.

MIKE LEEBERG, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, MCCORMICK AND SCHMICK'S: You've got the Lakers in town or you've got Lebron in town, then it becomes a whole day affair.

WIAN: Restaurants in some cities say convention and concert business will help soften the blow, but not for 2,000 unionized workers at NBA arenas in California.

MIKE GARCIA, PRESIDENT, SEIU: We have billionaires disputing in a dispute with millionaire ball players. And typically, as is happening across America, it's the working people that suffer the most.

WIAN: The CEO of this restaurant doesn't expect a deal before January.

BERGER: If the NFL can figure it out, I don't know why the NBA can't figure it out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: In some cities arena workers are unionized, and they're very concerned they may not be able to put in the minimum number of hours required to qualify for health insurance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Casey, thank you. And check out my blog, cnn.com/situationroom. I write about this NBA lockout.

Biker versus antelope. Jeanne Moos has the fallout from an amazing encounter. Plus, strong waves in Mexico as a monster hurricane strikes. Hot shots, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots from this week. In Mexico, a strong wave from a hurricane hits a port city. In India, workers harvest rice from a paddy. In Afghanistan, two displaced girls walk through a camp.

And in Germany, black bucks find shelter from the rain. Those are some of this week's "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

An amazing encounter caught on videotape. Jeanne Moos has this story of biker versus antelope.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Biker zero, antelope one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy cow.

MOOS: Imagine the story this South African mountain bike racer will have to tell. Run over by an antelope. The only thing is it's hard to tell a story --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you OK, dude?

MOOS: -- when you don't remember what happened.

EVAN VAN DER SPUY, TEAM JEEP SOUTH AFRICA: As the buck hit me, I was knocked unconscious. So I actually don't know much of the actual experience myself.

MOOS: But we won't forget the moaning of 17-year-old Evan Van Der Spuy.

(on camera): What was that noise coming out of you?

SPUY: I didn't even know I could make those noises.

MOOS: For a minute I thought that that was the antelope.

(voice-over): Though Evan managed to stand up, he doesn't remember a thing until he was in an ambulance headed for an overnight stay in a hospital.

Evan suffered whiplash and a concussion. Meanwhile, the buck was later spotted grazing as if nothing had happened. The good news for Evan, "It could have been a rhino." The video was shot by a camera attached to his teammate's bike.

(on camera): How many times have you looked at the video?

SPUY: Hundreds. I'm still trying to make sense of it myself. Every time I look at it it's one big shock.

MOOS (voice-over): Maybe it's just payback. After all, we hit them all the time. Just last year I hit a deer and I had the deer hair stuck in my car's front grill to prove it. That was traumatic enough. But this Colorado man was biking down a hill and hit a bear back in 2008.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This gigantic bear head with huge teeth was surprised to see me and I was surprised to see him. I think it was almost like a cartoon. We both screamed.

MOOS: Evan didn't have time to scream. He says his helmet, which was almost split apart by the impact, saved his life, and he expects the helmet maker to make a commercial.

(on camera): We can see it now. The first ad for a helmet proven to be --

SPUY: Antelope proof.

MOOS (voice-over): As the description on Youtube put it, the buck stops here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy cow!

MOOS: It's the human's turn to be road kill. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: He's a very lucky young guy. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. And at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.