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THE SITUATION ROOM

Herman Cain Changing Stories?; Herman Cain Gives Interview to Explain Sexual Harassment Allegations; Debate Over the Term 'Lynching'; Big Profits Amid 'Smear Campaign'; Does It Really Matter Who's President?; Crack Cocaine Sentences Eased

Aired November 1, 2011 - 16:00   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 --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When they cannot kill my ideals, like 999, they come after me personally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Herman Cain says he's the victim of a smear campaign and he insists he's not trying to hide anything about the sexual harassment allegations that were made against him.

But each time Cain speaks, new inconsistencies appear to emerge. The latest, an interview with Robin Meade of our sister network HLN. You're going to see it here this hour.

Also, thousands of inmates start walking out of federal prisons. Why sentences for crack cocaine are now being eased. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First he had nothing to say. Then he couldn't remember. After that he recalled a few details and then a few more. In a flurry of interviews and public appearances over the past two days, the Republican front-runner Herman Cain has insisted he never sexually harassed anyone when he headed the National Restaurant Association back in the 1990s.

But each time he seems to say something a bit different. In the latest, an extensive interview with sister network HLN, Herman Cain says he's being deliberately targeted but that his campaign won't be sidetracked.

We have extensive coverage of this important political story.

Let's begin with our own Brian Todd -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have spoken to former colleagues of Herman Cain's at the Restaurant Association, asked them what he was like when he headed the group. We're also taking a look at what Cain said immediately after the allegations surfaced and what he's saying now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): On Monday, Herman Cain said this about allegations of sexual harassment against him.

CAIN: I am unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn't for much, because I didn't do anything.

TODD: On Tuesday in an interview with CNN's HLN, Cain said his memory had improved. He gave details of a financial agreement with one of the women who allegedly complained of inappropriate behavior on his part while he led the National Restaurant Association.

CAIN: That sum of money, my attorney negotiating with her attorney, got less and less because her attorney started to figure out she didn't have a valid claim.

TODD: Cain says the woman got three to six months' severance pay for the complaint. Of the alleged incident, Cain says it involved a woman in her 30s or 40s who worked as a writer in the communications arm of the association. He says all he did was make a comment about her height and:

CAIN: There were a couple of other things in there that I found absolutely ridiculous.

TODD: Asked if he remembers the other case:

CAIN: Absolutely not. I wasn't even aware of the second case until we saw the Politico article.

TODD: But after the story came out, Cain says he did find out who the woman was, someone who worked in the Restaurant Association's governmental affairs department. Cain says he never traveled with either woman.

We spoke with Tom Kelley, a former restaurant industry rep who worked closely with the board of the Restaurant Association while Cain was on the board. Kelley often traveled with Cain. Asked if Cain ever traveled with women:

TOM KELLEY, FORMER RESTAURANT INDUSTRY REPRESENTATIVE: I know that he traveled with his wife quite often. A lot of the junior staffers would not travel to the national convention in Chicago. I didn't -- never had the occasion to see him spending extra time in a bar or in a social setting if it wasn't really business.

TODD: Kelley says he's shocked by the allegations against Cain. He describes Cain as the consummate professional, a magnetic personality who would work the room at every function, always encouraging people, would remember everyone's name, someone who treated women the same as men.

(on camera): Did he have a personal style in small talk or making jokes that could be misinterpreted or maybe put people off? KELLEY: I don't know. I think a lot of politicians are, to take an old phrase, you backslappers. And whether I have never heard of anyone taking that the wrong way from him or other politicians.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: I asked Kelley whether after hours following board functions there might have been fraternization, if the talk was more loose, where things could have been picked up maybe out of context. Kelley said there really wasn't much time for that. The schedule was too tight during the four- or five-day period of board meetings. He says as CEO of that association Herman Cain's time was mapped out to the minute -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does Tom Kelley believe Herman Cain made any mistakes in this situation?

TODD: Well, Kelley said in his job he does a lot of P.R. and branding. He said from his standpoint the one thing he thinks Cain should have done better, crisis communication. He said that message could have been much sharper. He said, of course, you can't plan for something like this. But he says maybe having a better crisis communication structure in place among his team may have turned out things a little bit better for him in this situation.

BLITZER: Yes, I think he's right. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

The sexual harassment allegations were first reported by Politico in a story Sunday night.

Politico's Ken Vogel, one of the reporters investigating all of this, is joining us once again.

Ken, thanks very much for coming in.

KENNETH VOGEL, POLITICO: Pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: His story seems to change, Herman Cain. I will play a clip of what he said yesterday and then what he said today to our own sister network HLN and Robin Meade. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: All we know is that they contacted my office and said that they had two anonymous sources accusing me of sexual harassment. And we said, well, what details can you give us? They couldn't give us any, other than it occurred when I was at the National Restaurant Association.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, that was the wrong sound bite. We were going to play that later.

But go ahead and answer that question first. We will cue up the other two sound bites later. He said that when you first -- over these 10 days that you were trying to get some reaction from his campaign, he said, all you said you had two anonymous sources, but you didn't provide any details. That's why they didn't respond. Go ahead and respond to that.

VOGEL: That's inaccurate. In fact, we did provide them with the name of one of these women. It's the woman who he referred to as a staffer in the political shop.

We also, in our Sunday afternoon interview, which we did right outside the offices of CBS' Washington bureau right before -- in the hours before we posted this story, we again gave him the name of this woman. He had the specifics. He ignored them. And now you are seeing the response where he said that he's piecing together his recollection remembering specific women, including the woman who we asked him about.

BLITZER: Just want to be precise. During those 10 days how many exchanges did you have with him or his campaign?

VOGEL: Multiple exchanges. I can't count them because there were different reporters handling this. But there were multiple exchanges. We had multiple back and forths with them. At one point they acknowledged that Cain was vaguely familiar with the allegations that we were raising and said they were settled.

They subsequently called back to say, we didn't mean settled in the legal sense. We merely meant resolved. They continued to deny that there were these settlements. Now you hear a different story.

BLITZER: Let me see if those other two clips are ready. This is what he said yesterday and how he clarified that today or further explained it today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAIN: I am unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn't for much, because I didn't do anything. But the fact of the matter is I'm not aware of a settlement that came out of that accusation.

It started out where she was making some huge claims about sexual harassment. I do recall that she was asking for a large sum of money. I don't remember what that sum of money was, but as the review of this moved forward, that sum of money, my attorney negotiating with her attorney, got less and less because her attorney started to figure out she didn't have a valid claim.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, he said my attorney. Is he referring based on all your reporting to the general counsel for the National Restaurant Association? Is that what he is saying? Or did he have another attorney who was personally representing him in these sexual allegation claims?

VOGEL: It's unclear. There is another attorney whose name was in fact listed on the documentation that we saw, the settlement that we saw.

The main name and the person who handled it for the Restaurant Association who Herman Cain has referred to several times as being the point person on this is a guy by the name of Peter Kilgore. He's a general counsel for the association.

As we understand it, he kept this thing fairly closely under wraps. It was a very small group of people at the association who were aware of this. Peter Kilgore took the lead. Herman Cain said earlier that in fact the human resources director was one of the folks who handled this. We spoke to her. She denied all knowledge of it.

BLITZER: The H.R. Person. Because yesterday he said at the National Press Club, and you remember this, he said he had recused himself and let the general counsel of the National Restaurant Association and the human resources person deal with it. And he wasn't involved at all. Today, we're getting a little bit different, that he seemed to know what was going on.

VOGEL: That's right. And he also referred to a thorough investigation. We didn't find any evidence of that. I have seen other reporting that suggested that in fact there was a committee, a special committee of the board of directors that was set up to investigate this.

We have not confirmed that with our own reporting. As far as we can tell, most board members including the directors of the organization, the chairman of the board, vice chairman of the board and treasurer of the board, were all completely unaware of this as they tell us and frankly some of them were a little bit upset that they were unaware of this.

BLITZER: Do you have any more information on the nature of these alleged sexual allegations or what was going on?

VOGEL: We continue to report this out as we reported on Sunday night. In fact, Herman Cain did invite one of the women up to his hotel room. We understand that that was in fact at an association convention or meeting, probably one of these in Chicago, and that this woman is, in fact, the woman who worked in the political affairs shop that Herman Cain has referred to. And so we are continuing to pursue those lines of reporting.

BLITZER: When Herman Cain said that he doesn't understand why these women are now going public, and trying to hurt him, is that true that these two women want to go public? Because there is a confidentiality agreement they both apparently signed that doesn't allow them to discuss this.

VOGEL: Not at all. As far as we can understand, these women are extremely skittish. They don't want to go public. They would have happily left this in their past.

And through our reporting, our extensive interviews with multiple members of the board of directors as well as people familiar with the organization at the time that Herman Cain was at the helm, we managed to identify who these women were. We are keeping their identities private so as not to put them in an even more uncomfortable situation than they're already in and also to try to respect the terms of their nondisclosure agreements.

BLITZER: Because I see "The Washington Post" reporting today they also have identified these two women, but they are going to keep their names confidential to protect their privacy as well.

When he says this is a smear campaign, somebody put these women, somebody put them up to it, somebody put you up to it, what do you say?

VOGEL: Well, no one put these women up to it. In fact, it was like pulling teeth to get information on this story. We managed to do it. There have been a lot of allegations about where the original tip for this came from, suggestions that perhaps it came from another campaign.

Our position is, look at the reporting. Look at the facts. Look at how he has acknowledged some of the facts that were originally disputed. We stand by our reporting on this. He will have to answer to the specifics as opposed to the messenger.

BLITZER: One final question. Any other women out there have come forward and made similar accusations or just these two as far as you know?

VOGEL: These are the women that we have identified and that we are prepared to identify. We continue to report on both his tenure at the National Restaurant Association as well as his time at Godfather's Pizza. And if there is anything to report, we will have it.

BLITZER: But you don't have anything yet?

VOGEL: Correct.

BLITZER: Ken Vogel, thanks very much.

VOGEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Herman Cain offers new details about the sexual harassments allegations made against him, but why have there been so many inconsistencies in his responses? The Republican front-runner speaks with HLN's Robin Meade. You will see the interview here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by.

Also, assigned to help America dig its way out of debt, the congressional super committee now apparently deadlocked as a deadline looms -- dire warnings from bipartisan budget experts. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Horrible day on Wall Street today. We're going to get to that nearly 300-point drop - the Dow Jones industrials because of fears of what's happening in Europe and Greece. Stand by, much more on breaking news coming up. Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Think NASCAR, with the start of the primaries a few short months away the Republican race for president is on.

Here's the deal -- once the Republicans started their engines, Rick Perry jumped out in front, then promptly crashed going into the first turn. Michele Bachmann's car wouldn't start. Herman Cain blew a tire just as he grabbed the lead, now today he says he's remembering why. Sure.

As for some of the others, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and others, they are back in the pack, all fighting for position, long shots at best at this point. And that leaves Mitt Romney in the lead. After the Cain allegations, Romney is now the prohibitive favorite to take the checkered flag, win the nomination and take on President Obama next November -- at least for now.

Romney is the same guy the Republicans wanted no part of four years ago when John McCain was the nominee. Polls show that most Republicans think Romney has the best chance to beat President Obama.

But even if he does, so what? What difference does it really make? Given the bitter partisanship of Congress how much does it even matter if Romney wins? Unless the Republicans win the Senate, retain control of the House, Romney won't be able to get any more done than President Obama has.

Our country hasn't been this divided since the Civil War. There was a time , a long time ago, when politicians from both sides of the aisle were able to acknowledge their differences and still work together. No more.

Here's the question: With the nation so badly divided, how much does it really matter who the president is?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

As bipartisan budget experts issue dire new warnings, the congressional super committee assigned to help America dig its way out of this enormous debt remains deadlocked and a critical deadline is looming.

Let's go live to our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan, she's working the story.

What's the latest Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf.

These four budget experts, their names have really become synonymous with the idea of bipartisan deficit reduction. We are talking about the former Senators Alan Simpson and Pete Domenici, former White House Chief of Staff, Erskine Bowles and former White House budget director, Alice Rivlin.

All four of these budget experts came before the super committee today, really offering up a clear message as well as dire predictions of what will happen if this committee fails. Their message, you cannot fail. You need to go big and you need to go beyond the $1.2 trillion in deficit savings minimum that is required by law.

Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERSKINE BOWLES, CHAIRPERSON, NATIONAL COMMISSION ON FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY AND REFORM: I know most of you. I have worked closely with almost all of you on both sides of the aisle. I have great respect for each of you individually. But collectively I'm worried you're going to fail. Fail the country.

ALAN SIMPSON, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL COMMISSION ON FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY AND REFORM So this is the toughest thing you have ever been in or ever will be in without question, what you are doing. You have my deepest admiration and respect, all of you. And you all know what you have to do in your gut you know what you have to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Now all four of these budget experts basically laid out to the committee. What we have heard from budget experts all along Wolf is that this committee in order to succeed in their view and to stabilize the country's debt they have to take on the "Tough Stuff." The politically sensitive, the politically difficult and politically charged issues of taking on significant reforms to entitlement programs like Medicare which Democrats have been generally opposed to all along.

But also taking on new revenue which Republicans have remained firmly against any tax increases. That is seen to be a point that Democratic senator Patty Murray, a co-chair of the super committee wanted to point out and drive home with a show of hands during the hearing. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), MICHIGAN: So let me just ask all of you maybe by a show of hands. Do all of you believe that to get a balanced program that addresses the fiscal crisis, do we need both spending cuts including entitlement reform and revenue increases? Show of hands. OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Bottom line, you know well Wolf, and I know our viewers do too, time is running out. They have a deadline of reaching agreement in this committee of November 23, which has many believing around here, as well as the budget experts before testifying today, saying that it seems less and less likely, that it's more difficult for this committee in the time that we are dealing with now for them to be able to come up with comprehensive broad-based tax reform that they would need to take on since it's a very complex issue in this short time frame.

That's why we heard from these witnesses today, kind of putting out there maybe a multi step-process, putting a process in place that would require the relevant committees to later on take on additional deficit reduction.

Bottom line, again, though, time is running out and the issue of taxes of new revenue remains a sticking point and really where this committee seems deadlocked at this point. But I'm told by aides on both sides though that committee continues to meet, and will continue to try to work toward a deal, though it seems that they are not close to one at this point.

BLITZER: And when they say revenue increases, they mean either tax increases by raising tax rates or by eliminating various loopholes which effectively could be tax increases as well.

Kate, we'll stay in very close touch with you. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We have got some of the day's other top stories coming up including much more on Herman Cain. He's peaking out to our sister network HLN. What he told Robin Meade that may, repeat may, conflict with some of his earlier statements.

And thousands of federal prisoners are set to go free. Many as soon as today. We're going to tell you why. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in "The Situation Room" right now. Lisa I take it there is word of a possible agreement between Syria and Arab league?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right Wolf.

Syria and the Arab League have reached an agreement on a proposal to end the violent crackdown in that country. details aren't yet known but an announcement is set for tomorrow in Cairo. The Arab league has called on Syria's government to end all violence against citizens, And that included removing tanks and military vehicles from the streets and releasing political prisoners.

The FBI is investigating a suspicious incident today at Chicago's O'Hare airport involving a checked bag. The Chicago fire department, says a baggage handler received minor burns, after a bag of batteries either caught fire or exploded. The official says a metal strip may have triggered the incident. The FBI is interviewing the bag's owner, but it is being treated at this point as an accident. And the Iowa corn field made famous in the iconic 1989 film "Field of Dreams" it has now been sold. An Illinois couple bought the 193 acre farm. According to the Chicago Tribune they plan to develop it into a youth baseball and softball complex that will include a dozen baseball fields and an indoor training facility. So what's the famous line? If they build it, they will come? That's literally what they are doing now.

BLITZER: Any idea what they paid for that?

SYLVESTER: I don't know. 193 acres though, that's a good size.

BLITZER: A lot of acres. I wonder how much it costs. We'll tell our viewers later. You're going to check that. OK good, thanks Lisa.

BLITZER: Herman Cain calls it a smear campaign. And he's speaking out to our sister network HLN about those allegations of sexual harassment. Wait until you hear what he told our anchor Robin Meade that she says, shocked her. We'll also speak with Robin, stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our top story is Herman Cain's changing story. The Republican front runner has offered new details in response to allegations that he sexually harassed two women while heading the National Restaurant Association, back in the 1990s.

Cain spoke with Robin Meade of our sister network, HLN.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBIN MEADE, HLN HOST: A lot of people are asking this morning did you say one thing earlier yesterday about sexual harassment allegations against you but then something completely different hours later. Let's watch a as things happened yesterday.

CAIN: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?

CAIN: Have a nice day.

If the restaurant association did a settlement, I wasn't even aware of it and I hope it wasn't for much, because nothing happened. So if there was a settlement, it was handled by some of the other officers that worked for me at the association. So the answer is absolutely not.

I am unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn't for much because I didn't do anything. But the fact of the matter is I'm not aware of a settlement that came out of that accusation.

I was aware that an agreement was reached. The word "settlement" versus the word "agreement," you know, I'm not sure what they called it. I know that there was some sort of agreement, but because it ended up being minimal, they didn't have to bring it to me.

There is one incident that I recalled as the day has gone on. She was in my office one day. I made a gesture saying -- and I was standing close to her and I made a gesture, you're the same height as my wife.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MEADE: So I'm confused a little bit, Mr. Cain. You do sell yourself as a straight shooter. What's with what sounds like inconsistencies? Were there inconsistencies or no, yesterday?

CAIN: OK, Robin.

MEADE: Yes?

CAIN: Thank you for giving me a chance to clear the air. This was 12 years ago. I was falsely accused. And secondly, the word "settlement" suggested to me some sort of legal settlement. And as I recalled what happened 12 years ago, I recall an agreement. I wasn't thinking legal settlement.

And so the words have been suspect. And I do recall an agreement. I recalled as I went through today that there was an agreement with the lady who made the charges, and they were found to be false. I have never committed sexual harassment in my entire career, period. And it was found that nothing took place in terms of sexual harassment in this particular case.

MEADE: And you said that all along that they were false accusations, that they were not found to be valid enough that the accusation stood. But as the day went on you seemed to recall more about the different cases as the day went on. Is there anything new? Now that we are fully 24, 48 hours into this are you remembering more about what happened, Mr. Cain?

MEADE: That's it. The best account was the one I gave last night on another station. The only thing I added -- remember, this was 12 years ago. I was trying to recollect this in the middle of an already busy, planned day, a major speech in the morning, a major luncheon speech at the press club. And so the only other thing I can remember when I was asked for specific things in the allegation, I came up with the fact that I made a gesture by putting my hand under my chin standing near this lady saying, oh, you're the same height as my wife. My wife is 5'0", she comes up to my chin, and I was making that comparison. We were in my office. The door was wide open and my assistant was sitting outside.

MEADE: Do you know why all of the sudden you remembered things about it yesterday? Were you informed more or told more about the case?

CAIN: No. I just started to remember more. Remember, in 12 years a lot of stuff can go through your head. This wasn't exactly something I had top of mind where I was trying to recall every little detail that went on 12 years ago. But as the day went on, in the middle of all the other things I had planned -- and by the way, we did not let this distraction stop me from making all of the appointments that I had made in order to get my campaign message out.

MEADE: Now, at the same time, does the story where this all started was from, "Politico," and it had mentioned that there were two cases, two accusations of sexual harassment. Do you remember anything now about the other case?

CAIN: Absolutely not. I wasn't even aware of the second case until we saw the "Politico" article. The first one I was aware of, but the second one, I have -- and I still haven't recalled. I didn't even know the second one existed, if it exists, because, remember, the article a said two anonymous sources.

MEADE: So you said that regarding the first one that you do remember a little bit about now, that you turned the complaint over to the HR person and the general counsel, and that you didn't know what happened to the complaint. Did you ever ask, what's she accusing me of? How did this turn out?

CAIN: I did. But when he said the gesture with the height thing, and there were a couple of other things in there that I found absolutely ridiculous.

MEADE: What were those?

CAIN: I don't even remember. They were so ridiculous, I don't remember what they were.

MEADE: You remember they were ridiculous but you don't remember what the other things were?

CAIN: The reason I forgot them, Robin, is because they were ridiculous. I dismissed them out of my mind. I said, if she can make that stick and call that sexual harassment, fine. But it didn't stick, OK? So I don't remember what they were. The only thing I remember is that one gesture I made talking about the height.

MEADE: So did you never find out -- why did you never go back to HR to find out what their review had found?

CAIN: Because it started out -- it started out where she was making some huge claims about sexual harassment. I do recall she was asking for a large sum of money. I don't remember what that sum of money was, but as the review of this moved forward, that sum of money - my attorney negotiated with her attorney, and it got less and less and less because her attorney started to figure out she didn't have a valid claim. She couldn't find people to corroborate some of these things she was making.

And so as it got smaller and smaller, it turned out to be from my perspective, which is why I didn't go back and ask to see it, more of a separation agreement rather than some sort of legal settlement. This is why the word changed from "settlement" -- because the word "settlement" was in the "Politico" article. I remember an agreement. In many corporations, sometimes you call them separation agreements, not separation settlements. And so this is why later the idea of the agreement did come back to memory.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, let's get to Robin Meade right now joining us live. Robin, we'll have more of your interview in the next hour. But I know you have been in touch with Herman Cain's campaign. One issue, when he says "my attorney was negotiating with her attorney," it was unclear to me if he had a personal attorney or whether he is referring to the general counsel for the National Restaurant Association. And you have got some clarification.

MEADE: Yes. Earlier when you talked about that I wasn't sure, because for some people they might feel like, oh, well, my association's attorney is also my attorney. We did reach out to the Herman Cain camp and it did confirm that that, yes, it was the NRA legal counsel, Peter Kilgore. That would appear to be inside negotiations and not her attorney, my attorney in terms of outside. Why did you notice that?

BLITZER: The National Restaurant Association -- not the National Rifle Association. But you're talking about the National Restaurant Association. He was the chief lobbyist, the CEO of the National Restaurant Association. So when he says "my attorney" he's referring to Peter Kilgore, the general counsel of the National Restaurant Association.

The other point yesterday was the head of HR at the National Restaurant Association, he recused himself to let this person get involved. You heard Ken Vogel say they checked with HR and the person running HR at the National Restaurant Association said this was all news to that person, wasn't aware of it. We'll continue to do some reporting on this part of the story.

What do you think of Mr. Cain in the interview? You had a chance to size him up. You asked him some really good questions.

MEADE: Thank you. He was in D.C. and I'm in Atlanta. I asked my team, see what he looks like. Is he in a bad mood, a good mood, but the Herman Cain the voters and viewers need to know was the guy who came in this morning ready to answer these questions.

I take it he was really ready to do some damage control. And while maybe we got answers on some things, I feel we still have a lot of questions that did not get answered. For one, you know, his memory, he said, got better as the day wore on yesterday. Maybe it got a little bit better today, too, when he said, I remember some items, some other items in that complaint that were so ridiculous.

And notice I cut him off and said, like what? What do you remember? And all of the sudden he said, I don't remember what they were, they were so ridiculous.

So he's a guy that's known as a straight shooter, but when you leave things unanswered or it looks like your story has changed, the viewer may have doubts or questions about is the guy known as a straight shooter being straight still after 24 to 48 hours into it? BLITZER: We'll see what happens. I write about this, by the way, on my blog today, my SITUATION ROOM blog, because I was here after your interview. I met him outside the studio and escorted him to the elevator. He was in a really good mood. He thought he'd done a good job. He was determined to keep on schedule, keep focus, continue with the campaign, and not allow any of what he calls this distraction to hurt that operation at all. Robin, thanks for joining us.

MEADE: Thank you. And credit to Herman Cain for coming on and talking at length on a day that must have been high stress for him, too.

BLITZER: He's willing to go on television, answer the tough questions. You've got to give him credit for that, and you did. Robin, thanks very much. And you did an excellent job, I should say. Robin Meade of our sister network HLN. You can watch her, by the way, every morning 6:00 a.m. to noon on HLN. She works hard. She's getting ready to go to sleep now. This is late night TV for Robin. Robin, thanks for staying up late, robin.

Damage control. Is Herman Cain digging himself into a deeper mess with some of those so called inconsistencies? We'll assess what we heard from Donna Brazile and David Frum. They're both standing by live for our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us now is our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile along with CNN contributor David Frum of the FrumForum.com.

You had an interesting tweet earlier in the day that I noticed, Donna. You wrote this, "What's on your menu? Cain stew. Hot mess and it doesn't appear he knows how to get in front of the story. Now he's making up stuff up again." Making stuff up again? What's he doing?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: As you can tell over the past 24 hours he changed the story. First he denied the accusation. Then he went on last night on another network to explain what might have happened. Now he's saying he understands there was one case that was settled. So he's continuing to change the story. He's backpedaling, he's backtracking. You know, the first rule, Wolf is to get out in front of the story, put all the facts out there, and to try to reframe the debate. Clearly there is no one inside Mr. Cain's world that understands the first rules of public relations.

BLITZER: I think that's true, but when you say "making stuff up" what's that?

BRAZILE: It means that it looks as though he doesn't know all of the allegations that are out there. He didn't know what was in the settlement. So he's making it up to cover it up I think until he can get the full explanation.

He needs to call upon the National Restaurant Association to go ahead, release the confidential information, waive his confidentiality, and keep the women confidential so the information can come out.

BLITZER: He told Robin Meade in an interview and we'll have more in the next hour, he had one of his biggest fund raising days online yesterday in the aftermath of these allegations. How do you explain that?

DAVID FRUM, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Herman Cain may or may not be qualified to be president. But he's proven he's abundantly qualified to be a conservative martyr. What is shaping up is a true culture war. Here I think is what is going to happen.

The story will as Donna predicts ultimately all come out. All the details will be there. My guess is what we are going to hear is a story that it's not so trivial that it will silence all criticism, but it won't be so heinous as to finish him off. It will be in the middle zone.

And what will happen is people get really excited about sexual harassment, take it very seriously, will be angry at him and then conservatives will say, wait a minute, what about Clinton? What about Edwards? Why is it always our guys who get hammered?

You give your guys a pass. There will be a racial angle because now we have the second time it's happened to a prominent black conservative, how an accusation like this was brought forward.

BLITZER: You're referring to Clarence Thomas.

FRUM: And it will become the red hot issue of the conservatives who are uncomfortable with the Mitt Romney election campaigns are going to be very comfortable with. Money will be raised. This will be explosive.

BLITZER: The accusation, high tech lynching. You remember the words during the Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas uproar that occurred back in 1991.

Roland Martin, our contributor and friend, he tweeted this today. He tweeted, conservatives, this is a lynching and he shows a picture of a lynching. What is happening to @thehermancain, which is Herman Cain's name on Twitter, is not a lynching.

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, Wolf, I understand people want to make comparisons to Clarence Thomas because he's conservative. But, look, we have conservative blacks, liberal blacks, moderate blacks like white folks and like Hispanic folks and Asian-American folks.

Blacks come in all flavors, colors, distinct philosophies so I don't think it has anything to do with the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill episode. This is Herman Cain running for president of the United States. There's been an accusation against him.

And if he had a good campaign staff, they would have done opposition research. He would have been in front of the story. He would have been able to pivot and move on. The only time conservatives care about race is when somebody who's so-called republican wants to discuss race.

This has nothing to with race. This has everything to do with sexual harassment and gender not race. It's not a racial -- it's not race.

FRUM: You're playing this exactly the way it is going to be played. We'll hear it's not about sex, it's not about race, it's about power. That is what one side will say.

But the other side will give money to Herman Cain. Somebody who shouldn't be running for president certainly shouldn't be topping the polls is about to become a very visible, very powerful, very exciting conservative martyr figure.

You may not like it that way. You may not think it should be that way. It's going to be that way.

BRAZILE: He's not my brand of tea. Sharon Angle raised money when she was in trouble, Christine O'Donnell so conservatives like to give money to candidates who are not qualified to run for public office.

BLITZER: He's getting money right now. He's doing well probably in part. He's been doing well all along. October was a great a month for him, but in part because of this. All right, guys, standby. We'll continue the conversation.

So does it really matter who's president of the United States? Jack Cafferty is reading your comments. That's part of today's question coming up in the "Cafferty File" next.

Plus, hundreds if not thousands of federal prisoners are getting ready to walk out of prison right now and it's all because of a brand new law. Standby. We'll explain that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack's back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is with the nation so badly divided how much does it really matter who the president is.

John writes, "It doesn't matter at all who the president is. The Republicans are willing to waste four years to defeat a Democratic president. If the next president is a Republican, the Democrats will waste another four years trying to defeat him or her and so on.

Congress has the responsibility to write laws that help the country. Instead they choose to act like little children. I'm totally fed up with all of it."

Peter on Facebook writes, "Yes, it is better than the direction of the country be nudged to the right rather than driven off the cliff to the left."

Rich in Florida writes, "I have been saying for a while not it really doesn't matter who's the president. Jack, if you were president there would be only so much you could do without Congress going along. That's good.

We don't want an all-powerful president. So by all means let's focus instead on our congressmen. Probably he's a nice guy, but is he a go along, get along guy who's part of the problem? Chances are he is, so he's got to go."

Dan in Alabama writes, "Only if we had a Tea Party president would it matter. God help the middle class, seniors and the poor if one is elected. That's OK though. When we are all slave to the rich, they will finally have to pay taxes because we won't make enough money to be able to."

Bob writes, "The president sets not the only the agenda and direction and a tone of the nation. The country is now more divided than at any time since the civil war.

Our president has chosen to set the tone of class warfare pitting neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, creating winners and losers and catering to the donor base. We need a president badly. I hope we get one soon."

David in Virginia writes, "Yes, the Democrats are ineffective, but at least they are not evil. You can't vote for evil."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog cnn.com/caffertyfile. We'll throw our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll do, Jack. Thank you. Hundreds of federal prisoners across the United States are now free to walk because of a pivotal change in the law. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Nearly 2,000 federal prisoners could walk free today. It's all because of a new law, that law, which went into effect today reducing sentences for crack cocaine offenses.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow in New York. Mary, why is this change and recommended prison sentences unfolding right now?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, sentences for crack cocaine have long been criticized as being too harsh. The Bureau of Prison said it doesn't have an exact number of prisoners released today, but a spokesman says staff members are working around the clock to process hundreds of orders coming in from judges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Among inmates who stand to be released early from prison is Hamedah Hasan. Featured in this video by the ACOU.

HAMEDAH HASAN (via telephone): I'm a 43-year-old mother and grandmother currently serving my 18th year into a 27-year federal prison sentence.

SNOW: The ACOU points out that had she been convicted of cocaine charges, she would no longer be in prison. New guidelines shorten sentences for an estimated 12,000 inmates.

MICHAEL NACHMANOFF, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER: This really has been one of the great stains on our federal criminal justice system for 20 years or more.

SNOW: Michael Nachmanoff is a federal public defender who has fought for years to change crack cocaine sentences so they are similar to punishments for crimes involving powdered cocaine.

While the U.S. Sentencing Commission changed the guidelines this summer, they only now went into effect for those in prison. Nachmanoff says 75 of his clients were freed.

NACHMANOFF: A lot of people have been sitting in jail for a long time, not because they didn't commit crimes, but because the punishment they faced was too harsh and unjustified compared to other people who committed similar crimes in similar ways.

SNOW: He says there has been a racial disparity, but the majority of people convicted of possession were dealing crack were African- Americans. Congress created harsh sentences for crack cocaine when it hit the streets in the 1980s.

Five grams of crack amounted to five years in prison, the same sentence for 500 grams of cocaine. In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced disparities. It's something Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums has fought for.

JULIE STEWARD, FAMM: Yes, the person has broken the law. Yes, there should be a consequence, but how much time is too much? Most mandatory sentences are so high and so rigid that judges can't get around them. So people are going to prisons for extraordinarily long times, way beyond what they need to learn their lesson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Wolf, these new rules do more than spell freedom for thousands of eligible inmates who were eligible for early release. The Federal Sentencing Commission estimates $200 million could be saved within the first five years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating stuff, Mary. Thank you.