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THE SITUATION ROOM
Suspicious Letter To Obama Intercepted; "These Are Not FBI Agents But Bandits"; Holder Reviewing Holder; Reporter Singled Out as Potential Co-Conspirator; News organizations Decline Holder Meeting; Should U.S. Army Arm Syrian Rebels?; Chicago's Bull; Massive Deal Raising Food Safety Fears
Aired May 30, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We certainly will. Also happening now, a poison letter scare over at the White House. Was President Obama targeted with deadly ricin?
And food safety fears as a Chinese company buys America's largest pork processor.
And of course, the breaking news we're following, tornado warnings up in ravaged parts of Oklahoma. We're on the ground. We're chasing the storms.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: And let's get to breaking news right now. In Oklahoma which, of course, is still reeling from a tornado disaster that tore through the town of Moore just ten days ago. Severe weather once again churning across the region, and right now, people are being warned, take cover.
CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Myers, he is on the ground for us in Oklahoma right now chasing the latest storms. Chad, first of all, tell our viewers where you are and what you're seeing.
VOICE OF CHAD MYERS, SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: Wolf, I'm in Purcell, Oklahoma on a special system called live view. We're going to have a long delay (INAUDIBLE) about three or four seconds, but this is brand new technology. We can get very, very good video here from the field. We're not a satellite truck. And behind us is the storm that we've been watching all day. The great part, on the left, that's the kind of hang down part, that's called dot (ph).
It's the air that's just rapidly rising into the storm, itself. That's where a tornado would form if there was one on the ground right now. We have a great deal of this. We are well out of the way. No one is in any danger here, but we do have a lot of lightning in this storm. And as I take a look up just to the point for the northeast of the cell here, I can see a green tip to the storm.
Now, think about this. Think about the green tip that you see when you look at an old bottle, atop, the old bottle, that's the same kind of refraction that you would see from a hail stone. So, when you see a storm that is green, you know there's hail in it. And we do know this is hail falling out of this storm on up in the Norman area.
The good news is, earlier today, we thought Moore and Norman were really in the path of the rotation. It appears this storm really went to the northeast or went to the east rather and that will eventually move the storm across Purcell, across the river, across I-35, and away from Norman and Msoore as we take a look at the rest of the day as this storm kind of moves off to the east, a slow trip, about 20, 25 miles per hour.
BLITZER: Chad, at least Moore, Oklahoma which was so destroyed, at least big chunks of it only last week, is that free and clear right now? Is that what you're saying?
MYERS: It is free and clear, Wolf, of the rotation, of the tornado potential, but not free and clear of the wind damage nor the hail. When you're north of the storm, that's what the hail for is. We are south and southwest of the storm. That's where the rotation potential is, that's where the tornado is in a super cell thunderstorm.
So, Moore, especially Norman, still in the hail (ph) for, and because I (INAUDIBLE), so that hail is falling out of the storm. So, we do know that this is going to have some hail damage in the Norman area likely for the rest of the night at least for the next half hour to 30 minutes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we'll stay on top of it. But very quickly, this is no longer just a tornado warning or tornado watch. There actually is a tornado or some tornadoes on the ground. Is that right?
MYERS: You know, that's to the north of Oklahoma City proper or northeast of Oklahoma City proper. That area will eventually see Purcell, will actually see that and northeast of there on up toward still water, still not the storms that we're chasing. The storms that we're chasing are south of Oklahoma City, because those are the ones that will eventually potentially go into Oklahoma City, itself.
Now, that's it -- now, we're in good shape, but it's still going to be a long night for people here. More storms are developing to the west, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Chad is watching what's going on. All right. Chad, thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch with you, and of course, if we get images and word of an actual tornado on the ground in the populated or maybe not even such a populated area, we'll go back to that story and keep up some pictures for you all of the time as well.
But there's other news we're following here in the SITUATION ROOM. For the second time in as many months, the president of the United States possibly targeted with a deadly poison. Officials have intercepted a letter addressed to the White House that's similar to threatening letters sent to the New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and others by someone with an axe to grind over gun control. Those letters initially tested positive for ricin. Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is over at the White House for us. What are you hearing, Jim? What's the latest?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, White House officials say President Obama was never in any danger and that he has been informed about this latest suspicious letter that was addressed to the president. For now, law enforcement officials do believe that that letter is connected to two others sent to New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and a Bloomberg pro-gun control group, and there was a clear threat of violence.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Federal investigators say the suspicious letters started coming in last Friday. The first addressed to New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, intercepted at the city government's mail sorting facility. Three days later, another letter opened up at the D.C. office of Bloomberg's pro-gun control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Then, within the last day, a similar letter addressed to President Obama was also flagged as suspicious and seized and an offsite screening facility used for White House mail. But according to a D.C. police report, the director of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Mark Glaze, actually opened his letter. The report says that letter contained a whitish orange substance on a note with a threatening message.
Authorities believe all three letters are connected. With no return address or senders' name, the envelopes were postmarked Shreveport, Louisiana. Investigators say two of the letters to Bloomberg and the mayors against illegal guns have initially tested positive for ricin, the potentially deadly poison made from castor beans.
A law enforcement official tells CNN the writer in those letters threatened, "You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns. Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face. The right to bear arms is my constitutional, God given right, and I will exercise that right until the day I die."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son, Alex, was killed in Aurora, Colorado.
ACOSTA: An apparent reference to Bloomberg's long running campaign for new restrictions on firearms.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) NEW YORK: The letter obviously referred to our anti-gun efforts, but there's 12,000 people that are going to get killed this year with guns and 19,000 that are going to commit suicide with guns, and we're not going to walk away from those efforts.
ACOSTA: For now, investigators don't believe the latest suspicious letter case is connected to the ricin tainted mail sent to the president and Mississippi GOP senator, Roger Wicker, last month, or another case just last week in Washington State where FBI agents arrested a man accused of sending a ricin tainted letter to a federal judge.
One law enforcement official says it appears copycats are at work adding some people are getting some bad ideas, which is why the White House has long had its own special screening facility.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There have been long established procedures and protocols. Any time a suspicious powder is located in a mail facility, it is tested. And I would underscore that the mail is screened. The mail sent here is screened and that these tests are undertaken at remote sites to mitigate the risk both to those recipients and to the general population.
ACOSTA (on-camera): For now, investigators are not saying whether this latest suspicious letter sent to the president initially tested positive for ricin. That letter along with the others have been sent off to the joint terrorism task force for further investigation and analysis, but we can tell you, Wolf, that Mark Glaze with the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, he is doing just fine according to that organization -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of other organizations are looking out for these kinds of letters as well. Let's hope there aren't any others out there. Jim Acosta, thank you.
Some disturbing images in our next story. A grieving father displaying pictures of his dead son killed while being questioned about his ties to the Boston bombing suspects. The family is speaking out and they are demanding what they call justice. They want an FBI agent and two Massachusetts police officers to be charged and tried.
CNNs Alina Machado is joining us now. She's got details on the very latest. What's going on, Alina?
ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Ibragim Todashev's father has plans to come to the U.S. to pick up his son's body. So far, he has only seen pictures of it, and he says those pictures raise serious questions.
MACHADO (voice-over): Holding photos of his son's body, Abdulbaki Todashev, had harsh words for the FBI.
ABDULBAKI TODASHEV, FATHER OF IBRAGIM TODASHEV (through translator): At the moment, I want justice and I want there to be an investigation. So, that these people are tried under American law. These are not FBI agents but bandits. I cannot call them anything else, and they must be tried.
MACHADO: It's been more than a week since Ibragim Todashev was shot and killed in his Orlando home while being questioned about his relationship with dead Boston marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A source briefed on the investigation told CNN last week two Massachusetts state police officers and a Boston based FBI agent were interviewing Todashev when he grabbed a knife prompting the shooting.
TODASHEV: It's absurd. There were four or five armed, well-trained people from the FBI or police. Couldn't they handle my son?
MACHADO: Another law enforcement official briefed on the case tells CNN Thursday Todashev turned a table over and went after the agent during the questioning. The official goes on to say whether Todashev had a weapon or not, there was concern he could have grabbed the agent's gun. Todashev's family as well as an attorney for the council on American Islamic relations believe Todashev was not armed. They want to know exactly what happened.
HASSAN SHIBLY, ATTORNEY, CAIR: We received confirmation that he was in fact unarmed when he was shot seven times once in the head. The best claim they have is that there was a decorative sword in the room somewhere. My question is, if they really thought that sword was a threat, why would they interrogate a suspect that they thought committed murder in four hours at the room with what they perceived to be a weapon.
MACHADO: A law enforcement source has said Todashev implicated Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a 2011 triple homicide in Massachusetts during the questioning. That source also says Todashev confessed to having a direct role in the crime.
RENI MANUKYAN, EX-WIFE OF IBRAGIM TODASHEV: This is absolutely not true, because they can even check the phones and everything. There were not conversations. They were not texting 24/7 to each other. Maybe once in a couple months they just sent each other text message, how are they doing, and that's it, but never close.
MACHADO: An FBI internal review team has been investigating and looking into the circumstances of the shooting since last week.
MACHADO (on-camera): That team of investigators is made up of members of the FBI and the Department of Justice. The FBI says they'll be taking a good look at the evidence to determine if the use of deadly force was justified -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Do we know how long, Alina, this investigation will take?
MACHADO: Wolf, the FBI isn't saying, but we're told this review process is thorough and objective and conducted as expeditiously as possible. That was their word in a news release -- Wolf.
BLITZER: When will Todashev's father be here in the United States?
MACHADO: Well, Todashev's father told reporters in Russia today that he hopes to get a U.S. visa by tomorrow to fly here and take his son's body home, but he didn't give us a sense of how soon that will happen.
BLITZER: Alina, thanks for that report. We'll stay on top of this story as well. Up next, furloughed federal workers discover a loophole that lets them collect unemployment benefits in some cases with the government's help.
And new severe weather in tornado ravaged Oklahoma. We're following the breaking news. We're chasing the storms on the ground right now.
BLITZER: Thousands of government workers now facing mandatory days off without pay, thanks to those forced budget cuts that took effect back in March. But some of them have found a controversial way to ease the financial pinch. They're even getting a wink and a nod from the government, itself.
Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is coming into the SITUATION ROOM working the story for us. Explain, Dan, what's going on.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, first of all, these furloughs, the object of a furlough is to save the government money, but, for every day that these workers take off from work, that means cash out of their pockets. So, some of them, with the help of their unions, found a way to get some of that money back.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): With looming furloughs stressing federal workers, some are turning to unemployment benefits to help balance their checkbooks.
ALICIA ST. JOHN, FEDERAL EMPLOYEE FACING FURLOUGH: I can't afford to give any more. I don't have it. I don't have it.
LOTHIAN: Alicia St. John, a civilian electrician at a Philadelphia Navy Yard says pay freezes and family obligations have drained her bank account. And now, budget cuts are squeezing her last dime.
ST. JOHN: They don't feel the effects of losing a hundred dollars. It makes or breaks my day, my month, my year. Every cent counts for us.
GREG JUNEMANN, INTERNATIONAL FED OF PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL ENGINEERS: Congress and the White House have failed to reach a deal and federal government employees are being basically -- they're the whipping boys.
LOTHIAN: Unemployment benefits were not an option, because the 11 days St. John will be forced to give up are scattered throughout the summer. But now, her union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers has negotiated a deal with her employer that will allow her to take the days in one-week blocks and thereby qualify for unemployment.
JUNEMANN: You'll get something. You'll still have your wages cut, but your wages won't be cut as dramatically. LOTHIAN: St. Johns stands to lose $1,400. She'll get back $500 if she collects unemployment. Money that is paid out by the state but would be paid back by the federal government, but this practice is raising eyebrows.
TOM SCHATZ, PRESIDENT, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: Making arrangements to receive unemployment benefits seems to defeat the purpose of sequestration. The idea of sequestration was to save taxpayers' money.
LOTHIAN: The U.S. labor department has all but endorsed this practice, providing guidance on its website, quote, "While on furlough, federal employees may become eligible for unemployment benefits under the unemployment compensation for federal employees program." It wasn't supposed to come down to this, but sequestration kicked in, and Washington is still talking about ending it.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll keep cutting those foolish across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester.
LOTHIAN (on-camera): Now, the union has also negotiated deals in New York, Oregon, and Nebraska. Unclear though how many people could take advantage of this because furlough arrangements differ from agency to agency and unemployment rules differ from state to state. But the labor department has warned that some states could be bogged down, Wolf, by these kinds of claims.
BLITZER: Yes. Amazing how creative some of these opportunities are out there for federal workers. Thanks very much.
When we come back, a dire warning about the deadly new wave of violence exploding across Iraq. We have details just ahead.
And a new gig for the hero turned internet sensation who helped free Amanda Berry from a decade in captivity. Coming up, you're going to find out what Charles Ramsey is up to now and that could earn him thousands and thousands of dollars.
And we're also following tornadoes. Take a look at this. Pictures coming in from Oklahoma right now. Once again, Oklahoma, right in the center of it so is our own Chad Myers. We're all over the latest tornado warnings and actual tornadoes right now in Oklahoma.
BLITZER: Let's get back to Chad Myers. He's out in Purcell, Oklahoma right now. These pictures, Chad, they are so ominous looking. Tell us the latest.
MYERS: You know, this storm just about 20 minutes ago was nothing, Wolf. And just in that time, it had a rapidly rising, just a suction spot almost right off the ground where all this scud was coming up into it. Now, this is not a tornado. This is a rapidly rotating wall cloud. Just so we'll go through all the steps. This could be the first thing, the precursor to a tornado, but this is the part of the storm that would tornado.
This is on the back side of a super cellular tornadic storm. This is where the tornado would be. To the northeast of your -- northeast of Purcell, there's hail coming down. Back where we are, there's just wind moving straight into this cell. This is where people get a little bit confused. If you were just over the other side of the hill, you would not know that this was not on the ground. You would just think that there's a large wedge tornado on the ground, because we're so close.
We're less than a mile away from this. We can see that there's nothing coming out of the storm. There's certainly hail, there's certainly wind damage, but not a tornado on the ground yet. It's just moving over I-35, quickly moving over the river, and then away from and north of Purcell and there go the tornado sirens just now in the city of Purcell.
And, so, we do think that as this continues to rotate, circulate, get stronger as it has -- it continues to get stronger the past 20 minutes, that a tornado could fall out here at any time, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, let us know what's going on. We're going to check back with you and continue to follow this storm. Chad is on the scene for us in Purcell, Oklahoma.
Coming up next, why news organizations, including CNN, they are now boycotting a meeting with the embattled attorney general, Eric Holder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER (voice-over): Happening now, more potential trouble for the attorney general, Eric Holder. Why his plans to sit down with key media outlets over controversial government probes may have hit a major road block?
Also, an American mother jailed in Mexico accused of drug smuggling tells her emotional story first to CNN. Her message to a family desperately waiting for her to come home.
And bracing for more tornadoes right now in the plain states. Our own Chad Myers is on the ground tracking yet another round of severe weather. The pictures right now very, very ominous.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The embattled attorney general, Eric Holder, is sitting down this afternoon with members of the news media to talk about the Justice Department investigation into leaks that led to subpoenas for reporters' phone records and more. But CNN and other news organizations are declining to attend the meeting because it is, quote, "off the record."
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, you've been speaking with people close to the attorney general. What are they saying to you? What does he hope to accomplish?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look. These sessions as you know, Wolf, have become controversial because news organizations, including our own and "The New York Times" and the Associated Press, don't want to sit down with the attorney general in the middle of a controversy in an off-the-record session that has been announced publicly.
That would mean our bosses couldn't talk to us about what the attorney general was saying.
Now, in their defense, I spoke with Reid Weingarten today --
BORGER: -- in the Justice Department's defense, this is what they're saying.
I spoke with Reid Weingarten today, who's a long-time friend of the attorney general, who understands his thinking on this and he is also an attorney himself. This is what he said, Wolf.
He said, "This session we're talking about is not about Eric Holder giving his defense. This is a policy discussion Eric has been instructed to do by the president. He wants people to sit down and roll up their sleeves.
"This is not a charm offensive, this is substantive."
Reid Weingarten's point is that we've got lots of guidelines that are decades old governing the question of leak investigations, spying, et cetera, and these are things that need to be looked at.
So his point is what the attorney general wanted was sort of a working session to get input from the press, not to do a mea culpa before the press about the problems he's been confronting with them.
BLITZER: As you know, Congressman Darrell Issa, he had an exchange, an interesting exchange with Eric Holder the other day at a House committee hearing about releasing records.
BLITZER: Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIF.: Mr. Attorney General, knowing the to and from --
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not going to stop talking now. You characterized something --
ISSA: Mr. Chairman, would you inform the witness as to the rules of this committee?
HOLDER: -- is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It's unacceptable and it's shameful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So obviously he's got -- the Republicans have issues with Eric Holder.
BORGER: He's had a lot of issues with the Republicans.
BLITZER: You know, there's murmurings you're getting from some Democrats as well.
BORGER: Together. Look, nothing like Republicans. There's been a long standing problem between Eric Holder and the Republicans in Congress. Some of his friends say to me he's actually been surprised at the vitriol, but it goes back to the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 conspirators in New York; of course, Fast and Furious; now you have this.
The question, the big problem that I think Eric Holder faces, Wolf, is on the Democratic side because there are lots of Democrats I talked to who are very unhappy with the way the Justice Department has handled these leak investigations. They're holding their fire. No Democrat is coming out and saying Eric Holder should resign as have Republicans.
But once you start hearing top Democrats start questioning the Justice Department, that's going to really affect Eric Holder's standing with Congress.
And so what we need to be looking at is how Democrats continue to react to this controversy.
BLITZER: Could have a big problem there if it continues to escalate. We'll see where that goes. All right, Gloria, thanks very much.
Let's continue the conversation right now with George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, also our CNN senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, I'll ask you the question first.
Is it appropriate for Eric Holder to be in charge of the review of the Justice Department the way it conducted all of the news media leak issues, for example, since he's right in the middle of it? And there are a lot of people who are saying that is inappropriate for him to be investigating in effect himself.
Should he recuse himself?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't see any reason for him to do that. This is a policy question. This is an issue that the President of the United States said, look. I care about leaks. I want leaks investigated and Eric Holder has been investigating them.
The issue isn't, as far as I understand, some sort of improper conduct. It is whether we should have a policy of investigating leaks in that way. This is a Justice Department issue. He is the head of the Justice Department. I don't see any alternative to him running this policy question analysis.
BLITZER: Because the argument Republicans make - and I'll bring Jonathan into this conversation -- the argument a lot of Republicans make is that he supposedly at least misled, if didn't lie to Congress, in his sworn testimony on the issue of the FOX News reporter James Rosen, whose records were monitored, if you will.
PROF. JONATHAN TURLEY, GWU: That's right. I have to disagree with my friend, Jeff, in that I do think that it is grossly inappropriate for the attorney general to be asked to do this meeting.
This meeting, itself, is a bit of a spin. I think it is designed to give cover for the president. This is not a difficult question; they shouldn't have done these investigations in this way. They shouldn't have gone on a fishing expedition against the Associated Press. They shouldn't have called Rosen, I think, a possible conspirator to a crime.
Those are bright lines that have existed and they were blown away by this administration. But you have an attorney general who's accused in the very least of being misleading and possibly lying before the committee. I'm not ready to say that he did lie.
But he's also an attorney general who said that he doesn't recall he had any role in the Rosen matter. That appears to be untrue.
He's also an attorney general whose role in monitoring and supervising this department on this critical issue is under attack for good reason. I mean, what happened in this case, it's not that there's never been such investigations but this, the breadth of this is truly breathtaking.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey, respond.
TOOBIN: Well, I think for Jonathan to say this is an easy question is just wrong. Look, there is such a thing as classified information, which means it's a damage to national security to release it.
We have a sort of informal system in place here where there -- some leaking is tolerated, some leaking isn't. I think the reference to James Rosen, who is a distinguished reporter and historian who works at FOX News was terrible.
But it's very hard to make rules that allow for both legitimate investigative reporting and prohibiting disclosure of classified information, like went on with Bradley Manning, which I think is completely beyond the pale. So I mean, I think the rules are very hard to define. And you can't have a system where the attorney general isn't the person who makes those rules.
TURLEY: No, I'm afraid I really have to disagree. No one is questioning the right of this administration, past administrations to investigate leakers. They've done it. They're very aggressive. This administration has used the Espionage Act twice the number of times as prior presidents. They're very aggressive in pursuing whistleblowers and leakers.
But there has always been this practice, this understanding that you don't go and seize information from reporters, because of the critical constitutional role they play in the protection of liberty.
They showed absolutely no concern, in my view, over that line, over those -- that protective role that the media plays. But the idea that Holder is the only person who could hold this meeting is rather strange. You can throw a stick in any corner and hit 20 high ranking justice officials in downtown D.C. He doesn't have to be in charge of this meeting. I think he's in charge of the meeting to give him and to give the president cover.
BLITZER: Well, let me bring Jeffrey back into this conversation.
Jeffrey, the president did ask Eric Holder to review the entire media issue as far as these leak investigations are concerned. And that's why -- and the president of the National Defense University, in the speech, said he was going to meet with news media executives.
Now a lot of these news media executives, they don't want to meet with him because it's supposedly off the record, and they want it to be on the record.
Who's right in this?
TOOBIN: The news media's completely right here. It's absurd idea in the middle of a huge national controversy to have the attorney general interact with journalists and have it supposedly secret. And you know that within 15 minutes anyway at the end of this meeting, we're going to know precisely what was said anyway.
So I have no idea what the Justice Department was trying to accomplish by making this off the record. But that's really sort of a sideshow to the main issue of, what are the rules?
When is leaking criminal? When should it be actually investigated? And when should we let the press do its job?
I think that's a very difficult line to draw. I mean, Jonathan himself said, it's been sort of an understanding, but it hasn't been an actual rule. That's a hard question. This off-the-record meeting was just a silly idea from the start.
BLITZER: All right. Wrap it up, Jonathan.
TURLEY: No one's questioning that these leaks could be crimes. I've represented folks in the area. I know that Jeff's covered them. They could be crimes.
The question is how you investigate the crime and whether you need to show restraint. There's no evidence of restraint here. There's no evidence of an appreciation for how serious this conduct was for this administration.
BLITZER: Jonathan Turley and Jeffrey Toobin, a good serious discussion that will not obviously be going away.
My own sense, by the way, is if these meetings are on the record as a lot of people believe they should be, have a TV camera in there as well, and then everybody can watch the exchange between the attorney general of the United States and the news media executives. A pool camera inside a meeting like this would be educational, I think, for all of us, and it would be a sign of transparency.
That's probably not going to happen. Just a thought.
Just ahead. Intervention in Syria's civil war. Two top Republican senators are at odds over what the United States should do.
Plus, an American mother caught off in a Mexican nightmare. Accused of smuggling drugs. Her jailhouse interview, that's coming up.
BLITZER: The battle over whether or not to arm the Syrian rebels is heating up here in Washington, as the bloody civil war intensifies with no signs of peace in sight.
Senator John McCain has been one of the strongest proponents of providing the opposition with weapons, and this week became the highest ranking elected official to meet with them inside the warzone. He said this in an exclusive interview with our own Anderson Cooper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: We can identify who these people are. We can help the right people. Is there some risk involved? Absolutely. But is the status quo acceptable?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But others in Senator McCain's party don't agree. Another prominent Republican senator Rand Paul, for example, writes this in a new opinion piece for CNN.com. And I'll put it up on the screen.
"It is very clear that any attempt to aid the Syrian rebels would be complicated and dangerous, precisely because we don't know who these people are." Let's talk about it with our own Fareed Zakaria. He's the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS."
Fareed, who's right here? Would it be Senator McCain or Senator Paul?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I tend to think Senator Paul has the better arguments in this case. It is generally more complicated than anyone realizes.
Joshua Landis, the best scholar in Syria, estimates that there are 1,000 separate militias operating inside Syria that are working against the government. In other words, you would be giving arms to one group, but they might be working with other groups. They might get themselves defeated by other groups. Because remember, even if we give the arms, the goal here is to topple the Assad regime. Once that happens, there will be two separate battles that takes place after that.
Then the Alawites, the people who support Assad, his sect, that's 14 percent of Syria, will probably get massacred. And then there will be the fight among all these groups, among these 1,000 militias as to who comes out on top. So we might know who the good guys are, but will those weapons stay with the good guys? Will they even be alive at the end of this process?
BLITZER: As you know, Fareed, there's been some -- a lot of buzz out there that two of the Syrian rebels that Senator McCain posed with when he was briefly in Syria the other day were actually involved in the -- in the May 2011 kidnappings that were going on in Lebanon, to which McCain's office put out a statement, I'll read it to you.
"A number of the Syrians who greeted Senator McCain upon his arrival in Syria asked to take pictures with him. And as always the senator complied. If the individual photographed with Senator McCain is Mohamed Nour, that is regrettable."
When I heard about this whole uproar over, were they terrorists, were they not terrorists, were they kidnappers, weren't they kidnappers, it's sort of underscored to me, and I'm now just here from you, how difficult it is to know the good guys from the bad guys, if you will, inside Syria.
ZAKARIA: Wolf, think about it this way. You went to Iraq. I went to Iraq. During the Iraq war, after in those 2004, 2005, 2006, there were 180,000 foreign, American plus Allied troops in Iraq, and we still couldn't identify who the good guys were, who the bad guys -- we weren't sure whether the Shiite militias were operating with the support of the Baghdad regime or against. We couldn't tell which Sunni militias were allied with al Qaeda and which ones we could price off. It took us years and years and an incredibly active effort.
What I think is disingenuous here is that Senator McCain and people like that say we should get involved. We should be doing this, we can figure out who the good guys are. We can keep the arms only with the good guys, but we're not going to send any troops there. We're going to do this all by remote control with a no-fly zone, lob a few missiles maybe. That seems highly unlikely given what we learned from Iraq.
BLITZER: And if you take a look at the situation in Iraq today, despite the enormous sacrifice that the U.S. made in terms of lives lost, trillions, maybe more than trillions spent, and you see the bloody civil war that's going on there right now, an alignment between the Shiite-led government in Baghdad with Iran's support for Syria, you say to yourself, was that worth it, all of that U.S. blood, sweat and tears in Iraq for what?
A lot of people are asking that right now.
Fareed, by the way, congratulations. This Sunday, five years. "FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS" will have been on the air right here on CNN. A fifth anniversary for Fareed on CNN. A good five years, strong five years.
ZAKARIA: Yes, catching up on you --
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
ZAKARIA: Catching up with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, you've got a longs way to go if you're going to catch up with me. But five years that's a very good start. Thanks very much.
"FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS" by the way airs 10:00 and 1:00 Eastern every Sunday right here on CNN.
When we come back, China will pay billions for a major U.S. pork company. Just ahead what it could mean for the hotdogs, the ham on your dinner table.
Plus, an American mother jailed in Mexico accused of drug smuggling tells her emotional story first to CNN. Her message to a family desperately waiting for her to come home.
BLITZER: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has landed on the cover of the new issue of "TIME" magazine, with the headline, "Chicago Bull." Mayor Rahm Emanuel is fighting both crime and failing schools, so why are people mad at him?
Joining us now to talk about it, "TIME" magazine's managing editor, Rick Stengel. "TIME" being of course CNN's corporate cousins.
So, why, Rick, are people mad at the mayor?
RICK STENGEL, TIME MANAGING EDITOR: Well, they're mad at him, Wolf, because he's taking on a lot of vested interests. He just last week announced the closing of 50 public schools. That's the largest number of public schools ever closed in an American city. So he's getting protests from the teachers' unions, from parents who feel that he's depriving their kids of an education. He's taking on the unions at the airports. So he's making a lot of enemies, which as we say is probably a good thing for mayors to do.
BLITZER: He's a fascinating politician. Those of us who have covered him over the years, going back to when he worked in the Clinton White House. But what made him so fascinating to you and the other editors of "TIME" magazine?
STENGEL: Well, the thing is, Wolf, about mayors, they're at the front lines of politics. It's where policies meet potholes. So what he is doing is he's bringing his Washington experience, which is a policy- making experience with that old bare knuckles Chicago-style and trying to make some changes. And he would argue, as he says in the piece, that the previous mayors going back 10, 15, even 20 years, kept the status quo.
And that's one of the things that has kept Chicago down, that he would argue that yielded bad education graduation rates, higher crime rates. So he's taking on a lot of the vested interests to combat those things.
BLITZER: How much is he up against? Because all of us remember the Daley years when what was going on in Chicago. He's up -- he's got some fierce opponents right now.
STENGEL: He does have some fierce opponents. And as our writer David Von Drehle says, you know, neither of the Daleys ever crossed a teachers' union picket line and Rahm is doing that now.
BLITZER: Rick Stengel, the managing editor of "TIME" magazine, thanks very much. Good article by David, by the way, in the new issue of "TIME." I recommend it to our viewers out there.
STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, China pays billions for a major U.S. pork company. Just ahead, what it could mean for hotdogs, or for ham on your dinner table. Stand by.
And in our next hour, an American mom jailed in Mexico, accused of drug smuggling, telling her story first to CNN. What she's saying at this critical point in her family's desperate battle to save her.
And an afternoon of storms continuing right now in Oklahoma. We're tracking the live pictures. Stand by.
BLITZER: A U.N. official now warning the deadly mayhem in Iraq is ready to explode into wider conflict.
Our Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's the latest, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a wave of sectarian violence hit the capital of Baghdad today. According to police, four car bombs and roadside bombs exploded in different neighborhoods killing at least 10 people and wounding more than 40. Nearly 400 people have been killed just this month.
Here in the U.S., no doubt you remember Charles Ramsey, the hero turned Internet sensation who helped free Amanda Berry from a decade in activity. He's about to hit the speaking circuit, sharing his story for $10,000 a pop. The Cleveland dishwasher signed with the Celebrity Speakers Bureau which reportedly says it was captivated with interviews he did right here on CNN. Ramsey has become famous for his animated one-liners in recounting Berry's rescue -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, thank you.
You may not know its name, but millions of Americans certainly eat products -- its products every single day. Now a giant U.S. pork producer is changing hands, bought in a multi-billion-dollar deal with a Chinese company.
CNN's Rene Marsh is looking into what this means for American consumers.
What are you finding out, Rene?
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Chinese company paid nearly $5 billion for the United States company, which calls itself the largest, the world's largest pork processor and hog producer. Just to give you an idea, last year alone, they processed more than three tons of pork. Now China is in line to own the company.
That has many advocacy groups, even some lawmakers wondering how safe of a deal is this for American consumers.
MARSH (voice-over): There's a good chance the hotdogs on the grill and the ham in your sandwich comes from Virginia based Smithfield Foods. They're the company behind several popular household brands like Armor, and now it's the largest U.S. company to be sold to a Chinese firm, a deal worth nearly $5 billion. But the potential ownership by a Chinese company has consumer advocates uneasy.
SALLY GREENBERG, NATIONAL CONSUMERS LEAGUE: One, is it going to send the prices up for pork? Secondly, are there food safety implications? Because as we know, the Chinese have not had a stellar record when it comes to food safety. Third, we've got American jobs here. The Chinese have in general a dismal record on food safety and adding antibiotics to foods.
MARSH: The company is assuring customers saying, quote, "Smithfield is dedicated to providing good food in a responsible way." It's not just pork the Chinese are gobbling up U.S. companies. There have been 650 deals worth more than $25 billion in America since 2000. That's according to advisory group Rhodium. The colored states on this map show how prevalent these transactions have become. One analyst says consumers should not be worried. These deals are good business. THILO MANEMANN, RHODIUM GROUP RESEARCH DIRECTOR: Now those investments flows are increasingly flowing from China to the U.S., which opens up a lot of opportunities in terms of local jobs, local tax revenue. And that's why a lot of mayors and governors are starting to go to China to promote this investment.
MARSH: All right. Well, there are some checks and balances to ensure that these transactions do not jeopardize U.S. economic or national security interests. So until this transaction gets the green light from the federal government, still not a done deal. But of course, Wolf, we'll be following it.
BLITZER: Keep us up to speed, Rene. Thank you.