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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama's Obamacare Promise; U.S. Navy Scandal

Aired November 7, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But it is an apology to those people out there who are losing their coverage -- and that number is in the millions -- after the president said, if you like your plan, you can keep it.

One other thing we want to point out, as the president and this White House is sounding contrite, they are still being very combative with Congress when it comes to oversight. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, he has issued some requests for appearances from top administration officials at a hearing next week on healthcare.gov.

One of those requests went out to the chief technology officer for the White House, Todd Park. But CNN did obtain a letter from the White House earlier today, the White House basically saying, no, Todd Park will not be appearing at that hearing because basically he's too busy working on fixing that Web site at this point.

While the White House is sounding apologetic, the president is sounding apologetic, they are still at their battle stations when it comes to dealing with Congress on this issue of Obamacare -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the President Obama saying, I am sorry, you don't hear that every day.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And this also coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM: two senators introducing a bill that would delay the implementation of the Obamacare individual mandate. The Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, they want to postpone the mandate for one year, one year, until January 1, 2015.

Another important story we're following right now, a bribery and prostitution scandal in the U.S. military. It's growing wider and more sordid with the arrest of yet another high-ranking officer.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who has been following the story for us.

Barbara, what have you learned?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is one of the most disturbing cases of flat-out greed by members of the United States military. A small number, but the number of arrests may be growing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Tickets to a Lady Gaga concert, prostitutes, luxury hotel stays and thousands of dollars in paid travel are just the beginning of the alleged bribes in a broadening U.S. Navy scandal that now has three top officials under arrest.

U.S. Navy Commander Jose Luis Sanchez arrested in Tampa, Florida, now charged with accepting hookers, luxury travel and $100,000 cash from a foreign defense contractor in exchange for classified information about Navy ship movements.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NAVY: It's a worrisome case. We're deeply concerned about this. We have indications that several Naval officers, and even some civilian employees have been taking bribes and appropriating gifts.

STARR: Two other senior Navy officials, a commander and a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent, and a contractor also charged in the scheme. According to the government, the way it worked in part, Navy Commander Michael Misiewicz provided port visits where Glenn Francis' company provided port services such as tugboats and fuel.

In return, Francis, known as Fat Leonard, and his company provided illegal benefits to Navy personnel that literally steered ships his way. Some of the other allegations, the Navy was overcharged $500,000 for one port visit. Fat Leonard provided Mercedes for transportation. According to prosecutors, at one month, Misiewicz asked Fat Leonard -- quote -- "Should I ask more guys from the office if they want to go to Lady Gaga concert?"

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, all of the defendants have pled not guilty, but the Navy is pointing out this is beyond even the notion of these payoff scandals. Future ship movements, the location of Navy warships, that's classified, and disclosing that could have been a real risk to national security, they say -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Could have been indeed. Barbara, thank you.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Still ahead: some shocking video. This prisoner is about to get brutally beaten. And it's raising more questions about possible war crimes in Afghanistan, and now the U.S. Army is launching a new investigation.

And he won a second term in New Jersey, but could Chris Christie actually win a Republican caucus in Iowa?

Tweet us your views, your answers. The authors of the 2012 campaign tell-all "Double Down," they are here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Another Obamacare embarrassment for the White House.

Now even country music superstars as Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, they are mocking the troubled Web site. Check this moment out last night on the CMA Awards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRAD PAISLEY, MUSICIAN: I think I need to see a doctor.

CARRIE UNDERWOOD, MUSICIAN: Hey, do you have that Obamacare?

PAISLEY: Obamacare? What's that? What's that?

UNDERWOOD: Oh, it's great.

PAISLEY: It's great?

UNDERWOOD: It's great.

PAISLEY: What is it?

UNDERWOOD: I started signing up last Thursday, and I'm almost done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: More on the Obamacare Web site fiasco ahead, including a husband and wife. They claim they might actually get divorced because of what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now to allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan.

For the last U.S. forces, they are preparing to leave the country riling now, they may be leaving behind some ugly secrets of alleged abuse, torture, even murder. Now the Army reveals it's investigating the horror stories as a graphic video showing the beating of a detainee gets national, indeed international attention.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

What are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a remarkable admission from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, particularly after months of denials, many of those denials to CNN.

The CID now confirming to CNN it opened a new investigation this past July into allegations of the killing and abuse of Afghan civilians by U.S. Army special forces troop. The U.N. calls the acts, if proven, potential war crimes. We took a close look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): An Afghan detainee aggressively beaten by Afghan soldiers while what appear to be foreign soldiers look on and do nothing. It is this kind of abuse and worse that the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Command is now examining.

In a separate investigation, detailed in a news story by "Rolling Stone" magazine, the U.N.'s Afghan mission documented two incidents of torture, three killings, and 10 forced disappearances from November 2012 to February this year, with victims and witnesses blaming elite U.S. Army Green Berets and their Afghan interpreters.

In a statement, the U.N. says, if true, the allegations -- quote -- "may amount to war crimes."

Following angry local protests and pressure from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Green Beret unit withdrew from post in April. Soon after, residents discovered human remains near the team's former base. If true, it could constitute one of the worst alleged crimes by deployed U.S. forces since American soldiers killed 24 Iraqi civilian in Haditha in 2005.

Asked repeatedly by CNN in recent months, U.S. military officials said the matter had been investigated, but not substantiated. That changed, however, when the International Red Cross submitted new evidence, which it told CNN it received from families of victims and others.

(on camera): The Army is now bringing the investigation out of the Afghanistan, so it's not run by forces there. How important is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is essential. Having outside investigators means that the culture of impunity that been enjoyed for too long inside Afghanistan is likely to be cracked here.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The revelation comes at an extremely sensitive time for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In just two weeks, Afghan leaders will decide whether U.S. troops in country will have immunity from local prosecution, a continuing sticking point in negotiations over the future of the U.S. military presence.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's certainly topical and it's right in the crosshairs of how well the United States can negotiate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: The U.S. military has taken steps to reduce civilian casualties, from reducing the number of airstrikes to setting up a civilian casualties tracking cell. The military credits those efforts with reducing civilian casualties by 60 percent from 2012 to 2013.

But, Wolf, an alleged crime like this one, particularly as you have these negotiations going on, on status of forces in Afghanistan, has the potential to be devastating.

BLITZER: That video is brutal. All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

A landmark vote in the U.S. Senate today was a big win for gay rights advocates, a reminder to Republicans that their party is deeply divided, and it's another reason to wonder what the GOP may have learned from the election results this week.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill. Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is standing by.

Dana, the legislation to bar workplace discrimination passed with some considerable Republican support.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Even John McCain voted yes, which was a shift, signaling perhaps a shift in cultural issues with the country, but if people think that that also signals a shift from Republicans away from divisive social issues, don't count on it. History in the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the ayes are 64, the nays are 32.

BASH (voice-over): Ten Republicans joined Democrats to pass a ban based on workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Still, the Republican House speaker will not schedule a vote, arguing protections already exist with other laws. Some House Republicans want leaders to reconsider...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all very much.

BASH: ... saying their loss in Virginia's govern or race with a stanch candidate should be a warning to Republicans to back off hot- button social issues.

GOP Congressman Richard Hanna telling CNN: "Difficulty with women and minorities, that's something the party needs to reconcile."

Many see Chris Christie's landslide in New Jersey, including big wins with women and minorities, as a model for the GOP.

(on camera): The reality is Republicans won't attract that broad collision as long as Republicans here in Congress are more worried about a challenge from the right than a defeat from a Democrat.

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: The voice of we, the people.

BASH (voice-over): It's why conservative congressmen like Ted Yoho are considering a highly partisan move of impeaching Attorney General Eric Holder and why Republican Lindsey Graham introduced a bill banning abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, which he admits has no chance of passing now.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The state has a compelling interest in protecting that unborn child. BASH: Senator Graham is up for reelection and has a primary challenger slamming him at home as too liberal on issues like immigration. A high-profile stance against abortion helps.

(on camera): You also are getting challenged from the right back home. How much is that playing into the timing of this?

GRAHAM: Did I wake up because I got a primary and say, hey, let's be pro-life? No. I am honored to do this. This is important to me. This is why I want to be a senator. Will it wipe away all the other criticisms? No.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And it also won't wipe away Democrats' criticism of Republicans. They think that this will actually help them in some of those rare swing districts, particularly in the House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you.

Just ahead, CNN gets rare access to the site of a nuclear meltdown, the damaged Fukushima plant as you have never seen it before.

Also, guess what? The authors of a huge new bestseller, "Double Down," they are here in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about their 2012 campaign tell-all. There they are, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. They are walking in right now. Guess what? We're going to discuss what's going on in this book.

You will get seats. Don't worry. You will sit. He's much taller.

You have obviously got to hang out with a tall guy like that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A milestone in the cleanup of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan more than two years after the devastating meltdown triggered an earthquake and tsunami.

CNN's Paula Hancocks got rare access to the facility.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can't get much closer to the hearts of the Fukushima disaster than this. This is why TEPCO has brought us here.

We are in the reactor four billing, the building that suffered the hydrogen blast in the days after the disaster. And this is the cooling pool. Inside there, there are 1,500 spent fuel rods. And what the company is doing over the coming days is to remove those fuel rods to a more stable location, they say. They insist it is a routine operation, they have done it many times before.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Nuclear power, the science and the myths, the focus of a CNN Films documentary, "Pandora's Promise." It airs tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific only on CNN.

More news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, makes the rounds on the Sunday talk shows this weekend, extending his victory lap after his big reelection win.

The Republican presidential prospect is getting enormous media attention, a lot of it very positive.

The new book "Double Down" about the 2012 campaign exposes some of Christie's vulnerable spots.

We're joined now by the authors. Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, they are here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You must be so excited to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

MARK HALPERIN, CO-AUTHOR, "DOUBLE DOWN": We are.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN HEILEMANN, CO-AUTHOR, "DOUBLE DOWN": ... SITUATION ROOM right now.

BLITZER: We're excited to have you guys. Congratulations on this excellent new book.

HALPERIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what do you think? Chris Christie, he's on the cover of the new issue of "TIME" magazine. We will put it up on the screen. We will show our viewers what it looks like.

But is he overexposing himself right now? John, let me start with you, because he's really coming out of this massive reelection very, very forceful.

HEILEMANN: I don't know about overexposing himself.

I think it was kind of inevitable. Everyone knew -- it was a cliche that as soon as he won on Tuesday night that the 2016 speculation would gear up. He seemed to embrace it, though, in the speech that night in a pretty big bear-huggy way. It's going to be very interesting now. He has said in response to some of the things in the book that he knows he is going to have new scrutiny coming on. It's going to be interesting to see how he handles it. BLITZER: He sort of trashed the book, didn't he? He sort of said, this is gossip, stuff like that?

HALPERIN: Oh, his words can speak for themselves, but Governor Christie understands how the media works.

He was a huge part of the last presidential campaign, a lot of it below the radar. People remember his speech at the convention. They remember in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy his physical and literal and figurative embrace of President Obama, but he was involved from beginning to end, as we write in "Double Down."

He is now the man of the moment. And I think a lot of people are going to able to read about how he behaved in the last campaign, because what he's going to try to do is go from basically a relatively unknown figure in the 2012 race to be the Republican nominee if he goes for this. That's a big leap in a party that normally gives it to someone who ran the previous time.

BLITZER: Was there anything in the vetting when he was a possible vice presidential running mate that the Romney team found that could hurt him if he runs for president of the United States?

HEILEMANN: Well, look, Governor Romney's attitude was that between the things that were in the public record -- this is one of the things that Governor Christie has said -- he's said, all this stuff has been litigated before.

Governor Romney looked at some of these problems, some things like, most people in the world don't know that Chris Christie was a lobbyist for a period of time.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: With an organization that had an association with Bernie Madoff?

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN: Not ideal if you want to run for president.

BLITZER: Yes, right.

HEILEMANN: When you want to be on Mitt Romney's ticket.

If you looked at that, there were a variety of things like that, litigated in New Jersey in 2009, raised at the local level, but national figures don't really about them. Governor Romney looked at those and said -- when people said, well, it's been aired already, he said, no. When you become a national candidate, there's a different level of scrutiny.

That and the fact that Chris Christie was hesitant and reluctant to disclose details that the vetting team wanted, things about his other lobbying clients, things about his household help, health records -- there were a variety of things they asked him about. He was not as forthcoming as they wanted him to be.

And Beth Myers, who ran the vetting team, said, if he's not answering the questions, we have to assume the answers are bad. The cumulative weight of all that made Mitt Romney very reluctant to put him on the ticket and ultimately pulled the plug as soon as he saw that final vetting report.

BLITZER: He does great in New Jersey, but how would he do in a Republican caucus, in the caucuses in Iowa, or a primary in South Carolina or primary in Florida, for that matter?

HALPERIN: I think that's one of the two big questions about Christie, along with, can he unite the two big wings of the party, the sort of establishment wing, the donor class, as well as the grassroots?

Will he travel well? Is he the kind of guy who can play well? You think about our last three presidents, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama. You could put those guys in THE SITUATION ROOM. You could put them on "Monday Night Football." You could put them on "The Tonight Show." They would all do fine. And their staff wouldn't be worried.

Christie is the same way. He's a magical figure politically. He's a national figure. So I think there's a chance he could fall flat in other places, but I think that piece of it, that grassroots politics, people liking him, North, South, East, West, center of the country, I think he will be strong.

BLITZER: You guys got a lot of nuggets, scoops almost on every page in this book. I have gone through it, but this jumped out at me.

And I'm going to read a line apart from "Double Down."

"Apart from Georgia Congressmen John Lewis and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Obama had nearly as much contempt for the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, as he did for the Tea Party Caucus."

Explain.

HEILEMANN: Well, look, there's -- the African-American, a lot of -- this generation of African-American politics -- politicians, a lot of them in Congress, have been products of a kind of patronage system, as there are in a lot of ethnic groups in American society.

There's Italian patronage politicians and Irish patronage politicians. President Obama was from a different generation. And he looked at a lot of those people who were reared politically in those environments and looked at them and thought they were kind of hacks. And he derided them constantly, people like Jesse Jackson Sr. effectively banned from tomorrow.

He had an aide, Michael Strautmanis, also African-American, who referred to them rather than as black professionals, he thought of them as professional blacks. And President Obama just really had no time for them. BLITZER: You want to add something to that nugget on the Congressional Black Caucus?

HALPERIN: I think it's part of a larger reality about Barack Obama that people can read about in "Double Down," which he came to this town as a senator briefly, then as president, plays by his own rules, is not subject to a lot of the manners of this city, the customs of this city.

And that includes, as a Democratic president, whether it's African-American or not, not automatically accepting every member of the Black Caucus, judging them as individuals, and whether he likes their politics or not. He does that with lots of people. It rubs some people the wrong way, but that's Barack Obama.

BLITZER: He just gave an interview to NBC News, the president of the United States, Chuck Todd, and he apologized, not just for the Web site, but for the promise that he made, if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.

He said, "I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me."

That's pretty unusual for a president of the United States to say, I'm sorry.

HEILEMANN: It's very unusual, but I think he found himself in a situation that was pretty much -- that was the only thing left for him to do, as we have seen now the reels over and over again of the number of times he made that promise explicitly.

It started to become impossible I think for him not to. There was no way to kind of explain his way out of it. The only thing to do at this point was to cut his losses and start fresh.

BLITZER: A lot of friends of his were saying, Mr. President, just acknowledge you made a mistake.

HALPERIN: Yes. This is certainly the beginning of trying to turn the page, as they say in White House communications strategy.

The problem is, there's still a lot of skepticism about the mechanics of the plan, the plan itself. The president wants people to focus on universal health care, reducing costs, all the things he thinks it will do. He's got to get the focus off of this stuff. This is a possible start to that. But there's still going to be a lot of skepticism.

BLITZER: Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, guys.

The book is entitled "Double Down: Game Change" -- another book, not this one -- "Game Change 2012." You had to put it in the subtitle, right?

HALPERIN: We had to, contractually. It's a good brand. It's like Blitzer. It's a good brand. (CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: Well, you told us to, Wolf. So, we did what you said.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Congratulations.

HALPERIN: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Good work, as usual. Thanks to both of you.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.