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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Weighs Attack Against American Citizen; Drone Strikes, The NSA and Mobile Phone Data; What's It Really Like In Sochi; W.VA. Water "No One Will Say it Is Safe"; More Subpoenas In Christie Investigation; Lewinsky Scandal Haunts Clintons As 2016 Looms; An Awkward State Dinner; Government to Expand Same-Sex Marriage Benefits
Aired February 10, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Jake, thank you.
Happening now, new video of an accused terrorist being captured. The dramatic pictures as the U.S. weighs a separate operation against al Qaeda that would put an American on its kill list.
Plus, new subpoenas in the Chris Christie scandal. Sources saying they could happen at any moment, as investigators pounce on a new report about so-called Bridge Gate and what the governor may have known.
And snow jam alert -- Atlanta now bracing for another winter storm just two weeks after the embarrassing traffic debacle.
Are local officials getting it right this time or are they overreacting?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's like a scene out of "Homeland" -- elite U.S. forces nabbing an alleged al Qaeda leader on the street in a matter of seconds. The remarkable video is surfacing in the midst of a new debate within the Obama administration about its terror fighting tactics.
The key question right now, should the United States kill -- kill an American citizen who may be plotting an attack right now against the United States?
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is covering all of these new developments.
What's the latest -- Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let's get right to it. We are getting a very inside look at how the U.S. is going after some of the most critical terrorists facing the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STARR (voice-over): In this dramatic newly released security camera footage obtained by "The Washington Post," a van pulls up next to a vehicle on the streets of Tripoli, Libya last October. Watch as U.S. Army Delta Force commanders jump out and grab Anas al-Libi, an alleged al Qaeda operative. In seconds, the suspect is captured.
But raids like this one aren't always an option for terror suspects. The usual option, drone strikes. Right now, inside the Obama administration, discussions are underway about launching a military drone to kill a specific American citizen overseas affiliated with al Qaeda, who the U.S. believes is a threat.
The story was first reported by the Associated Press. No one will say who the person is or where they are hiding.
PETER SINGER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: The administration's argument is that this is an individual that's playing an important role in an armed group that's conducting hostilities against the United States and the options for going after this individual are limited to just this way. They can't capture them. They can't get the local government to involve itself. And so, therefore, this is the only option left.
STARR: In 2011, a U.S. drone over Yemen targeted and killed American- born cleric, Anwar, a major figure in al Qaeda. U.S. drones have killed three Americans overseas, including Awlaki's teenage son, who his family says had no al Qaeda ties.
President Obama has made it clear he will go after Americans if the threat is justified.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.
STARR: Opponents are not persuaded.
CHRIS ANDERS, ACLU: This debate that's going on within the administration is a debate that's based on secret evidence, secret laws, secret interpretations of laws being hidden from courts, being hidden from Congress, being hidden from the American people.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
STARR: There are a number of American citizens fighting overseas with terrorist groups in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. But if the U.S. wants to go after an American citizen, they have to make a legal case to do it and they will notify Congress, we are told -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. thanks very much.
There's other controversies involving these U.S. drone strikes, as well. A new report says many of those unmanned attacks rely on mobile phone information from the NSA that's not necessarily all that dependable. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is here.
He's got the details of this new information, this new report.
What are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this goes right to the core of the drone program, because it goes to how targets are selected. It comes from Glenn Greenwald, of course, the source of the Edward Snowden revelations about NSA mass surveillance.
He quotes a former drone operator saying that these targets are chosen, really, by metadata analysis and phone tracking, rather than human intelligence on the ground. His reporting partner, Jeremy Scahill, called it, quote, "Death by metadata" and "entering an era of pre-crime," a reference to the movie, "Minority Report."
And what this does is it encompasses two of the programs Obama has expanded while in office, both the drone program, the NSA surveillance program, and, of course, Wolf, two programs that he's had trouble defending and has had to backtrack a bit now on NSA mass surveillance. So it's really getting into two of the most difficult areas for President Obama in the national security space.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto with that.
Thanks very much.
Let's talk a little bit about all of this, U.S. drone policy, whether it's legal, ethical to go ahead and target U.S. citizens with these drone strikes.
We're joined by Jameel Jaffer, he's a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz. He's the author of the book, "Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law."
You heard the arguments, Professor Dershowitz, that there's no due process, secret information, you don't know if the information is reliable, but then you go ahead and order a drone strike to kill an American citizen.
Is that right?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, there's much to debate about whether or not we should be using drones, how we gather the information to determine whether somebody is a combatant.
But the one thing that shouldn't be part of the debate is whether the person who is a combatant and who's trying to kill Americans and who can't be captured on the ground is an American. That's just a kind of bigotry.
If he's a combatant and if he is subject under the laws of war to being treated as a combatant, his American citizenship, as President Obama has said, shouldn't shield him from an appropriate response. We have killed Americans in every war we've ever fought, many in the Second World War -- Japanese-Americans, German-Americans who were fighting for our enemies. We don't ask them to wear identifying features as to whether they're Americans. Once they've decided to become combatants against us, they have lost their rights. And if we can capture them legitimately, we should.
But if we can't, we have to put them out of business. And if that means killing them by drone, we should.
We should have a debate as to how you determine if a person is a combatant. But once we determine that, his citizenship should be utterly and completely irrelevant.
BLITZER: All right, Jameel, to ahead and respond.
JAMEEL JAFFER, ACLU: Well, you know, I think it's difficult to have this debate in the abstract based on hypotheticals. Professor Dershowitz, you know, suspects that this person is engaged in military activity against the United States, that he's planning attacks.
But the truth is, we don't know anything about this person. We don't know his name. We don't even know what country he's in.
And I just think that if the government is engaged in killing its own citizens, it has an obligation to say more than it said. We should know what the evidence is. We should know what its legal theory is.
You know, ordinarily, you'd have a trial, you'd have an indictment. The government would introduce evidence in a court and the evidence would be sorted through and a judge would decide or a jury would decide whether the evidence was sufficient.
But what we're talking about here is not just an extra-judicial killing, but one that is surrounded by all kinds of secrecy. We don't know anything about who this person is and still, we have people out there saying go ahead and kill him.
I think that that doesn't make any sense.
BLITZER: All right, Professor Dershowitz?
DERSHOWITZ: Of course, all of that is true. All that is true of people who aren't citizens, as well. So let's have a different debate. Let's not have a debate about whether we should limit these rights to people who happen to be born in America. I agree with much of your analysis. We have to be careful about who we kill --
JAFFER: And if agree with yours, Professor Dershowitz.
DERSHOWITZ: -- whether they're American citizens or not --
JAFFER: -- I agree (INAUDIBLE) --
DERSHOWITZ: -- but once we make --
JAFFER: -- whether he's a citizen or not.
DERSHOWITZ: OK, but the ACLU --
JAFFER: Yes, I think that the --
JAFFER: -- the bottom line is we shouldn't be killing --
BLITZER: Hold on.
BLITZER: One at a time.
Professor Dershowitz, go ahead. And then Jameel respond.
DERSHOWITZ: The ACLU's position, both in court and out of court, has been to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens. I think we have to have the same rules for citizens and non-citizens. You call them extrajudicial killings. Every battlefield death is an extrajudicial killing. We would all prefer to bring these people to trial if we could.
But would you subject 10 American soldiers to the risk of death in order to arrest somebody who is a combatant if we can kill them without risking any death at all?
What do you say to that?
JAFFER: I think that Professor Dershowitz misunderstands the ACLU's position. You know, we don't think we should be killing anyone on the basis of secret evidence or secret law. We think that the government should disclose more information about the targeted killing program. If the government is engaged in this kind of activity, far away from any conventional battlefield, it should disclose who it's killing and why it's killing them.
I think it's a very simple position.
DERSHOWITZ: Then why do you go to court and distinguish between American citizens and non-citizens?
That has been your position from the very beginning.
JAFFER: Well, I'm not sure what case you're talking about.
DERSHOWITZ: And that remains your position --
DERSHOWITZ: That may not be your position -- (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: Hold on.
DERSHOWITZ: -- but it's the ACLU's position.
BLITZER: One at a time, please.
DERSHOWITZ: So let me ask you the question directly, do you distinguish between the rights of U.S. citizens in the drone war and the rights of people who are non-US citizens?
Do you make any such distinction legally (INAUDIBLE)?
JAFFER: Of course not. Everybody has the same rights under international law. There's a question of who can get into an American court, but we don't make that distinction. That's up to American courts, who they let in and who they don't.
You know, the bottom line is that everybody has --
DERSHOWITZ: So what's the debate about?
JAFFER: -- the same rights under international law. They have the right not to be killed on the basis of secret evidence, not to be killed on the basis of secret law. And our position from the beginning has been that the government should release more information.
You know, what we have here is a group of bureaucrats meeting behind closed doors to decide who should live and who should die. And that's got to be offensive to anyone who cares about civil liberties.
And I think a lot of people trust this administration --
DERSHOWITZ: Well, remember that the concept --
BLITZER: Hold on.
JAFFER: -- to use this power wisely. But this power will be in the hands of the next administration and the administration after that.
And you have to make sure that there are limits and safeguards in place so that the powers are used wisely and only in circumstances in which there is no other option.
BLITZER: Professor Dershowitz --
BLITZER: Hold on a second. I'll let you respond.
But the former attorney general of the United States during the Bush administration, Alberto Gonzales, he's written a legal argument suggesting this should go to the U.S. Supreme Court, there's got to be checks and balances on the executive's decision, the executive branch's decision to go ahead and use these drone strikes against U.S. citizens or non-US citizens.
DERSHOWITZ: He makes a very good point. I don't disagree, necessarily, with that. Remember, "The Constitution" gives Congress the power to declare war. When Congress declares war, it declares that we're going to be killing lots and lots of people who are our enemies.
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, when Germany was killing Americans, we didn't have to go to court. We didn't have to provide details or information.
We're fighting a very different kind of war now.
And the question -- and I think the one the ACLU -- you should be pressing to debate and one I've been writing about in my books for 40 years is, how do you fight these kinds of wars when our enemies hide among civilians, hide in countries where they're not accessible, hide where we can't use conventional warfare?
BLITZER: All right --
DERSHOWITZ: We need to adapt the rules of war to the new realities of the dangers facing America.
BLITZER: All right --
DERSHOWITZ: That's the debate we should be having.
BLITZER: Jameel, I'm going to give you the last word.
JAFFER: I don't think we should treat the whole world like a battlefield. You know, the United States is at war in Afghanistan. It's not at war in many of the other places in which it's carrying out targeted killings. And you have to draw a distinction between those two things.
The government can't use wartime authority in places in which the government is not at war.
BLITZER: All right, we've got to leave it there, guys --
DERSHOWITZ: (INAUDIBLE) we're at war.
BLITZER: -- but, obviously, this debate is going to continue.
Jameel Jaffer from the ACLU and Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School. Guys, thanks very much.
Before we go from this segment, I want to bring back our national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto -- because, Jim, I want to make sure we heard from you correctly about the NSA, the White House, about these allegations that the drone targeting uses, what, cell phones, metadata.
What's going on there?
SCIUTTO: Well, it focuses purely on this sigint, as they call it, signals intelligence, rather than human intelligence sources on the ground.
I was able to reach out to a U.S. intelligence official, also to the National Security Council and the White House.
And they say that for obvious reasons why they can't comment on specific intelligence methods, they do make this point very strongly, that, quote, "Our assessments are not based on a single piece of information, that we gather and scrutinize information from a variety of sources and methods."
They also pointed, Wolf, to a speech by the president last May, when he talked specifically about drone strikes as they relate to civilians. And he said that we have to have near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured, the highest standard we can set.
So pushing back very hard on this point that for any strike, they're going to rely on any one single piece of information.
BLITZER: And there's no doubt, the drone strikes have escalated since President Obama took office from the Bush administration.
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Both of these programs he inherited from the Bush administration, NSA surveillance and the drone strikes, both expanded under Obama.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much for that update.
Up next, a firsthand account of Olympic security in the Winter Olympic Games in Russia from a member of the U.S. delegation and a past Olympian himself. The veteran figure skater, Brian Boitano, is just back in the United States from Sochi. There you see him. He's standing by live. We'll discuss.
And CNN investigations is on the ground asking serious questions about the safety of West Virginia's water. We've been on the story from the very start. There are disturbing new developments.
BLITZER: Terror threats and fears about the safety of the athletes and the fans, horror stories about the hotel rooms. These were some of the storylines emerging from the Sochi winter Olympic Games before the games even started. What's it like actually on the ground? Joining us now is the former Olympic gold medalist, Brian Boitano. He was part of the U.S. delegation to Sochi. He's just back in New York right now. Welcome back, Brian. So, what was it like, first of all, on the security front? Were you scared? Did they seem prepared? What was it like?
BRIAN BOITANO, MEMBER OF U.S DELEGATION TO SOCHI OLYMPICS: You know, I was a little bit nervous going in, but I knew that it was definitely the first thing that the IOC, the Russian and Americans were looking after. So, I knew that we would be taken good care of. For us as a delegation, we had our own security surrounding us that was official security and Russian bodyguards.
So, we traveled everywhere with that and when we would go to the venues, they had a ring of security to go into the main venues and that -- from what I understand, took a lot of time for people, you know, that just had tickets to get through it. It took, you know, close to an hour to get through that. But once you got through that, all of the different venues were within that ring.
So, if you planned out your whole day, you could stay within the ring and go from different venues and see different sports.
BLITZER: So, basically, what you're saying since you were a member of the official United States delegation, you had special status, special security, not necessarily what others were getting. What about the athletes? Because they have to focus on winning their specific competition. Do you think that worrying about security may have played games with their minds and stuff like that?
BOITANO: You know, I don't think so. And I think that probably the safest place to be was inside the Olympic Village because, from what I understand, it was a fortress. And I think that when you're an elite- level athlete and you're focusing on the task at hand of representing your country and going for, you know, a medal, everything else outside of your bubble doesn't really exist.
So, I can safely say that, probably, the athletes were just concentrating on their -- you know, their games or their events and not really too concerned with the safety.
BLITZER: So, was Sochi ready? I asked you the question. You participated in the winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo in 1984 and Alberta in 1988. This was before 9/11. Was the town ready, though, for all of these people?
BOITANO: The town -- it seemed that Sochi was ready for all these people. There were no cars on the street other than official transport vehicles. So, from what I understand, the rest of the city was asked not to drive or, you know, was told that they couldn't drive. So, transportation was really great. It seemed like there weren't a lot of people there yet and the audience members -- I went to five different events and it seemed like the audience -- the people in the audience were Russians mostly.
You didn't see a lot of travelers from other countries, at least, I didn't. So -- but it seemed to really -- the transportation was really great and for all, you know, the talk about security, it seemed like the security was really high.
BLITZER: You're back in New York now. I'm sort of surprised you didn't want to stay for the games and watch all the competition?
BOITANO: I did, but I needed to come back with the delegation. We went for four days and it was a great delegation to be a part of. I was completely honored, and I had to catch a ride home with them.
BLITZER: So, you did. That's why your back. What about the discrimination against gays in Russia? Because that was a big issue going in as well given the anti-gay propaganda that's going on in Russia. What did you experience, if anything, along those lines?
BOITANO: Well, as you know, I sort of put my privacy aside and came out to support the president's message of tolerance and diversity and be on the delegation which was a great delegation. I love the platform. I loved the message that we were sending. I got a really good feeling from people there.
We did a press conference the first day that was an international media press conference. We had some liberal Russian media there and we had people from all over the world, and they were interested. They asked great questions and I felt complete support there.
BLITZER: Brian Boitano, we're glad you were there. Thanks for representing the United States. Thanks for winning that gold medal when you did. You're a gold medalist at the winter Olympic Games. We appreciate you joining us here in the SITUATION ROOM.
BOITANO: Thanks, Wolf. It's good seeing you.
BLITZER: Coming up, we're trying to track down the head of the company behind the West Virginia chemical leak and the water crisis. Officials there are failing to fully answer the question, is the water safe?
And a new question being investigated in the New Jersey Bridgegate scandal. Did Governor Chris Christie actually fly over the traffic snarl as it was happening?
BLITZER: Members of Congress are on the ground in West Virginia today. They're investigating the safety of the water supply after that dangerous chemical leak. But while they search for answers, they're also running into some serious problems that the West Virginians, themselves, have had for a month now. No one seems to know. CNN investigations, Drew Griffin, he's in Charleston, West Virginia. He's there on the scene for us investigating. What are you finding out, Drew?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, there is a criminal investigation going on, a federal investigation to find out what happened, why this disaster happened and who's responsible, but really, all of that is down the road for the people who live here. They want to know one thing, is this water safe?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It has now been more than a month and in parking lots across Charleston you can see the trust in the water supply.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe it's safe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe. I'm not --
GRIFFIN: Armed with as any empty jugs they can find, people continue to rely on the water trucked in, avoiding the water that comes from their taps.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not drinking it or using it.
GRIFFIN: And today, they have good reason to have their doubts. At a U.S. House Subcommittee hearing held in Charleston, West Virginia congresswoman, Shelley Capito, asked one question and got no answer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: is the water safe to drink?
JEFF MCINTYRE, CEO, WEST VIRGINIA AMERICAN WATER: As a water company, we don't set the safe standards, but we are in compliance with all of the standards set by the health-based agencies like the CDC.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd still like to hear if it's safe. And I think that's what everybody wants that one word. Dr. Tierney, is the water safe to drink?
LETITIA TIERNEY, COMMISSIONER, WEST VIRGINIA BUREAU FOR PUBLIC HEALTH: It's, in a way, difficult thing to say because everybody has a different definition of safe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Osik (ph), is the water safe? Would you drink the water and use the water?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I would say is that --
GRIFFIN: Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso, the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, says the reason he can't say if the water is safe is no one has really ever tested this chemical.
You can't scientifically say that that is safe short-term, long-term, et cetera?
RAFAEL MOURE-ERASO, CHAIRMAN, U.S. CHEMICAL SAFETY BOARD: Not really, you know? I mean, the CDC is saying and I agree that it should be nothing in the water, period, you know, of this chemical. To be able to say at which level it's going to be safe or unsafe, (INAUDIBLE). GRIFFIN (on-camera): So, are we being kind of told, well, I'm drinking the water, I'm using the water because there's no alternative.
(voice-over): Freedom Industries, the company whose tank caused this disaster, was a no-show at the hearing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's at a meeting right now. And he's not going to do any interview.
GRIFFIN: The president, Gary Southern (ph), according to his attorney, was on the job today and too busy focusing on the clean-up of this leaking tank to spend time attending a Congressional hearing.
(on-camera): They are now draining all of the tanks here, and as they do, they're pumping this out, you can really smell that licorice smell, the tell-tale signature of this chemical, MCHM.
(voice-over) It is a smell still being reported in homes across this area. And with no science to tell them otherwise, the smell test is almost people are using to judge the safety of their water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not safe. I don't care what they say.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): Wolf, the water sampling has been going on since day one. It is showing very, very trace amounts of this chemical that is still left in the water. Safe according to CDC standards, but you heard from the scientists, they don't know if those standards are correct or not. And right now, people can smell it so they're not using it.
BLITZER: What about for taking a bath or a shower?
GRIFFIN: Yes. They won't do it. A lot of people are just staying away. They don't trust what they're being told and when you see those kinds of wishy-washy answers from state and federal state county officials, they're saying they're getting no confidence from these officials as to whether or not this is long term or short-term dangerous for them.
BLITZER: Yes, especially if you can smell it. That's obviously -- Drew is on the ground for us continuing to monitor the situation. Thank you.
Other news we're following, including some new subpoenas could be issued at any moment in the New Jersey Bridgegate scandal. We're following all the new developments surrounding the embattled Republican governor, possible Republican presidential hopeful, Chris Christie. Chris Frates of CNN investigations is joining us right now. Talk of more subpoenas, talk of helicopters. What's the latest?
CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'll tell you, the New Jersey State committee investigating Bridgegate just came out from behind closed doors. It's the first meeting since they formed and they've already received documents from a number of people they subpoenaed. But some key players are fighting the request, and today, the committee rejected the arguments, basically doubling down and demanding things like e-mails and phone records.
And the committee will issue a dozen new subpoenas. The new batch will widen the investigation and include people who have not been subpoenaed before.
BLITZER: Also some questions today about the governor and his use of helicopters.
FRATES: Well, that's right. I mean, lawmakers are looking into whether the governor flew over the George Washington Bridge when the lanes were closed last September. Lawmakers are also interested in whether David Wildstein was on board the helicopter. He's the Former Port Authority official who's accused of closing the lanes.
Now, a spokesman for Christie tells CNN, quote, "The governor used the helicopter to travel from New York to Trenton following the 9/11 ceremony," and he went on to debunk the notion that Wildstein ever got a ride in the governor's chopper saying, quote, "David Wildstein did not ride with him that day or any day as he has never flown in the helicopter with the governor."
BLITZER: So, where -- you know, basically, where was the governor from New York to Trenton, but we don't know if he actually flew over the George Washington Bridge. Is that right?
FRATES: Well, that's right, Wolf. The government's office released Christie's flight schedule the week the lanes were closed. It showed about a half of dozen flights to meetings and events, but the question the governor's office didn't answer is whether any of those flights went over the Gorge Washington Bridge and lawmakers would certainly be interested in knowing that as they examine what the governor knew and when he knew it, Wolf.
BLITZER: This investigation is, by no means, over probably only just beginning. Chris, thanks very much.
Up next, do you trust that the GOP is trying a new tactic hammering away at President Obama and his trustworthiness?
And inside the mind of Hillary Clinton. We have newly released letters during the Lewinsky scandal that give us some insights may shakeup her potential presidential candidacy. We'll explain when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Sixteen years after then President Bill Clinton said those infamous words, the Monica Lewinsky scandal is coming back to haunt him and his wife's likely 2016 presidential bid. We're now learning more about Hillary Clinton's response to the scandal as it was unfolding in the newly revealed archives of her close friend, Diane Blair.
Among other things, Blair claims that the then first lady described Lewinsky as a, quote, "narcissistic looney toon" and that she believed that her husband's, quote, "huge personal lapse was due in part to personal laws and political attacks by his adversaries."
We're joined now by our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our CNN political reporter, Peter Hamby. Who would have thought after all these years that Monica Lewinsky scandal would come back. We'd be talking about this today --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: OK. I'm living in a time capsule. It's 16 years ago. You were, what, high school? I don't want to talk about it. But we were covering this, Wolf, and it's sort of a reminder of the Clinton fatigue that we've all gone through that, perhaps, another generation has yet to go through but will go through.
But it's also a signal that anything is fair game and that Lewinsky will be brought up again as Rand Paul has been doing, using it against Hillary Clinton. And I'm not -- I think that strategy might work with the Republican base but not with Democrats.
PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: One thing I would say, though, and this was is in the Stanley Greenberg (ph) memo that in these documents from the 1992 campaign, they sort of raise this notion that voters are troubled by the idea of two people, two presidents in the White House, and they were saying, you know, Hillary Clinton is a really strong first lady might turn the voters off.
So, that's one thing. As we look ahead to 2016, you get two for one. They were saying that could be a problem. That came up a little bit in 2008.
BORGER: That's right. But you look at Bill Clinton's popularity now, he's like at the 60 percent level. So, it's not as if Bill Clinton remained unpopular in any way, shape, or form. And you know, what was interesting to me about this, in just reading through the reporting on this, was Hillary Clinton's discussion with her girlfriend, which is what it was --
BLITZER: Diane Blair.
BORGER: Diane Blair in which -- and this is interesting to me as a woman is that she seemed to take a lot of the blame for Bill Clinton's personal lapses. She didn't excuse him at all, but at one point, she says she thinks she was not smart enough, not sensitive enough, not free enough of her own concerns, struggles to realize the price he was paying and what united them was their enemies, you know, and that's when she came out with the right-wing conspiracy.
BLITZER: I don't think there's any doubt, though, that we're talking about this in part because Senator Rand Paul and his wife have made it an issue over these past several days.
HAMBY: No, that's absolutely right. When I was in Texas with Rand Paul on Friday, and I asked him about this. This has been a news a lot. You know, he's pretty upfront about it. He's kind of and is all shocks to me and he says, look, I'm talking about this because Democrats are talking about the war on women and, you know, Alison Lundergan Grimes is having a fundraiser with Bill Clinton in Kentucky.
You know, his home state, he's very savvy about his home state politics. So, he was saying Democratic should give money back to Bill Clinton, but what is also doing, I think, beyond sort of, you know, talking to the base and like helping his numbers with Republicans, he's really injecting this notion of the past that the Clintons are kind of old news into the new cycle again. He's done it over and over again reminding voters do we really want to go back to this, raising baggage, those sort of --
BORGER: I think he's burnishing his brand, also. As you know, when you talk to people who work with Rand Paul, they're saying he wants to be known as the fighter. So, he's willing not only to take on Hillary Clinton but also to take on Bill Clinton and, of course, that works --
HAMBY: And what he does so well is again, he kind of has this sort of laid back demeanor, but it works really well. Mike Huckabee was pretty good at this. He would kind of twist the knife and do it with a smile. You know, Rand Paul will do this, too. It's actually pretty intriguing to watch.
BLITZER: And it's effective with the Republican base. The question is, if he were to get the Republican nomination, would that be effective in a general election?
BORGER: No, particularly, because there's a lot of nuance involved. He always says I'm careful not to blame Hillary Clinton for her husband's problems. But when you look at the gender gap that Republicans have had in the last presidential, 11 points, 36 points with younger women, I think this nuance could get lost and it looks like he's blaming her for Bill Clinton's --
HAMBY: And I don't think the voters are going to be going to the polls and voting on it.
HAMBY: However, in this moment where Hillary Clinton is not yet a candidate, she might run, she might not run --
HAMBY: -- there are still a tremendous, lot of options in for Hillary Clinton news, right? Rand Paul is filling the vacuum for that and the Clinton people are not responding. They're really not engaging on these stories. When you e-mail them, they don't really respond.
BLITZER: Let me move on, and quickly, let's talk about this whole Republican effort now to raise questions about the trustworthiness of the president of the United States. Listen to this. The Republicans are hammering away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: There's widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: I think there is a real trust deficit right now that the speaker is facing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a great deal of skepticism and concern. The president changed on immigration before.
JIM DEMINT, PRESIDENT, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Americans have lost the trust in this president to faithfully carry out the laws.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A sense of theme there, but yes --
BLITZER: What's going on here?
BORGER: Someone got the trust memo, and there is this trust deficit. Take a look at this number. If you look over the last sort of seven months or so, since November of 2013, you see that Obama considered honest and trustworthy was 46. Just in May, 58 percent. That has a lot to do with Obamacare and the problems that they've had since the president said, "if you like your health care, you can keep your health care."
And so, this is the only thing Republicans actually agree on these days, Wolf, because they're all over the lot on immigration. And so, here, they can all say, look, we agree, you should not trust the president.
HAMBY: And today's decision on the employer mandate only helps reinforce that.
BLITZER: They're delaying it at least for some of the employers for a while. We're going to have more on that coming up later. All right. Guys, thanks very much.
Just ahead, a potentially awkward dinner awaiting President Obama. Tonight, he and the first lady sit down with the French president, tomorrow night, the state dinner. Who's here? The president of France is here alone amid reports he's been having an affair. Stand by.
BLITZER: It's always been a big deal when the French president comes to Washington, but there's an extra level of intrigue this time. The president, Francois Hollande, is here alone after splitting with his significant other, and there are rumors he was having an affair.
Our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us from the White House.
So set the scene for us, Brianna. These are important, substantive meetings but there's also a state dinner.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and there's also a little bit of a scandal here that's coming along with French President Francois Hollande because he is here in the U.S. without a date, Wolf. His recent split from his longtime partner who was France's first lady, has caused headlines around the world and they're following him here to the White House.
KEILAR (voice-over): A glimpse of the setup for the first state dinner in nearly two years. Chefs will prepare other worldly salads, elaborate desserts and the entertainment for the night --
Mary J. Blige performing for 350 guests. But this dinner will also be remembered for its awkwardness.
Scandal plagued French President Francois Hollande comes to Washington with a lot of baggage and without this woman, Valerie Trierweiler, who until last month was France's first lady. Never married, the couple of seven years split after a French magazine said it caught Hollande sneaking out of his palace on the back of a scooter for a secret rendezvous with movie actress, Julie Gayet. She's not coming either.
Hollande says his private life is private but le affair Hollande follows him to the U.S. lending unusual intrigue to a high profile White House visit. Three hundred dinner invitations engraved with the former first lady's name had to be scrapped according to "The New York Times." And normally she would sit next to President Obama. So what now?
The updated seating arrangement is not yet public, but sources tell CNN the White House and French officials would have coordinated on a solution.
CAPRICIA MARSHALL, FORMER SOCIAL SECRETARY AND CHIEF OF PROTOCOL: You have to be flexible. You have to be prepared. And you just sort of change course.
KEILAR: Capricia Marshall was social secretary during the Clinton administration and until last year chief of protocol at the State Department. MARSHALL: Most spouses play a role in the social aspect of the visit. They may accompany our first lady to see an issue that she particularly cares about. But other than that the hard work is really happening between the two leaders.
KEILAR: And to that point, Wolf, the White House is really downplaying any adjustments that have been made, focusing instead on the substance rather than the state dinner. France is, after all, a top U.S. ally. There are important issues for the president to discuss, among them Syria and Iran.
But it does appear, at least for now, foreign affairs seem to have been overshadowed by affairs of the heart.
BLITZER: Yes, certainly good point. All right, Brianna, thanks very much.
Coming up two weeks after a snowstorm paralyzed Atlanta and embarrassed government officials another round of wintry weather is descending in the southeast. So will they be ready this time?
BLITZER: Turning now to a historic milestone for gay rights in the United States. The Justice Department is announcing it will expand legal benefits to couples in same-sex marriages even if they live in a state where same-sex marriage is not legal.
Our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is following the story for us.
Joe, what's going on?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with this new memo just issued this afternoon, the attorney general is drawing a direct line between the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the fight for marriage equality, but there's still a long way to go. And critics of this new policy are saying once again the administration is headed in the wrong direction.
JOHNS (voice-over): Holder called equality for gays and lesbians a defining civil rights challenge of our time.
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: As attorney general, I will never let this department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history. We will act.
JOHNS: Holder's new policy issued in a Justice Department memo gives same-sex couples equal standing with straight couples in federal legal matters including bankruptcy, the privilege not to testify against a spouse, prisoner's visitation and next of kin notification rights. Death benefits for police officers killed in the line of duty. The memo is a message to Justice Department employees.
HOLDER: They will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, the same protections and the same rights as opposite sex marriages under federal law.
JOHNS: The Supreme Court struck down part of a law that refused to recognize same-sex marriages. Since then equality supporters have been waiting for the government to re-jigger enforcement of about 1200 laws that treated straight couples differently than gay couples.
BRIAN MOULTON, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: It's a radically different environment for married same-sex couples today than it was just eight months ago.
JOHNS: Though nationwide same-sex marriage is legal only in 17 states, 33 states either ban it or put limitations on it. But the new Justice Department policy applies even in the states where same-sex marriage is not recognized.
BRIAN BROWN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MARRIAGE: It's wrong and it's lawlessness.
JOHNS: The Justice Department says it's just putting the Supreme Court's decision into action, but same-sex marriage opponents see this as pure overreach. An example of the administration's plan to issue directives on things it can't get through a divided Congress with legislation.
BROWN: Clearly, I mean, this is trickle-down authoritarianism. A hundred years from now, 50 years from now people will look back and say, what were we doing? This is not what marriage is.
JOHNS: The attorney general says the department will recognize same- sex marriage as broadly as possible but there are still a lot of limitations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Joe Johns, thanks very much.