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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S. Tourist Held in North Korea; Bergdahl Controversy; Breaking the V.A. Story: Code Words, Secret Sources; Political Future for Michelle Obama?; LeBron James & the Heat Feel the Heat; Obama Defends Trade with Taliban
Aired June 6, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Horrifying new details emerging about Bowe Bergdahl's treatment while he was a prisoner.
And President Obama delivers a warning as he and Vladimir Putin come face to face.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Another American may now be facing a grim fate from one of the world's toughest regimes. North Korea says it has detained another U.S. tourist who is accused of violating the law, reportedly for leaving a Bible in a hotel room.
Brian Todd has been digging into the story for us.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the North Koreans view any independent religious activity as a threat to their regime and tonight as a result the volatile North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has a third American in his hands.
TODD (voice-over): He relishes in saber-rattling, high-level threats and antagonizing the U.S. And, tonight, Kim Jong-un is once again doing all three. His government says it's detained an American named Jeffrey Edward Fowle. The North Korean regime says Fowle, reportedly in his 50s and from Miamisburg, Ohio, arrived as a tourist in Pyongyang in late April.
Japan's Kyoto News Agency says he was detained in mid-May. But news of his detention was only revealed today, making him the third American being held by North Korea. The North Korean government says Fowle acted "contrary to the purpose of tourism," but according to Kyoto, his specific crime was leaving a Bible in a hotel where he'd been staying. Analysts say North Korea pounces on even a hint of independent religious activity.
BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: They feel threatened by any outside contagion, any risk to the stability of the regime and they see religious proselytizing as a very real risk for some reason. JOHN ROSE, IJET INTERNATIONAL: If you go there as an American,
and break the laws, even though they may not seem criminal to you because they're perfectly legal in the United States, that creates a huge problem.
TODD: American Kenneth Bae, a missionary, was reported to have been engaged in activity when he was thrown into a North Korean gulag. The U.S. says he's still there, serving a 15-year sentence. The North Koreans say they're holding a third American, Miller Matthew Todd, who they say has sought asylum there.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Without blaming any Americans who have been detained before, this should nonetheless be a warning to people to remember the kind of regime we're dealing with and the brutality and the ruthlessness of the regime.
TODD: It was just six months ago that Kim had his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, executed for allegedly trying to subvert the regime.
TODD: Analysts say the North Koreans are risking more isolation if any of the Americans in their custody dies. And we have to say right now, Americans are being held around the world by enemies of the U.S. in several places.
Caitlan Coleman and her husband, Joshua Boyle, in Afghanistan. Alan Gross in Cuba. Bob Levinson by Iran. Aid specialist Warren Weinstein by al Qaeda in Pakistan. And there are others, Wolf. It's all over the place now.
BLITZER: As you know, in the past, there have been some informal deals made to get Americans out of these kinds of places. In the aftermath of the Bowe Bergdahl swap, if you will, how has that impacted based on what you're hearing from experts the possibility of getting these other Americans who are being detained out?
TODD: Well, we have to say, these are all unique and very different situations, you know, from each other.
But some analysts we have spoken to say that the Bergdahl case could make some groups see the real potential here for exchanging their people being held, even if it's not by the United States, or maybe trading an American hostage for some other concession.
This is kind of -- people are talking about this more in some of the think tanks and other places where we're going for some analysis here.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much. Very worrisome developments.
So, is North Korea basically holding three Americans as hostages?
Joining us now, Professor Charles Armstrong. He's an expert on Korean studies at Columbia University in New York. What do you think? What's going on here? Someone leaves a Bible
in a hotel room? He's detained. Is that really the story here, professor?
CHARLES ARMSTRONG, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, I think that's part of the story.
The North Korean regime is extremely sensitive about religious proselytizing, especially Christianity. They don't want any sign of Christian evangelizing coming into their country.
And leaving a Bible, if, in fact, this is what this person did, would certainly be seen as a serious offense. But, more broadly, the current leader, Kim Jong-un, has been trying to show, not least to a domestic audience, that he's a tough leader, tougher than his father, Kim Jong Il. There were a few Americans detained under his father's watch, as you may remember, and they were released through interventions of Bill Clinton and other prominent Americans.
Kim Jong-un hasn't done that. Kenneth Bae has been in prison for 18 months. And he seems to want to show the world, his people and the U.S. that he's going to stick to his guns.
BLITZER: Kenneth Bae was picked up, correct me if I'm wrong, supposedly for missionary, Christianity activities as well, right?
ARMSTRONG: That's correct. That's something that the regime is extremely leery of and they don't want any sign of independent religious activity, especially Christian missionary work.
BLITZER: Tell us why.
ARMSTRONG: Well, there's a long history of antagonism between North Korea and the United States, obviously, and a long history of Korean Christians being very much supportive of the U.S. going back to the Korean War.
And the North Koreans see Christianity not just as a religious threat, but as a threat directly from the U.S., that Christians in North Korea are supporting the U.S. against North Korea and want to bring down the regime.
BLITZER: So, what do you think, Americans should just stop going as tourists to North Korea? It's too dangerous right now?
ARMSTRONG: No, I don't think Americans should stop going, but we have to be very careful of the kinds of things that we do. We have to be very sensitive to the fact that North Koreans are carefully monitoring the activities of Americans, and we should be extremely cautious about any kind of religious literature or even talk about religion that Americans engage in when they go to North Korea.
BLITZER: Charles Armstrong is a professor of Korean studies at Columbia University.
Professor, thanks very much. ARMSTRONG: Thank you.
BLITZER: We're also learning painful new details about U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's treatment during his five years as a captive of the Taliban.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been working her sources.
What have you learned, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
A senior U.S. official is telling me that Bowe Bergdahl was physically abused during his five years in captivity with the Taliban. They believe most of it probably occurred after he made an escape attempt. They also say they have information that, at one point, presumably after the escape attempt, he was then confined in a very small space, described to me as possibly a cage or a box, physical abuse for this American soldier.
They also say he's recovering at this hospital in Landstuhl, but obviously still suffering from psychological trauma. And that is what they're working their way through with him. It may be some days before he leaves Landstuhl and makes the next step to travel to San Antonio, Texas, to a military hospital there to be reunited with his family.
They are adamant at this point that they are going to take it slow with Bowe Bergdahl. He's not being interrogated. He's not being debriefed at this point. They continue to say their entire focus is helping this American soldier get his health back.
BLITZER: We know yet for sure whether his parents have spoken with him on the phone?
STARR: All the indications we're getting from all of the officials we're talking to is that he has not, that the psychologist -- the team of psychologists has said he's cleared. He's stable enough. He could do it. He has not chosen to, we are told. But, you know, it's not entirely clear. This may be a very private matter within the Bergdahl family.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
Meanwhile, there's been some high-stakes drama playing out today between the United States and Russia, played out behind the scenes as President Obama, Vladimir Putin and other world leaders gathered in Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is traveling with the president in France right now.
Tell us what happened, Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, on the same day President Obama saluted the epic battle that began 70 years ago on D-Day, he came face to face with an adversary of his own, Vladimir Putin.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Landing on the shores of Normandy, President Obama paid tribute to a sea of heroes, the fallen World War II soldiers whose graves grace the sacred ground and the survivors in the twilight of their lives.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Gentlemen, we are truly humbled by your presence here today.
ACOSTA: The president seized on the lessons from this 70th anniversary of D-Day.
OBAMA: This was democracy's beachhead. And our victory in that war decided not just a century, but shaped the security and well-being of all posterity.
ACOSTA: Tying the struggle for freedom from one generation to the sacrifices of another.
OBAMA: And this generation, this 9/11 generation of service members, they, too, felt something. They answered some call. They said, I will go.
ACOSTA: During World War II, America and the Soviet Union were allies, but on this day, the U.S. and Russian leaders went toe to toe as rivals, as President Obama and Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of this historic gathering.
The French government even released this short video of the two men hashing out their differences over the crisis in Ukraine.
(on camera): Is he letting the Russian president off the hook here?
SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Absolutely not.
ACOSTA (voice-over): National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the U.S. is demanding that Russia control those separatists in Eastern Ukraine, the president telling Putin to work with Kiev's new government or risk further isolation.
In an interview with CNN, Rice also tried to set the record straight on the president's decision to free former POW Bowe Bergdahl.
RICE: We had reason to be concerned about his life.
ACOSTA: Rice wanted to clarify comments she made last Sunday when she defended the deal to release Taliban fighters in exchange for Bergdahl, who was accused by some of his fellow soldiers of being a deserter.
RICE: He served the United Nations with honor and distinction. I realize there's been a lot of discussion and controversy around
But what I was referring to is the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That is itself a very honorable thing.
ACOSTA (on camera): Was he a deserter?
RICE: We don't have reason to come to that conclusion yet. Obviously, he needs to be debriefed. His side of the story matters, too.
ACOSTA: Susan Rice said the White House national security team was unanimous that it was the right decision to free Bowe Bergdahl. She said that, at this point, Bowe Bergdahl's story needs to be told before they can draw any final conclusions and that a Pentagon investigation will do just that, Wolf.
BLITZER: But she really didn't back away from what she said on those Sunday shows last weekend, right? She has explained what she meant, maybe tried to clarify a bit. But she wasn't apologizing or anything like that, right?
ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. I think she just wanted to clarify those comments. She said originally that he served with honor and distinction and is now saying that, well, just by serving during a time of war, that's an honorable thing to do.
She is I think walking back those comments somewhat because they know this whole matter has to be investigated as to how he ended up in Taliban hands. It is still just not known at this time, Wolf.
BLITZER: And the president heading back to the United States even as we speak, right?
ACOSTA: That's right. And I asked Susan Rice. This was yet another foreign policy trip where his global approach was questioned. And she said that even though the critics have been weighing in on his policies on Ukraine and Syria and been calling them in some cases uninspiring, she said the critics have been wrong, that the president's approach is just right, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta is traveling with the president. He's in France right now, in Paris. Thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
You were just there in Ukraine. You saw this exchange that the president had behind closed doors with Putin. We don't know if anything positive came out of it. Certainly, we can hope something positive, but the president had three basic points he wanted to deliver to Putin. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Right.
He said, these are the requirements going forward. He wants Putin to recognize the new government in Ukraine, the new president elected just a couple weeks ago.
He wants Russia to stop supporting the pro-Russian militants there and also cut off the flow of arms that are coming across the Russian border into Eastern Ukraine. The situation in Eastern Ukraine is extremely messy. It's what I saw there. You have a mix of local pro-Russian separatists, volunteers who have come across the border from Russia, a lot of them veterans, for instance, of Russia's Afghanistan war and even volunteers from Chechnya, but, basically, you know, a thin line between them and terrorists really.
And they're wreaking a campaign of violence across the east. And they have -- they're very well-armed. You had another case today of a Ukrainian military plane shot down, it's believed by a MANPAD, shoulder-fired missile. There have been helicopters shot -- shot down.
That is a very messy mix. And the question now is, does Russia have the commitment to pull them back, but also the wherewithal? Because once these guys have been unleashed, it's difficult to bring them back and that's a real challenge.
BLITZER: I was a little encouraged that Putin had a chance not only to meet with the president, 15 minutes informally, but with other leaders, the European leaders. He met much more formally with them. But he also met with Poroshenko, the newly elected president of Ukraine. That was somewhat encouraging.
SCIUTTO: That's true. And that's a sign that's going to he meet -- it looks like he may meet that first condition, which is recognizing that government.
We have been told that Poroshenko and Putin had a -- they had relationship in the past. Poroshenko is a billionaire businessman. He did a lot of business in Russia. They have spoken before. Poroshenko, himself, has said, I can work with Putin.
So, it remain to be seen, will Putin follow through on these symbolic gestures? But I think the real test is going to be -- and this is the one the administration has set out and given in effect a month for Russia to meet this test, which is controlling those militants, ending the violence.
But the bad sign today was when Putin gave his own interview to journalists, he said, the onus is on the government in Kiev to stop what he calls a violent campaign against good, fun-loving, God- fearing, pro-Russian militants in the east.
So, we will see if he changes the tune in action as well as words.
BLITZER: And the real battle right now is in Eastern Ukraine. Crimea, for all practical purposes, that's now a part of Russia.
SCIUTTO: When's the last time we heard an official mention Crimea as a criteria for agreement? You're right, yes.
BLITZER: Sort of accepted that.
All right, Jim, thanks very much -- Jim Sciutto helping us better understand the history of what's going on.
Still ahead, a gunman armed with explosives and a rifle launches an assault on a Georgia courthouse building. We will have the latest on that.
Plus, codewords, secret sources, details you have never heard before from the CNN reporter who broke the story of the scandalous treatment of U.S. military veterans.
BLITZER: There's breaking news out of Georgia tonight, where we're learning new details about a suspect killed just a few hours ago in a shoot-out with authorities after attempting to ram his car into a county courthouse armed with grenades and an assault rifle.
FBI, ATF, Georgia authorities, all on the scene this hour at the suspect's home amid deep concerns he booby-trapped it before he left -- authorities say it wasn't -- if it wasn't for a deputy who was shot in the leg stopping the suspect, this could have been a major catastrophe.
CNN has team coverage of the breaking story. We will go live to CNN's Nick Valencia -- he's on the ground in Georgia -- in just a moment.
But let's bring in our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.
You're working your sources, Pamela. You're learning some information about this suspect who's now dead.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we just found out moments ago, Wolf, according to a law enforcement source with firsthand knowledge of the situation down in Georgia, that the suspect, Dennis Marx, was part of this anti-government group. He was part of the sovereign citizens movement.
And, basically, this is a subculture of people who reject authority and the government. According to information about this group, they're a group of people who believe that they get to decide what are laws -- what laws they obey and don't obey. And it's not up to judges and law enforcement. And so that's what we're learning, that we believe he is associated with this sovereign citizens movement, Wolf. And also we learned that he is a former TSA agent, but more than
a decade ago. From 2002 to 2003, he worked for the TSA as a screener and that is all the information we have on that. And, obviously, that was some time ago. But it is interesting to note that he has this anti-government -- he was part of this group with the anti-government sentiment, Wolf.
And, as we know, this morning, just before 10:00 a.m., he wanted to wreak havoc at that courthouse. We're told that he came prepared, Wolf. He came with several hand grenades. He was -- he came armed with an assault rifle. He was wearing a gas mask. He had body armor on and he wanted to do serious damage inside that courthouse today, according to officials, Wolf.
BLITZER: A local sheriff told me an hour ago or so that he had hundreds of rounds of ammunition with him as well.
Nick, you're there on the ground. There's deep concern, that sheriff told me, that the house, he left it booby-trapped with explosives, potentially. SWAT teams, explosive experts, they're now on the scene. It's going to take hours and hours. They're carefully trying to make sure that it's going to be safe. What are you hearing about that?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you mentioned, they are being very cautious about entering that home, because they have reason to believe that it is booby-trapped.
We know authorities, including the ATF, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, as well as the local Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, is on the scene there at the suspect's home.
But, as Pamela mentioned, this man came to do damage, body armor, flex cuffs, hand grenades. He had a homemade spike strip, every intention indicated that he planned to take over the courthouse and take hostages.
Getting back to that home, local officials here tell us that it's believed that he had not lived in that home for as much as 10 days. There's still no motive that they have uncovered. They are continuing to investigate Dennis Marx, the 48-year-old's background.
Officials say he was known to them. They did know who he was. They did not expand on how or why, Wolf.
BLITZER: I was told by that sheriff a while ago, Nick, that he was supposed to do a court appearance around 8:30 this morning. He -- apparently in connection with felony drug charges, selling marijuana, something along those lines. He didn't show up, but he showed up an hour later.
This -- the local authorities, they were ready. They had been training for this kind of disaster. Right?
VALENCIA: That was highlighted, in fact, Wolf, during this press conference just about an hour ago. They said that, for the last year-and-a-half, there has been
aggressive training here in Forsyth for active shooting situations. They have put their deputies through this type of situation before. The gunfight lasted about three minutes. And they credit that short gunfight to the training that the deputies here outside the courthouse had.
As Pamela Brown had reported, this suspect was engaged very quickly by a deputy who was doing his rounds outside, that gunfire exchanged between the suspect and that deputy. We're learning more about that deputy who's being called a hero here who saved countless lives, Wolf.
We know that he's a 25-year veteran, that he worked mostly in court detention. He was injured in the leg, suffered a shot right below the kneecap, non-life-threatening injuries. He was in surgery a short time ago. We believe he's expected to survive his injuries, Wolf, but, really, the highlight here is the training, according to local officials, the training that the deputies received for a situation like this. They were prepared for something like this to go down -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm glad they were prepared.
I want you and Pamela to stand by, because joining us on the phone right now is Brian Tam. He's county commissioner of Forsyth County.
Commissioner, thanks very much for joining us.
First of all, what can you tell us about this group, the sovereign citizens movement? Pamela Brown, our justice correspondent, telling us he apparently had been affiliated with this organization. What, if anything, do you know about it?
BRIAN TAM, FORSYTH COUNTY, GEORGIA, COMMISSIONER: I don't know anything about the affiliation that the shooter was affiliated with? I'm sorry. I had a hard time hearing you there for a minute, Wolf.
Supposedly, the shooter, Mr. Marx, who's now deceased -- he was shot and killed by a local law enforcement -- supposedly belonged to what's called the sovereign citizens movement. Didn't believe in government, supposedly. Do you know anything about that?
TAM: I don't know anything about that. I do know that we're very proud of our sheriff's department and the way they're reacting to the situation and how quickly they responded.
BLITZER: What can you tell us about the search of the home now, if in fact -- do we know for sure it has been booby-trapped with explosives?
TAM: I can't confirm nor deny that right now. I'm sorry.
BLITZER: So, but there are local law enforcement SWAT teams, explosive experts, they're going through the home; is that right?
TAM: I know that law enforcement is investigating all aspects of this case.
BLITZER: So where do we go from here? What are the lessons learned, from your perspective, Mr. Tam?
TAM: Well, I think the lessons learned, you know, we can't take security lightly. We train our law enforcement people very well. We have a lot of long-tenured employees.
And the sheriff and his administration just do a great job. And we take health and safety very seriously here in Forsyth County.
BLITZER: Brian Tam is the commissioner of that county. Thanks, Mr. Tam, very much for joining us.
Pamela, do you have any more information on this sovereign citizens movement? I personally have never heard of it.
BROWN: Yes, I have just been reading up on it.
It's basically, Wolf, the subculture of people who reject government. They believe that they should decide what laws they obey. They shouldn't be told by law enforcement. So there's the sort of anti-law enforcement sentiment in this group.
And learning a little bit more about Dennis Marx, we know that he faced 11 felony charges and that was supposed to appear in court today for a drug charge, and then we learned from authorities that he wanted to actually drive his truck right into the front of that courthouse. And, of course, as we have learned, that deputy, Wolf, prevented that from happening, according to authorities.
But, yes, he apparently was part of this anti-government group. And, of course, we're still trying to piece more together about what the motive is. We don't know exactly what was the actual tipping point that caused him to do what he did this morning, according to authorities.
BLITZER: Pamela, good reporting.
Nick Valencia, there's some reports that over the suspect's house, there's a no-fly zone. What can you tell us about that?
VALENCIA: It's actually all around this area, Wolf. We would very much like to show you at home, or wherever you're watching, what is going on there, but because of the urgency of this situation for local officials, again, being cautious about entering Dennis Marx's home because they have reason to believe it was booby-trapped, they have also instituted here and implemented a no-fly zone around the area.
So, there's lack of pictures and images emerging from the suspect's home. But we do understand that is an active situation, Wolf. BLITZER: Nick Valencia, thanks very much.
Pamela Brown, thanks to you as well.
Other news we're following.
The new acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs is promising the nation will learn how many veterans have been taken off waiting lists or put on secret lists, instead of receiving medical care.
Our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, has been reporting on this. He, in fact, exposed this scandal. We all know what happened in recent days.
Drew, listen to what the acting secretary of the Veterans -- Department of Veterans Affairs said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SLOAN GIBSON, ACTING U.S. SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: I am setting the expectation that intimidation or retaliation, not just against whistle-blowers, but anybody that raises their hand and says, I think we have got a problem here or I think I know a better way to do this or I think this is wrong, that is absolutely unacceptable.
I will not tolerate it in the organization. And no matter where they happen to be in the leadership chain of command, I will hold them accountable for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It sounds, Drew, like he was talking about your experience breaking this story. Your reporting involved a lot of cloak and dagger activities.
Walk us through how you managed to break this story, some of those activities.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You know, it sounds exactly like it.
When we started to look into this last year, we found six doctors who were so frightened to talk to us, literally, we had to meet them in alleys, seedy restaurants late at night. One doctor, if we wanted to converse with him electronically, made sure that by either text or by e-mail that we would use a codeword.
"Tender Vittles" was the codeword, so that he could make sure it was us talking to him, and not somebody in the government. This is because many, many people in the Veterans Affairs Department told us they legitimately fear retaliation. They were being threatened with possibly charged with crimes if they leaked any information about these wait lists.
And to this day, Wolf, many are still frightened. In fact, the Office of Special Counsel says they have 37 allegations of employees of this department fearing that they're going to be retaliated against just for speaking up.
And this was speaking up internally, let alone to reporters.
BLITZER: It's pretty amazing. It's like a spy thriller, if you will, almost like, you know, Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein.
Did you have one source, one major source, a Deep Throat, if you will?
GRIFFIN: Well, for a long time, we had a -- not so many Deep Throats, a lot of coughers, you know?
So, we had to put this together with bits and pieces of information.
But when we got to Phoenix, we did, and we still have one Deep Throat, you might say. A person who has no intention of ever coming out. Because of the fear, even after what Sloan Gibson said today, the fear of retaliation. But that person did provide us with direct knowledge of the secret list and did come forward to us, I must say, in a rather seedy location outside of Phoenix, shall we say.
BLITZER: Seedy bars and restaurants and all sorts of dramatic stuff. And I understand there was also what you would call a whisper campaign by other officials to try to discredit the sources.
GRIFFIN: Yes, this is after -- after Dr. Sam Foote came forward publicly on our air -- he was the retired V.A. physician who came forward with allegations of that secret list that kind of backed up what our Deep Throat was saying.
There was a whisper campaign. And we believe it was emanating directly from the Department of Veterans Affairs, trying to call him a disgruntled employee, somebody who was trying to retaliate because of past, you know, slights (ph) he might have gotten on his record; thought he might even be out for cash. Those whispers were getting back to us through back channels at CNN, I might add. All proven to be untrue, but there was a definite attempt to try to silence and discredit Dr. Foote in the midst of his very public airing.
BLITZER: Amazing reporting by Drew. Amazing, indeed. And it's, in many respects not only continuing; it may just be beginning, given the stakes involved.
Good work, Drew. We really appreciate it. Our viewers appreciate. Certainly, the veterans and their families appreciate what you have done. Thank you.
Just ahead, could another first lady one day become a U.S. senator? There's some buzz out there about Michelle Obama's future.
Plus, the NBA best player collapses in pain. And the Heat really do feel the heat. Can LeBron James and his team bounce back? Rachel Nichols standing by. There she is. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: The first lady, Michelle Obama, has 2 1/2 more years left in the White House, but there's already a little bit of speculation about what her next job could be. Could it be United States senator?
Let's bring in Tom Foreman. He's been pursuing this story.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is just speculation. It really is. But here's the thing. The first lady has been making headlines lately by engaging in political fund-raising and even some partisan fights. And whenever a big politico starts doing that in this town, people start asking, "What is she up to?"
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Well, hello, everyone. Welcome.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Does the first lady have eyes on elected office? Just listen to what she said at a White House event to a child's question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you ever run for president?
OBAMA: Absolutely not.
FOREMAN: Absolutely not. There you have it. No way. But now listen more carefully. Seconds later, she says some people are good at politics. Some people like politics.
OBAMA: And for me, it's -- it's other stuff that is not being the president. Right? So I probably won't run.
FOREMAN: And with that word, "probably," she's left the door open to provocative headlines like this one from Reuters: "Is Michelle running for the Senate?"
Certainly, she is looking like a campaigner: traveling, taking on Republicans, preaching about policy.
OBAMA: The last thing that we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids' health.
FOREMAN: And while polls show the public is not particularly impressed with Barack Obama's performance, only 43 percent approving, 68 percent like the way the first lady is handling her job. That's not unusual.
NATHAN GONZALES, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": First ladies have the advantage of taking on issues, causes that are popular to the vast majority of the American people.
FOREMAN: A year and a half ago, the president told a D.C. radio station she definitely could be the president, but she'll never run for the presidency because she's got too much sense. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Can you believe it?
FOREMAN: And at every opportunity she has thrown cold water on the idea of seeking any office. Listen to her on "The View."
OBAMA: I am not interested in politics, never have been.
FOREMAN: And yet once again, here comes the caveat.
OBAMA: The one thing that is certain, I will serve. I will serve in some capacity.
FOREMAN: Some Democrats like the idea of her returning to Illinois to fight for a Senate seat there, but the president has hinted he might like to move to New York. It's worth noting the last Democratic president did just that with his first lady also suggesting she had had enough of politics. And we've seen how that worked out.
FOREMAN: So, if this is in the cards, if, maybe the Clintons and Obamas can arrange a house swap, Wolf.
BLITZER: Between Chappaqua in New York and the White House.
FOREMAN: And the White House. It will be a big one. Yes.
BLITZER: Yes. New York, I'm sensing, would not necessarily be a great place for her to run. There are two Democratic senators there already, right?
FOREMAN: Yes, there's no real reason for her to go run there. If she wants to win, she wants to run, she'll go back to Illinois.
BLITZER: There is a Republican senator, Mark Kirk, in Illinois.
FOREMAN: The political math says that that's the better play in all of this. But again, right now the answer, the official answer is no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. The unofficial answer is maybe. Maybe.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens once the two daughters are in college and she's got some free time.
FOREMAN: Things change. Time passes.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman.
Still ahead, will the best player in basketball be ready for a rematch? And will the air-conditioning -- yes, air-conditioning -- really work? Rachel Nichols is standing by.
BLITZER: With just minutes left in the first game of the NBA championship series, the league's best player grabbed his leg and grimaced in pain. You see it there.
LeBron James was carried off the court, but it's his Miami Heat team which eventually collapsed, losing to the San Antonio Spurs as an air-conditioning failure sent the temperature soaring in the Spurs Arena. So was that a serious factor?
Let's bring in CNN's Rachel Nichols, who was there.
So was it a serious factor? What's your assessment, Rachel?
RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: I'm still fanning myself. I'm not sure if I can answer you yet. I haven't recovered from the game.
I mean, Wolf, it was definitely a serious factor. They had a thermometer near the court and it was over 90 degrees, which is not where you want to play professional basketball. The Heat coach, Erik Spoelstra, said it's like one of those hot yoga classes except everyone is running around playing at the level of a professional sport.
LeBron James, once again, most affected. We've seen this from him before. You know, he cramped in the 2012 finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. When in the Heat's own arena, it was overly hot. He's had cramping problems both before and since then. They thought they had it under control, but over 90 degree temperatures kicked it right back in.
BLITZER: What did LeBron have to say about the Heat in that game?
NICHOLS: Yes, you know, he was obviously struggling. He said he was angry at the end of the game that his body had let him down. As I said, they knew he had these problems. In fact, he's had cramping problems in heated conditions since high school. So, he's seen doctors about it.
After the incident in the 2012 finals, they started taking difference precautions, hydrating him a little bit differently before games and during the game last night as the temperature in the building rose, because you stick 20,000 people in arena with a broken air-conditioning, well, you know how that temperature is going up.
They started giving him de-cramping pills, basically salt pills. He went through seven or eight of those. He was hydrating, bags of ice on his head and neck. Extra time-outs. But in the end, it wasn't enough. He cramped up and it got so painful at the end, he couldn't even walk.
He's gotten criticism from that today, Wolf. A lot of people saying, hey, put a band-aid on it, play through it. But professional athletes across many sports on Twitter, on TV today, have chimed in and said you can't just play through cramps. Your body locks up and that's nothing you can do.
BLITZER: Yes, the players association, what did they say, it was amounted to unsafe working conditions, the temperature going up and up and up. Was there ever any serious consideration given to postponing, delaying the game, if you will?
NICHOLS: You know, it doesn't seem like there was. Neither team asked for the game to be delayed, or considered to have it postponed.
But, Chris Bosh, one of LeBron's teammates, said today he was surprised nobody collapsed from heatstroke and they need to be more careful next time to take those precautions, maybe do delay the game or take a pause there. Because if a player collapses on the floor, they don't want to wait until that happens.
Now, the NBA, of course, saying today they would consider this an extreme anomaly. They don't expect it to happen again. Certainly, it hasn't happened before. And the air conditioner, Wolf, is fixed. At least that's what they say.
So, we'll see for game two on Sunday night. Hopefully, it will be chilly in there. Everybody will be healthy, be safe.
BLITZER: A lot better. Let's see what the outcome of the second game is going to be.
Rachel's got a special show, "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS" airs later tonight, 10:30 p.m. Eastern. It's a really terrific show.
Rachel, I watch it every Friday night. I know a lot of our viewers are looking forward to it. We'll see you tonight, 10:30 p.m. Eastern.
Just ahead, today's memorable gathering of world leaders, elderly warriors and those too young to remember a day of incredible heroism and sacrifice.
But, first, this "Impact Your World" report.
CHRIS CUOMO, CO-HOST, NEW DAY (voice-over): As a teen, Cherise Peters felt like she was trapped in a cycle of poverty and neglect.
CHERISE PETERS, COVENANT HOUSE RESIDENT: My mom was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. I'm always sorry but I don't know what I'm sorry for. I got engaged with this guy, which I thought was the love of my life.
CUOMO: She dropped out of high school her senior year and ran away with him. They spent eight months living on the streets of New York City.
PETERS: You don't know who is who there. I started getting into drugs to numb myself.
CUOMO: Peters knew something had to change. She dumped her boyfriend and found refuge here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is where the magic happens.
CUOMO: Covenant House gives homeless youth a place to live across the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.
KEVIN RYAN, CEO, COVENANT HOUSE: Covenant House is part of a movement to help kids dream big dreams and achieve those dreams. We're all about giving kids the skills that they need and we want them to build for themselves that very fulfilling love filled home that's their destiny.
CUOMO: Peters is on her way to achieving that. She's training to be a nursing assistant. Her goal is to get her GED and go to college. She's even reconnected with her mom.
PETERS: I feel revitalized. I got me back.
BLITZER: All right. This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM: President Obama sticking to his guns on the controversial prisoner exchange with the Taliban for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He spoke with NBC's Brian Williams.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a rule, a principle, that when somebody wears our country's uniform and they're in a war theater, and they're captured, we're going to do everything we can to bring them home. And we saw an opportunity, and we took it.
And I make no apologies for it. It was a unanimous decision among my principles in my government, and a view that was shared by the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And this is something I would do again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This programming note for our viewers: 10:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight, our own Jake Tapper has a special on Bowe Bergdahl, the "CNN SPOTLIGHT" on this U.S. Army sergeant who has now been freed.
President Obama and world leaders gathered in France to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a day of heroism that must never be forgotten.
Our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is traveling with the president. She went to the beaches of Normandy.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Well, the magnitude of what happened right here on D-Day is obvious. It's all around us -- graves as far as we can see. But a large part of what today focused on was really the humanity of it. What those individual young men dealt with, their stories, their courage, and fear.
And just seeing their faces, knowing many of them were teenagers at the time. I think that's when we started to imagine the almost unimaginable forces that clashed here and altered the course of history.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): The solemn wait of honor normally afforded world leaders, was extended today by them to the survivors, the victors. The ones who fought and made it through, quietly coming back today, a long journey to a hallowed battle ground once soured with blood, now set aside for memories as painful as they are proud.
The weathered faces, wheelchairs, and canes, stoic looks still colored with medals back then were 16, 17-year-old boys many of them. And today their president warmly greeted them, tried to put words to those moments that changed their lives and the world.
OBAMA: Fresh-faced G.I.s rubbed trinkets, kissed pictures of sweethearts, checked and rechecked their equipment. "God," asked one, "give me guts."
What more powerful manifestation of America's commitment to human freedom than the sight of wave after wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they had never met.
KOSINSKI: Side by side with allied strangers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm overwhelmed with it all. That's all I can say. It makes me feel very humble.
OBAMA: Let us recognize your service once more.
KOSINSKI: But perhaps the most rousing moment came when the president called those men to their feet, if they could, to feel the gratitude of all gathered here, families, leaders, queens, now that these soldiers' rich life stories must enter their finals chapters.
OBAMA: These men waged war so we might know peace. They sacrificed so we might be free. They fought in hopes of day when we no longer need to fight. We are grateful to them.
KOSINSKI: Queen Elizabeth is the only world leader here who served among them in her way, working as a mechanic and driving trucks for the wartime effort home in England.
For others, the stories have lived and breathed through fathers, grandfathers, or even their own experiences fighting modern battles for others' freedom.
So, how do you memorialize the hours and days, the intensity of that time that really none of us today can fully understand? The sounds, the movements, and colors of war now symbols,
tempered with beauty and time to touch on that emotion and hope the world will never live it again.
(on camera): Some of these Normandy veterans that you talk to, the emotion is still right there at the surface. And some of them even say that what they feel now that they've had time to reflect on it, that the memories and emotions and nightmares that they have are more powerful now than when they were in their 20s and 30s and just trying to feed their families and get on with their lives -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski, what an important, important day this is.
Before we go, a major milestone for the U.S. economy. The jobs market is now back at its 2008 prerecession peak for the first time. According to the Labor Department, there are now more jobs in this country than ever before, with 217,000 new jobs added in May. The unemployment rate remains unchanged at 6.3 percent. That's significantly lower since the worst of the economic crisis.
Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. I love to read your tweets. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Certainly you can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
Please be sure to join us again Monday in THE SITUATION ROOM, you can always watch us live, or if you can't watch us live, DVR the show should you won't miss a moment.
Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.