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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Investigating the CIA; Health Care Showdown; Obama's Ratings; Attack in Indonesia; Paying for Health Care

Aired July 17, 2009 - 19:00   ET


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. Good evening everybody.

Democrats escalate their confrontation with the CIA. They launch a congressional investigation into a canceled program to kill al Qaeda leaders. Now Republicans call the investigation political theater.

Suspected al Qaeda terrorists target Americans and other westerners in Indonesia. Suicide bombers detonate explosives in two international hotels.

And President Obama makes a dramatic attempt to end the health care showdown with Republicans and some Democrats, even some members of his own party are concerned about the cost of his proposals.

But, first, breaking news on the investigation into the CIA -- Democrats want to find out whether the CIA broke the law by not telling Congress about a secret program to kill al Qaeda terrorists. Well, that program was never carried out.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes says the investigation will also examine other CIA operations. The top Republican on this committee, Pete Hoekstra, said Democrats are trying to politicize intelligence. Lisa Sylvester in Washington has the report -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kitty. It was last month when CIA Director Leon Panetta informed lawmakers about this secret program that was being discussed, and it called for sending out hit teams to kill top al Qaeda leaders. Now the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes, has announced he's launching an investigation to see if any laws might have been violated.

House Democrats are specifically trying to find out if there was a decision made at the CIA to withhold information from congressional intelligence committees, and what role, if any, former vice president, Dick Cheney, might have had. In a statement, Congressman Reyes said, quote, "I intend to make this investigation fair and thorough. It is the responsibility of the executive branch to ensure that the committee is kept fully and currently informed of all significant, anticipated intelligence activities."

Republicans, however, believe that this investigation is politically motivated. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, two months ago, she said that the CIA has been misleading Congress about interrogation techniques, including one known as waterboarding. Then this afternoon I spoke to Republican Congressman Roy Blunt, he's also on the House Intelligence Committee, and he told me that he doesn't believe the CIA was even obligated to bring this secret program to congressional members because it was only in the discussion phase.


REP. ROY BLUNT (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There is no responsibility for the director, for instance, to tell the Congress every time he or she has a thought about what the CIA might do in the future. The responsibility is to tell the Congress when these things are in a position that they actually could happen.


SYLVESTER: And the CIA, in a statement, it said that it will fully cooperate with the congressional investigation. And that agency is conducting its own internal review -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much. Lisa Sylvester. Thanks, Lisa. We will have more on this later in the show.

Now President Obama today tried to break the political deadlock over his health care plan and its cost. The president declared now is not the time to slow down or lose heart, as he put it, but President Obama is facing strong opposition, not just from Republicans, but Democrats, too. Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Damage control in the form of a pep talk.

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wanted everybody to just step back for a moment and look at the unprecedented progress that we've already made on reform.

BASH: The president trying to change a rapidly spreading story line that his health care plan is in trouble.

OBAMA: I have to say now is not the time to slow down. And now's certainly not the time to lose heart.

BASH: Why the scramble? Just listen to Congressman Mike Ross, one of the president's fellow Democrats.

(on camera): Do any of the Democratic leadership's measures going through the House right now have the votes to pass?

REP. MIKE ROSS (D), ARKANSAS: No, not at all. There's 40 of us that are conservative Democrats in the Blue Dog coalition that signed a letter about a week ago to the leadership saying that we cannot support the current bill.

BASH (voice-over): Ross and other conservative Democrats oppose their own party's health care reform plans because they do not do enough to reduce skyrocketing medical costs -- exactly what the head of the Congressional Budget Office said in devastating testimony Thursday.

DOUGLAS ELMENDORF, CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE: In the legislation that has been reported, we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that will be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a huge bombshell, but quite frankly it validates what those of us, the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, have been saying for the last three months.

BASH: The White House felt the impact of that bombshell immediately. A bipartisan group of six senators wrote a letter defying the president's call for quick action. Instead, urging Congress to slow its rush for a reform bill.

"We believe taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result is critical", said the senators. White House officials know the best chance for a bipartisan health plan that can pass Congress lies in the Senate, but negotiators there, who hoped for a deal this week, couldn't get one, which added to the sense of trouble.


BASH: And a Democratic source told me that there was so much concern here on Capitol Hill about losing momentum for health care, the Democratic leaders called the White House and asked for presidential help in pushing back, and, Kitty, they got it.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Dana Bash. Thanks, Dana.

The battle over health care is contributing to a slide in President Obama's poll numbers. The rise in unemployment is another major factor, of course. Now, the president's approval rating has now fallen below 60 percent. Bill Schneider has our report.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Last month President Obama's job approval held fairly steady at just over 60 percent, according to CNN's Poll of Polls -- this month, an average of 57. The American public is beginning to ask some tough questions about their new president, like is he a good provider. The nation's unemployment rate jumped to 9.5 percent last month, the highest in 26 years.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MINORITY WHIP: The problem with the stimulus plan that passed back in January, it just wasn't targeted to get people hired again. And we've got now a situation where unemployment is nearing 10 percent.

SCHNEIDER: In 16 states, including seven of the nation's 10 largest states, unemployment is over 10 percent -- over 15 in Michigan. In May, according to the CBS News poll, 25 percent of Americans were worried that someone in their household might lose a job. In June that figure climbed to 36 percent. Now it's up to 40 percent.

And they're losing confidence in the president's handling of the economy. Last month, people worried about losing a job still gave President Obama a 58 percent approval rating on the economy. This month, their confidence has dropped sharply, to 42 percent. Patience, says the White House economic director.

LAWRENCE SUMMERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We were at the brink of catastrophe at the beginning of the year. We have walked some substantial distance back from the abyss.

SCHNEIDER: Do Americans believe this president has a clear plan for solving the nation's economic problems? They did when he first took office, 64 percent. And now -- most still do, but the number is down more than 10 points.


SCHNEIDER: Nearly 3.4 million jobs have been lost during the first half of 2009. Now, that is more than the 3.1 million lost during the whole year 2008 -- Kitty?

PILGRIM: Bill, the number of people worried about someone in their household losing a job those numbers are staggering -- there -- is that part of the reason why the president's holding a news conference next Wednesday?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think the main reason is what Dana Bash was talking about, that he wants to curb some of the pessimism about the health care plan. He wants to make sure that the -- the doubts about the economic recovery don't doom the health care plan. I think that's his major reason. But he also obviously will use the opportunity to urge Americans to have patience. The plan was not meant to work this quickly. And most of the money that was in the stimulus package has actually not yet been spent.

PILGRIM: That's right. Thanks very much, Bill Schneider. Thanks, Bill.


PILGRIM: Well, President Obama today called the terrorist bombing of two hotels in Indonesia an outrage. Suicide bombers killed six people and 50 other people were wounded, including eight Americans. Now, police are analyzing the surveillance video.

It shows a man pulling a wheeled suitcase seconds before one of those blasts in a Marriott hotel. And that explosion killed five people as well as the bomber. Dan Rivers reports from Jakarta.


DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This footage may hold vital clues as to who carried out the double bombing in Jakarta. A man wheels a suitcase through the lobby, seconds later, a massive blast tears through the hotel. It's not clear if the suicide bomber was the man caught on camera, but police are urgently checking.

Moments after the two explosions, a security guard films as smoke pours from the Marriott hotel. The building, barely visible, as a crowd of confused onlookers realizes this is a terrorist attack -- then, sirens of the first emergency vehicles arriving at the scene. The Ritz Carlton was also hit, windows gaping open, shredded curtains fluttering in the tropical heat.

GREG WOOLSTENCROFT, EYEWITNESS: I heard a huge explosion. And I looked out my window towards the Marriott, and there was a big plume of black and brown smoke going up.


RIVERS: And then the shock as news of the dead filtered through to the crowds outside.


RIVERS: But then the police move our camera back, as they find a third bomb, undetonated, but live, in a room on the 18th floor. The bomb disposal van moves in and it's made safe. The police think the terrorists were checked in as guests, using room 1808 as a command- and-control center.

The police chief leading the investigation says the explosives recovered were similar to those found in West Java in a house with links to Indonesia's most wanted man, Noordin Top. Top is alleged to have links to the shadowy terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah or J.I. The Marriott has been attacked before by J.I. A bomb in 2003 left 12 dead and 150 injured.

J.I. were also behind the bombings on the holiday island of Bali, seven years ago, which killed more than 200 people, many of them foreign tourists. The reason these two hotels were targeted this time is unclear. The Manchester United Football Team were due to stay at the Ritz Carlton on Sunday, but it's not thought the attack was aimed at disrupting their tour. More likely the hotels were hit simply because they were popular with westerners.

(on camera): Inside both hotels, the police are now carrying out a detailed forensic investigation to try and establish who carried out these attacks. Everyone is assuming it may have been Jemaah Islamiyah, the most active terrorist network in this region. Everyone here is wondering, after a lull of several years, are the bombers back in Jakarta?

Dan Rivers, CNN, Jakarta.


PILGRIM: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today called the Jakarta bomb attacks senseless and tonight she arrived in the city of Mumbai, India, which was attacked by terrorists last November. Now, during her visit, Clinton will pay tribute to the 170 people killed in that attack. She is in India to deepen links between the United States and that country. And next week Clinton will travel to Thailand and meet with Asian foreign ministers.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today hinted the United States could send more troops to Afghanistan. Gates said he would consider the opinions of the head of the Central Command and the commander of our troops in Afghanistan.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I have communicated personally to both General Petraeus and General McChrystal that I want them to feel that they can ask for whatever they genuinely feel they need and then we'll evaluate that.


PILGRIM: The number of our troops in Afghanistan will rise to 68,000 this year and that includes 17,000 reinforcements being sent by President Obama.

New concerns tonight about Iran's nuclear program -- The Associated Press is reporting that diplomats believe Iran could have the means to test nuclear weapons within six months, but those diplomats say there's no evidence that Iran has any plans for such a test. The United States says Iran must show willingness to talk about this nuclear program in September or face consequences.

Still to come -- important new information about the investigation into the murder of a Florida couple who adopted special- needs children.

And Wall Street is fighting President Obama's efforts to impose tougher regulations on the financial industry.


PILGRIM: There is some good news on the economy tonight. Construction of new homes shot up 3.6 percent in June, that's the highest level in seven months. One reason is first-time buyers are rushing to beat a deadline for earning a 10 percent tax credit. That credit is part of the economic stimulus package.

Citigroup today reported a surprising second-quarter profit of $4.3 billion. Analysts had expected a $1 billion loss. Also today, Bank of America reported a $3.2 billion profit for the second quarter, and earlier in the week JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs both reported multibillion dollar second-quarter profits.

Well, new efforts tonight by special interest groups and lobbyists to kill a proposed consumer protection agency. This agency would set new consumer-friendly standards for loans and credit cards. The agency is part of President Obama's effort to tighten financial regulations. Industry lobbyists say changing the rules could, in fact, raise costs and deny credit to many consumers. Jessica Yellin reports.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you hold a credit card, a mortgage, or a student loan, Congress is considering a new agency designed to give you a lot more protection. But guess who's fighting it? The financial services industries, and that has consumer groups outraged.

ED MIERZWINSKI, U.S. PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP: This is the biggest financial fight I've seen in the 20 years I've been in Washington. The people gearing up to kill the agency are the companies whose irresponsible practices and abuses led to the collapse of the world economy.

YELLIN: Last year alone, the financial services industry spent $373 million lobbying. One of its top lobbyists says stopping the consumer protection agency is their number one priority.

CHRIS STINEBERT, CEO, AMER. FINANCIAL SERVICES ASSN.: We need to move slowly. We need to answer some of these tough questions about costs, about consequences, about will it stifle innovation.

YELLIN: The agency is a centerpiece of President Obama's proposed new financial regulations.

OBAMA: This agency will have the power to set standards.

YELLIN: It was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren. She's Congress' watchdog for the Wall Street bailout. She says this agency would demand simplified contracts, no more fine print, no more tricks and traps.

ELIZABETH WARREN, CHAIR., CONG. OVERSIGHT PANEL: And let's switch over and have plain vanilla products, page and a half long credit card agreements. There's the interest rate. There's what causes the penalty and how much you'll get charged.

YELLIN: But opponents warn any changes in the industry could have a devastating impact on the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If credit goes up and costs more, therefore some people that are eligible for credit today, will not be eligible in the future.

YELLIN (on camera): So it is a fierce fight. The House of Representatives has been holding hearings about the agency. The first vote on it is set to happen in two weeks.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.


PILGRIM: Well, to hear Lou's thoughts on these stories and all the week's news, join him on the radio Monday through Friday for "The Lou Dobbs Show" 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. each afternoon on WOR 710 radio in New York. Go to to find the local listings for "The Lou Dobbs Show" on the radio.

Still ahead, we'll tell you why a health care overhaul could mean the highest taxes in decades for some Americans.

And new information on the brutal killing of a Florida couple in their own home, while nine of their children were there. Tonight, we know what was inside a safe that was stolen from the house.


PILGRIM: In Florida, investigators say another arrest could come next week in the murder of the parents of 17 children. Now, eight people were already charged, seven of them with murder. The husband and wife were buried today. Their lawyer revealed what was inside a safe, stolen from the home during the crime. Ed Lavandera has our report.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Family and friends gathered for Byrd and Melanie Billings' funeral. Their children attended the services at this Pensacola church. It seemed that the safe would hold the clue, the insight, into the motive to why the Billings were killed. Authorities say it was the only item taken when five men burst into their home, shot and killed the couple and then made away with the safe. But even though investigators and prosecutors have refused to talk about what was in the safe, the Billings' family attorney revealed the secret.

CRYSTAL SPENCER, BILLINGS' FAMILY ATTORNEY: The safe that was removed from the Billings' home contained only children's prescription medication, important family documents, and some jewelry of sentimental value. Hopefully this will put to rest the intense speculation and rumors that are swirling about the Billings' family.

LAVANDERA: Those contents would hardly reveal something you'd think a group of armed men would want to rob, but the announcement surprised investigators and prosecutors, who have said revealing the contents of the safe would put the investigation at risk. The Escambia County sheriff responded.

DAVID MORGAN, SHERIFF, ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA: Because there was a lot of hoopla and a lot of speculation about the contents of the safe, some speculation that could have been hurtful to certain individuals -- I can tell you as a law enforcement officer I don't care if that safe contained Beanie Babies and bubblegum because it was the object itself that was the issue here.

LAVANDERA: The Billings' family attorney has expressed frustration and anger over media reports that federal agencies like the DEA are involved in the murder investigation. She said those reports cast a negative light on the Billings' family, but investigators say the DEA is looking into evidence uncovered while interviewing the accused killers, not into the business dealings of Byrd Billings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The DEA was called in on the suspects in this crime.

LAVANDERA: At the funeral, the Billings' children released multicolored balloons into the air. Melanie Billings' brother, Ed Brock (ph), says the couple will never be forgotten.

DR. ED BROCK, VICTIM'S BROTHER: Their lives were cut way too short. But their legacy will live on. As Albert Einstein said, our death is not an end, if we can live on in our children. Byrd and Melanie will live on in our hearts forever.


LAVANDERA: Authorities here in Pensacola say that the bulk of their investigation has indeed wrapped up. That the people that they believe were on the property the day -- the night of the murders here in Pensacola are in jail and -- but they do say that there are two or three other persons of interest that they're interested in speaking with. How that will play out is yet to be seen. Authorities aren't saying much about who those people are, and as you mentioned, Kitty, there is the possibility of one more arrest sometime next week.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Ed Lavandera. Thanks, Ed.

Well, with unemployment across the nation so high, you would expect that crime to be rising, but not in Los Angeles. In fact, L.A.'s crime rate is falling. And the reason apparently has everything to do with a bureaucracy protecting itself from budget cuts. Casey Wian has our report.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The unemployment rate in Los Angeles is now above 11 percent, more than doubling in two years. But the city's crime rate is dropping despite the economic hard times. The Los Angeles Police Department says violent crime here is down 5.6 percent this year, and 12 percent since 2007.

Homicides have plunged 25 percent in 2009. Even property crimes, which would seem to be the most likely category to rise in a recession, are down. Police Chief William Bratton credits the city's hiring of 900 more officers, help from businesses and community groups, and greater efforts to closely track crime so police are deployed to the most effective locations.

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: We live and breathe those crime numbers. That's how we assign our resources.

WIAN: Others say it's Bratton, who recently quoted Gandhi in a newspaper editorial, who has turned around a department scarred by scandals. Even with that success, city leaders continue to lobby state and federal officials for more resources. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa traveled to Sacramento to warn against a plan to divert tax revenues from local governments to close the state budget deficit.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: The money's got to come from somewhere, what you're doing is you're cutting critical services. You're not just cutting potholes and street repair. For me, 1,400 police officers is what we're talking about.

WIAN: The city has its own half billion dollar budget shortfall. Money is so tight some city officials howled at the prospect of paying for security for the Los Angeles Lakers championship victory parade and Michael Jackson's public memorial. The city is laying off as many as 3,000 employees but has exempted police.


WIAN: In fact, Los Angeles is hoping for federal stimulus money to pay for even more officers. According to FBI statistics, Los Angeles is now the nation's third safest big city behind New York and San Jose, Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Casey Wian. Thanks, Casey.

Coming up -- rising concern about the potential cost of President Obama's health care plans and the taxes needed to pay for them.

Also, Judge Sonia Sotomayor heads for the confirmation as a Supreme Court justice. We'll tell you how she reversed course on several key issues.


PILGRIM: Health care proposals the House is debating include plans to tax the rich. But according to a new study by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, that tax surcharge on wealthy Americans would bring the top U.S. tax rates to levels not seen since the 1970's. Bill Tucker has our report.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The top one percent of earners will pick up much of the tab for a national health care coverage plan if the current bill in the House should pass. Under the latest plan advanced by the House Democrats, surcharges would be imposed on people making more than $280,000 to pay for those plans. The surcharges would range from one percent to 5.4 percent on singles earning more than 800,000 or couples earning more than a million. The Tax Foundation, an advocate of lower taxes, is sounding the alarm.

SCOTT HODGE, TAX FOUNDATION: It's truly remarkable how high tax rates are going to be going if this proposal goes through. And we have to remember that this federal tax proposal is not done in isolation. It's done in combination with the high tax rates that many states already impose at their own level.

TUCKER: According to the Tax Foundation, federal, state, and local taxes would rise to above 50 percent of income in 39 states, and in eight of those states the rate would rise above 55 percent. For a group of wealthy individuals, though, who have come together under the banner of wealth for the common good, the cost (ph) is necessary and even welcome.

ERIC SCHOENBERG, WEALTH FOR THE COMMON GOOD: My attitude is that I've done very well out of the economic growth over the last 20 years. That's not as true of the middle and lower classes in this country, and I think it's only fair and reasonable that I, who have benefited the most, contribute more.

TUCKER: But not everyone believes the tax increases will stop at just the rich. People we stopped on the streets of New York have their reservations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it's going to probably filter down to the middle-class, which I am probably considered one of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it will affect everyone across the board. And hopefully equal at a fair rate for what people can afford.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're starting at the top, but I'm worried it's going to trickle its way down.


TUCKER: And the folks generally in line with those recently surveyed by Rasmussen. That poll released yesterday found that 78 percent of the people who were asked believed that it's somewhat likely the tax bill will also fall, of course, to the middle-class -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Bill Tucker.

Well, Judge Sotomayor's confirmation as a Supreme Court justice tonight appears to be all but certain. Senators ignored the judge's retreat on a number of controversial issues during her testimony this week. Lisa Sylvester has our report.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senators tried to pin down Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Senator John Cornyn saying that in her previous speeches, she has one message, in her confirmation hearing, another.

SEN JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: In 1996 you said the idea of a stable, quote, "capital L" law was a public myth. This week you said that fidelity to the law is your only concern.

SYLVESTER: On issues of race and discrimination, senators repeatedly brought up what Judge Sotomayor famously said, that she hoped that a wise Latina woman, with her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male, but in her hearing, this...

JUDGE SONYA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: My record shows that at no point or time have ever permitted my personal views or sympathies to influence an outcome of a case.

SYLVESTER: On another issue, over what role foreign law should play in U.S. courts, Senator Cornyn quoted Sotomayor from three months ago when she said, "International law and foreign law will be very important in our discussion of how to think about unsettled issues in our legal system. It is my hope that judges everywhere will continue to do this." But in the hearing ...

SOTOMAYOR: I do not believe that foreign law should be used to -- to determine the results under constitutional law or American law, except where American law directs.

SYLVESTER: Robert Alt is with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

ROBERT ALT, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: She seemed willing to reject statements that she had made time and time again in these hearings, and, you know, one wonders, you know, where the truth lies.

SYLVESTER: And Sotomayor responded to calls for clarification on her statements pre and postnomination saying this:

SOTOMAYOR: My record talks about who I am as a person, what I believe in, and my judgments and my opinion that following the rule of law is the foundation of our system of justice.

SYLVESTER: And even Republicans, like Senator Lindsey Graham, say her record is fairly mainstream and not one of an activist judge.


Sotomayor, rather than defending previous statements, has moderated her -- her views, moving to the conventional middle. And it appears that instead of getting into a large philosophical debate, she simply agreed with her critics on many issues -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester. Thank you, Lisa.

A federal court judge in Phoenix has stepped down from a racial profiling case that has attracted nationwide attention. Now, the judge recused herself from the case against Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio. The defense asked her to step down in February.

Now, the judge, Mary Murguia, is the twin sister of Janet Murguia. Janet Murguia is the president of the National Council of La Raza, it's a Hispanic advocacy group. Now, La Raza has been vocal in its opposition of Sheriff Arpaio's tactics.

Coming up, Democrats launch an investigation into a secret CIA program to kill al Qaeda terrorists.

Also, president Obama makes another push for his health care plan, even as some Democrats continue to question this plan and its cost. We'll have all of that, and much more, with our esteemed political panel, next.


PILGRIM: Well, joining me now are three of the country's best political minds. We're joined by James Taranto, editor of political analyst and "Huffington Post" contributor Keli Goff. And Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Robert Zimmerman.

You know, we really have to start with the whole CIA flap and, you know, the program that actually never got off the ground. Robert, what is your thinking on this?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the program was never fully operational.


ZIMMERMAN: So, what that means in terms of CIA or bureaucratic speak, we don't know, but the bottom line is, this is an issue that neither party wants to pursue. Clearly the White House doesn't want to pursue it, either.

And if you notice, the controversy has pretty much quieted down. But when director Leon Panetta went before the Intelligence Committee and informed them that Vice President Cheney and obviously through President Bush instructed the CIA to withhold information from the Congress, then it became an issue that, very frankly, our Congress can't ignore. And, in fact, what Bush and Cheney did to compromise the CIA, these are brave men and women putting their lives on the line for us, by -- by insisting the CIA withholding information, truly did compromise the agency. This is an investigation that has to take place.

PILGRIM: But, you know, we had a top Republican on the committee, Pete Hoekstra, said, called it "a little more than partisan political theater." But the Republicans aren't going to jump in here, you know...

ZIMMERMAN: They may want to make it a political issue, but let's remember the agency itself was compromised by Bush and Cheney when they were instructed to, in fact, violate the law and not disclose to Congress that the programs that were either in the planning stages or partially operational.

PILGRIM: Keli, what do you think?

KELI GOFF, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, the funny thing is when I first heard this story, not that it's a funny story, is my reaction was sort of like, OK, and...because at this point, like a lot of Americans, nothing from the Cheney era Bush White House really surprises me when it comes to these types of issues, just frankly speaking.

You know, I'm sure the investigation is going to happen. I saw that Representative Reyes from my home state of Texas is leading the charge that way, but you know, there's so many other issues on the table, this is obviously an important one. But a lot of Americans, still not knowing what's going to happen with the health care, still not knowing what's going to happen with the economy, this just becomes yet another, OK another thing to criticize the Bush White House on. You may agree, but it's sort of like, what next, you know?

PILGRIM: James? JAMES TARANTO, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: Well, if Congress is going to investigate something, why aren't they investigating why these al Qaeda terrorists are still alive? And the answer is this isn't -- this isn't about the CIA, this is about CYA. This is about Nancy Pelosi placating her critics on the left who were shocked to learn that she knew something about enhanced interrogation techniques years ago after 9/11. And I -- you know, she made this accusation that the CIA lied, and this is about...

ZIMMERMAN: You know, James, this is not about talking points and this is not about partisanship or political spin, this is about the director of the Central Intelligence Agency going before the Intelligence Committees and saying that the CIA was force ordered to withhold important information from the Congress. And we have co- equal branches of the government and there's a constitutional obligation that Congress has and that our system of government has. Obviously no one wants to get into this, like you say, Keli, when there are so many other pressing issues, but the rule of law comes first.

TARANTO: I disagree. I don't think Nancy Pelosi's motives were so high-minded ,here.

ZIMMERMAN: This isn't about Nancy Pelosi.

PILGRIM: All right, let's go on now, just because it really is very -- everyone is quite worried about. Just a couple hours ago, President Obama delivered a talk about health care reform, let's listen to a comment he made.


OBAMA: I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem in 2009. And I believe that overall, there probably has never been less discrimination in America than there is today. I think we can say that.

Make no mistake, if we step back from this challenge at this moment, we are consigning our children to a future of skyrocketing premiums and crushing deficits. There's no argument about that. If we don't achieve health care reform, we cannot control the costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and we cannot control our long-term debt and our long-term deficits.


PILGRIM: There it is. That's the health care reform. The previous one was from the NAACP speech earlier in the week. Let's talk about this. Your thoughts on the whole health care debate which is now really heating up.

ZIMMERMAN: And it's incredibly important to see this debate heat up. You know, the conventional wisdom out of Washington is the health care program's in trouble and it's collapsing. Yet when you look at the facts and you speak to members of the Hill -- members of Congress on the Hill, there were five committees dealing with the health care legislation. Three of those committees have already voted out health care legislation.

The AMA, which doesn't represent all doctors, certainly, but certainly is a powerful voice that killed health care reform under Truman and, in fact, under Clinton, is now supporting this as is the American Nurses Association and the AARP. There's real progress here, the question is what costs the American people more, no action or taking action?

GOFF: There was a CBS poll from last month, which I'm sure you recall, Kitty, that showed that 72 percent, an overwhelming majority of Americans support some form health care reform. But then your own network, CNN's poll, from a couple weeks ago, showed that one in five, though, are not sure about the president's specific plan. In fact, one in five say that they don't know if their family will benefit under the president's plan. That's a problem. There's a big deal of disconnect there and that's a problem.

TARANTO: Well, the president finds himself in an awkward position because he came into office promising to give free health care to everyone, you know, 50 million uninsured, or however many there are, and that will cost a lot of money.

And we've already spent $800 billion on the stimulus that didn't work and so there's concern about high spending. So now he has to shift focus to cost control. But, what does that mean? Cost control is going to mean rationing and waiting lists. It means that when I had my hip replaced, a year ago, resurfaced, I would have to wait. I would probably would still be in excruciating pain, now.

PILGRIM: This is a great worry that in some way health care service will be compromised. Now, President Obama doesn't want to tax employer-provided health care benefits to pay for this, but Max Baucus says we absolutely have to. Let's listen to a comment.


SEN MAX BAUCUS (D), SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE: Basically, the president does not -- is not helping this. He does not want the exclusion, that's making it difficult.


PILGRIM: You know, this is just very disturbing. How are you going to pay for this?

ZIMMERMAN: You know, it's not disturbing, it's a real issue that has to be addressed, and I think it's very important that we have a bipartisan debate going on.

Now, it's interesting, not Senator Max Baucus alone, but Republican conservatives, Senator Lamar Alexander also advocates taxing employer benefits, which is a cause of great concern to many of us. But the fact that we have a real bipartisan discussion going on to address the health care crisis in this country is a healthy and good thing.


GOFF: Today, Joe Biden, right, I believe it was yesterday, Joe Biden said to a group of members to the AARP that our nation's going to go bankrupt if we don't address the health care crisis. The problem with that statement is that he failed to explain how spending a trillion dollars is going to keep the country from going bankrupt. I think the president has a real problem on his hands, here.

PILGRIM: We have to leave it there. We will be talking about health care, I guarantee you, next week. James Taranto, Keli Goff, Robert Zimmerman.

Coming up, the discredited rumor that won't go away. Now, questions about President Obama's place of birth and his eligibility to be president.


OBAMA: I realize that Washington is often focused on...



PILGRIM: Well, an Army Reserve major is again raising controversy over President Obama's place of birth. Now, the major challenged his deployment orders claiming that President Obama wasn't born in the United States, and that renders his orders illegal.

Now, a former presidential candidate, Alan Keyes, also filed a lawsuit challenging the president's right to hold the office, and a hearing on that suit will be held on Monday.

Now, questions about the president's place of birth have been asked and answered many times since before the election, and the president's birth certificate says he was born in Hawaii. The state's Republic governor and other officials have backed that up. CNN has fully investigated the issue, found no basis for the questions about the president's birthplace, but the controversy lives on, especially on the Internet.

Joining me now is Orly Taitz and she represents the Army major and filed the Keyes' lawsuit. Former presidential candidate Alan Keyes joins us. And on the other side,, John Avlon who is a columnist with the and author of "Independent Nation." And Errol Louis, columnist for the "New York Daily News" and a CNN, also an attorney.

And so, let me, just before we start, bear with me a bit. There's overwhelming evidence that proves that his birth certificate is real and that was born in Honolulu on August 4, 1961. And if you'll just bear with me, I'll run through a little bit of the evidence and then we can get to this discussion. Now, the Annenberg political fact check, which is a nonpartisan group, went to Chicago to view the birth certificate last year and they released photos and this statement, " staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Our conclusion: Obama was born in the USA, just has he has always said."

The Republican governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, on record, she says Obama was indeed born in her state and we should note, she did support John McCain. So, we also have a copy of the "Honolulu Advertiser" the newspaper, August 13, and the "Hawaii Star-Bulletin," August 14, 1961, both announcing Barack Obama's birth.

Also, October last year, the director of the Hawaii Department of Health wrote a letter stating, "I have personally seen and verified that the Hawaii State Department of Health has Senator Obama's original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedure." reissued their results from the investigation they conducted in June of last year and they say, "Since we published Obama's birth certificate, questions about its authenticity have been frequent and fierce. After reviewing the evidence, we are confident of our rulings."

This is the last one, thanks for bearing with me. The White House press briefing this week, reporter from the "World Net Daily" pressed again about the birth certificate, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said this following comment:


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY: Do all of your listeners and the listeners throughout this country the service to which any journalist owes those listeners, and that is the pursuit of the Nobel Truth, and the Noble Truth is that the president was born in Hawaii, a state of the United States of America.


PILGRIM: Now, Alan Keyes, you've been patient letting me get through all that, but what more do you need to be convinced?


ALAN KEYES, FMR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some evidence. And the evidence is something that president Obama is strenuously blocking. You ask me to prove that I was born in New York City at the time and hospital I say, and I will give you a certified copy of a full birth certificate with a doctor's signature, the hospital, and everything else. I won't direct you to some photograph on the Internet and a bunch of hearsay statements that would not be accepted as evidence in any court of law.

And so the very simple question is, why spend 800,000 to a million dollars blocking the birth certificate? Blocking records at school and college that would in any way have a bearing on the question...

PILGRIM: All right, Alan...

KEYES: Both of his birth and of his citizenship claims at various times in his life. Why is he going to all this trouble, if as they say, the matter is resolved? Can't be resolved by a bunch of statements and assertions.

PILGRIM: OK, Orly, we have to keep this quicker, but please tell me...

ORLY TAITZ, ATTORNEY: OK, Obama never provided his birth certificate. What he provided is certification of live birth that was issued last year that does not have the name of the doctor, does not have the name of the hospital, does not have any signatures. Do you know that Hawaii has a statute 338, that allows foreign-born children of Hawaiian residence to get Hawaiian birth certificates. Did you know that?

PILGRIM: Errol, I would like you to respond.

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Listen, I think -- I think what we have here is a case where under the guise of saying, well, we can't trust whether or not he should be president because we don't have the evidence, it's actually the reverse. These are folks, and there are a number of them, and some of them are raising money like "World Net Daily" which is as far as I'm concerned, running a scam, where they're selling all kinds of bumper stickers and stuff like that, and I don't know what Miss Taitz is taking in the way of legal fees.


They're raising legal fees from across the country and the reality is they don't accept that the president is the president, and, therefore, they work backward and there will never be enough proof to satisfy them.

PILGRIM: All right, John, I have to let...

You've offered a mountain of evidence in addition to two birth announcements. That's a pretty deep conspiracy. What we have here, you know...


JOHN AVLON, DAILYBEAST.COM: No, what we have here is Obama derangement syndrome. This pathological hatred of the president posing as patriotism. Ambassador Keyes says that President Obama has called him a radical communist. You on your blog have repeatedly referred to the administration as Gestapo SS. Which is it? Get your story straight. Is he a Nazi or a communist? You guys are nuts.

PILGRIM: Orly, I have to ask you to let everyone at least have their say before you respond to it. I believe we're out of time, I'm sorry to say.


Great discussion.


Orly Taitz, Alan Keyes, Errol Louis and John Avlon.

TAITZ: Let me say one more thing, in order to be the president, you have to have to have two parents that are citizens. Obama's father was never a citizen of this country.

PILGRIM: All right, Orly, we have to call it, there. I'm sorry. Thank you very much, all of you, for joining in this very lively debate.

Coming up at the top of the hour we have Campbell Brown -- Campbell.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hey there, Kitty. Lively debate, indeed.

Just ahead, new developments in the custody case of Michael Jackson's three children. We're going to tell you about that, there was a meeting, apparently, with a judge a short time ago. We'll have details.

Also, the case of Amanda Knox, of course, that young American woman who is on trial for murder in Italy. Testimony now nearly complete. Tonight we're looking at whether her family is hurting or helping her case.

Those stories and, of course, "The Mash-Up" with all the other news of the day at the top of the hour -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much, Campbell.

This note, we did hope to have Steve Forbes join us last night, but because of the president's speech, we did run out of time, so Steve Forbes will join us next week with his book, "Power, Ambition and Glory."

And still ahead, seriously wounded on the battlefield, this Marine mow dedicates his life to helping his fellow wounded warriors. "Heroes" is next.


PILGRIM: And now "Heroes," and tonight we honor Corporal Dan Lasko. He managed to make a difference in the lives of many of his troops after being wounded in Afghanistan.


CPL DAN LASKO, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET): I was actually -- ended up swearing in on September 11 of 2001, the morning of, and then, you know, found out that it was a terrorist attack and we most likely would be going to war.

PILGRIM (voice-over): For Dan Lasko, a recent high school graduate, there would be no turning back.

LASKO: My dad was, like, if you want to go to school, we'll pay for it, you know, we'll take care of everything. And I told him, I was like, I made this commitment.

PILGRIM: Less than three years later he was headed to fight the war in Afghanistan. In April of 2004, Corporal Lasko and 15 other Marines headed out a on a routine patrol. They were ambushed. His vehicle struck two IEDs.

LASKO: When the IEDs went off, an explosion went off, there was gunfire, there was gunfights going off and I just ducked my head and I knew, I looked down, and my left foot was pretty much mangled. I couldn't -- and I was covered in -- I was covered in blood. And I knew I was injured. I had shrapnel around my head area, back there.

PILGRIM: Corporal Lasko spent the next year in a hospital. After eight operations, he lost the lower part of his leg, but he never lost his commitment to serve.

When he was injured, he received financial support from the Semper Fi Fund, dedicated to serving the lives and families of injured warriors. Now Corporal Lasko is racing to give back.

LASKO: From 2006 to now, I competed in over -- over 30 races nationwide to raise money, to raise awareness, to, you know, tell these injured guys coming back today, that, you know life is not over.

PILGRIM: Corporal Lasko is the first Marine to be accepted into the Wounded Warrior program which hires wounded veterans to jobs in the House of Representatives. He is currently working in the office of Representative Allison Schwartz, as a caseworker on veterans affairs.

LASKO: It gives you that sense of feeling, you know, of helping people, which is, you know, something I like to do and I will continue to do.


PILGRIM: We thank Corporal Lasko and all of our brave men and women for their service to this country. Thanks for being with us, tonight. CAMPBELL BROWN starts now.