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New Report Reveals Rise in Al Qaeda Threat; Primary Countdown: Obama Faces Growing Pressure; Pope's Historic Visit to New York Synagogue; Jimmy Carter Under Fire for Meeting with Hamas

Aired April 18, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A very dramatic entrance for an historic appearance. Pope Benedict XVI arriving by helicopter at the United Nations after an early morning flight from Washington. With his closely watched speech, he became only the third pontiff ever to address the General Assembly. He spoke first in French, then in English, praising the United Nations for its work. He also called for international action to protect the environment with what he called "a rational use of technology and science."

POPE BENEDICT XVI, LEADER OF CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): It will never be a question of having to choose between science and ethics, but rather of adopting a scientific method which most genuinely respects ethnic imperatives.


BLITZER: The pope also talked about the need to protect human rights, fight for religious freedom. And he called for multilateral consensus, saying that the decisions of a few can jeopardize peace, a remark many see as the reference to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In just about 20 minutes or so, the pope is scheduled to make history once again with a visit to a synagogue in New York City. But there's much more to the story than meets the eye.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Show.

She's watching this part of the papal visit for us -- all right, Mary, what's the story here?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a lot of anticipation about this visit not far from where we're standing here at the U.N.. This is the first time a pope will visit a synagogue here in the United States and only the third time ever that a pope has set foot inside a synagogue. Rabbi Arthur Schneier invited the pope to come here. And he says it is particularly significant because both men have shaped their world view after living through the tragedy of World War II.


RABBI ARTHUR SCHNEIER, PARK EAST SYNAGOGUE: It's a first. It's a first in the history on American soil. SNOW (voice-over): For Rabbi Arthur Schneier, inviting Pope Benedict to the Park East Synagogue is more than making American history. It carries a deep personal meaning rooted in the Holocaust. Rabbi Schneier escaped the Nazis. The pope, as a teen in Germany, was forced to join the Hitler Youth. Both, as young men, devoted themselves to religious life. For Rabbi Schneier, that devotion stemmed from a promise he made to his grandfather -- a rabbi who was captured by the Nazis, never to return.

SCHNEIER: He was always worried who was going to succeed him in his work. So I made a promise, which I have kept, to be ordained and devote my life to Rabbinic service.

SNOW: Rabbi Schneier fled the Nazis with his mother and came to the U.S. in 1947. He's been the senior rabbi at Park East Synagogue for more than 40 years. He's devoted his life to fighting for religious freedom and was awarded the presidential Citizens Metal in 2001. And he's met with leaders of all different religions, including Pope Benedict and the late John Paul II, calling it a message of good will.

SCHNEIER: The relations between the Jews and the Catholics historically has been not an ideal one.

SNOW: Pope Benedict has made strides reaching out to Jewish leaders. And as theology adviser to John Paul, he is credited as playing a key role in Pope John Paul's apology to Jews for the role Catholics played in the Holocaust. But Benedict has also angered Jews by reviving a controversial Latin prayer on Good Friday calling for the conversion of Jews.

I asked Rabbi Schneier about how he felt about that.

SCHNEIER: Would I wish that this fray would not exist? Of course.

SNOW: But the rabbi says he does not want to be paralyzed by the past and feels it's his calling to do what he can to heal.

SCHNEIER: The pope's visit here basically says to me, you know, you embarked on the right road and go forward. Don't stop. Continue.


SNOW: Now, when the pope arrives at Park East Synagogue in just a few minutes, he will be greeted by Rabbi Schneier. There will also be a group of about 20 children who will sing for the pope. The rabbi will read a psalm.

It's expected the pope will make some brief comments and also be given some gifts that will include a silver Seder plate, this being the eve of Passover, which the rabbi says it's so significant that this visit is coming on this day. It will be a very brief visit, Wolf, and the rabbi has stressed it's not really a service. He's calling it a visit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Symbolically very, very important, though.

Thank you, Mary, for that.

We'll watch and we'll show our viewers that arrival once that happens.

The U.S. has spent billions of dollars trying to get Pakistan to go after al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in its ungoverned border regions. Congress is now asking what's been achieved with the aid and now the GAO has a scathing answer -- that's the Government Accountability Office -- virtually nothing.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is following the story for us.

Jamie, what does the report say about the U.S. plans to go after al Qaeda and bin Laden?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if this was a report card on U.S./Pakistan strategy, it would be filled with Fs for failure -- failure to plan and even the failure to admit the failure to plan.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): The Government Accountability Office report concludes the U.S. strategy of funding Pakistani forces to pursue Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists along its lawless northwest border with Afghanistan has been a dismal failure.

Since September 11, the U.S. has poured more than $10 billion into Pakistan -- more than half the money, almost $6 billion -- went to fund 120,000 Pakistani security forces, who have killed hundreds of suspected terrorists and lost 1,400 troops in the process. But Congress has long suspected it's not getting much bang for its big bucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are U.S. funds being used effectively and appropriately, as well, by the Pakistani government in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Based on the information that's available to me, Senator, I think -- I think they are.

MCINTYRE: But the GAO report is scathing in its conclusion U.S. policy has utterly failed.

Its blunt assessment: "Al Qaeda has regenerated its ability to attack the United States and established a safe haven in the so-called Fatah, or federally administered tribal area."

That's the rugged, ungoverned area along Pakistan's northwest border, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding and where al Qaeda and Taliban fighters operate with impunity.

The GAO blames the lack of comprehensive planning by the Bush administration -- no plan by the National Security Council, no plan by the National Counter-Terrorism Center, which was created to come up with those plans. The State Department still insists there has been progress.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Progress doesn't mean that you've succeeded. It's still a source of deep concern for the United States government, as a place where violent extremists are, to some extent, able to operate.


MCINTYRE: So what does the GAO recommend? Well, Wolf, as you might expect, they say there's no plan. It says get a plan. And it says it should include the military, the diplomatic, economic aid, law enforcement -- all the elements of U.S. power.

Now, the Pentagon says it agrees with that recommendation. The State Department says hey, we already have a comprehensive plan in effect. And right there, Wolf, illustrates the problem. They can't even agree on whether they have a comprehensive approach.

BLITZER: Jamie, thanks very much for that report.

Jamie McIntyre, our Pentagon correspondent.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File."

Jack, you know, it's so frustrating. All these years after 9/11, they can't find bin Laden, despite billions of dollars spent and an enormous effort. A lot of people simply can't understand what is going on.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: But the State Department says don't worry, we have a plan in place. The plan's not working, obviously, as Jamie's report just indicated. But the State Department's position is we don't need a new plan, we already have a plan. That's a very effective arm of the government of the United States, that State Department.

How soon can we change that bunch of folks?

Former President Jimmy Carter has been making waves this week with his trip to the Middle East. Today, he met with an exiled Hamas politician in Damascus, Syria. Earlier this week, he met with two other senior Hamas politicians in Cairo.

Carter's his trip drew condemnation from both the United States and Israeli governments. Both consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Carter said he's not a negotiator, just that he's "trying to understand different opinions and provide communications between people who won't communicate with each other."

Now, critics say it's not useful to engage in diplomacy with a group like Hamas. Most Israeli officials refuse to even meet with Carter. His trip raises larger questions about what exactly former presidents ought to be doing with their time out of office -- which could be a lot of years for somebody like Bill Clinton or the current president, George Bush.

In recent years, Clinton teamed up with former President George Herbert Walker Bush. They raised a lot of money for victims of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. That's good stuff. Clinton has a foundation that deal with issues like HIV/AIDS and climate change. And Carter donated countless hours to Habitat for Humanity. Likewise, all good stuff.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton says if she's elected, she will make her husband a roving ambassador to the world to help repair our tattered image abroad.

But is there a line that these men who used to hold the highest office in the land should not cross?

That's kind of our question this hour: What's the appropriate role for former presidents?

Go to and you can post a comment there on my blog -- Wolf.

President Carter is a private citizen. I suppose, technically, he can do whatever he wants. But this doesn't look too good, I guess, for a lot of people.

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to be talking to him here in THE SITUATION ROOM...

CAFFERTY: Oh, are you?

BLITZER: In about, I guess, 10 days or two weeks or so.

CAFFERTY: Oh, good. OK.

BLITZER: So we'll have a good, extensive discussion.

CAFFERTY: Yes. I bet you will.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack, for that.


BLITZER: Four days until the Pennsylvania primary and the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama reaching a fierce new level. We're on the campaign trail with the latest.

Also, you're going to find out how John McCain may benefiting the most from Hillary Clinton's latest tactic. We're going to show you what she's doing.

Plus, we're standing by for the pope's historic arrival at the Park East Synagogue in New York City. He's expected there momentarily. We'll show you what's going on. This is the first time ever that a pope has visited a synagogue in the United States. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: More than ever, the gloves are off in the fierce battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. All political eyes right now on Pennsylvania and its critical primary next Tuesday.

But the Clinton camp is also looking beyond. So is the Obama camp, for that matter.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is in North Carolina watching what's going on.

So what are the candidates doing and saying today -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, both of the candidates started their day in Pennsylvania. But Hillary Clinton now here in North Carolina. You can see behind me some of the students lined up here at Wake Forest to listen -- to hear Hillary Clinton and poet Maya Angelou, both of them. Obviously, she is sending a very clear signal -- she's in this race beyond the Tuesday primary that happens in Pennsylvania. And both of the candidates are emphasizing -- they're talking about issues that really matter to voters.

And one of the issues that they believe it is, is character.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Countdown to the do or die primary for Hillary Clinton -- four days. The Pennsylvania contest a potential game changer. So as far as Clinton is concerned, all the issues, including Barack Obama's recent gaffes and missteps, are fair game.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.


H. CLINTON: And just speaking for myself, I am very comfortable in the kitchen.

MALVEAUX: Lately, the race has become quite heated. Clinton taunted Obama after he complained that Tuesday's debate in Philadelphia focused too much on trivial issues that didn't matter to voters.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Forty-five minutes before we heard about health care, 45 minutes before we heard about Iraq, 45 minutes before we heard about jobs.

MALVEAUX: Much of the first 45 minutes were questions about Obama's patriotism, his controversial pastor and his characterization of small town Pennsylvanians as bitter. Clinton is trying to paint Obama's criticism about the substance of the debate as evidence he's not tough enough for the top job.

H. CLINTON: Having been in the White House for eight years and seeing what happens in terms of the pressures and the stresses on a president, that was nothing.

MALVEAUX: Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, added this.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But you know, this is a contact sport. If you don't want to play, keep your uniform off.

MALVEAUX: When asked about Hillary Clinton's accusation Obama was complaining, he said, "You tell me who's been complaining about the press over the last six months."

But much of the day, Obama focused on the issues he says voters care about.

OBAMA: Instead of giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, we're going to start giving tax breaks to ordinary workers.

MALVEAUX: Since the candidates are generally in agreement on issues like giving tax breaks to the middle class, withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and providing universal health care, the campaigns' focus has shifted to the candidates' character.

H. CLINTON: It just didn't jive with what I had written about and knew to be the truth.

MALVEAUX: Clinton's admission and apology about for lying about arriving in Bosnia under sniper fire so far has not been exploited by the Obama campaign.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, there are three notable political figures that weighed in today, saying they believe Barack Obama certainly is tough enough for the job, offering their endorsements. One of them, the former Labor secretary under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich; also, two former senators Sam Nunn, as well as David Boren -- both of them with decades of foreign policy experience -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to be speaking with Robert Reich in the next hour.

All right, Suzanne. Thanks very much.

So who's benefiting most from this Democratic sniping? Some say it would be John McCain.

Carol Costello is working this part of the story for us. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All right, so what's going on -- Carol? CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, here's what's going on. All of those verbal bombs thrown at Barack Obama by Hillary Clinton have given John McCain a gift -- a strategy.



COSTELLO (voice-over): Hillary Clinton and John McCain have found a common enemy -- Barack Obama. His "bitter America" comments produced a tag team response designed for an Obama smackdown.

H. CLINTON: I don't think he really gets it, that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you.

MCCAIN: I think those comments are elitist. That's a fundamental contradiction of what I believe America is all about.

COSTELLO: It's not like McCain and Clinton are cooperating in any way. But analysts say McCain is not so subtly using Clinton's talking points to attack Obama.

DAN SCHNUR, FORMER MCCAIN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It works out very well for John McCain, because if he makes an accusation about Obama or about Clinton, most Democrats, even centrist Democrats, will take it with a grain of salt. But if he can say, "as Hillary Clinton said about Barack Obama herself," well, that carries a much more substantive punch for Independents and for moderate Democrats.

COSTELLO: And analysts say it's likely he'll continue to use Clinton's anti-Obama rhetoric when he visits what his campaign calls the forgotten parts of America. McCain told newspaper editors he'll talk with voters in Appalachia and in blue collar Youngstown, Ohio.

WHITFIELD AYERS, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Blue collar white men are this year's soccer moms. And John McCain is reaching out to them very aggressively. They are very open to him and they have real doubts about Barack Obama.

COSTELLO: The prolonged Democratic primary is giving McCain a chance to hone his general election message by reaching out early to these voters and to Independents who are tired of the Democratic bickering.

SCHNUR: The best thing for McCain about this prolonged Democratic process, it allows him to move to the center without having to fight for it.

COSTELLO: And, as the Democratic primaries drag on, McCain is likely to continue to adhere to that old adage -- the enemy of your enemy is your friend. In this case, Hillary Clinton.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO: And keep in mind, if Hillary Clinton was clearly in the lead, Senator McCain would use Barack Obama's words against her. But right now, a few days before the Pennsylvania primary, Hillary Clinton is McCain's best bud -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you for that.

I want to go right to the Park West Synagogue in New York City -- Park East Synagogue, excuse me -- where Pope Benedict XVI has now arrived. You see him there up on the pulpit with Rabbi Schneier, who is the leader of this synagogue. This is the first time ever that a pope has visited a synagogue in the United States. And there he is. We're told the pope will have some brief comments. The rabbi will be speaking, as well, presenting some gifts to the pontiff on this historic occasion.

We're going to continue to watch. We'll go there live. But I just wanted to show you the first pictures that we're getting now from this synagogue here in New York City, the pontiff on this visit.

Actually, let's talk a little bit about what's going on in the synagogue right now.

We've got our analysts, Delia Gallagher and John Allen are in New York.

Mary Show is in New York -- Mary, first to you. We heard your very moving report on these two men that we're seeing here in the middle of the screen.

Just remind us that their origins in Europe were not all that different, although they wound up in very different places.

SNOW: Yes, that's right, Wolf. And, you know, Rabbi Arthur Schneier is saying, really, what's so significant is the fact their world view was shaped by the tragedy of World War II. And this meeting today really came about because Rabbi Schneier invited the pope a few weeks ago. And this was a late addition to the pontiff's schedule while he was here in New York. The rabbi saying he feels it's really a symbol, that this is an outreach to various religious leaders, but particularly, in a way, to build bridges with the pontiff and the Jewish community.

As you mentioned, the pope will speak briefly while inside the Park East Synagogue. We'll also be hearing from children who've been practicing for a few weeks now. They're going to be sing for the pontiff. And the rabbi will also read a psalm.

BLITZER: All right.

We're going to continue to watch what's going on inside the Park East Synagogue. And we're going to go back there. We'll continue our special coverage. This is history as you're seeing it in the making right now -- the first time ever that a pope has visited a synagogue in the United States. We're also watching some other important news, including the violent wakeup call warning of a possible catastrophe -- a killer quake that could level the American heartland. I'll tell you what happened earlier today in the Midwest.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His Holiness will have a prayer.

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures right now of the Park East Synagogue in New York City, where Pope Benedict XVI is now seated on the pulpit with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, speaking right now. This is the first time a pope has ever visited a synagogue in the United States. I think it's only the third time a pope has ever visited any synagogue ever.

But let me bring in John Allen and Delia Gallagher, our analysts who cover the Vatican.

Is that true, John?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Yes, that's right. John Paul was the first pope to visit a synagogue. He did it in Rome in 1986. And then Benedict XVI, on his first foreign trip in Germany in 2005, visited the synagogue in Cologne.

BLITZER: Why, Delia, is this so important for this pontiff?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: You know, looking at these pictures, I mean it just seems to me that this is the hope, in a concrete way, that the pope is always alluding to. These two men whose lives have been touched by the Holocaust, who have taken these very different routes and have become two symbols of great world religions, coming together in a personal friendship kind of meeting and yet symbolizing, obviously, the need that the pope always points to for world religions to -- in today's society especially -- work together for peace. It seems to me the kind of perfect symbolic sign of what a lot of what the pope has been saying throughout this trip.

BLITZER: Talk a little bit, John, about the history. We were meaning -- and Mary Snow did at the top of the hour -- the fact that Pope Benedict XVI, as a young boy he served in the Nazi Army. And -- but he obviously moved so far away from that.

ALLEN: Well, I mean it's important to understand that neither the young Joseph Ratzinger, the man who is now Benedict, nor any member of his family, were ever Nazis. He was drafted into the German Army but they were never a member of the National Socialist Party. And as a matter of fact, ended up deserting from the Nazi Army. His father, who was a Bavarian policeman, actually took early retirement to avoid having any contact with the Nazis. So while the Ratzinger family was never involved in active resistance, it certainly would be unfair to color them as at any point or in any way pro-Nazi.

BLITZER: Absolutely. I think that's a good point.

And, Delia, was this at all a controversial decision that the Vatican made to have this stop on this visit?

GALLAGHER: No, I don't think it was controversial. The original schedule was that the pope would meet with some Jewish representatives yesterday in Washington, which he did do after the meeting with other leaders of other world religions. And then this, because, frankly, he's staying around the corner.

The residence -- the Vatican residence that the pope is staying at is only a few blocks away. The Jews will begin their Passover celebration at sundown. And so it seems -- it just fit perfectly that he would stop by, as it were, the synagogue to give them his best wishes for this celebration. And, of course, he knows the rabbi, too. So that was part of the reason he wanted to come.

BLITZER: So we're going to continue to monitor this historic moment here in New York City at the Park East Synagogue. There he is, Pope Benedict XVI. He's seated there. And Rabbi Schneier is speaking.

We'll continue to watch this and bring more of it to you as we continue our special coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States.

To our viewers, you're also here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, helping people pursue the American dream -- that's what President Bush's new nominee for the secretary of Housing and Urban Development says he'll do by restoring confidence in the housing market. The president announced the nomination of Steve Preston at a ceremony in Washington earlier today.

Britain's prime minister says the world is headed for what he calls a new era of global interdependence. Gordon Brown made the remarks in Boston today. It was his first foreign policy address here in the United States.

And Russia is seeking a bigger role in the Middle East peace process. President Vladimir Putin met with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, just a short time ago. Russia now proposing to host the conference in June.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A wakeup call from nature in more ways than one. An early morning magnitude 5.2 quake that shook a large section of the Midwest. Take a look at some of the damage it caused -- mostly cosmetic and some older masonry buildings. There are no injuries reported.

The quake was centered near Evansville, Indiana, but felt as far north as Chicago and as far south as the Florida Panhandle. It's raising some very serious questions.

Is the country ready for a seismic catastrophe right in the heartland? Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has been looking into this story for us -- so, Jeanne, how prepared are we?


Let me tell you that estimates are that a large earthquake in Los Angeles could do as much as $500 billion in damage.

So, are we ready for an earthquake there or somewhere else in the country?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. We are experiencing some shaking here right now in the studio.

MESERVE (voice-over): Today's earthquake in the Midwest was relatively modest. No major emergency response was required.

But what if it had been a big one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're ready.

MESERVE: That's FEMA's take. Experts are not so sure. The areas in red are those at the greatest risk of a major earthquake. A quake like the one that damaged San Francisco 102 years ago today would take out roads and bridges, communications, power supplies, crippling the emergency response.

California has planned extensively for this and instituted building codes to mitigate a quake's effect. But along the new Madrid fault near the area hit today the level of preparedness isn't anywhere as high even in major cities like St. Louis and Memphis.

DENNIS MILETI, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: There are so many unreinforced masonry homes and businesses and government buildings in those cities, there isn't enough money to do what needs to be done.

MESERVE: FEMA has spent $21 million in the last two years working with states along the new Madrid fault to pinpoint gaps in quake preparedness.

DENNIS SCHRADER, FEMA: What are the communications requirements? What are the logistics requirements? What equipment do you need? And what do the states and local jury dictions have available to them?

MESERVE: But after the debacle of Katrina, some wonder if FEMA would be able to deliver what the states and localities need.


MESERVE: Some experts say Katrina forced FEMA to take attention and resources away from terrorism and put it towards natural disasters, things like earthquakes but very few people think the agency or the nation is truly ready for a big one, which seismologists say is inevitable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for that, Jeanne Meserve, watching this story.

The quake, by the way, happened in the Wabash fault which is a branch of the much larger and potentially much more dangerous new Madrid fault. That's the one responsible for what are believed to be three of the ten largest quakes in recorded continental U.S. history between December 1811 and February 1812. Two of them were magnitude 8.0 or higher.

Damage was reported as far away as Washington, D.C. The shaking is said to have made church bells ring in Boston. There are even reports that portions of the Mississippi River briefly flowed back ward.

Take a look at these pictures taken almost 100 years later. This one shows how the seismic upheaval created swamping where none existed before. This picture shows how deep some of the cracks in the earth's surface actually were.

Evolution and so-called intelligent design, two theories of life on earth and how we got here. For some people they appear to be at odds but others say they find the theories quite complementary.

Joining us now the actor, the economist, author, Ben Stein. He's got a new film that opens Fridays in theaters around the United States. I guess eventually around the world as well. The movie is entitled, "Expelled. No Intelligence Allowed."

Ben, thanks for coming in.

BEN STEIN, AUTHOR: Honor to be here. Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: I'm going to play a clip, first of all, from the film and then we'll discuss.

STEIN: Go ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was viewed as an intellectual terrorist.

STEIN: Terrorist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of giving the topic of intelligence design some modicum of credibility.


BLITZER: All right. So explain what the film is about.

STEIN: This film is about the struggle between intelligent design and Darwinism and whether or not intelligent design will be allowed to be discussed, whether or not questions and holes in Darwinism will be allowed to be discussed, whether or not there'll be freedom of speech about or gins and the development of life. BLITZER: Intelligent design. You're saying it's not creationism.

STEIN: No. Because creationism says God created the Earth in six days and the seventh day he rested. We say it looks like intelligent design. We're not sure who the designer is although I'm quite sure it's God. In fact, I think the high point of the movie is when Richard Dawkins, very famous atheist evolutionist says he believes there could be intelligent design too but that it was people from outer space who did the design.

BLITZER: Is the theory of evolution, the Charles Darwin came up with 150 years or so ago.

STEIN: Roughly that, right.

BLITZER: Do you believe in that theory of evolution?

STEIN: Absolutely without question. In terms of micro evolution within species, about how certain butterflies got to have certain kind of spots, certain finches have certain characteristic characteristics without question, certain microbes and bacteria, without question. No one has ever observed the evolution of a separate distinct species.

Evolutionism as taught by Darwinism has nothing to say about how life originated. Has nothing to say about how the governing principles in the universe, gravity, thermodynamics, motion, how those originated. It's got some gigantic missing pieces.

BLITZER: All right.

I think you're basically -- we'll play clips on the same page as the three presidential candidates right now. Here's what Barack Obama said the other day in the faith forum, the compassion forum that we televised here on CNN on this subject.



OBAMA: I do believe in evolution. I do -- I don't think that is incompatible with Christian faith. Just as I don't think science generally is incompatible with Christian faith.


BLITZER: That was Barack Obama.

Hillary Clinton, she said this late last year. She said, "I believe in evolution. I believe that our founders had faith and reason and they also had faith in God. One of our gifts from God is the ability to reason. John McCain says, I believe in evolution. But I also believe when I hike the Grand Canyon when and see it at sunset that the hand of God is there also."

Are you on the same page as all three of these? STEIN: Absolutely. All of them would agree with me and I think you, if you had time to think about it because you're too busy to think about these kinds of issues, would say, how did things start? I mean evolution explains how things changed. How did they start? How did gravity start? How did all the principles of physics that govern the universe start? How did matter start? How did energy start?

Einstein said he believed he was explaining the works of God. Newton said he believed he was explaining the works of God. Now that's not allowed. You get kicked out if you say that on camera now.

BLITZER: All right. Just to be precise, I want to just wrap it up because it's all very sensitive stuff.

STEIN: It's very sensitive.

BLITZER: Ben Stein believes in evolution. He leaves in intelligent design. He does not believe in creationism.

STEIN: I don't believe God created the earth in six days and on the seventh day he rested. There are many perfectly intelligent people that do.

BLITZER: Because a lot of religious people out there, they believe in God, they believe in the story that's told in the bible, but they also believe that the six days, that that formula days may not have been a 24 hour period. It could have been 24 billion years and the six days was just a metaphor, if you will, for a long period of time.

STEIN: That's possible. I tell you what, what I'd like is for all of us to be able to discuss it and to discuss it rationally and without being told we're idiots and knuckle dragging Neanderthals to want to have a belief in a creator. That isn't happening now in college campuses. We'd like people to think about the dissent of free speech.

BLITZER: You're hoping your film will spark that kind of discussion?

STEIN: It's all about freedom of speech.

BLITZER: Let's, before I let you go, quickly talk about the campaign.

STEIN: Yes, let's.

BLITZER: Are you on McCain's bandwagon?

STEIN: Well, I'm a Republican. And I will almost certainly vote for him. But I'm very disappointed about some of his attitudes about taxes and fiscal policy.

BLITZER: He says the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent.

STEIN: I don't agree with that at all. BLITZER: What do you think?

STEIN: I think we've got to tax the rich more and give money to the military, give the money to a lot of other worthy causes. The rich have plenty of money. They can be taxed more. It won't be a problem for them. Even if it is, too bad.

I think we've got to have a much tougher line on corporate crime. The corporate irresponsibility in this country is beyond belief. The problems in the sub prime, credit crunch, they weren't caused by forces of nature like Secretary Paulson says. They were caused by extreme human greed and acting outside the bounds of decency and without government regulation.

The government has got to get back to regulating these people. Human nature is corrupt and needs to be regulated.

BLITZER: Ben Stein, thanks for coming in.

STEIN: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you so much. Thank you.

BLITZER: This footnote, the scientific community largely scoffs at the notion of intelligent design as a theory of life on earth. The National Academy of Science dismisses it this way. I'll quote. "Creationism, intelligent design and other claims of supernatural intervention and the origin of life or species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science." That statement from the National Academy of Sciences.

Jimmy Carter says he's merely on a fact finding mission to the Middle East but his trip is sparking bipartisan outrage in Washington. Wait until you hear what one member of congress wants to do to the former president.

And we're also showing you some live pictures from the Park East Synagogue in New York City. The pope has now wrapped up his historic visit, the first time ever a pope visiting a synagogue here in the United States. That was a dramatic moment. We're going to show you some of what the pope had to say when we come back.


BLITZER: A synagogue choir singing as Pope Benedict XVI is at the Park East Synagogue; this occurring only moments ago. You see him there with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the spiritual leader of the synagogue. This is historic. Only the first time, first time ever that a pope has visited a synagogue in the United States and only the third time ever that a pope has visited a synagogue.

There you see a seder plate. This being the eve of Passover, that the rabbi is presenting to Pope Benedict XVI, a symbolic seder plate designed to underscore the improved relationship between Jews and Catholics. The pope addressed some of those issues in his remarks, as I said, just a few moments ago.


POPE BENEDICT XVI: Dear friends, shalom. It is a choice I come here just a few hours before your Passover to express matters for the Jewish community in New York City. The proximity of this place of worship to my residence gives me an opportunity to greet some of you today. I find it moving to recall that Jesus as a young boy read the scripture and prayed in a place such as this.

I thank Rabbi Schneier for his words of welcome and I particularly appreciate your kind gift of spring flowers and lovely song the children sang for me. I know that the Jewish community make a contribution to the life of the city and I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship between all different religious groups present in your neighborhood. I assure you most especially of my closeness at this time as you prepare to celebrate. And to sing your praises of him who has worked such wonders for his people.

I would ask those of you who are present to pass on my greetings and good wishes to all of the members of the Jewish community. Blessed the name of the lord.


BLITZER: Short but to the point. Important remarks from Pope Benedict XVI to the Jewish community in New York.

John Allen, you've covered the Vatican for a long time. You hear these words. What goes through your mind?

ALLEN: Well, obviously in light of the sometimes troubled history between Christianity and Judaism over the years, I think any time you have a pope who is taking the initiative to set foot in a synagogue and express words of healing and reconciliation they cannot help but have a kind of historical resonance.

More recently, despite the obvious affection he has for Judaism he has experienced turbulence, particularly with Jewish complaints about a recent decision to revitalize a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews. Part of what's going on is also a bit of a fence mending exercise.

BLITZER: It's interesting. He's speaking in English. When he referred to Passover he used the Hebrew word, Pasov (ph). I thought that was an interesting note showing he wanted to bring in some Hebrew as well.

GALLAGHER: The pope is fully aware of Christianity's debt to Judaism and studied and snows the language very well. You also have to see this as kind of Pope Benedict continuing John Paul II's work.

When Pope Benedict was elected, that was something the Jewish community was concerned about and wanted to know if this pope was, indeed, committed to the same kind of dialogue that his predecessor was. And so I think this visit is very symbolic in that sense also. BLITZER: All right, guys. We're going to continue to watch Pope Benedict XVI every step of the way. It will culminate Sunday with his historic mass at Yankee Stadium in New York City.

Thanks to both of you.

Thanks to Mary Snow as well.

He brokered the first Middle East peace deal and later won the Nobel Peace Prize. Former President Jimmy Carter's latest mission to the region is sparking out rage in Israel and is being roundly criticized in the United States. At issue, his meeting with the Palestinian group Hamas.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's been watching this story for us.

What's all the uproar about, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mainly it's about Jimmy Carter really pushing the envelope. In trying to promote peace he's choosing to engage with what many call a terrorist group.


TODD: It could be the most harshly criticized study mission in world history. That's what Jimmy Carter calling his series of meetings in the Middle East with top leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group classified by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. Whatever the former president calls these talks, he can't say they're widely supported back home.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is not a supporter of having conversations with Hamas.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I find it hard to understand what is going to be gained by having discussions with Hamas about peace when Hamas is, in fact, the impediment to peace.

TODD: The pylon is bipartisan. Members of congress from both parties, including fellow Democrat, Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote letters to Carter urging him to cancel the meetings. Now that he's gone ahead with them, one congressional Republican is pushing a bill to cut off federal funding for the Carter Center. Another wants his passport revoked. All the presidential candidates have pushed way from him, even the man who's gotten public words of support from the former president.

OBAMA: I know I've said consistently I would not meet with Hamas.

TODD: Hamas has called for Israel's construction, been in a near constant state of war with Israel for decades. The group also won Palestinian parliamentary elections two years ago and controls Gaza. Carter says peace can't be achieved without it.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To have them completely excluded even from conversations or consultations, I think is counterproductive.

TODD: For the man who's drawn fire and praise for freelancing diplomatic missions to North Korea and Cuba, how will history view this enterprise?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Given Hamas's mistreatment of its own people, continued support for terror against Israelis and lack of any sign they are looking for a peace process to really work successfully in the Middle East, my guess is it wind up being seen as a mistake by an otherwise quite impressive former president.


TODD: Now, President Carter said during these meetings he did ask Hamas officials to stop their rocket attacks into Israel. During this trip when he arrived in Israel no cabinet officials would meet with him, which Carter said, "didn't break my heart." Israel's president did meet with Mr. Carter.

Wolf, you remember from coffering the Camp David Accords, this is far removed from those days when he was revered in Israel.

BLITZER: A lot has changed over these years. Thanks very much for that.

Brian Todd reporting.

A $5 billion loss, 9,000 lay offs. Why would investors cheer that kind of news? What's going on? I'll pick Lou Dobbs' brain when we come back.

Also, we're going to hear from the former Clinton cabinet member now endorsing Obama. Robert Reich will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Check back with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: In light of President Carter's trip to meet with members of Hamas, what is the appropriate role for former presidents?

Mary in Alabama says: "My hat is off to Jimmy Carter who is the only American president that ever affected a meaningful peace in the Middle East, between the Egyptians and the Israelis. His is the appropriate role. An inappropriate approach is being the former president is what Bill Clinton's doing, slinging mud on the other presidential hopefuls so his wife can claw her way into the White House."

James writes: "I think the keyword is former. There's nothing wrong with former presidents being ambassadors and lending their names in support of domestic issues. As far as their role in major and key issues of security and foreign policy it should be hands off. They had their chance. Some of them proved they were ineffective when they had it."

Lori in Indiana writes: "I have to admit Carter's plans to meet with Hamas make me a bit nervous but I think he means well. Hopefully in some ways it'll help things. I don't know what limits we should set on former presidents. I think we have to leave it the way it is and allow them to do what they think is best. We don't really know what the outcome will be."

Buster in Poughkeepsie, New York: "I'd like to see the former presidents go into the inner city schools and speak to the kids there. As former leaders of the free world they would inspire the pupils by their own example to apply themselves, graduate and go on to do good works. The most important asset we have for our country's future lies in the success of our youth and the former presidents more than anyone could make that happen."

Bruce in St. Paul, Minnesota: "An ex-president should travel the world. Give speeches for $250,000 a pop. Write a self-serving memory, buy a few homes, open his library, shrine to himself, and eventually try to get his wife elected president. He should enjoy secret service protection at all times. We thought the royal family had a tough gig."

If you didn't see your e-mail go to my blog at file and look for yours there among the hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack. Thank you.

John McCain. He's releasing his income tax returns. But the new numbers may not necessarily tell the whole story of his family's assets.

Plus, Lou Dobbs standing by to join us. We'll take a closer look at why some investors are celebrating Citibank's bad news.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou. He's getting ready for his show in an hour from now.

What do you think? Citigroup, they lay off 9,000 people today. They're writing off, what, another $5 billion in mistakes or whatever you call it.


BLITZER: In bad debt. The market goes up spectacularly today. What's going on?

DOBBS: Wall Street for all appearances looks like it is an institution, a creature that loves pain and in part it's true. We've actually seen Wall Street lose not only the 17,000 jobs reported this week, but the 58,000 jobs over the past ten months that have been lost on Wall Street. Wall Street is a great indicator of what is coming, by the way, to the rest of America and the real economy, unfortunately.

BLITZER: What is coming?

DOBBS: More lay offs and job losses and real pain. We've already got an unemployment rate of 5.1 percent and unfortunately this is not good news for the next several months.

BLITZER: Should we be more worried about the unemployment or the inflation?

DOBBS: Without question if you've ever lost a job, Wolf, you know the answer to that question. Job losses are what are the most - it is the most painful part of a down turning economy. A man and a woman not able to take care of their family, the pain is real. It's proximate and it is one of the few times that even Republicans and Democrats can come together and talk about what is best for people in this country.

BLITZER: Lou, we'll be hearing a lot more of this in an hour when you start your show. Thanks very much.

DOBBS: You bet.

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs reporting for us.