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The Situation Room

Obama Talks with Religious Leaders; Gates on U.S. Presence in Iraq; FDA Slammed on Food Safety

Aired June 10, 2008 - 17:00   ET


Happening now, quiet talks behind closed doors. Outspoken religious leaders have provided some embarrassing moments for his campaign and Barack Obama left his own church as a result. Now he's meeting with faith leaders.

But why is it all so private?

We're watching this story.

What will the next president face in Iraq? The controversy over permanent U.S. military bases -- we'll have an exclusive interview with the Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

And tainted tomatoes are making some Americans very sick. Federal officials are trying to track down the source of the outbreak and they're taking a lot of heat in the process.

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

But we begin this hour with some outspoken religious leaders. They've caused this campaign a bit of trouble over these past few months. Barack Obama has left his own church as a result. But now he's reaching out to the faithful with a series of meetings, the first one taking place today in Chicago. But it's all pretty much hush-hush right now.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us.

Why all the privacy right now, Carol? What's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's interesting. Why all the privacy?

Because not all of the religious leaders at this meeting are supporters of Barack Obama's. If there had been press coverage, they would not have attended. But as Senator Obama has said, he wants to reach out to Evangelicals and other religious leaders to say to them, welcome, we need you.

From what we hear, Obama met with around 30 members of the clergy. The meeting took place in Chicago and it's just one of several such meetings already scheduled. As I reported yesterday, Evangelical and other conservative voters seem to be up for grabs this election season. They have not been happy with Republican John McCain.

Southern Baptists, by the way, are meeting for their convention right now. But McCain is not scheduled to attend, even though he needs these voters to win. Some Baptists view him as liberal. But they view Obama as ultra liberal. Still, McCain is also reaching out to them in other ways, through an e-mail campaign. And, Wolf, he also plans to meet with members of the clergy, as well.

BLITZER: All right, we'll stay on top of this with you, Carol.

Thank you very much.

As the United States and Iraq negotiate right now terms for their future relationship, one key element is a future U.S. military presence in Iraq -- the possibility that the U.S. military will maintain a very, very long-term foothold in that country.

Here's our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, with an exclusive interview with the U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates -- Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when is a permanent base really a permanent base?

I put that question to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in my interview with him here at Peterson Air Force Base.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): Secretary Gates was on his way to give another pep talk to airmen about nuclear weapons security and the failure of Air Force leadership when he agreed to take a few questions from CNN on another hot button issue -- America's long-term intentions in Iraq and what the new president will face.

(on camera): What do you think is going to happen in Iraq?

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think either person who is elected president is going to come in and take a close look at it. I've said repeatedly we can't get the end game wrong.

MCINTYRE: Are you ever going to be answer this question about permanent bases?

GATES: We have no desire for permanent bases in Iraq.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Gates' standard answer isn't satisfying to many on Capitol Hill, where there is bipartisan concern the new U.S.-Iraq Security Accord may go well beyond the boilerplate Status of Forces Agreement the U.S. has with more than 80 other countries.

(on camera): I guess the question becomes, what's a permanent base? GATES: This is a permanent base.

MCINTYRE: This is permanent.

Are the bases we have in Korea or Germany, are those permanent bases or are they just bases that have been there forever?

GATES: I think you would have to look at them as permanent bases. They've been there for 50 years. They are U.S. facilities in the sense that they are U.S. only, in many instances.

MCINTYRE: And that's not what's going to happen...

GATES: It's not what we have in mind.

MCCAIN (voice-over): The negotiations by some accounts are dragging and may not be complete by the end of the Bush administration. Some Iraqi leaders complain the U.S. wants too many bases, too much control of the airspace and too much immunity from Iraqi law.

(on camera): Any chance you'd consider serving in another administration, either Democratic or Republican?

GATES: All right, look, I learned a long time ago never to say never. So my answer is the circumstances under which I would do that are inconceivable to me.


MCINTYRE: Gates says he believes whoever is elected president is going to want to get the end game right. So he believes whether it's a Republican or a Democrat, they're likely to chart a more moderate course than their campaign rhetoric indicates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie.

Thanks very much.

More than 150 people sickened, almost two dozen hospitalized and now the first death linked to a salmonella outbreak blamed on three types of raw tomatoes. Health officials in Texas say a 67-year-old man with cancer was exposed to the bacteria at a Mexican restaurant near Houston and that it contributed to his death. The outbreak is now confirmed in 17 states. Wal-Mart, Kroger, Burger King, Taco Bell, among others, are all pulling red plum or red Roma and round red tomatoes from their shelves and menus.

The crisis is certainly underscoring what critics say are some major flaws in the Food and Drug Administration that put the public health at risk.

CNN's Miles O'Brien is joining us now. He's watching this story for us.

Miles, this is pretty scary stuff, when you think about it. What's going on with the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and its role in trying to protect us, hopefully?

MILES O'BRIEN, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, last night the Food and Drug Administration asked Congress for an additional $275 million to increase its staffing, increase its inspections. A lot of critics of the agency would say it's about time.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Rotten tomatoes -- growers all over the country figure they have a multimillion dollar supply sitting in fields unpicked or boxed up with no place to go. A lot of those growers and a lot of consumer advocates would like to aim some of that fruit squarely at this man.

DR. ANDREW VON ESCHENBACH, FDA COMMISSIONER: We have not identified with precision yet where that source is.

O'BRIEN: That's Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, who gave reporters a tour of a lab where scientists are trying to find the source of salmonella in certain types of raw tomatoes "CSI"-style.

VON ESCHENBACH: These tomatoes may be coming from a variety of different fields, going to a variety of different distributors, brought together then disseminated through a variety of retailers. And so it's a very complex process.

O'BRIEN: But critics of the FDA say it would be a lot easier if the agency were doing its job. For years, the FDA has been chronically under funded, understaffed and unempowered.

SARAH KLEIN, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: And FDA should be mandating food safety. It should not be voluntary. It should not be an issue that the industry has to create guidelines for itself. This is a government responsibility. And they have failed consumers again and again.

O'BRIEN: Klein says since 1990, salmonella-tainted tomatoes have made more than 3,000 Americans sick. And there's much more. In recent years, the FDA failed to stop the spread of tainted spinach, lettuce, peanut butter and poison toothpaste from China. Critics of the agency say it is no coincidence all this has happened as the agency has cut out inspectors and drastically reduced food safety testing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: FDA recognizes it needs new authority. One of the main ones around this particular issue of tomatoes is the requirement for preventive control.

O'BRIEN: But even with more money, the FDA has its hands tied behind its back. Unlike their counterparts at the Agriculture Department, who watch the meat supply, FDA inspectors do not even have the authority to visit a farm without the owner's permission.

KLEIN: They aren't able to test product before it leaves the farm to ensure that it's safe. And that's the real failing. It really illustrates that our food safety system needs a complete overhaul.


O'BRIEN: A lot of people at the FDA would agree that it is time for an overhaul at the FDA. One of the things they'd like to do, Wolf, with that additional money they asked Congress for last night is hire about 500 additional new inspectors and employees. And one of the things that's important is to expand those inspections beyond U.S. borders to foreign countries, where a lot of this food is produced and brought in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Miles.

Miles O'Brien reporting for us.

Pretty scary stuff.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush is probably not looking forward to next Friday. That's when former White House Spokesman Scott McClellan is set to testify before Congress. McClellan is going to appear before the House Judiciary Committee publicly and under oath concerning the White House's role in leaking the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame back in 2003.

In his new book McClellan writes that he was misled by administration officials -- along with everybody else -- possibly including Vice President Dick Cheney, about the role of "Scooter" Libby in the leak.

McClellan says that both the president and vice president "directed me to go out there and exonerate Libby."

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Henry Waxman, is also trying to get his hands on some additional FBI documents relating to that leak before next Friday.

Meanwhile, something else President Bush might want to keep his eye on. Congressman Dennis Kucinich spent five hours last night reading 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush into the Congressional record. Kucinich thinks that Mr. Bush deceived the country, violated his oath of office by taking the U.S. into war in Iraq. He introduced a similar legislation last year, calling for the impeachment of Vice President Cheney. That measure never saw the light of day.

With so little time left in Bush's term, it's unlikely that the Democratic Congress will do anything with this resolution, either. You'll remember House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that impeachment is "off the table" -- her phrase.

I still wonder who authorized Nancy Pelosi to make that determination. Something else we'll probably never know.

So here's the question: How concerned should the Bush administration be about Scott McClellan's upcoming testimony before Congress?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Barack Obama refines his main criticism of John McCain. Listen to this.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I've said that John McCain is running to serve out a third Bush term. But the truth is, when it comes to taxes, that's not being fair to George Bush.


BLITZER: The McCain camp is firing right back at Barack Obama. McCain adviser Carly Fiorina, she's standing by live. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll discuss what's going on.

Also, we're getting new details about a fiery passenger plane crash. Hundreds of people were on board. There are details coming in about survivors -- dozens, though, who didn't survive.

And he's a longtime friend and confidante of the Clintons. Our own political contributor, Paul Begala. We're going to ask him how Hillary Clinton is doing right now, what she's going to be doing next. We'll also ask him about Bill Clinton.

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


BLITZER: The presumptive nominees are slugging it out over issue number one -- the faltering U.S. economy. John McCain accusing Barack Obama of simply being bad for business, even as Obama accuse his rival of favoring big business and the very rich at the expense of the middle class.

Joining us now, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina. She's a top McCain adviser. She chairs the Republican National Committee's Victory Campaign, as well.

Carly, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: All right. Here's the main charge that Barack Obama is leveling against John McCain, when it comes to the economy.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: Now, I've said that John McCain is running to serve out a third Bush term. But the truth is, when it comes to taxes, that's not being fair to George Bush. Senator McCain wants to add $300 billion more in tax breaks and loopholes for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. And he hasn't even explained how to pay for them.


BLITZER: All right. He made that charge today.

Do you want to respond?

FIORINA: Well, first, while it's a good line, I think it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how the economy works on Barack Obama's part. The reality is that John McCain has proposed to lower the business tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. That's because we have the second highest tax rate in the world. And that motivates businesses to take jobs overseas, which they have done. So the tax rate in Ireland is lower. The tax rate in Singapore is lower. The tax rate in China is certainly lower.

We need a competitive tax rate so that businesses bring jobs back home.

BLITZER: Would that reduction of the tax rate also include, as Obama says, ExxonMobil and the other big oil companies, who are awash in record profits?

FIORINA: Well, his proposal to levy a windfall profits tax against oil companies will only do two things for the American consumer -- limit supply and raise prices, neither of which is very good. I'm talking about the business tax rate for all businesses.

BLITZER: Including ExxonMobil and the other big corporations?

FIORINA: Surely.

BLITZER: So, in other words, is Obama right when he says under a McCain administration, ExxonMobil would get additional tax breaks?

FIORINA: No. What John McCain proposes is to lower the tax rate on all businesses, so that it is more in their interests to put jobs here in the U.S.

BLITZER: But no exemption for big oil and the -- no exemption for big oil then?

FIORINA: No, no exemption for any businesses.

On the other hand, big oil companies go where the oil is. So you're not going to change their behavior much in terms of the tax rate. But you will change a manufacturing company's behavior. We sent jobs to Ireland when I was at Hewlett-Packard...

BLITZER: No, I can --

FIORINA: ...because the tax rate in Ireland was lower.

BLITZER: I understand the need to cut taxes if you want to compete globally, which is the point you're trying to make but...

FIORINA: Well, but Barack Obama doesn't understand that.

BLITZER: I'm sure he understands that. But he also says ExxonMobil has got these billions and billions of dollars in record profits, they can afford to not necessarily get additional tax cuts.

FIORINA: But that isn't what Barack Obama's proposing.

What Barack Obama is proposing is to tax the profits of oil companies. That's a different proposal. And taxing the profits of oil companies would do two things -- it would raise the price of oil and it would lower the supply. So it's not a good proposal for the American consumer.

On the other hand, John McCain said I'm going to give the consumer a summer gas tax holiday by suspending the federal gas tax. And Barack Obama opposed that, even though the American Trucking Association is for it.

BLITZER: Yes. Hillary Clinton supported it, as well, and he opposed it.

FIORINA: So do the majority of Americans.

BLITZER: All right. Well, here's another charge that he makes.


BLITZER: I'll play this clip and then we'll discuss this.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: At a time when we're fighting two wars, when millions of Americans can't afford their medical bills or their tuition bills, when we're paying more than $4 a gallon for gas, the man who rails against government spending wants to spend $1.2 billion on a tax break for ExxonMobil.


BLITZER: All right. Now, we were just discussing that. But the $1.2 billion tax break that he says ExxonMobil would win as a result of reducing the corporate tax rate structure across the board, is that an accurate number?

FIORINA: No. I don't know where he gets those numbers. It was $300 billion. It was $1.2 billion. By the way, he said yesterday that he could pay for all his programs and then less than 24 hours later he said if these tax increases would hurt the economy, he would consider postponing them, because they clearly would hurt the economy.

I can't make Barack Obama's numbers add up. But I will tell you this, having studied John McCain's numbers for quite a few weeks now, he will balance his budget by the end of 2013. And he is he's proposing a set of tax measures that will help small businesses grow, which is vitally important, because small businesses create most of the jobs in this country.

BLITZER: He alluded -- he made reference to the cost of the war in Iraq right now.

Here's how he phrased it in another part of this presentation.

I'll play this for you.



OBAMA: I have a different vision for the future. Instead of spending $12 billion a month to rebuild Iraq, I think it's time we invested in our roads and schools and bridges and started to rebuild America.


BLITZER: You could do a lot of money with $12 billion -- you can do a lot of things with $12 billion a month.

FIORINA: There's no question. And there's no question that the Iraq War is costing a lot of money. And there's no question, as well, that as the troops are reduced over time in Iraq, that John McCain will put those savings toward budget deficit reduction.

But it's also true that Barack Obama has proposed no plans for how he is going to get out of Iraq successfully without creating genocide. He's created no plan -- spoke of no plan about what he's going to do on the ground now.

So to rhetorically link transportation in this country and the war in Iraq, it's a nice speech...

BLITZER: But I guess the question...

FIORINA: ...but it's not real.

BLITZER: The question is how much longer will the American taxpayers have to shell out $12 billion a month or $150 billion dollars a year or whatever it costs?

FIORINA: Well, I think they will have to continue to shell money out until we have a way to bring our troops home and leave a stable democracy in place. I think that is the sensible thing to do now, given the interests that we have at stake in Iraq, in Iran and in the Middle East. And there's no question that we need to invest more in the infrastructure of this country. But to simply say I'm going to yank the troops out immediately and put that money over to the federal budget betrays a misunderstanding of how the federal budget is put together. And, also, it's a naive approach to a very complex situation on the ground in Iraq.

BLITZER: Carly Fiorina, thanks for coming in.

FIORINA: Thank you.

BLITZER: We appreciate it very much.

A fiery crash landing killing at least 100 people on board this plane. Take a look. Another hundred may -- repeat may have survived. We have new details coming in.

Plus, he almost brought down the Clinton White House. Now the former special prosecutor, Ken Starr, is going to bat -- get this -- for Britney Spears and other Hollywood celebrities. We're going to show you what's going on.

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


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

COSTELLO: Oh, Wolf, take a look at this horrifying scene. This is a crash landing in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. Officials say the Sudan Airways flight from Jordan and Syria had about 200 people on board. At least 100 of them died in this crash. Airport security officials say the plane overshot the runway in bad weather. But at least one passenger says this was caused by an engine exploding on landing.

More than half of the air traffic controllers on duty at some of this country's airports and control centers are beginning trainees. That's according to a new report by the Transportation Department. The FAA says 35 percent is an acceptable number. The controllers union says the high number of trainees is putting the flying public at risk.

Fresh flooding in Wisconsin and no break for communities reeling after two days of heavy rain sent lakes and streams overflowing. Governor Jim Doyle has declared 30 counties disaster areas and FEMA is now evaluating the situation.

Doyle says the flooding could have a major impact on the Wisconsin's Dells $1 billion tourism industry.

The priest who mocked Hillary Clinton at Barack Obama's former church will be back in his own pulpit starting on Monday. Reverend Michael Pfleger was put on leave after video of a controversial sermon hit the Internet. In it, Pfleger accuses Clinton of feeling entitled to the presidential nomination because she's white. The ensuing uproar prompted Obama to leave his church.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you, Carol.

Thank you.

After months on the campaign trail for his wife, silence from the former president, Bill Clinton.

Is he angry? Is he ready to help Barack Obama? What's going on?

We'll talk to Clinton's longtime friend, our own political contributor, Paul Begala. He's standing by live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, Barack Obama is fending off charges of hypocrisy after new revelations about a top adviser. We'll tell you what's going on on that front.

And a Washington insider comes to the rescue of Hollywood celebrities swarmed by the paparazzi.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Hillary Clinton's ground-breaking White House bid making history of another kind, leaving behind the largest presidential campaign debt ever. You're going to find out how much and what the payback options are.

Can Republicans turn California into a red state?

I'll talk about that and more in a one-on-one interview with Senator Barbara Boxer of California.

Plus, a timely topic, powerful speakers, but it's the location of an energy convention going on right now that will probably surprise you.

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

Now that she's bowed out of this very costly presidential race, Hillary Clinton finds herself swimming in an ocean of red ink.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's watching this story for us -- Mary, how bad is it for Senator Clinton?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, election law experts say it's the largest campaign debt in presidential history. And papers filed with the Federal Election Commission reveal just what's behind it.


SNOW (voice-over): Among Senator Hillary Clinton's IOU list, there's the $11.4 million she owes herself and the $9.5 million in bills.

How do we pay it?

One option -- getting help from her former rival.

OBAMA: We have not had detailed discussions about, you know, you know her debt and, you know, I think that what she's really interested in, as she said on Saturday, is figuring out how are we going to move forward to make sure we win the White House.

SNOW: The Obama campaign can't simply give money to Clinton to pay off the debt. But it can help with fundraising from their own contributors. Still, one campaign election law attorney points out Obama also has to raise money for the Democratic Party.

KENNETH GROSS, ELECTION LAW EXPERT: He can be helpful, but I wouldn't be banking on anything too significant.

SNOW: Attorney Ken Gross says Clinton does have roughly $20 million collected just for the general election, but she can't use it without getting permission from donors.

GROSS: She can ask them to re-designate those funds for her Senate campaign for the year 2012. And it might at least free up other money to pay her campaign debt from her presidential campaign.

SNOW: Clinton only has until the convention to repay the $11 million loan to herself. She has more time to pay bills like the $4.8 million she owes to the firm of her former strategist Mark Penn. One watchdog group says some of Clinton's bills provide a glimpse into the differences of how the campaign spent money.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: Hillary Clinton's campaign was much more bloated in the administrative costs in particular. The Barack Obama campaign was, again, invested very heavily in volunteers, and that's a much more cost-effective way to run a campaign.

SNOW: As for being frugal, TIME magazine recently reported Obama staffers are expected to double up in hotel rooms when they are on the road and are reimbursed if they take the subway from O'Hare Airport to the Chicago headquarters, but are not reimbursed if they take a cab.


SNOW: Now we still don't have the full picture on Hillary Clinton's debt. Her campaign is still tallying the numbers and will submit its report to the FEC by June 20 -- Wolf. BLITZER: Is it likely she'll get back the $11 million she lent her campaign?

SNOW: An election law attorney we spoke with said it's unlikely she'll get much or any of it back. And you know, it's not uncommon for candidates to loan themselves money. Mitt Romney, for instance, loaned himself $40 million to his presidential campaign. The difference, he did not expect to be repaid.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary, for that report.

So, what does it actually cost to run a presidential campaign? As of April 30th, the Obama campaign had spent more than $225.5 million. The Clinton campaign had spent more than $192 million. The final tab for both, certain to be a whole lot higher. Back in 2004, the Bush campaign spent nearly $269 million before the nomination, while the Kerry campaign spent nearly $225 million. Neither participated in the matching funds program.

But four years earlier it was much cheaper, actually, to run a campaign. And look at the numbers from 1996. Bill Clinton's campaign spent more than $38 million, while the Dole campaign spent more than $42 million.

For more on the Hillary Clinton story and the end of her campaign, we're joined now by our Democratic strategist and political contributor, Paul Begala. He's a very close personal friend of both of the Clintons.

It has been the first time you're back in THE SITUATION ROOM since she dropped out. I don't know if you've had a chance to speak to either of them, but what are you hearing? How are they doing?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I think they're doing fine. You know, I take -- you know, her speech was very personal. It was really remarkable, and it was very much her. Her hand was all through that speech. And particularly the part where she kept talking about, don't look back. Don't let yourself even ask, what if?

Look to the future. Life is too short. Time is too precious. That was a beautiful thought, but also it was exactly Hillary Clinton. That is how she is, and that's what's she's telling all of her friends and family. Let's look forward.

BLITZER: I know she's taking a few days off. Well-deserved, to be sure. But it has got to be -- for someone who spent, what, a year- and-a-half, almost two years working to be elected president of the United States, it has got to be heartbreaking.

BEGALA: Oh, and to go from -- you know, no second-place finisher has ever been so close. Right? No second-place finisher has ever gotten 18 million votes.


BLITZER: It was incredibly close when you look at the numbers.

BEGALA: It was. Barack won and people like me who supported Hillary need to congratulate him for that. But she was going 100 miles an hour and then, full stop. So I think it will take a little adjustment, but she has got a job she loves. She loves being a senator.

Some of those folks in the Senate frankly are just looking for a stepping-stone to the presidency. She actually loves her work. She loves to stay in New York. So I think she's doing fine. And I think the experiences she had in the campaign are going to inform her work from here forward.

Talking about all of those folks, particularly the poor people she met, the working people she met and the veterans' families, military families she met.

BLITZER: See seemed to change during the course of this campaign, becoming much more populist, if you will, as a result of what was going on. Did you sense that?

BEGALA: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, I think that's what the beauty of running for president is. You actually get to see the country and see these folks. And I do think she's probably much more of a populist.

She is also -- toward the end of the campaign she stripped away a lot of the artifice and it was much more of the real Hillary, the Hillary I've known for 17 years. Much more of her heart and much more of that identification with folks, but particularly working women.

You know, as a woman who was trying to break that glass ceiling as she talked about in her speech on Saturday, I think that so many women came up to her of every age that I think that focus in her speech on Saturday is likely to also be reflected in the work she does.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your former boss, Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States. We heard from Hillary Clinton. We really haven't heard from him yet. You know, expressing obviously his sadness, but going forward, I assume he's going to try to help Barack Obama get elected to the White House.

BEGALA: Oh, absolutely. And I'm quite sure the Obama campaign is reaching out to him, and they will get a firm yes for anything they ask.

BLITZER: Why haven't we heard from him yet?

BEGALA: Oh, I think it's probably a good thing, Wolf, if you hear from him, he might like call you at 3:00 in the morning and complain about the coverage. I think he has -- you know, anytime someone you love is being attacked, it's worse than you're being attacked.

BLITZER: So, he's angry? BEGALA: Oh, yes. I would be if I were him. If people said those things about my wife, not the political things, but the personal shots that she took that no man has had to take. The misogyny of some of the coverage and the commentary, not her competitors, it was more the commentators and the coverage I think that has a lot of people who love Hillary upset.

BLITZER: Because, you know, at one point during in the campaign, he suggested, you know what, they send out a smear against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tries to take the high road but his people are behind the scenes trying to inflame that fire.

BEGALA: You know, these things happen in a campaign. But I have to say much more of the -- no, almost all of the really egregious things that were said were said by people in the press and the commentariat. And I hear that all across the country. I travel a lot.

BLITZER: So will those Clinton supporters come back and be on Barack Obama's team come November?

BEGALA: I think yes. He will have to...

BLITZER: But some of them won't be.

BEGALA: ... earn them. He will have to earn them. And Hillary did everything she can do and will continue to. Right? She -- 15 times she endorsed him on Saturday. But, you know, a lot of people, particularly women, are angry. Now, I think they ought to be angry and particularly angry at the media.

Well, if you're angry at the media, it doesn't solve anything to vote for John McCain, right? If you agree with Hillary on the issues, you need to be for Barack, because he's with her on the issues.

But I think Senator Obama is going to have to do some work to earn those votes, but he's doing everything he can right now.

BLITZER: Paul, thanks for coming in.

BEGALA: Thanks.

BLITZER: Paul Begala.

Barack Obama brought him on to vet prospective vice presidential candidates. Now the Reagan (sic) campaign accusing this Obama adviser for some, perhaps, misconduct. Going to watch this story, standby for details.

And it's a charge many women are making right now. Did Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign fall victim to sexism? We'll speak about that and more with Senator Barbara Boxer. She's standing by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: He's supposed to vet prospective V.P. candidates for potential problems, but who is vetting the vetter? The McCain campaign accusing a key adviser to Barack Obama in charge of screening potential running mates of perhaps some wrongdoing. He's taking some heat right now. Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd, who is watching the story for us.

Brian, so what exactly are the McCain campaign people charging?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The main charge, Wolf, is hypocrisy. And you know, both of these campaigns are led by men who hammer at the message that they are reformers. Well, that claim has at least for the moment painted Barack Obama into a corner.


TODD (voice-over): A message that has brought him to the verge of his party's nomination: He'll change the way Washington works. Barack Obama has also pledged to crack down on predatory lenders, partly responsible for the home mortgage crisis. One of the firms he railed on for helping to create the mess?

OBAMA: Countrywide Financial was one of the folks -- one of the institutions that was pumping up the subprime lending market.

TODD: Now, Obama is fending off a Republican onslaught, multiple charges of hypocrisy because he has tapped Jim Johnson, a wealthy Washington insider, who reportedly got about $7 million in home loans from Countrywide, to vet potential vice president nominees.

Johnson was once CEO of Fannie Mae, which does a lot of business with Countrywide. According to The Wall Street Journal, Johnson got some of the loans at interest rates well below what ordinary borrowers get, partly because of his longtime association with Countrywide's CEO.

Countrywide is under federal investigation for fraud in the mortgage crisis. There's no evidence of anything illegal in these transactions. But observers say the loans could pose a political headache for Obama.

EAMON JAVERS, POLITICO: If there was a sweetheart element to them, then that's going to cause this scandal to have legs and Obama might have to make a move here.

TODD: Jim Johnson's attorneys said Johnson could not do an interview with us because of scheduling conflicts. The attorney didn't deny Johnson got the loans but did deny any illegality or sweetheart deals, said there were no calls between Johnson and Countrywide's CEO, and told us they were, quote, "garden variety transactions that anyone with a high net worth and good credit can get."

Obama said he's not vetting his V.P. search committee for their mortgages. OBAMA: Everybody who is tangentially related to our campaign I think is going to have a whole host of relationships. I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters.

TODD: Obama's campaign also points out, a once high-powered lobbyist, Arthur Culvahouse, who once lobbied for Fannie Mae, is heading McCain's vice presidential search team. And a lower-level McCain adviser once lobbied for a subprime lender.

Analysts say these kinds of attacks are more intense this year than ever.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Anybody and everybody who has touched a campaign is suddenly under scrutiny, and intense scrutiny, and campaigns are being forced to ask to disavow endorsements and turn loose advisers.


TODD: Now as for the adviser in question here, we asked Obama's campaign if they had discussed asking Jim Johnson to step aside. An aide said they would not talk about internal discussions and simply said Johnson is still with them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This isn't the first time that Jim Johnson has vetted potential vice presidential running mates, is it, Brian?

TODD: It isn't. He helped Walter Mondale pick Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in 1984. And her husband's financial dealings ending up hurting that campaign. But Mr. Johnson also helped John Kerry pick John Edwards in 2004. And that was a much better fit politically.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian.

Brian Todd reporting.

The vetting, by the way, of vice presidential prospects became a much more orderly process after the Democrats' fiasco back in 1972. That year Senator Edward Kennedy actually turned down nominee George McGovern's offer of the number two spot. Then McGovern picked another Senate colleague, Missouri's Thomas Eagleton. Eagleton was relatively unknown but that quickly changed.

Rumors soon spread that he had a problem with alcohol. Less than two weeks after the convention, the running mate held a news conference, Eagleton denied any drinking problems, but did acknowledge he had been hospitalized three times for what he called nervous exhaustion and had received electroshock therapy.

McGovern declared he was behind Eagleton "1,000 percent," but within another week, Eagleton withdrew under pressure. McGovern went on to pick Kennedy relative Sargent Shriver. He lost the election by a landslide, as you all remember, to Richard Nixon.

He put a lot of heat on the Clinton administration. Now the former special prosecutor Ken Starr is being asked to help Hollywood stars by turning up the heat on those picture-taking paparazzi.

And spinning towers of air and sea spray. Incredible midair pictures of water spouts. The "Day's Best" video, that's coming up as well right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's the downside of celebrity stars, hounded by paparazzi day and night. But now there's a surprise twist. Another star may be coming to their rescue, that would be Ken Starr, the former special prosecutor who nearly brought down the Clinton administration. CNN's Carol Costello is watching this story.

All about stars, a lot of stars out there. What's going -- a very serious business, what's going on?

COSTELLO: It is serious. Look, you know, I know it's not easy to feel sorry for millionaire movie stars, but our culture has become celebrity crazy, and when you see the pictures I'm about to show you, it's insane.

Hence the shout out to Ken Starr.



COSTELLO (voice-over): The paparazzi have gone wild in Los Angeles.


COSTELLO: Hollywood TV captured this feeding frenzy when fashion model Kate Moss and her small daughter arrived at LAX. It's the kind of scene that California lawmakers say must stop.

DENNIS ZINE, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCIL: You just imagine you're a motorist driving down the street and Britney Spears parks next to you. All of a sudden you're swarmed by these people. They've got cameras, they're jumping on the hood of my car, what are they doing? And you do not know, you don't know if you're getting carjacked, you don't what is happening.

COSTELLO: But how do you stop a photographer, hot for tabloid dollars, from taking pictures of Britney Spears, whose every move, every recorded bought bout with mental illness is shot not on her property, but on a public street which is perfectly legal?

If anyone can find a solution, it would be Ken Starr. Yes, that Ken Starr, a man who once bitterly complained about the press himself, the independent counsel who brought us Monica Lewinsky and the stained blue dress. He's dean at the law school at Pepperdine now. And the city of Malibu, along with L.A. and West Hollywood have asked him to craft legislation to restrict these "pap packs."

DAVID MARK, POLITICO: You know, the irony is that he was so criticized, even vilified by Hollywood liberals, Democrats 10 years ago during the Monica Lewinsky impeachment saga, now he has kind of aligned himself with a lot of Malibu residents who probably disagree with him politically.

COSTELLO: But Starr has already contacted Malibu's mayor. Although he's not readily to publicly comment on whether they have a plan. L.A. Councilman Zine welcomes Starr's help.

ZINE: I have a lot of respect for Ken Starr. We don't want to violate any rules. We don't want to violate the Constitution. We believe that the Constitution needs to be upheld. At the same time, we need to protect our celebrities.


COSTELLO: It's a tough -- that's really tough, though. One idea from Councilman Zine, a buffer zone around certain movie stars. The difficulty there is, why would a photographer be banned from getting close to a celebrity but be allowed to get into your face? And who is a celebrity anyway? Maybe Zine and Starr should take a clue from the FAA. It has declared a no-fly zone over Senator Ted Kennedy's house after his brain tumor came to light, not for Kennedy's privacy, but for safety's sake.

BLITZER: It's a great legal question and it hits very home for Ken Starr because I remember when he was here in Washington, the Whitewater -- his driveway every day was lined with reporters.

COSTELLO: Oh yes, you take out the garbage and there they would be.

BLITZER: He couldn't even take out the garbage without a lot of TV cameras there. So he understands this problem better than a lot of other prosecutors.

COSTELLO: See what happens.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: It's nice to know that Malibu is wrestling with the weighty issues of the day. The rest of the country has problems with the economy, the war. Malibu is all twisted up about people who take pictures for a living.

The question this hour is: How concerned should the Bush administration be about Scott McClellan's upcoming testimony before Congress?

McClellan is going to be sworn in and testify under oath next Friday in front of Henry Waxman's committee.

Lan writes: "The Republican Party should be concerned, national security has been their saving grace. This is a massive stain on their reputation."

John in Marlton, New Jersey, writes: "McClellan is just rehashing what most reasonable people already knew, and it's likely Bush isn't concerned at all. Think about it. If he goes, Cheney becomes the president, officially. If you really want a gut-wrenching scenario, Pelosi is only a heartbeat behind Cheney, and her backup is Senator Byrd. When you think about it this way, we are all in deep trouble."

Kevin writes: "Worry is not a word in Bush's small vocabulary. The dominoes have already fallen in the Scooter Libby case, the rest is hearsay. Waxman and his cronies like to make it look like they're actually doing something."

John in Philadelphia: "Very, very worried. I believe Scott will finally expose the weak underbelly of these bums. If ever there was a president and vice president who should be in jail, it's these two. Maybe McClellan's testimony will at least encourage Congress to bring criminal charges after they finally leave office."

R.C. in Illinois writes: "I doubt Bush is worried, nor should he be. How can Bush's reputation and his legacy be tarnished any more than it already has been? This impeachment talk is nonsense. It won't happen. The only benefit to McClellan's testimony is to bring publicity to his book and make him millions."

Patrick writes: "How concerned? It's clear they're concerned. The Bush administration has marched out everyone they can find to counterattack both the book and the author. Sometimes the truth just hurts."

And Jeff in Los Angeles writes: "Unless McClellan is accusing Bush of steroid use, it will never make it onto the congressional hearing calendar."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

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

Newt Gingrich, John Kerry and thousands of others are meeting this week to discuss the key issue of energy. But they aren't using any gas to travel there. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's following this story.

Abbi, how are they meeting?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's happening right now online. Think about what normally goes into putting on a convention, all the flights, hotel rooms, the cab rides. Well, this Virtual Energy Forum is trying to eliminate all of that. This is a two-day event happening online only.

Attendees arrive here. It's discussing how businesses can reduce their energy use. You arrive here in a lobby, as you would in a regular convention. You can walk into the keynote speeches. Here's Newt Gingrich from earlier on. John Kerry is speaking tomorrow. Then there's an online exhibit hall as well with virtual vendors selling their products.

The downside is you can't meet people face-to-face, but they have set it up so you can do online chats with the people who are here. This follows large trade shows' efforts to go greener. The Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year reducing carbon offsets and introducing energy-saving measures.

The group that's running the Virtual Energy Forum says they don't expect physical events like that to go away, but they do point out just how much they're saving. They've got a ticker at their front page, counting how much carbon dioxide they think they're saving that's going up every time someone else joins the convention -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. Good idea.

An Obama-Clinton ticket, is it a good idea for the Democrats? And what role, if any, did sexism play in the demise of Hillary Clinton's campaign? Senator Barbara Boxer of California is standing by to talk about that and more.

And Lou Dobbs goes head to head once again with The New York Times over what Lou calls a threat to national security. We'll tell you what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou Dobbs.

Lou, you've got a front-page business section shout out from The New York Times today, not necessarily all that nice, though.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, you know, it was pretty nice to see The New York Times do its usual fine job of reporting on CSX. They seemed to take exception to the fact that I wore a flag on my lapel pin. And if they object to that, they can stick it.

The fact that they call themselves journalists without including the facts of the story, namely that CSX was, you know, the target of this outfit called TCI, which has just, by the way, been run out of Japan because they tried to do the same thing there, trying to take another 10 percent interest in a company called J-Power there.

But the little darlings at The New York Times in their left-wing little radical circle they form forgot to mention that. You know, as far as The Times is concerned, it's just one big happy world and we have no important national security assets like a railroad, for crying out loud.

What a bunch of -- you know, the reporter or the journalist, whatever you want to call him, he's a dweeb and a misinformed and really kind of incompetent one.

BLITZER: I know you're going to have a lot more on this story in one hour, Lou.

DOBBS: You had better believe it, partner.

BLITZER: We're standing by for that. Thanks very much.

DOBBS: Thanks, Wolf.