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The Situation Room

"Torture" Methods' Military Roots; Suicide Bombers Kill Dozens/; Life After Taliban Rule; President Obama: Don't Turn Away; Jay Leno Hospitalized

Aired April 23, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: chaos and carnage in Iraq. Suicide bombers, one of them a woman, unleash the deadliest day of 2009, both targeting police and civilians, with very deadly consequences.

Also, New York City declares war on salt. Health officials want to reduce intake, but should they be deciding how much salt you consume?

And the first lady, Michelle Obama, welcomes children to the White House and answers their questions. What's it like to be first lady of the United States? What if something bad happens? And what is the family's new dog like?

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

We're learning more about those controversial interrogation techniques detailed in those Bush era memos released by the Obama administration over the past few days. We now know some of those techniques, viewed by many as torture, were part of a U.S. military training program.

CNN's Brian Todd is working this story for us -- all right, Brian, explain.

What are you picking up?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there is new information alleging that U.S. officials tried to reverse engineer a cutting edge military training program to interrogate detainees held since 9/11.


TODD (voice-over): A report from the Senate Armed Services Committee says interrogators used the military's SERE program as a model for harsh detainee questioning. SERE -- Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. It's used to train U.S. servicemen. A former Army interrogator who says he took the course and taught parts of it describes what they're put through.

MIKE RITZ, FORMER SERE INSTRUCTOR: Sleep deprivation, stress positions, water may sometimes be used and things of this nature, to give the soldier that experience that we think they might encounter. TODD: Mike Ritz says the kind of waterboarding now reported to have been used on detainees was not used at SERE. The SERE program, filmed by CNN seven years ago, prepares servicemen for harsh interrogation if captured.

A defense official tells CNN SERE programs were never authorized for detainees. But the chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee says top Bush administration officials allowed SERE to be used against detainees. And the Senate report says that in 2002, two SERE instructors showed interrogators how to administer the insult slap, the shoulder slap, the stomach slap and demonstrated at least one stress position.

The Justice Department memos on interrogation released last week say the fact that the U.S. uses SERE techniques on its own troops suggests they're not categorically beyond the pale.

But Ritz says there's a huge difference between what soldiers went through at SERE and how detainees were interrogated.

RITZ: The psychology of the person that is the trainee, they know that there is a duration of time that it will occur and then it will end. They know that it's safe. A true detainee, someone that's been confined, has a sense of futility and a fear of the unknown.


TODD: And Ritz adds that many detainees were from countries that torture and execute prisoners. So in many cases, they might have expected that their inter -- their interrogators -- excuse me -- were capable of just about anything -- Wolf, they might have expected they might die during that.

BLITZER: A huge difference in the...

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: the psychology of all of this.

So what else are you picking up from this Senate report?

TODD: Well, it says that within the first six months of 2002, the military command that oversees SERE helped prepare an interrogator to question one high level al Qaeda detainee. It is believed now that that was Abu Zubaydah, who they did get information from. But he's the center of whether this was torture or not, that whole debate.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

In Iraq right now, dozens of civilians killed in a pair of suicide bombings, even as Iraq's military announces the capture of a militant leader linked to Al Qaeda.

CNN's Cal Perry is in the Iraqi capital with the latest developments -- Cal. CAL PERRY CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today, the bloodiest day in Iraq since the beginning of 2009. At least 83 dead and another 119 wounded in two separate attacks -- one in the northern part and the other here, in the capital.

In Northern Iraq, a restaurant targeted by a suicide bomber. Iranian pilgrims on a pilgrimage here to Iraq caught in that violence. At least 55 people killed in that single attack alone.

And in the capital, we saw an attack on the Iraqi police. A female suicide bomber exploding her vests of explosives amongst the Iraqi police as they were handing out aide to families that had been displaced by violence.

Clearly, the insurgency sending a message that they can still carry out these attacks.

Now, the other big story out of Iraq today, the potential capture of al-Baghdadi. He is the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, which is an umbrella group that encompasses Al Qaeda. Now I use the word potential because we've only heard this from the Iraqi Army. We have yet to hear confirmation from the U.S. military that this capture has taken place.

And this has been reported in the past. We have heard the Iraqis say that he was captured in 2007. That turned out to be true. They said he was killed later in 2007. Again, those reports turned out to be false.

So people here really waiting to find out some kind of viable proof that al-Baghdadi has, in fact, been captured -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Cal Perry.

Thanks very much.

The situation in Iraq really intense right now.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: All right. With all the stories about the bad economy, here's something that you may not have thought about, probably haven't heard a lot about.

"The Detroit News" reports that an unprecedented number of abandoned cats and dogs being left behind in foreclosed homes in dumpster and in parking lots all over the Motor City.

Meanwhile, more people who bring their pets to shelters are saying that they've lost their jobs and they can't afford to care for the pets any longer. Or after losing their homes, they're moving to apartments that don't allow pets.

And it's not just Michigan. It's everywhere. The American Humane Association estimates with 8,000 houses going into foreclosure every day, between 15,000 and 26,000 animals are in danger of losing their homes and maybe eventually their lives.

A recent national survey by finds that 84 percent of animal shelters and rescue groups are caring for more pets because of the recession. And, as you might expect, 37 percent of them report seeing a decrease in the number of pet adoptions last year.

Some shelters are trying to help people keep their pets by creating pet food assistance programs. There are groups that donate pet food to seniors, some of whom have been feeding delivered meals meant for them to their animals.

Animal groups encourage people who have lost their homes to take time to plan for their pets -- to try to find an apartment that will accept animals and not just simply leave them behind to fend for themselves, because, you see, they can't.

Here's the question: In light of the recession, what can be done about the growing number of abandoned pets?

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

You know, there's Bo in the White House and then there are millions of others who may not see the light of day tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, you're right.

I had not even thought about this. Thanks for pointing it out.

Jack, thank you.

Jack will be back.

At New York City's health department, it's one cook in the kitchen too many for some.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be similar to me going to your kitchen and telling you don't use that, it's not good for you. Put a little less salt in it. It's not good for you. If you want it, you eat it. I mean that's the American way.


BLITZER: We have details of the city's plans to try to cut salt consumption by force of law.

Also, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. may be reaping what it sowed in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What she means exactly, in her own words. That's coming up.

Plus, the first family as we've rarely seen them -- candid new photos from inside the White House. The Obamas behind-the-scenes, as we approach 100 days of the Obama presidency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A terrorist hot spot and a deal with the Taliban are prompting some blunt talk from the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Listen to what she says about America's responsibility for what's happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We also have a history of kind of moving in and out of Pakistan. I mean, let's remember here, the people we are fighting today, we funded 20 years ago. And we did it because we were locked in this struggle with the Soviet Union. They invaded Afghanistan and we did not want to see them control Central Asia. And we went to work.

And it was President Reagan, in partnership with the Congress, led by Democrats, who said you know what, it sounds like a pretty good idea. Let's deal with the ISI and the Pakistani military and let's go recruit these Mujahedeen and that's great. Let's get some to come from Saudi Arabia and other places, importing their Wahabi brand of Islam so that we can go beat the Soviet Union.

And guess what?

They retreated. They lost billions of dollars and it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. So there's a -- a very strong argument, which is it wasn't a bad investment to end the Soviet Union, but let's be careful what we sow, because we will harvest.

So we then left Pakistan. We said OK, fine. You deal with the Stingers that we've left all over your country. You deal with the mines that are along the border. And, by the way, we don't want to have anything to do with you. In fact, we're sanctioning you.

So we stopped dealing with the Pakistani military and with ISI and we now are making up for a lot of lost time.


BLITZER: The secretary of State on Capitol Hill today. In the years after the U.S. and Soviet Union both pulled out the region, the Taliban clearly took hold in Afghanistan, specifically. Coalition forces later swept the Taliban from power there, but life hasn't been easy, especially for women.

Charmino Beshenoi (ph) lifts the veil and takes us inside Afghanistan.


CHARMINO BESHENOI (voice-over): Since the overthrow of the Taliban, there has been some improvement in the lives of Afghan women. Now, I'm off to see if the health care has gotten any better.

Early in 2001, we used a hidden camera to film this footage of a maternity hospital -- dark, filthy, few doctors, little medicine.

Today, some of the hospitals look better. But I'm shocked to learn that the health of mothers and their newborn children remains dismal. These doctors are in charge of the maternity word.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's mostly mother-in-laws and husbands involved in making family decisions. And if they do not permit the mother to come to hospital, then she cannot come.

BESHENOI (on camera): Dr. Nila (ph), what kind of condition are the women in when they arrive for their delivery in the hospital?

DR. NILA: Normally, they arrive with majority complications. They are often bleeding or unconscious. Sometimes they have a ruptured uterus. If they are lucky, they have a car. If not, they are tied to a ladder and carried here.

BESHENOI (voice-over): I ask the doctors if the men realize that their wives are in grave danger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some know, but most don't have a clue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the men bring the women, the doctor tells them that if they brought them in earlier, there would not have been a problem.

BESHENOI: It amazes me that a woman doesn't even have control over her own body.


BLITZER: Standing shoulder to shoulder today with Jewish leaders, President Obama was on Capitol Hill warning of the dangers of turning a blind eye to suffering. He didn't specifically mention Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by name. He has questioned, as you know, whether the Holocaust ever happened.

But President Obama's message was unmistakable.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To this day, there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened, who perpetrate every form of intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism and more; hatred that degrades its victim and diminishes us all.

Today and every day, we have an opportunity, as well as an obligation to confront these scourges; to fight the impulse to turn the channel when we see images that disturb us or wrap ourselves in the false comfort that others' sufferings are not our own.

Instead, we have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy, to recognize ourselves in each other; to commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference, in whatever forms they take, whether confronting those who tell lies about history or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities like those that took place in Rwanda, those taking place in Darfur.

That is my commitment as president. I hope that is yours, as well.

It will not be easy. At times, fulfilling these obligations will require self-reflection. But in the final analysis, I believe history gives us cause for hope rather than despair -- the hope of a chosen people who have overcome oppression since the days of Exodus, of the nation of Israel rising from the destruction of the Holocaust, of the strong and enduring bonds between our nations.


BLITZER: The president's comments came during a Holocaust remembrance ceremony up on Capitol Hill.

And hallway around the world, while that was going on, it was the art work of the Nazi leader, Adolph Hitler, that attracted attention and, indeed, a lot of money. A British auction house sold what it claims is a set of art work by the man who would become a genocidal dictator. One of the paintings, a water color, sold for $15,000. In total, the 15 art works brought in $120,000.

Art experts say the paintings came from a man who'd forgotten he had them in his garage.

John McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, is lashing out at Dick Cheney and Karl Rove for criticizing President Obama. She says they should just go away.

Sound advice?

I'll ask James Carville, Bill Bennett and Candy Crowley. They're standing by live.

Plus, the mysterious deaths of almost two dozen polo ponies -- now we know what apparently killed them.


BLITZER: All right. A story involving Jay Leno is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go back to Don Lemon.

He's got the details.

What's going on -- Don?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, as you said, just in to CNN, comedian Jay Leno has been admitted to the hospital. A spokeswoman for the host of "The Tonight Show" says he checked himself into a Los Angeles area hospital today. She also confirmed he canceled tonight's show.

Now, one unconfirmed report -- this is unconfirmed -- says Leno has food poisoning. We'll continue to check on that one for you, Wolf, as well.

A Florida pharmacy says it incorrectly prepared a medication given to 21 polo horses who died over the weekend. An official with Franck's Pharmacy in Ocala says it found the strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect. Now, the pharmacy says it is cooperating with an investigation by the state and by the FDA. The Venezuelan-owned horses collapsed one after another in front of spectators at an event at the International Polo Club in Palm Beach. A very sad story there.

Thousands more people are fleeing civil war in Northern Sri Lanka. The government says more than 100,000 civilians have fled the conflict since Monday. The U.N. says it's sending a team to assess the worsening situation for civilians caught in the middle, as the army prepares a final assault to take back northern territory from Tamil Tiger rebels.

And a wildfire is raging on South Carolina's coast, threatening the popular Myrtle Beach area. Look at those pictures there. Hundreds fled subdivisions in Conway and North Myrtle Beach after state officials woke people up in the middle of the night. As many as 70 homes may have been destroyed or have been destroyed there. But no injuries are reported. We're lucky to report that. The blaze appears to be heading away from the more heavily populated stretch of the beach.

Good news that there's no injuries there...


LEMON: ...if you look at those pictures, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank god for that.

Those are pretty amazing pictures, though, Don.

Thank you.

The American city that tackled trans fat and forced people to watch their waistlines by posting calorie information on menus now wants to help people shake another habit.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's in New York.

She's trying to figure out, like all of us, what the city is up to now when it come -- comes to salt -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, as you may know, a lot of people know, too many -- too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and raise the risk of heart disease.

New York City is now in talks with restaurants and the food industry to cut down on salt use. But not everyone is happy about it.


SNOW (voice-over): Pastrami is the main draw at New York's Katz's Deli. Salt is a key ingredient in that specialty and the city's plans for restaurants and food makers to cut down on salt is leaving a bad taste with owner Alan Dell.

ALAN DELL, OWNER, KATZ'S DELI: Maybe it's good for the health of people, but I think we should decide how to eat and cook ourselves.

SNOW: The city's health department is looking to cut salt use by 25 percent over the next five years as a way to help reduce heart attacks and strokes.

DR. LYNN SILVER, NEW YORK CITY HEALTH DEPARTMENT: Almost no Americans have any idea that their salt intake has doubled over the past 20 years, that what we're talking about is going back to the levels of salt intake when I was growing up, for example, in the 1970s.

SNOW: And New York is borrowing a page from the United Kingdom.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This pizza, full of it.




SNOW: Ads like this ran in the U.K., where some companies now put traffic light liberals on packages, indicating food low in salt. Some companies in the U.S. have already taken steps to cut salt on their own. A food industry group says it's willing to work with public health officials, but points out there is no substitute for salt.

ROBERT EARL, GROCERY MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION: Our preferred approach is to approach this gradually and incrementally and not to move too fast, where we lose the consumer.


SNOW: Now, the city is stressing that the measures it's working on are voluntary. Its ultimate goal, it says, is to cut salt use by half over the course of 10 years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much.

Mary is in New York.

A big change in the way Americans think. President Obama had a change of heart -- what many people say they're feeling for the first time in five years. Plus, the daughter of the Republican presidential candidate last year, she has some strong words for the former vice president -- why Meghan McCain is telling to Dick Cheney, go away.

And the first lady peppered with some tough questions from kids. You'll hear them, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, take a look at what's in your wallet. If there's plastic in there, then the president wants to help you. We're going to tell you what he told credit card executives they need to cut out. That's coming up.

Fixing America's front yard -- dedicating stimulus money to the renovation of the National Mall was considered pork, so how come tens of millions of stimulus dollars are about to be spent there?

Stand by.

And a shaky day of trading on Wall Street ended with the Dow gaining about 70 points. Analysts say first quarter earnings reports are making investors somewhat uneasy.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The president is apparently sparking some new thinking when it comes to the way Americans view the United States.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

He's been looking at numbers.

As we get closer and closer, Bill, to that 100 day mark for the president -- that would be next Wednesday -- is there any evidence of any turnaround among the American public as far as the president is concerned?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, what we're seeing is what President Obama called a "glimmer of hope."


OBAMA: For the very first time, we're beginning to see glimmers of hope.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Yes, we are. For the first time in more than five years, Americans believe the country is heading in the right direction. Just before President Obama took office in January, most Americans thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. By February, that view had fallen below 50 percent. And now -- a breakthrough. More Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction.

Are happy days here again?

Not quite. More than three quarters of the public continues to say times are bad -- right now. The increasing numbers who see things headed in the right direction measures something else -- confidence that things will get better.

Presidents are in the business of building confidence. President Roosevelt did it during the Great Depression.


FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.


SCHNEIDER: President Carter did not build up the nation's confidence.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.


SCHNEIDER: President Carter was replaced by a master builder of confidence.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They expect you to tell your children that the American people no longer have the will to cope with their problems, that the future will be one of sacrifice and few opportunities. My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view.



OBAMA: The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach.

SCHNEIDER: Another master builder of confidence?


It's too soon to tell. More than 70 percent of Americans don't expect to see any noticeable improvement in the economy for at least a year, but for the first time in years, they have hope -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Hope, keyword. All right, Bill. Thanks very much.

Let's talk about this and more with our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, the democratic strategist, CNN contributor James Carville and our CNN political contributor Bill Bennett, the host of "Morning in America." He's a fellow over at the Claremont Institute.

That right track-wrong track number, Bill Bennett, as you know, that's a very significant number. Now, a majority of Americans finally believe the country is now moving in the right direction.

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: They want to believe it and it's a good thing because talking up the economy and country is positive. Barack Obama is still in the honeymoon. 100 days will be over soon. Little joke. Not trying to pour rain on the parade.

BLITZER: Then the second honeymoon.

BENNETT: I think there are some glimmers of hope. This economy is a very resilient thing. The fundamentals of the economy are sound. So I think it will recover, so all that is fine on the economic front. There are some danger signals on other fronts.

BLITZER: I guess the proof will be in the pudding, as they say, James. People aren't going to be able to feel it and touch it and really know if the country is moving in the right direction based on their credit, jobs and loans.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If 100 days, this is pretty remarkable. If you have an overall positive right track, I think the president deserves a great deal of credit here for instilling confidence in people. Hopefully he can keep it going.

BLITZER: A lot of people, Candy, you just heard Bill Schneider make the analogy. Think back to when Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter during tough economic times and the American public got a little more hopeful as a result of his talk and his actions. They see something similar now. Is that a fair analogy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think also what you're seeing is not surprising to me that a president whose just been elected literally, has been in office just those 100 days, also has the confidence of the public in that he's putting the country on the right track. In a certain sense, they believe he's going to deliver and in this case, he has up to a year maybe even more than that to make that delivery. I don't know how surprising it is but it's great for him in this way, Wolf. It is great if he has to go back to Congress and say, I need more money for this or I need more money for that, because if people believe it's getting better, they believe he's on to something in terms of policy.

BENNETT: Can I say one other thing? Coming back for more money is one thing but I will say because there may not be any more money. But one other thing there's a lot of interest, whether critical or sympathetic. I'm going on a 12-city tour with other radio folks, enormous crowds coming out to talk about the first 100 days of Barack Obama. Whether you're for him or against him there's tremendous interest in this presidency. People feel it is a radical change. Some good, some bad but the degree of public interest in this presidency is very strong.

BLITZER: You agree with that, James, that the American people are really energized both on the right and the left?

CARVILLE: Well, I think first of all, a lot of people on the right and a lot of people on the left are energized, but I think people are paying attention as close as I've ever seen it and I think the signals are positive. This is a little bit like a guy jumped off a 40-story building and goes past the 30th and says, so far, so good. And I'm an admirer of the president and I think they would be the first person to tell you, there's 30 floors to go before you have a soft landing.

BENNETT: I'm glad I didn't say that.

CARVILLE: Not just on the extremes of the political spectrum, but in the middle, too.

BLITZER: We're just in the beginning of this process, but it's good to step back after 100 days and as all of us will do next Wednesday here on CNN and sort of just assess what has worked well, what hasn't worked so well, then we'll move on. I want Bill Bennett to respond first. Meghan McCain, the daughter of John McCain, she was guest hosting "The View" today, a popular show on television, and she had some biting words about some fellow Republicans. Bill listen to this.


MEGHAN MCCAIN, SEN. JOHN MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: It's hard for people like me who want new energy and blood. It's very unprecedented for Karl Rove to be criticizing the president. My thing is, you had your eight years, just go away.


BLITZER: You had your eight years, just go away. That's coming from the daughter of John McCain.

BENNETT: I love the McCain family, I guess including Meghan. Is "The View" the place we go now to find out conservative opinions? I don't think so. You know, vice presidents get criticized and have. Al Gore was very critical after he left the office of the guy who came in after him. This happens. Meghan McCain is to be listened to, but a guy who was elected to ten terms, twice as vice president, was secretary of defense isn't, that's a bit of a stretch. There are other places where we can get conservative opinion. I know this will be shocking to James but Dick Cheney is an extremely popular guy among a lot of Americans.

BLITZER: I don't know how shocking that is to James but go ahead. James speak for yourself. CARVILLE: He's popular in half of my house. Look, I really don't have a problem with Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney being out there next month at Carnegie Hall. I can't criticize that because I do it myself.

BENNETT: That's fine.

CARVILLE: Yeah, say it's fine.

BLITZER: She has been pretty outspoken lately, Meghan McCain.

CROWLEY: She absolutely has and you know, everybody gets to say whatever they want. I'm not sure that this actually moves the Republican Party one way or another, but there's 15 minutes for her there and she's taking advantage of it and I think she's been trying to push the Republican Party. She's younger than we tend to think of as people in the Republican Party, but I'm not sure she moves the meter one way or the other.

BLITZER: We have an announcement and James, you'll be especially interested in this, I think all of our viewers. Take a look at that picture. That's Mary Matalin, the former top aide to the former vice president, Dick Cheney, the wife of James Carville. She's joining CNN now as a new CNN contributor. She'll be part of the best political team on television, together with Bill Bennett, Candy and James and everybody else. James, you and your wife, jointly, will be on state of the union with John King this Sunday, a good serious discussion I am sure. We'll be looking forward to that.

CARVILLE: I don't know if we got smarter, but I know we got better looking.

BENNETT: We did. Did I lose my partner? Do I not get to debate James?

BLITZER: He'll be around. You're not going anywhere.

BENNETT: I don't want to miss James.

BLITZER: Another member of the team joining CNN. All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Remember, next Wednesday night, we mark President Obama's 100th day in office with the CNN National Report Card, the First 100 Days. I'll be joined by Anderson Cooper, John King, Soledad O'Brien and a best political team on television. You'll be able to take part in live voting online at Remember it all starts next Wednesday night 7 p.m. eastern only here on CNN.

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama pledged to make job creation a top priority? Has he done enough so far? Submit your video questions to and we'll get some of your thoughts on the air.

Remarkable pictures from inside the White House; the first family, candid and close up. Imagines of the Obamas you've never seen before.

And the First Lady reveals what the new dog is like. In a word she says he's crazy. Michelle Obama taking questions from kids over at the White House, you're going to hear from her in her own words.


BLITZER: We see images of President Obama every day, but "Time" magazine is revealing a side of him we don't see often, the president behind the scenes. The start of his presidency is captured in some amazing photos.

Joining us now, Callie Shell, she's the great "Time" magazine photographer. You've got a cover story in the new issue of "Time." You had unbelievable access over these first 100 days. I'm showing your viewers a picture of the president on a weekend, meeting in the Roosevelt room meeting with some advisors, what was going on?

CALLIE SHELL, TIME PHOTOGRAPHER: As you said, a budget meeting and I was trying to show the fact that he sits at a table with a team of people. There's lots of discussion going back and forth. He has views, they have views. Everybody brings something different to the table.

BLITZER: In contrast to that picture, look at this one. You've headlined it the toughest job in the world. He's back in his chair. He's closing his eyes. I guess he feels the weight of his world on his shoulders.

SHELL: For me I was trying to show the fact that here's a person who listens to all the different views, Geithner and Summers are briefing him on budget ideas. He sits back, he take it in and he listens and reflects. It's not an easy job. You've taken a senator and made him the president of a country and you have to listen to all your options before you react.

BLITZER: He seems to do that, gets all sorts of opinions and he's the one who makes the decision. Look at this picture. It shows the president sort of another reflective side in the blue room of the White House.

SHELL: We were waiting for the Congressional, he was waiting for the Congressional Black Caucus to begin and he was greeting the different portraits and he walked over to look out the window on to the south lawn. The White House is a wonderful place, but I think it sometimes can be a little confining and you know, for me, I think it's just nice when they can look out those big windows, see what's going on. There's probably a little bit maybe where you wish you could go for a walk, but I just wanted to show the fact that although there are people around you all the time, it can be a little bit of a lonely job. It's probably the only job where it can be lonesome at times even though there are people around you 90 percent of the time.

BLITZER: And look at this picture because here he is, he's in a casual jacket, but he's looking at a portrait of the late president, John F. Kennedy. SHELL: This is in the first week. White house staff gave the president and the first lady a tour. They read and look at what's going on around them. They are living in a living museum and you know, they're surrounded by past presidents in history. It's a beautiful place. Where else can you live in a museum?

BLITZER: You can develop a bond with your predecessors.

All right. Let's move on to some of the presidential travel. I love this picture. He's walking into a mosque in Turkey. He's walking in with his host, but in the next picture, they have to take off the shoes, including the president of the United States when you go in a mosque.

SHELL: This is what happens when the president of the United States visits the country for the first time and decides to walk from -- to the blue mosque and about 50 or 60 delegates decide to walk with you. I must admit, there were only like two White House staff people in the back. The rest, I'm not sure who they were, but before they entered the mosque is the president's shoes, in the middle is the prime minister's shoes, the two of the left, the secret service. You don't just take a walk by yourself.

BLITZER: You've got a lot of people right there.

SHELL: A lot of people that want to walk with you and how much it meant to Turkey that this man came. They were so excited to have him there.

BLITZER: This picture, it's a very different picture. In the oval office, he's got a football, looks like he's going to pass it. What was going on here?

SHELL: I find President Obama is not someone who likes to sit still and in between briefings occasionally, if there's a football or basketball nearby, he palms it. Some people doodle, some people rock back and forth. He's still the guy that keeps everybody laughing. He still likes to play around. He still likes to be funny, keep it light. He's on top of what's going on, he can still joke around. Got to keep it a little bit lively. When we were on the campaign, anytime we would stop and he would be introduced, he would be throwing a football or basketball.

BLITZER: Great pictures from Callie Shell from "Time" Magazine. Callie, thanks very much for coming in.

SHELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And tomorrow, we'll have more of Callie's pictures here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including pictures of the first lady and those two sweet, adorable little girls. Much more of the pictures, the exclusive pictures from our sister publication "Time" Magazine tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Next Wednesday, we will mark President Obama's 100th day in office with the CNN National Report Card. I'll be joined by Anderson Cooper, John King, Soledad O'Brien and the best political team on television and you'll be able to take part in live voting online at, next Wednesday night, all beginning at 7:00 eastern only here on CNN.

The First Lady put on the spot. What she'd do in a crisis and how's that little family dog behaving. Kids ask the questions. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is in light of the recession, what can be done about the growing number of abandoned pets? Somewhere between 15,000 and 26,000 animals a day are losing their homes because of foreclosures and people losing their jobs and whatnot.

Pat writes: "It's time for all of us to make some sacrifices. We've accepted two pets we didn't really want from people losing their ability to keep them, with the understanding that they are welcome to have them back or come visit at any time. Otherwise we're taking 100% responsibility, landlords can afford to be a bit less strict on their pet policies and street people and their fuzzy friends on a case-by- case basis."

Merriett writes: "If you are financially able to support a pet, please consider adopting one of these abandoned animals at a shelter rather than purchasing an expensive purebred. And likewise, if you don't have a strong financial base, please reconsider before purchasing any pets on impulse."

Jim writes: "I don't have a problem with responsible pet owners who take their little charges to an animal shelter. However, those that leave them in abandoned home, dumpsters, without food or water ought to be euthanized." And this is from a guy who thinks PETA is a bunch of nut cases.

Peter in Florida says: "I see this problem first hand as a volunteer at the Orlando SPCA. The many people out there in the market for a pet need to know that these defenseless animals in shelters are like any other animals that you'll find in your local pet stores or from a breeder. Whether you purchase the purebred, mixed breed or just your typical run-of-the-mill dog or cat, they're beautiful animals capable of providing unconditional love and they are the unspoken victims of this recession. So, go adopt and save a life."

And Rob writes: "Jack, this is something I never thought about. It breaks my heart. Forget about bailing out General Motors. Let's take care of these animals. GM got themselves into this mess. These animals did nothing wrong to be left in dumpsters and in shelters."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there among hundreds of others. Anytime we to anything about animals, Wolf, we get a huge numbers of emails and today was no exception.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm not surprised. People love the animals. All right, Jack, thanks very much.

The GOP chairman, Michael Steele, he's facing a public challenge from some members of his own party. They're demanding he label the president of the United States a socialist. We're going to be talking about that with our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

Plus, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, answers some blunt questions from kids. What's it like to be first lady? What if something bad happens? And what's the family's new puppy like? You'll hear the answers and more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Take your child to work day at the White House and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, welcomed the young visitors in the east room for a little Q & A. Here's the first lady, fielding questions in her own words.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How does it feel to be the First Lady?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You know, it feels just like probably being a mom, you know, being a worker, you know, I've worked all my life. I've worked in corporate America. I've worked for non- profits. And I consider this a very important job, but I have to take it just as seriously as anyone who does their job. I wake up every morning, first of all, making sure that my kids get to school on time and they do their homework. And then I get to have a lot of fun, because I get to do things like come and talk to you guys and go out to schools and plant a garden and go visit military families, so I think it's a lot of fun, the job that I have. But it feels -- it feels good, actually.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will happen if something bad happened to our country?

M. OBAMA: If something bad happened to -- like what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like the earthquake they had in China, what would you do?

M. OBAMA: What would I do?


OBAMA: Well, first of all, I'd wake my husband up if it were at night, and I'd tell him, hey, buddy, you're the president, get down to the oval office and call some leaders. You know, that's -- that's the beauty of my job. I mean, I'm married to the president, and he has to worry about all that. So, I think he would probably call together his cabinet members. He'd probably talk to the people who were in charge. He'd talk to secretary of state. He'd call the leaders of other countries, and they'd work to figure out what they could do to help another nation in trouble. And then I'd go back to sleep and ask him how it turned out when I woke up the next morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does your dog like to do?

M. OBAMA: What does my daughter?


M. OBAMA: Oh, my dog. Oh, the dog. Oh, he is a crazy dog. You know, he loves to chew on people's feet. I'll tell you a story about Bo last night. It was, like, 10:00 at night. Everybody was asleep and we hear all this barking and jumping around. And the president and I came out and we thought somebody was out there. And it was just Bo. He was playing with his ball. And it was like there was another person in the house. He's kind of crazy, but he's still a puppy, so he likes to play a lot.


BLITZER: And coming up in our next hour, you're going to hear what Beyonce is saying about the first lady, especially her fashion. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

Don't forget next Wednesday we're marking a milestone in the Obama presidency with the CNN "National Report Card, First 100 Days," the coverage includes President Obama's prime-time news conference that night, Anderson, John King, Soledad O'Brien, the rest of the best political team on television, they'll all be joining me to bring you in-depth reporting and analysis, and you'll be able to take part in live voting online at, Wednesday night, 7:00 p.m. eastern, only here on CNN.

Happening now, a vow by the attorney general of the United States to investigate alleged torture and avoid a political witch hunt. When did top lawmakers first learn about those harsh interrogation techniques of the terror suspects? This hour, new questions and new denials.