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The Situation Room

Interview with Mitt Romney; J.P. Morgan's Trade Debacle

Aired July 13, 2012 - 18:00   ET


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Mitt Romney talks about his taxes and his time at Bain Capital in a CNN interview. Democrat Paul Begala and Republican Ben Stein dissect Romney's attempt at damage control.

And Iran jails a man whose son mocked a Muslim leader on Facebook. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Well we do have breaking news this hour. We begin with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate. He is responding to controversy surrounding his taxes, controversy surrounding his time at Bain Capital, precisely when did he actually give up his role at Bain Capital. He is also accusing the Obama campaign of stooping to a new low.

There are lots and lots of questions to ask the Republican presidential candidate. And our national political correspondent Jim Acosta just a little while ago here in THE SITUATION ROOM had a chance to sit down and ask Romney a whole bunch of questions.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Governor, thanks for joining us.

Let's talk first about this controversy over when you left Bain Capital.

I'll put one of the documents in question up on screen, their SEC filing stating that you were CEO at Bain Capital past 1999.

When you say you left Bain to run the Olympics, why was your name still on these documents and why didn't you clear this up sooner?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I was the owner of an entity that is filing those information -- that information, but I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999, not that that would have been a problem, to have said that I was with the firm beyond that, but I simply wasn't.

I left in February of 1999 to go out and run the Olympics. I went out and did that full-time, relinquished all management authority and role in Bain Capital after February of 1999.

ACOSTA: Then how do you explain that discrepancy, though, that your name is on these filings and yet you said publicly you left the firm in 1999?

Weren't you concerned, at some point, that these filings might become public and people would see that your name was still on these filings?

ROMNEY: Well, there's nothing wrong with being associated with Bain Capital, of course. But the truth is that I left any role at Bain Capital in February of '99. And -- and that's known and that's said by the people at the firm.

It's said by the documents -- offering documents that the firm made subsequently about people investing in the firm. And I think anybody who knows that I was out full-time running the Olympics would understand that's where I was. I spent three years running the Olympic Games. And after that was over, we -- we worked out our retirement program, our departure -- official program for Bain Capital and handed over the shares I had.

But there's a difference between being a shareholder, an owner, if you will, and being a person who's running an entity.

ACOSTA: But...

ROMNEY: And I had no role whatsoever in managing Bain Capital after February of 1999.

And by the way, this is all an effort on the part of the president's campaign to divert attention from the fact that the president has been a failure when it comes to reigniting America's economy.

We have had now 41 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent. And so he continues to try and find some way to attack me other than to talk about policy. And it's time to talk about what it will take to get America working again.

ACOSTA: Well, you also testified in 2002 in front of the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission. Your campaign provided us with a document from that filing.

And it says -- I'll read you a line from it. It says, "The respondent" -- talking about you, Mitt Romney -- "returned to Massachusetts from Utah to attend meetings at Staples."

Staples is, of course, a company you helped create when you were at Bain Capital.

Isn't that active participation at a Bain-related company?

ROMNEY: Well, actually, Staples, at that point, was an investment by Bain Capital. Bain Capital had already sold its shares or distributed its shares in Staples. And so my involvement with Staples was entirely on a personal basis.

I continued to be involved with the firm, but it was as a fiduciary for Staples, not as a representative of Bain Capital, because Bain Capital had no further interest in Staples at that point.

ACOSTA: And you mentioned the president's campaign and what they've been...

ROMNEY: Look, I...

ACOSTA: ... saying about you.

ROMNEY: ... I don't -- I don't -- yes. Yes.



ROMNEY: I know there's going to be every effort to try -- to try and find some kind of attack piece on the part of the Obama campaign.

But interestingly, every independent fact checker that's looked at this in-depth, not just taken a quick interview, but looked at in great depth, has said that the president's claims are false, misleading, wrong-headed. It got multiple Pinocchios from one reviewer.

Look, what he's doing is doing everything in his power to try and divert attention from the fact that his policies have failed the American people.


ROMNEY: And -- and this -- this -- these kinds of attacks in this campaign are simply completely out of consistent...

ACOSTA: Well...

ROMNEY: ... out of character from what we'd expect from the presidency.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you...

ROMNEY: It's beneath his dignity.

ACOSTA: Yes, and let me ask you about what the campaign has said. As you know, Obama's -- President Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, was very harsh in a conference call on Thursday.

Listen to what she said and then we'll get your response afterward.


STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Either Mitt Romney, through his own work and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid -- responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.


ACOSTA: Ms. Cutter suggested you might be guilty of a felony, Governor Romney.

What is your response to that?

ROMNEY: Is that really what's expected from the campaign of the sitting president of the United States, of the Republican nominee of his party?

I mean is this -- is this the level that the Obama campaign is willing to stoop to?

Is this -- is this up to the standards expected of the presidency of the United States?

I don't think the American people think so. I certainly don't think so. I think it's a very disappointing revelation on their parent.

Let's talk about what it takes to get America working again and to help the American people in very difficult times, as opposed to have a campaign doing exactly what they said from the beginning.

ACOSTA: Do you believe that they're...

ROMNEY: They announced early on, one of their insiders said that they -- their -- their campaign was going to be based upon the strategy of -- quote -- "kill Romney," end of quote. That's what they're doing. It's disgusting. It's demeaning. It's something which I think the president should take responsibility for and stop.

ACOSTA: And do you believe you're being swift-boated in this campaign?

ROMNEY: Boy, I hadn't heard that term, but I'll give it some thought. I -- I -- I think what the president is doing is -- is terribly destructive to the political process and be -- beneath what the people of America expected from someone who said he was going to rise above partisan politics and bring a new era of change to Washington.

We're -- we're not seeing that in this campaign so far.

ACOSTA: Because both campaigns, on Thursday, Governor Romney, were basically calling each other liars.

Is that the kind of campaign the American people should expect?

And shouldn't your campaign take some responsibility for calling the president's campaign and their people liars?

ROMNEY: You know what the president's campaign has done so far is run advertisement after advertisement which is then shown by independent fact checkers to be wrong, false, misleading. And yet they keep running them. And they hold press conferences continuing to speak about them.

And at some point, you have to respond. You can't just have the -- the airwaves covered with these ads day in and day out without saying, look, those are false.

ACOSTA: So is the president lying...

ROMNEY: And what the president's...

ACOSTA: ... about your record?

ROMNEY: ... campaign team is doing is false.

ACOSTA: Is the -- is the president lying about your records...


ACOSTA: ... then, Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: There -- there's no question but that his campaign is putting out information which is false and deceptive and dishonest. And they know it. And they ought to stop.

ACOSTA: They've called on you to release more of your tax returns. You've released your 2010 tax return and a 2011 estimate.

Bill Clinton was on the "Today" show today saying that you should release more.

As you know, during the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry all called for you to release your taxes. Those are leader from both parties saying that you should release more of your taxes.

When are you going to release more of your taxes and how many years?

ROMNEY: I've indicated that -- well, first of all, we've complied with the law. The law requires us to put out a full -- financial disclosure. That I've done.

And then, in addition to that, I've already put out one year of tax returns. We'll put out the next year of tax returns as soon as the accountants have that ready. And that's what we're going to put out.

I know there will always be calls for more. People always want to get more. And, you know, we're putting out what is required plus more that is not required. And those are the two years that people are going to have. And that's -- that's all that's necessary for people to understand something about my finances.

And, look, if people believe this should be a campaign about attacking one another on a personal basis and go back to the kinds of attacks that were suggested in some campaigns in the past, I don't want to go there.

I -- I want this to be a campaign about the direction for America and about who can get America working again and who can rein in the excessive deficits that you're seeing in Washington.

The president, apparently, is not ready for an honest and important debate about the future of America.

ACOSTA: Well, we have to go, Governor.

ROMNEY: He, instead, is insistent on trying to make this a campaign of attacks.

ACOSTA: I understand.

And we have to go, Governor Romney, but I wanted to ask you, there was an item in The Drudge Report that said that your campaign is vetting Condoleezza Rice or looking at Condoleezza Rice as a front- runner for vice president. I know it's your -- it's been your position not to talk about the vetting process or the vice presidential process.

But are you concerned about your campaign and -- and your candidacy being associated with so many members of the Bush administration?

You were holding a fund-raiser with Dick Cheney on Thursday. John Bolton is associated with your campaign. And apparently you've also been talking with Condoleezza Rice.

Are you concerned about that kind of association when that administration is still not very popular with the American people?


ROMNEY: Well, I -- I don't have anything to say, of course, about the vice presidential process. And -- and, of course I speak with people of a wide range of -- of political backgrounds and views.

John Bolton is a very different person than -- than Condoleezza Rice, who's a very different person, for instance, than George Shultz and Henry Kissinger. I speak with people I agree with and people I disagree with.

But I can tell you this. My policies, as relate to foreign policy and relate to domestic policy, are mine. They're not the carbon copy of any person's in the past.

And particularly with regards to our domestic policy right now, what we have to do to get this economy going is very different than what happened under prior presidencies of President Bush.

This is a very different time, with a very serious, ongoing distressed economy. I know what it takes to get this economy going. My Jobs Recovery Plan will do just that. And it's something I'm proud of. And I think the American people deserve to have a discussion about that issue, not these kind of attacks that are coming from the president.

ACOSTA: All right, Governor Romney, thanks very much for your time.

We appreciate it.

ROMNEY: Thanks, guys.



Jim Acosta is joining us right now to assess what we just heard.

Jim, excellent job.

You go through -- you cover him every single day. You have watched him throughout all of these many months. First of all, give us your reaction. He was obviously well-prepared for your questions.

ACOSTA: That's right.

And we should mention, Wolf, Mitt Romney not only did this interview with us here at CNN. He did this interview with all of the correspondents with the various networks who cover him out on the campaign trail.

So I think this was a coordinated, calculated effort on the part of the Romney campaign to try to respond to these questions that have been going on all week long about when he left Bain Capital. And if you will go back to that interview and listen to it, he said about four times, Wolf, he left Bain Capital in 1999.

And so if there are any documents out there that say otherwise, he is basically saying at this point he had no effective managerial role with that firm after 1999. He says he went on to work at the Olympics.

And I think the other newsworthy item out of this is that, despite all these calls for more tax returns from Mitt Romney, the GOP contender said in that interview you're only going to see two tax returns, one for 2010 and one for 2011, and that's about it.

And that's not the standard that his own father set when he ran for president back in 1968. It is not the standard that most presidential candidates have set for themselves in recent memory, Wolf.

BLITZER: You will hear his critics, all of the Democrats out there, saying what does he have to hide, why is he afraid to release those earlier tax returns?

He has already released tax returns for 2010. He has released an estimate for 2011 because he asked for an extension. I assume once he files that extension, he will release 2011. But all the earlier years, he made it abundantly clear, you can scream and you can cry, and you can do whatever you want, he is not going to release those tax returns.

The other interesting point, I thought, and there were a lot of interesting points, but he didn't back down at all on his campaign's accusations against the sitting president of the United States that his campaign was effectively lying to the American people about him.

ACOSTA: That's right.

And when I went back to Mitt Romney and asked him about that, because his campaign has been accusing the president's people of lying, he basically went back to his attack on the president and at several times during that interview essentially said it was beneath the dignity of the president, that this was beneath the president to be engaging in this kind of politics, and he wants to get to a campaign on the issues.

But at this point, Wolf, and you know that the president did an interview with local a ABC affiliate here in Washington where he called on Mitt Romney to talk more about his Bain record, and asked why his name appears on these SEC documents post-1999, when he says he left the company. The president himself is willing to keep this story going forward. Mitt Romney obviously is not, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We will hear from the president in that interview with our affiliate WJLA in Washington, what the president has to say about Mitt Romney. We will have excerpts of that here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour as well.

Jim Acosta, as usual, good work.

We have lots more to assess on the Romney interview with CNN and whether his answers will satisfy voters. Ron Brownstein, our CNN political analyst, is standing by, and we will talk to him about what's going on. Ben Stein later. Paul Begala later. We will assess with them as well.

Plus, J.P. Morgan Chase says its bad trade debacle is costing a lot more than all of us thought. If you haven't heard the number yet, brace yourself.

And you can see cars flip all over the place in movies and video games. Wow. But look at this. We will show you what happened. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit more now about Mitt Romney's CNN interview with our own Jim Acosta, and his response to some of the controversies dogging his campaign.

We're joined by our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, and he's the editorial director of "The National Journal."

First of all, what did you think? It was a 10-minute interview. he answered a lot of questions. How did he do?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a terrific interview, first of all, by Jim.

And I thought Mitt Romney was forceful and calm, but it is unlikely to end the discussion. In fact, Wolf, I think we're not going to really know the verdict on how this issue plays out for quite some time. It is something I can see running all the way into the fall.

This is one of the central battlefields of this campaign, the effort to define for voters what's the meaning of Mitt Romney's experience at Bain. Is it, as Romney argues, a background that uniquely prepares him to lift the economy out of its doldrums, or, as the Obama campaign is painting it, is it something that stamps Romney as more the embodiment of the problem than the solution on the economy?

We are in early -- we're not in early skirmishes, but we're not in the last skirmish on it. I think we will be talking about this off and on for quite awhile.

BLITZER: He made it clear he's only releasing income tax returns, already has for 2010. When he files for 2011, we will see those. But forget about seeing any other years. He was firm on that, a lot firmer, by the way, than I thought he would be.

Is this going to be an issue that goes away or will continue to dog him?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I think it will continue to be an issue.

And certainly Democrats will make it an issue. In some ways, this campaign feels more and more like the campaign of 2004. Barack Obama, like George W. Bush, is facing an environment where he is unlikely to have an approval rating 50 percent or above as the campaign proceeds, which means he needs to convince at least some people who are disappointed in his leadership that they would prefer the alternative even less than continuing in the direction they're dissatisfied with.

In 2004, that's exactly where Bush was. He used a variety of arguments to try to disqualify Kerry, that he was a flip-flopper. The outside groups came in with the swift boat that you couldn't really trust him.

Obama is in a similar situation. There's a certain increment of voters that in the end who are unhappy with the direction of the country, disappointed perhaps somewhat in his leadership, who he will have to convince to stick with him, nonetheless. And right now it is pretty clear that Bain Capital and what it means is the central thrust of the argument they are making to the conflicted voters.

BLITZER: Very quickly, the question on Condi Rice, he didn't answer whether or not she is being vetted, isn't being vetted as a vice presidential running mate. He did make it clear, I thought he was pretty forceful, he is his own man, he doesn't copy the Bush administration or anyone else, he has his own ideas.

BROWNSTEIN: That's going to be another one of the lines of arguments that are coming from Democrats.

If you look at some of the important economic ideas, in particular, another 20 percent cut in marginal tax rates, less regulation. In many ways, he is betting on economic strategy similar to the Bush administration. At some point, the Obama campaign will be making that argument.

The two-step argument they want to make is that Romney in his private career pursued a form of capitalism that enriched the few at the expense of the many. His public agenda would do the same thing. We are in a continuum of arguments we will see through all the way through the debates in the fall.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, as usual, thanks very much. Excellent analysis.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will have some other perspectives, Kate, later this hour. Ben Stein, everybody knows Ben Stein. Paul Begala, everybody knows Paul Begala. They will be here. They will weigh in on what we just heard as well.





BLITZER: The former president who famously broke his no-new- taxes pledge goes after a leader of the anti-tax movement, George H.W. Bush.

Stand by.

We will tell you what he says.

And a surprising take on this question: What matters more, the Kardashians or what's going on right here in Washington?


BLITZER: Welcome back. President Obama talks a lot about fairness when he's promoting his plan to raise taxes on wealthier Americans. But I think we need to take a hard look at his claim that people with higher incomes aren't paying their fair share. Listen to this pitch from the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're also going to ask the wealthiest Americans like me to do a little bit more. And I promise you, we can afford it.

And I've got a vision that says we grow best when our tax code makes sure the wealthiest Americans are paying a little bit more in order to bring down our debt. It's the basic idea that everybody gets a fair shot. And everybody does their fair share.

Asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute their fair share.

We can build the kind of economy where everybody is getting a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same rules.


BLITZER: All right. So you hear what the president has to say. The president wants to end the Bush-era tax cuts on income above $200,000 for individuals, and above $250,000 for families.

He notes that only the top 2 percent of income earners would pay a higher tax. Their current rate of about 35 percent would go up to 39.6 percent.

The president's numbers are accurate. They're absolutely accurate, but here is what he's not telling you. The top 2 percent of income earners in the United States who would be affected by his tax hike already pay 45 percent of all federal income tax. That's nearly half of the revenue the IRS gets on April 15. Nearly half. Can they afford to pay the higher rate? Many of them certainly, certainly can. But is it fair to say that these top 2 percent are not already doing their fair share?

Let's also not forget that about 50 percent of American households filing income tax returns pay absolutely no federal income tax. Zero. That's because their income is either too low, especially when combined with legitimate child, mortgage, education and other deductions. These people pay other taxes to be sure, including payroll, withholding, sales taxes, but they pay no federal income tax.

So again, about half of American households pay no federal income tax, the top 2 percent pay nearly half all federal income tax.

Taxes are certainly an important issue in the 2012 election. I just wanted to make sure we give the debate some context, which I think we did.

Let's talk a little bit about this, a little bit more with two guests: the economist and commentator Ben Stein, who's here in THE SITUATION ROOM, and our CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, of course, is here, as well. What I said was accurate, right?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. BLITZER: Gives the perspective, that top 2 percent, a lot of them can afford to pay more tax, but they do pay their fair share.

BEGALA: No. They pay, but not their fair share. Fair is a completely subjective thing. It's objective. You gave us objective facts, right? And you pointed out, which some of my friends on the right don't, is that middle-class and poor people pay a lot of federal taxes. They just don't pay income taxes. Guess what? People with higher incomes pay higher income tax.

People who smoke cigarettes pay 100 percent of the cigarette tax. You shouldn't be surprised if people with higher incomes pay higher income taxes. The question about fair is simply in the eyes of the beholder and the voters. And voters believe strongly, and if you make more than $200,000 a year, $250,000 a year, you should pay the same rate you paid under President Clinton, when of course, America was a Marxist paradise. We had Che Guevara on the $20 bill.

We're not asking -- the president is not asking for confiscatory rates like Eisenhower had, that communist, who paid 91 percent. He just says 39.6. But your facts are absolutely right. I just think that the question of fairness is not a factual one.

BLITZER: Fairness in the eye of the beholder. Is that what you're saying?

BOLDUAN: Definitely a huge issue now in this campaign, two different -- very different perspectives of what is fair.

Ben, I wanted to ask you, you are a Republican, but you have said that you think that taxes should be increased when we're facing such dire deficits and debt. So do you think that Romney is on the losing side of this issue? How would you advise him?

BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST: Well, I would say there's a huge difference between earning 200,000 or a couple earning 200,000 and a couple earning 20 million. I think we could have very, very high taxes on people earning 20, 30, 40 million a year, and I don't think we need or can afford higher taxes on people earning 200,000 a year. I'm in favor of way higher taxes on people with enormous incomes. I have no problem at all...

BLITZER: So what's the definition? Where would the cut-off line be? The president says 250,000. Where would Ben Stein put it?

STEIN: Five million is the number I arbitrarily choose. I don't see why those people shouldn't pay 50, 60 percent. Absolutely, believe me, there are a lot of them in my neighborhood in Beverly Hills. They'll still be able to have very nice bar mitzvahs for their children; very, very nice Bentleys for their wives; send their children to very, very nice summer camps.

BLITZER: Those are the job creators. That's what Republicans were talking about.

BOLDUAN: But then when you look... STEIN: And they'll still be able to create jobs, and they'll be still very highly incentivized to go out and work and start their businesses.

And by the way, they're of all ethnicities. I didn't mean to single out Jewish people. They're of all ethnicities and all religions. But the idea that a person with a very high income, an eight-figure income cannot afford to pay a higher income tax is comical. And I don't see any reason why they shouldn't.

BLITZER: I'm not even sure Paul Begala agrees with the 50 income tax rate that we just heard.

BEGALA: I haven't thought about it, but Ben is an economist. I defer to him on that.

But this question where it becomes a political one, which is my expertise -- I defer to Ben on the economy. But politically, we only know from the one peekaboo tax return we got from Mitt Romney, he paid less than 14 percent on an income of 20 million. Well, that is not going to sit.

BLITZER: Totally legal.

BEGALA: Totally legal. But politically problematic.

BLITZER: Because it was investment. It was capital gains.

BEGALA: And he's got investments in the Cayman Islands, and in Luxembourg, in Switzerland, in Bermuda.

BLITZER: Totally legal.

BEGALA: Totally legal, but that's the point. The president wants to change the law. He wants to have a Buffett rule that says guys like Warren Buffett, guys like Mitt Romney, they should at least pay the same rate as Warren Buffett's secretary, who is now a famous person.

STEIN: Very nice woman.

BEGALA: Is she really?


BOLDUAN: Weigh into this tax return issue. It's a huge issue on the campaign trail now. Mitt Romney...

STEIN: He should be putting out his income tax returns. I mean, I don't work for the Romney campaign. I have never voted for a Democrat, but I don't...

BLITZER: Two years is, from your perspective, not enough?

STEIN: No, I think he should go back to when it was the acting, energetic, highly capable head of Bain Capital. But I'd like to get back to something which was very, very heavily dealt with by Mister -- dwelled on by Mr. Acosta in that very, very good interview, which is the accusation that he was head of Bain Capital.

But there's no crime in being head of Bain Capital. Bain Capital was making money for the Harvard University endowment, the Yale endowment, the Duke endowment, for all kinds of labor unions, all kinds of county and municipal labor unions. Their investors were not the al Qaeda. Their investors were good people who were trying to provide for their retirements. And Bain Capital is helping them.

BLITZER: Listen to the president of the United States. He gave an interview to our local D.C. affiliate, WJLA, and he said this.


OBAMA: Ultimately, Mr. Romney, I think, is going to have to answer those questions, because if he aspires to be a president, one of the things you learn is you're ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations. But, you know, that's probably a question that he's going to have to answer, and I think that's a legitimate part of the campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think he should answer that soon?

OBAMA: Yes, absolutely.


BLITZER: You think the Democrats -- and you work for one of those super PAC -- pro-Democratic super PACs out there. You think you're going to keep pounding away on the income tax return issue?

BEGALA: Right. This I don't think, I know. Because I do participate -- I advise the pro-Obama super PAC. Voters really don't like this, the notion that he's playing by a different set of rules. Ben is right, there's nothing wrong about being the head of Bain Capital. But it's odd that he can't answer simple questions.


BOLDUAN: ... with the Obama campaign.

BEGALA: Well, there are things he did there that voters cannot abide, like laying people off and cancelling her health benefits in order to make more money. You make money for endowments and money for pension funds, that's true. But he made money, and he doesn't say that. If he said what Ben said, it would be fine.

Instead, he fibs, and he says, "I created jobs." Well, no. That was ancillary. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't. What he did was he made money for Mitt Romney, some of which he invested in the Caymans, some of which...

(CROSSTALK) STEIN: Some of which went to various universities, to allow poor children from the inner city to go to school on scholarship. So that has been totally lost sight of. His work was in large measure very, very helpful to the educational institutions of the United States of America. That's been completely lost sight of.

BEGALA: But very, very -- want my advice? We're running ads, the real people he laid off telling real stories, and they're very powerful. And, you know, he could run an ad of somebody he helped.

STEIN: Well, you know what?

BEGALA: A lot of people he helped are millionaires and billionaires, like Mitt Romney.


BLITZER: There's Sports Authority. You know, there's Staples. A lot of people -- he should -- maybe you're right. You're giving him some good advice. He should run an ad from some folks who have jobs at Staples and Sports Authority, saying...

BEGALA: At the end of the day, he was a financial wizard. That's what he did. He didn't invent the iPad. You know, he didn't invent the iPhone. And there is this sort of whiff of Gordon Gecko about him. And he has fed that as much as my PAC in our ads by the comments that he makes. So out of touch with middle-class people. And he came on our air, told Soledad O'Brien he didn't really care about poor people, because, you know, they already had a safety net.

STEIN: But Gordon Gecko was a totally fictitious, made-up character. These people on Wall Street who make gigantic amounts of money for their investors are mostly making them for charitable or nonprofit organizations.

BEGALA: And for themselves, and he's paying 13 percent on that and investing in the Caymans.

STEIN: Agreed. But he's sending a lot of kids from inner-city schools to colleges who otherwise would not be able to go by virtue of raising their endowments.

BLITZER: We will have you back. We will have you back, of course.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Don't go away, Kate.

We're going to hear from a man who mocked a Muslim leader on Facebook. He says that led to his father's arrest in Iran. This is a story you're going to want to see.

And there's also been a lot of debate and fireworks in the -- here in Washington this week. Was it all just a waste of time? Stand by. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've seen social media help democracy and freedom in the Middle East. But in some cases actually led to arrest and repression.

An Iranian man found that out when he apparently was punished for the jokes his son posted on Facebook. Brian Todd spoke with the son about what happened.

And Brian, share with our viewers this story.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this man's son, who lives in Holland, is scared right now. He believes his father is still being held. He's cut off direct contact with his mother and his sister to protect them, and it's all because of satirical postings he made on Facebook that the Iranian regime jumped on.


TODD (voice-over): It's a strange-looking cartoon on a Facebook page. Charles Manson's face, superimposed over what's believed to be an image of a cherished 9th century Shia imam. He's flanked by a camel wearing sunglasses and the donkey from "Shrek."

This satirical Facebook page has become popular among young Iranians. Yashar Khameneh, a 25-year-old college student in Holland, joined that page about a year ago, started posting jokes and irreverent video clips.

YASHAR KHAMENEH, STUDENT: Almost everybody that is involved in that movement believes that everything would be subject of a joke, and nothing and nobody is too holy.

TODD: But in May, Khameneh got frantic calls from his family in Iran. His father, Abbas Khameneh, had been targeted for the alleged sins of his son, arrested, taken to Evin prison notorious in Iran for torturing prisoners.

KHAMENEH: A few days after arresting my father, I received a call from my mother. She was very -- crying and said, "If you don't close that Facebook page, they will execute your father."

TODD: Khameneh messaged the manager of the Facebook page, asking for the page to be taken down. The manager refused.

Khameneh says Iranian officials have accused his father of supporting anti-religious activities by paying for his son's studies.

(on camera) What could the Iranian regime have seized on here? I'm with Alireza Nader. He is an analyst for the Rand Corporation. he speaks and reads fluent Farsi. Ali Reza, what are the phrases on here that would have angered the regime?

ALIREZA NADER, RAND CORPORATION: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) And specifically, this word "horafat" (ph), which means superstition in Farsi, so this Web site is basically making fun of imam, a holy figure within the religion, and saying that the beliefs in them are superstition.

TODD (voice-over): Considered sacrilegious by an Iranian government who, Nader says, has really brought its fists down on social media since the 2009 Green Revolution.

(on camera) Given the technological sophistication of this regime, did you not think beforehand that they would pick up what you were doing on Facebook, figure out who was doing it, and then possibly target your family?

KHAMENEH: Well, I never thought that they were going to target my family. I always thought that, OK, I am doing something that's not acceptable by the regime. I accept the consequence of my own activity.


TODD: Yashar Khameneh says he still doesn't know the condition of his father, only that his father is, quote, "not free." CNN's efforts to get information on his father's arrest and condition from Iranian officials, both in Tehran and the U.N., have been unsuccessful -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a sad story, Brian. You mentioned the manager of that Facebook page refused to take down the page, even though doing that might save this young man's father. So why did the page manager refuse to take it down?

TODD: We don't know for sure. We don't know who the page manager is. But Yashar Khameneh thinks it could be for maybe two reasons.

One, the manager might suspect that Khameneh's appeal to him was a fake, that the sender was actually someone in the Iranian , trying to trick the manager into taking the page down.

Another possibility is that if the manager took down that page, it would defeat the reason it was created: to challenge the regime's authority and promote free expression. Yashar Khameneh told us he does not resent the Facebook manager's actions in not taking it down. He just wanted to try it and see if he could get his father freed. So far, hasn't worked.

BLITZER: Cautionary tale indeed. Brian, thanks for sharing that story with our viewers.

Over the years, I interviewed quite a few presidents of the United States, including of course, Barack Obama. I'm going to tell you if one of those interviews stands out most in my mind.


BLITZER: All right. So you think you know a lot about what goes on here in Washington? It's time for a little quiz. Here's CNN's newest correspondent, the "Early Start" anchor, John Berman.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Pop quiz. What high- profile Washington event will do more to make America a better place, change your situation and improve life on earth? A, President Obama's big White House pitch to extend tax cuts for the middle class but let taxes go up for the rich.

OBAMA: This is about helping job creators.

BERMAN: Or B, the great, big House vote to repeal the president's health-care plan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are trying to end the era of Washington- controlled health care.

BERMAN: So which mattered more? The answer is C, Kourtney Kardashian having a baby. Even if you don't know exactly who Kourtney Kardashian is -- and I don't -- it can't possibly matter less than what happened in Washington this week.

It's not that the issue of deficits and taxes aren't important. It's just that the president's been pitching this plan for years, and it has exactly 0 percent chance of getting through Congress now. So the impact of his White House announcement, as Bill Murray would say in the immortal film "Meatballs..."

BILL MURRAY, ACTOR: It just doesn't matter.

BERMAN: And on health care, it's not that that issue isn't important. It's that this 33rd vote to repeal or weaken the president's plan has the same chance of actually repealing the law as the previous 32 votes. In other words, exactly zero. As "Meatballs" would say...

MURRAY: It just doesn't matter!

BERMAN: So with anemic job growth, world economic turmoil and unrest in the Middle East, how could we assess the net contribution from our nation's leaders this week?

MURRAY: I tell you, it just doesn't matter! It just doesn't matter! It just doesn't matter! It just doesn't matter!

BERMAN: Even the all-star game...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz!

BERMAN: ... a mere shell of its illustrious past, mattered more than the game of political charades this week. At least the all-star game determines home field advantage for the World Series.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the wall, it's caught.

BERMAN: This and this determined nothing. Which is why home field advantage goes to Kourtney Kardashian.

John Berman, CNN.


BLITZER: You can watch John Berman every weekday morning, alongside Zoraida Sambolin. They're the new anchor team on "Early Start," beginning Monday morning, 5 a.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

BOLDUAN: Just into THE SITUATION ROOM. We have a response now from Kerry Kennedy's spokesman about her arrest reported earlier this hour.

As we reported a few moments ago, Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert Kennedy, was arrested this morning, accused of driving while on drugs. Police say she hit a tractor trailer and was later found in her Lexus with a flat tire.

Here's what her spokesman is saying in a statement: "Kerry Kennedy voluntarily took breathalyzer, blood and urine tests, all of which showed no drugs or alcohol whatsoever in her system. The charges were filed before the test results were available."

We wanted to make sure we brought you that latest update, and this is clearly a developing story still. Sad news over the following updates.

BLITZER: Another Kennedy in the news. Obviously very, very sad. Thanks so much for that.

Up next, maybe my most memorable presidential interview. It's your turn. "Ask Wolf," that's next.


BOLDUAN: There's a speed demon on the loose in Canada, Wolf, be very, very aware. He videotaped himself on his motorcycle racing down a busy highway and weaving through traffic at speeds allegedly reaching 100 miles per hour, if you can believe it.

He posted the video online. Smarty pants. And has gotten almost a million hits. He also got the attention of police, shocker, who identified him from the video and filed charges. Now he's on the lam, and we're guessing he may be traveling very, very fast.

Note to self: when you're doing something illegal, don't post it on the Internet.

BLITZER: That's frightening.

BOLDUAN: Or don't do something illegal.

BLITZER: That's scary stuff. He could have killed himself. Could have killed somebody else, too.

BOLDUAN: Oh, absolutely, are you kidding me? Anyway, don't get me started about speeding.

OK. So it is your turn to ask Wolf a question. I ask him questions all the time, and now it's time for you. This one is coming to us in an iReport. Listen here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This question's to Wolf Blitzer on THE SITUATION ROOM. What would be your most memorable interview you have done with a U.S. president? Nicolas Pierce (ph) reporting, teenage iReporter in Texas (ph).


BLITZER: I love our iReporters.

BOLDUAN: I love our iReporters. That's actually a fabulous question.

BLITZER: It's a good question. You know...

BOLDUAN: Not many people get the opportunity to interview a president.

BLITZER: I knew I was going to be asked this question because you told me.

BOLDUAN: I gave you a head's up.

BLITZER: And I've been thinking a lot about it, because I have been fortunate to have interviewed every president since Jimmy Carter as a sitting president.

And I have to say, I was a young reporter. Jimmy Carter was president. It was the first time I interviewed a president of the United States in the Oval Office. And I said to myself, "Wow, here I am, a kid from Buffalo, New York, and I'm interviewing the president of the United States."

It was right after the historic signing of the Camp David Accords, Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. He worked 16 months to get that done. And here I was doing an interview with him. So probably -- that was the most exciting times, because I was young. First time.

BOLDUAN: Do you have any -- a lot of people have rituals. Like big game day, big interviews, big debates, do you have a ritual that you go through?

BLITZER: I go to these interviews, I try to go in prepared.

BOLDUAN: That's good.

BLITZER: You know, questions that I want to ask, and I consult my friends, colleagues, you know, what would you ask the president of the United States? And I want to make sure that I'm up to speed, I'm ready to go, if he says something that cries out for a follow-up, cries out -- "Well, hold on, maybe that's not exactly precise." Make sure that I know what I'm talking about. That's the ritual.

But if you're asking me, do I have the same bowl of cereal in the morning or...

BOLDUAN: Wear the same shoes.

BLITZER: ... wear the same socks -- like a pitcher will wear the same whatever. No, I don't do -- I don't have rituals like that. I'm not that superstitious.

BOLDUAN: You've interviewed so many presidents. What was a memorable moment in -- with the current president, President Obama? Was there a memorable...?

BLITZER: The first interview I did with him was back in 2004 when he gave the keynote address at the Democratic convention in Boston. And he was just a young guy. And all of a sudden, he was a rising star. And we spoke a lot about -- I went back not that long ago, reread the transcript of that interview. It was at the convention. And I thought that was pretty good, because I got to know him a little bit.

And at the time, I said, well, this guy's got potential. I wasn't exactly sure he was going to be president of the United States.

BOLDUAN: It's pretty great to be a witness of history. Pretty awesome.

BLITZER: From the front-row seats that we have, and it's great to be here.

All right. We've got to leave right now. That's it for us. Thanks very much for joining. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.