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THE SITUATION ROOM

Daring Hostage Rescue: Inside the Colombian Operation; Obama Sees Red: Focus on Usually GOP States; McCain: Defining Obama

Aired July 4, 2008 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Barack Obama sees red. His campaign to grab Republican turf from John McCain is on parade right now.
Another shocking case of hurricane relief that never got to Katrina victims. This hour, a brand-new CNN investigation.

Plus, Hillary Clinton's grieving supporters and Bill Clinton's disillusioned fans. An angry Democratic primary season takes its toll.

Wolf Blitzer's off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But we begin with breaking news. For the first time, authorities in Colombia will take us inside that risky mission to save three Americans and the former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. At any moment the Defense Ministry in Colombia will start showing us pictures of that mission.

These are live pictures in Bogota, Colombia. You can see reporters are gathering for this news conference.

Well, let's go to CNN's Harris Whitbeck on the phone from Bogota, Colombia.

Harris, what do you expect out of this press conference, and can you give us a sense of what kind of images that they're going to be releasing?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big question that people here have, Suzanne, is whether or not there was money exchanged during the release of these hostages. There was a report saying $20 million in ransom were paid. That has already been denied by the Colombian military. But obviously they're expected to address that in more detail.

They have leaked a few details. They said that the commando that was involved in this operation to release the hostages took intensive acting classes for 15 days so that they could impersonate the members of the humanitarian organization that they were supposed to be. They were pretending to be -- that they were going to be transporting the prisoners to another FARC location.

That's just one of the details that have already been leaked. We expect a lot more as soon as this press conference gets under way. MALVEAUX: OK. And Harris, I want to bring in our own Jamie McIntyre, senior Pentagon correspondent, to also kind of weigh in on this.

Is it typical that they would actually be shooting video of this rescue mission as it's going on? And who would be doing this video?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Suzanne, it shows the world that we live in. I was surprised, actually, yesterday, when I saw the official briefing documents that were provided by the Colombian government detailing the operation, including a satellite picture that looked like it might have come from a U.S. spy satellite of some kind of overhead surveillance.

We know, for instance, that the United States has provided some intelligence to help locate these captives back in February, when they were first spotted, when this operation was in the initial planning stages. So, you know, I think it's a reflection of the world we live in, just like the rumors of the ransom paid, which started from, really, an obscure Swiss report, rocketed around the world very quickly, and produced those denials from the Colombian government.

So it will be very interesting to see what they release in terms of these pictures, to the extent it supports their original story, and details more about how this operation was pulled off. And if it was done the way the Colombian government describes it, it was quite ingenious in its inception and its execution.

MALVEAUX: And Jamie, would they actually be shooting this kind of as a learning exercise for the next time? Is that why they would be providing this kind of video?

MCINTYRE: Well, the video could be valuable for all kinds of things. For one, and the most obvious one, obviously, is to support your version of events whenever there's a dispute about what happens.

And you know, increasingly video is shot everywhere. You know, U.S. soldiers in the field have video cameras with them all the time. They have their own cameras. It's kind of a fact of life.

But it might have some training value, it might have some propaganda value, it might have some fact-checking value. And it's just part of the world we live in now.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jamie.

I want to go back to Harris.

Harris, do you have any sense of how much video was shot, at what time, and what kind of material we're going to be looking at?

WHITBECK: I have no idea at this time, Suzanne. We've just been told that video will be shown and more details of the operation will be given to us. But no, no idea as to how much or what quality of video it might be.

MALVEAUX: Is this typical from Colombian officials to do this?

WHITBECK: They have done it in the past. They have released -- I've not seen a lot of combat operations that, you know, at times are inaccessible to journalists. There is a combat photographer on missions, military missions with the Colombian government. So it is not unusual to be promised videos or pictures in situations like these.

MALVEAUX: I want to go back to Jamie really quickly.

I assume that the kind of video that they're being -- that's being released certainly would not put anybody in jeopardy. We know that part of this was an undercover operation that allowed them to dupe the rebels here.

Would there be some sort of redacting in this? Or what's the process of actually publicly releasing some of this to us to see?

MCINTYRE: Well, Suzanne, any time we get video from a government, whether it's the U.S. government or any government, it usually reflects the government's version of events. You know, I recall when the Pentagon released the initial videos of U.S. troops going into Afghanistan back in 2001. They were highly edited, just a few highlights to sort of show what was going on, not the full story. The same thing, by the way, with the rescue of Jessica Lynch.

So, any time you have video from a government source, you know, we can't expect that it's going to be completely unedited video. But it does add to the record of events. And again, it's the kind the U.S. government does increasingly, which is record things on video for all the purposes we've discussed.

MALVEAUX: And Jamie, for our viewers, take us back to that rescue mission. You covered this extensively. Give our viewers -- remind them of what this was about, those who were rescued, who was involved in this operation.

MCINTYRE: Well, these captives have been held for years, including the three Americans. And the U.S. and the Colombian government had been looking for them extensively. And the U.S. was using a lot of overhead imagery.

When they were spotted back in February, you know, a raid to go in and just rescue them was seen as too risky. Plus, the last time they had tried that, they had moved by the time they got there.

So, the Colombian government, from all accounts, came up with this plan to trick them into turning them over. And in the process, capture a couple of the FARC leaders at the same time. And, you know, we don't have all the information, but from what we know, it appears to have been highly successful.

They lured them into bringing captives from three different locations into a central location, convinced them to turn them over under the belief that they were being transferred from the control of one rebel commander to another. And as soon as these helicopters, which were, by the way, Colombian military helicopters that had been painted white to disguise their markings, as soon as they -- as soon as the helicopter was off the ground, the guerrillas were overpowered. The hostages were freed in what appears to have been a brilliant case of deception.

MALVEAUX: Jamie, thanks. We're going to get back to you very shortly.

Obviously we're going to keep our eye on that press conference that's going to happen momentarily. As soon as they come, we will go ahead and bring that to you live.

But I want to bring you first the top political story that we've been looking at today on this red, white and blue holiday.

Barack Obama is really honing in on the red, as in the red states. This week the Democrat was working through some of those yellow tossup states -- Missouri, Ohio, Colorado. Now he's going into crimson country, the traditionally Republican states of North Dakota, and today Montana.

And CNN's Jessica Yellin is covering the Obama campaign.

Jessica, red states obviously playing a key role in Obama's strategy.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are essential to his plan for victory, Suzanne.

Past Democratic presidential candidates have written off states like Montana, where Obama is today. But he already has 12 in staff there. He's up with ads on the air, and he is fighting for Bush country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Freedom Fest in Butte, Montana, it's the kind of red state celebration where you wouldn't expect to find the Democratic candidate for president. But Barack Obama thinks this could be his turf.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a firm believer that 90 percent of success is showing up. And Democrats haven't been showing up in these places.

YELLIN: His strategy for November depends on picking up voters who have felt alienated from the Democratic Party.

OBAMA: If you look at the trends in many of these states, there are more and more Independents who aren't tied to a political party. And I want to make sure that we are reaching out to them, because I think there's the possibility of a significant realignment politically in this election.

YELLIN: The campaign is already on air with "get to know the candidate" ads deep in Republican country, states including Alaska, North Dakota, North Carolina. One is values-themed.

OBAMA (voice-over): But they taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up, accountability and self-reliance, love of country, working hard without making excuses.

YELLIN: The other pushes an American jobs message.

NARRATOR: As president, he will end tax breaks for companies that export jobs, reward those that create jobs in America, and never forget the dignity that comes from work.

YELLIN: Obama campaign manager David Plouffe identifies six battleground states he believes can be turned blue this November. They are Virginia, where in 2004 Bush won by eight points; Missouri, he won by seven; Colorado, by five; Ohio, Iowa and New Mexico, where Bush barely shaved off victories.

And in Butte today, this handful of Republicans were drowned out by Obama fans. The Obama campaign is hoping they are not the exception.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Suzanne, spending time and money in red states has a second advantage for Obama. It forces McCain to spend money in places he would otherwise consider safe instead of spending it in battleground states -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jessica.

John McCain is taking a holiday from the campaign trail, spending the Fourth of July with his family in Arizona. The Republican has been busy this past week trying to define his opponent and put him on the defensive.

Let's bring in our own CNN's Dana Bash.

And Dana, the McCain camp seems to be settling in somewhat on a strategy and a message here.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they seem to be trying, at least, Suzanne.

You know, when you talk to Republicans who have been worried, very worried about the direction of the McCain campaign, they'll tell you that they've been slow to come up with a clear argument against Obama. Well, this week, one slowly started to develop with the help of something McCain aides constantly complain has been lacking when it comes to Obama, and that is scrutiny from the press.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): When Barack Obama scrambled to clean up comments he made just four hours earlier about his Iraq position, he blamed the McCain campaign. OBAMA: I think what's happened is that the McCain campaign primed the pump with the press to suggest that somehow we were changing our policy when we hadn't.

BASH: That's the kind of accusation you'd think would not go over so well at McCain headquarters. But McCain aides were just fine with it, because they've been struggling to show worried Republicans they can put Obama on the defensive and find a theme against him.

Minutes after Obama spoke, the McCain campaign released a statement saying, "Barack Obama has changed course and proven his past positions to be just empty words."

Painting Obama as just another politician who will say what it takes to win is exactly how McCain's new top gun Steve Schmidt helped George Bush beat John Kerry four years ago.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And it's a case study into why his contradictions call into question his credibility and his ability to lead our nation.

BASH: But since McCain has changed his position on several issues, like drilling for oil offshore, McCain advisers tell CNN they know labeling Obama a "flip-flopper" won't work. They hope to shatter Obama's "above it all" persona and redefine him as politically expedient by taking this from Obama...

OBAMA: And when I go to Iraq and I have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I'm sure I'll have more information and we'll continue to refine my policies.

BASH: ... and matching it against this mantra from McCain...

MCCAIN: But I did say a year ago, as you know, that I would much rather lose a political campaign than lose a war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, the McCain campaign is sarcastically praising Obama, saying it's about time he acknowledges a president can't have a withdrawal deadline that ignores realities on the ground in Iraq. But they are also seizing on any subtle shift in Obama's position when it comes to Iraq in order to bolster the argument that Obama doesn't have the experience or judgment to be a wartime commander in chief -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Dana.

It is anyone's guess how Barack Obama or John McCain will do come Election Day. Where they are now in the polls is not necessarily a prediction. We looked back at what other polls said in early July during other presidential races. In 2004, John Kerry led President Bush by seven points, but of course Kerry lost the election. In 2000, polls showed George Bush and Vice President Al Gore locked in an extremely tight race. And the extremely tight election results, including the Florida vote debacle, well, that bore it out. And around this time in 1988, Michael Dukakis led President George Bush by six points but lost the election.

Now to the passing of a conservative icon. Former senator Jesse Helms died today in his home state of North Carolina. He was 86 years old. He stirred political passions on both sides of the aisle during his 30 years in Congress.

Our White House Correspondent, Ed Henry, used to cover Helms in Congress.

And the president and many others couldn't help but remark about the timing of his passing.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, you'll remember that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the Fourth of July. Now Jesse Helms has, too. But the fact of the matter is that, for better or for worse, he was also a lightning ropd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice over): He was crusty, but courtly. And always controversial.

SEN. JESSE HELMS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: ... that the president of the United States has crossed that line and has nominated a lesbian.

HENRY: More than anything, Jesse Helms was conservative, a vehement opponent of communism and an ardent supporter of state rights.

BOB DOLE (R), FMR. SENATOR: When he sent out a fund-raising letter, he got money from all across the country. I mean, he was Mr. Conservative for 30 years. And he had a following everywhere.

HENRY: It wasn't just liberals who called Helms "Senator No." Former Senate Republican leader Bob Bole remembers trying to pass various pieces of legislation, only to get a visit from Helms revealing his latest move to block something.

DOLE: He'd say, "Bob, you know -- and I know you want to do this today, but it's not going to happen."

HENRY: No to abortion, no to homosexual rights, and a big no to federal funding for what he deemed obscene art -- in his distinctive southern drawl.

HELMS: If artists want to go in a men's room and write dirty words on the wall, let them furnish their own Crayons. Let them furnish their own walls.

HENRY: No also to affirmative action, the focus of a bitterly divisive TV ad known simply as "Hands," which Democrats labeled a racist attack on Helms' African-American opponent Harvey Gant.

NARRATOR: ... because of a racial quota.

HENRY: The 1990 Helms ad showed a set of white hands crumpling up a rejection letter after the guy lost out on a job to a minority. Given the North Carolina Republican's struggle with civil rights, friends find it ironic he died during a campaign where Democrat Barack Obama is poised to become the first African-American nominee for president.

DOLE: Jesse didn't move as quickly.

HELMS: Were the southerners racist? I don't know. I mean, I don't know how you define a racist.

HENRY: In the twilight of his career, Helms did reach across the aisle, forging unlikely bonds with Democrats like then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and even the rock star Bono, to fight poverty and AIDS in Africa.

BONO, MUSICIAN, ACTIVIST: It's an extraordinary thing, I will admit, to have Jesse Helms throw lunch for you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now, as someone who covered Jesse Helms a long time, people in the Senate, I can tell you, they either loved him or hated him. There really was no in between. And the reaction, as you can imagine, Suzanne, you have Reverend Al Sharpton he represented regressive politics, archaic politics, and he hopes that Jesse Helms has found peace with his God.

Meanwhile, President Bush is calling him a true patriot.

There really was no in between. You either loved him or hated him.

MALVEAUX: He was a real controversial figure.

HENRY: That's right.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thanks, Ed.

We are waiting for the first images of the Colombian hostage rescue. We'll bring them to you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're also hard at work on these stories...

Bill Clinton's primary season's anger catches up with him and his popularity.

A heckler produces fireworks at the Fourth of July event featuring the president.

And CNN uncovers a case of desperately-needed supplies diverted from hurricane victims. Now comes the outrage. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when I hear people stand up and just beat their chest that, we've got everything under control, that's when I just want to walk up and slap them upside the head and say, you know, get a grip, get a life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: We are awaiting a press conference, breaking news, first images out of Colombia. That, of course, the rescue mission rescuing those three American hostages, as well as former presidential contender Ingrid Betancourt, from Colombia.

I want to go to Jamie McIntyre , our senior Pentagon correspondent, to really kind of lay out, flesh out, if you will, what we expect to see, these new images coming from officials there, what kind of operation this was, and how it was executed -- Jamie.

Jamie is having some problems actually hearing us at this moment. But what we're hearing is they're actually going to show us some pictures inside of the helicopter. That is where those hostages, those captives were inside, and they were with those people who posed as rebels.

We understand that they're going to talk a little bit about the rescue mission. They're going to talk about how it was that they lured them to that helicopter, how they duped those rebels into thinking that they were simply moving them from one location to another.

Let's take a listen to the press conference now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): General Montoya, in a moment I'm going to make an explanation about the video. It's very important.

The video we're going to be seeing, when the special mission landed. Then we're going to be seeing when a crew, a mission crew of cameramen and a journalist, in a place where it has been planned where there's Cesar Enrique (ph). They're going to be taking some words from them.

And then we're going to see when we're putting some plastic bags. I may remind you this was one of the major problems that we had, because the captives didn't want to come with us.

They thought it was another scenario. They thought it was the FARC behind this mission.

One of the Americans is the first one to offer himself. I will give you some information afterwards.

The last part is that unfortunately we do not have the moment in which the two terrorists were captured. Why don't we have this? Because they're part of the team. They just let go of the camera and they had their job to do. Before we filmed this, we had to get the two people that were going to be held hostage.

So then what happened when the mission starts saying that they're part of a national army? They were convinced that it was something else that the FARC was doing, what happened.

One of the Americans was the first one to offer himself to get handcuffed and get himself on the helicopter. This is what we're going to see on this video. And I'm going to give you some information.

Then the last part is what happened. Unfortunately, we don't have the moment when we captured the two terrorists. We don't have it.

Why? Because they were part of the team. They just let go of the camera and they had their job to do.

Before filming, we need to capture those two terrorists. Afterwards, we will see what happens inside the helicopter after the mission starts telling them we are part of the national army. It lasts three minutes.

This is...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Please, please, it's very simple, Commandant. Just a quick question.

Really, it would be a mistake for me.

Prisoners in the hands of the FARC. We will have the opportunity to speak with the three Americans that are in captivity with the FARC.

With their own policies, we can't speak to them because of their policy. We cannot show the prisoners in the hands of the FARC.

I have one thing to say. And I have been imprisoned for 10 years. I am Lieutenant Maligon (ph) with the Colombian Army. I have been here in captivity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We know you're suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You shouldn't be saying this, because I have something very important to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We understand, but we're restricted. We can't say anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is Ingrid Betancourt when she's going into the helicopter, Maria Montoya (ph). We can see the moment where the guerrilla is surrounding the helicopter of the national army helicopter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Oh, my God. Thank you so much, God. Thank you so much. We never thought this would happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What we're going to do now is we're going to be -- we're going to give commentary to the video.

With this mission, it's a special military operation. Let me explain.

This is a special military operation. And we organized a team simulating that it was a special mission that was going to move these hostages from one place to the next. And in the special mission, there was going to be a team of journalists. There was a photographer and a journalist. Last time when there was -- the captives were released, there was always a cameraman in the ones that Chavez organized. Let's get organized.

Please hold your questions. We're going to give commentary to the video. Please hold your questions to the end.

Here the photographer has come down from the helicopter, and he is going towards where the rebels are. He's arriving. He's filming the guerrillas that was over the cocaine fields where the helicopter landed. And as we were able to first see, here's the group of captives. It is 1:24 p.m. and this is Alias Cessa (ph). This was already foreseen. We were going to try to distract him in this way. And next to him we have Alias Enrique Gafas (ph) who was in charge of the captives.

You can see right here that we're trying to create a bond with him and get him to trust us so that he will know this is a real mission. And here is Ingrid. She is angry because she doesn't want to wear her handcuffs. And this is the American, and he just offers himself. He put on the handcuffs and he's just going to get into the helicopter. He shows that he just let us put the handcuffs on him and then the rest follows. We asked the women that were part of the guerrillas to put on the handcuffs. The group of the guerrilla, most of them were women. They had prepared themselves in this way, the guerrilla.

This is Mr. Molagong (ph). He's very angry, because he wants to give a statement. It's already 1:28 p.m. time is running, and he wants to be interviewed. The mission is taking that moment to create more trust with the guerrilla. And here they're on their way to the helicopter. These are the captives. He just continues to be very angry. He's in handcuffs. And the other officials, the same thing. Ingrid is also very angry. With her boots. Very saddened. It's already 1:30. Two minutes since the last shot that we showed you.

One of the men from the mission, the guerrilla in the background. And here now the moment where they're free. They are free. They are free. They are free. They are free. We were very careful in putting the plastic handcuffs in a way that they could just release themselves. That moment in the group, there was one woman. I know that the guerrilla were the ones that helped put on the handcuffs.

Let's begin the press conference.

Mr. Joaquin Ivan (ph) from "La (INAUDIBLE) Espanol," Sylvia Hernandez, Channel 7, Argentina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I would like you to answer, please, the question Israeli press has been asking. General Padilla talked about it this morning but there were some talk about Israeli participating in the mission and also what has been the participation of the CIA or any other American group?

MANUEL SANTOS, COLOMBIAN DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): This mission was 100 percent Colombian. It was planned by our military intelligence. It was executed by Colombians. There was no foreigners that participated in the planning or execution of the mission. It is not true. It is absolutely false that any citizen from Israel helped in the mission. The United States was informed ten days previous of the mission, a week before the mission.

I informed personally the ambassador of the United States in the presence of General Padilla. Why did we let them know? Because President Uribe promised President Bush that any mission where Americans were involved, we would let the American government know. This is why we informed the ambassador.

The ambassador told us 24 hours later that they had studied the mission and everything that we gave them, and they thought this was a great mission, and that it had good possibilities of success. But they were concerned about risks. They were concerned about risk -- the risk of the people in captivity and the hostages was minimum, because if they -- the chances for combat were very minimal. The only risk was to be detected at the moment of the transference.

That somebody would have suspected at that time, and they would have identified us. Our people were not armed, and there was not going to be combat. The risk for the hostages was always minimal.

What participation did the United States have? I would say none. They simply helped us to place two devices in the helicopter so that in a case of emergency, we could transmit some type of S.O.S., panic. The United States also kept airplanes in the area over as a type of intelligence. It's kept at several other times in intelligence missions. But they did not participate in any form in the mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): What is the role that private contractors had in the last years here? Not specifically in this mission. SANTOS (through translator): They've only given us advice in intelligence, command and control. It is simply about being organized. There's no Israeli agents here operating with our troops. There's no Israeli intelligence agents in Colombia. There's only people in a consulting basis that are helping us reorganize our intelligence systems and our systems of command and control.

SYLVIA HERNANDEZ, CHANNEL 7, ARGENTINA (through translator): Sylvia Hernandez from Channel 7 in Argentina and now Simon Romero from "The New York Times."

There were talks about paying $20 million for the freedom of the hostages. Has there been any payments made -- to acquire information? And has the wife of the -- the wife of Cesar had anything to do with this information?

SANTOS (through translator): This information is completely false. It has no basis. We don't know where this information came about. We have not paid one single cent, $20 million. We just -- that would have been cheap. Because we had offered $100 million. If they would have just handed over the hostages, there wouldn't have been any mission. I understand that a Swiss journalist said that that the United States, France and Israeli and the Spanish governments participated, but I believe all these countries have completely denied this version.

And regarding the lover of Alias Cesar, she was captured by the Army in January. And we believe she has had nothing to do with this mission. She has not been contacted for this mission. She has not been paid one cent. And that information is completely false. For this mission, nobody has received payment. We have a policy of very aggressive remuneration. We pay for information. And we paid millions of dollars to many people for information of all types.

Of course, for our mission in general that we've done in the last month, and in the last year, the information that we have received has been paid. This is true. And we don't have a problem with this. If it would have paid in this mission, we would have said that, because we want to know, we want people to know that we pay for information.

For example, in the case of Rojas, there was some controversy where we paid or did not pay. We decided to pay, so that the policy of remuneration maintains its credibility. If we would have paid in this mission, we would have said. We would have been the first to recognize that we did pay, because this is part of our policy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Simon Romero from the "New York Times."

SIMON ROMERO, "NEW YORK TIMES" (through translator): Good afternoon. I would like to know what you would like to say to the families of the hostages that are still in the hands of the FARC. There's 25 that are interchangeable, but there are still plenty that are not. Are they at risk now after this operation?

SANTOS (through translator): We would like to say the following. We do not believe that the FARC will take -- will do anything against those hostages. That would be stupid. It would be stupid for them to react in that way. We would also like to say that the Colombian government and the National Colombian Police, we will continue insisting day, afternoon and night that we will try to bring home those hostages, whether it is from a military operation, humanitarian exchange, or any way, we will continue insisting --

MALVEAUX: For those of you just joining us at this moment, what you have been watching here are Colombian officials explaining and showing us for the very first time images inside of this rescue mission that took place. This is really dramatic pictures that they've been walking us through from the moment that you had Colombian military who posed as a photographer and a journalist who were working side by side with the guerrillas, with the rebels, posing as one of them.

This is an American here. What you see is he's got the plastic handcuffs on him. What they are showing are the guerrillas and those hostages, a small group of them that are being led to the chopper that they're supposed to board. All of this was a ruse, essentially, to move these hostages onto the helicopter.

This is one of those hostages who was quite angry, they explained. He was very upset. He wanted to make a statement to the camera, to the photographer here. He's angry about those handcuffs. We were also told as well that the Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, was also very angry about being handcuffed. One of the Americans showing that he was handcuffed as well. They're walking to that chopper. You see the rebels that are leading them to that chopper.

And the reason you have pictures is because these Colombian military officials are posing as those rebels, as those guerrillas, as a photographer and a journalist. And they are speaking with the hostages. You see a quick picture of Ingrid Betancourt there, who was being led into the chopper. All of this during the time none of them actually knew what was taking place. They believed that they were being led to another location, that they were simply being moved on some sort of humanitarian mission from one place to another. But you see the camera panning there. That is the group of guerrillas that were standing by.

Now, here is inside of the chopper. And this is the moment when they actually realized that they are being rescued. They are free. And they are talking about -- they are hugging, they are crying, they are kissing and they are saying, the interpreters are saying they are free, they are free. You can see Ingrid Betancourt there, as well as some of the others. They take off those plastic handcuffs. We are told that they were put on them in a way they could easily release and free themselves. This is really dramatic pictures. A moment where you are seeing people actually realize they've been held captive for more than five years, close to six years, and this is their moment of freedom.

I want to bring in Jamie McIntyre, our senior Pentagon correspondent. Jamie, can you give us a sense what we've seen in these pictures? It really seems extraordinary that this is taking place. And one of the things that we don't see is that moment when they actually arrest and take over the rebels, because it was actually the photographer and the journalist, they posed, they had to put the camera down and actually take hold of those people. Is that unusual?

MCINTYRE: Yes, that's right, Suzanne.

Obviously they had just a limited number of people taking part in this mission, six, I believe, on the helicopter. And interestingly enough, we were told that they weren't armed. So that was -- this mission relied so much on building the confidence of the FARC on the ground, that they weren't brandishing weapons. They didn't have weapons. It was part of the confidence-building measure.

The video itself is riveting on two levels. One the emotional level, to see the soul-crushing way that Ingrid Betancourt looks there, as she believes she's about to get on the helicopter for yet another transfer. You know, another day of captivity. And then the contrast with just the unbridled elation when they realize that they're free.

And of course, that one Colombian military officer is trying to make the statement, he said he's been held for ten years. And he just wants to get word out to somebody about what's happening to him. You can just see, you know, how -- you can feel the pain. And then when you see what happens to them when they're freed. I don't know about you, but the emotions just kind of well up in you.

From an informational, technical standpoint, the video very much supports the version of events that we were given by the Colombian military. And probably one of the most interesting things that the Colombian defense minister said was disputing these ideas that there was any ransom paid. Because he said, look, we would have paid a ransom. He said $20 million, we would have paid $100 million if they would have turned over the hostages. They wouldn't turn them over.

He said we pay for information all the time. We make payments, remuneration policy they have to try to undermine the rebels. They don't make any bones about that. So I think really, that's a very credible argument for putting these rumors to rest that there was a ransom paid here.

And also, his explanation of what the U.S. assistance was. It turns out the United States provided special tracking devices, and panic devices on the helicopters, so if something went wrong, they could summon help right away, presumably silently without having to make a radio transmission. And the U.S. provided aerial surveillance overhead while the mission was going on. Again, in the background, no direct involvement, but the kind of support that we heard the White House describing yesterday.

MALVEAUX: We also learned that President Bush was notified about this mission. He said about ten days to a week or so before it took place. Because President Uribe essentially gave him his word that if there was going to be any kind of rescue mission involving Americans, that he would give President Bush a heads up, and that that was let known to him through the ambassador who found out that there were at least, Jamie, some concerns about the risk involved here, initially, but then were reassured that it was minimal risk because they said it wasn't likely that there was going to be any kind of combat. As you mentioned, they didn't have any firearms.

I guess the biggest risk they said was that they were going to be revealed that this whole ruse was going to be revealed at that time when they were actually putting them on the chopper.

MCINTYRE: Yes. It's almost heart breaking.

You see them there. You see how the hostages are so crest fallen about you know, what's happening to them on this particular day. And you just know that the rescuers want to tell them, look, it's going to be OK just a few more minutes, hang in there. But they can't give any hint that there's anything untoward going on here. They can't give any hint that there's about to be a rescue. Because it's all based on having the confidence and fooling the FARC on the ground.

And the amazing thing about the notification of President Bush ten days ahead of time, is that, you know, not that President Bush is going to leak this, but the more people that know an operation, the harder it is to keep it secret. And clearly many people had been briefed, both in the Colombian and U.S. government. And yet it was all kept entirely secure.

MALVEAUX: Sure. It was an extraordinary, extraordinary situation. And obviously just watching all of that unfold before our eyes, first released images, to see the emotion and that moment when they realize that they were free. We're going to have much more of this, obviously coming up in the 5:00 hour.

I want to go some other news that we're following, including a possible diplomatic break-through on Iran. Also a potential McCain running mate. Well, who finds a mate. The inside story on the Florida governor's wedding plans. And Hillary Clinton kissed and made up with Barack Obama. But some of her supporters aren't ready to go there. Stand by for our "Strategy Session."

And a new drive to make you slow down and save gas, the pros and cons of a national speed limit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Democrats want you to know that all's end that ends well within their party. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton project a unified front after their bitter rivalry. Even Bill Clinton publicly says he fully supports Obama. But even though they say there's no lingering resentment, do voters still feel that same way. CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins me.

And Bill, are Hillary Clinton supporters getting on board here with the whole idea of unity?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Suzanne, according to our poll, more of them are holding out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Has Hillary Clinton's reputation been helped or hurt by her campaign for president? Actually neither. Opinions of Senator Clinton is about the same now as it was a year ago, just over a half of voters hold a favorable opinion of her while 44 percent of her remain unfavorable. Her husband is a different story. Everyone expected Bill Clinton to support his wife, but not to criticize her opponent's campaign.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.

SCHNEIDER: A year ago, 60 percent had a favorable opinion of Bill Clinton. That's dropped almost ten points. What about Hillary Clinton supporters? How are they coping with her loss?

More or less in line with what psychiatrist Elizabeth Ross identified as the five stages of grief. First, denial. We heard that from one of her top advisers on the final primary night.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, ADVISER TO SEN. CLINTON: Are you ready for her? Are you ready for the next president of the United States of America?

SCHNEIDER: Second, anger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will not vote for any Democrat who threw their support behind him.

SCHNEIDER: We may now be at the third stage, bargaining.

ROBERT JOHNSON, CLINTON SUPPORTER: We have the best chance of winning with Senator Obama at the top of the ticket. Senator Clinton as his vice president.

SCHNEIDER: Just after the final primaries, 60 percent of Clinton supporters said they would vote for Barack Obama, 17 percent said they would vote for John McCain, and 22 percent said they wouldn't vote at all. And now? Only 10 percent say they will vote for McCain. But fewer say they will vote for Obama. Nearly a third of Clinton supporters now say they won't vote. Could they be holding out to see if Obama chooses Senator Clinton as his running mate?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: If he doesn't put her on the ticket, the Clinton supporters may get to the fourth stage of grief, depression. But there's a fifth stage. Acceptance. From the signal Senator Clinton has been sending, she's already there -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Bill. We'll see if the others follow suit.

CNN opinion research corporation poll asked this of Democrats, who they still like Hillary Clinton to be the nominee. Who would you want to be president? Fifty-four percent of them said Barack Obama. Fewer than in early June. But 10 percent of them said John McCain. Also fewer than in early June.

Well, joining me, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and CNN political contributor, Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist.

OK. What these numbers reveal here is that obviously there are folks who wanted Hillary Clinton to win. They are not moving in the category of Barack Obama. They're not moving in the category of McCain. What they are moving in the category is they're not going to vote. That's a bad sign.

PETER FENN, FMR. ADVISER TO GORE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, it could be a bad sign. But you have to remember that after 2000, over half the voters said they were not going to vote, of the McCain voters were not going to vote for George Bush. They turned out to do that. I would be more concerned Suzanne if the numbers were going up of those who were going to vote for McCain. But that would be a scary thought.

But that number has almost cut in half in the last three weeks. So I think we have some time to play out. If there were not unity in the party, I would also be concerned. But there is unity in the party.

MALVEAUX: Did the unity work here? I mean they had this big unity session. It seems to be taking a little bit longer than they expected.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think that is the fallacy. The Democrats would like you to believe this is something, that you sing Kumbayah and put a band-aid over it and it goes away. But in reality there's a lot of sensitivity to it. If you talk to the Latinos for Clinton, for example, who are moving into the Latinos for Bush camp, there's still a lot of animosity and anxiety between those two campaign staff coming together.

And just if you talk to voters, they're still very skeptical, the Clinton voters, particularly of Barack Obama. So, I think there's an opportunity for Senator McCain there. But also some people are saying, is this guy a flash in the pan? It's only 48 months. Maybe we'll keep our powder dry and see what happens four years from now.

MALVEAUX: What does Barack Obama need to do if anything at this point to help bring those voters over to his side?

FENN: The key thing right now is unity. The fact is, that the Democrats have a 12 to 14-point lead in the polls in self- identification. That's huge. In 2000, they had a three-point lead. And Al Gore got 86 percent of the vote. If we get over 80 percent of the vote, with that kind of a lead, within the Democratic Party, we win. So it is about bringing this party together.

But the key thing -- but we're seeing that. You know, let me correct something here. We're seeing especially amongst Hispanic voters, right now, and there have been three polls, 2-1, with Barack Obama leading John McCain. That's not a good sign for John McCain.

SANCHEZ: Wow, Hispanics call themselves Democrats. That's news. Wow. Hispanics happen to be independent voters. They like candidates over parties. John McCain gets 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in the southwest. I mean that's a whole other story.

MALVEAUX: I'm not hearing, what does Barack Obama need to do? What do they need to do to come together? What needs to happen?

FENN: First of all, you're going to have a convention that's going to be unbelievably unified. You're going to have Hillary Clinton speaking at that convention bringing those delegates in. I think that because you've had a year and a half of a tough campaign, it takes more than three or four weeks to bring it back together. That's natural. I'm not worried about it.

I think he is going to be able to bring those Democrats, because I tell you, people don't want four more years of George Bush. And that is exactly what McCain is promising on the economy and on Iraq.

SANCHEZ: I think overall, very critical of who Barack Obama is, you will see some of them siphon on, join the campaign. But several of them, I believe, are going to look more intensely at Senator McCain.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you very much to both of you. We'll just have to leave it there.

SANCHEZ: OK, thanks again.

MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.