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THE SITUATION ROOM
Author Alleges Bush Administration Missed Chance to Bust Al Qaeda Members; Dramatic Emergency Landing
Aired August 5, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Also, a dramatic emergency landing and a heart-stopping evacuation. Passengers forced to flee on inflatable slides.
What happened on board this American Airlines' plane?
And some Olympic athletes are wearing masks to guard against Beijing's notorious smog. But with China taking drastic action to try to clear the air, do they really need them?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Stunning new allegations in a book by a respected Washington journalist. Ron Suskind alleging the Bush White House ignored an offer from Iran to help crack Al Qaeda and possibly get Osama bin Laden himself.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.
What are we learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, A number of incendiary claims in this book. And one of the ones that we found most fascinating, this report that Wolf just mentioned -- an incredible offer from the Iranians to the United States not long after 9/11.
TODD (voice-over): A starting post-9/11 overture from a bitter American enemy: "They grill Al Qaeda leaders, maybe even get them to give up Osama bin Laden."
In his new book, "The Way of the World," Ron Suskind writes that Iran made that offer just before the Iraq War.
After senior Al Qaeda leaders had fled to Iran, Suskind writes, the Iranians: "Were ready to start subtly working al Qaeda's exiled managers and maybe even use them to get to bin Laden."
Suskind writes: "The Bush administration never responded." And when a senior intelligence official asked President Bush why not, Suskind quotes the official saying: "He just looked at me with this funny blank stare."
A White House spokesman didn't respond directly to that, but the White House has refuted many of the book's other claims.
An Iranian official at the U.N. says he knows of no such overture.
In an interview with NBC's "Today Show," Suskind defended his sources.
RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, "THE WAY OF THE WORLD": They were off the record sources who laid out the story. And then I went to people actually involved.
TODD: Suskind writes in detail about what he says was a chilling phone call between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, September 2007, two months before Bhutto's assassination. Musharraf, according to Suskind, says: "You should understand something. Your security is based on the state of our relationship."
A senior Bhutto adviser who was with her right before and after that call tells CNN he can't confirm the quote, but says Bhutto was very upset afterward. The adviser says Bhutto said Musharraf's attitude toward her had changed, that he was confrontational and hostile.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: I also spoke with a senior adviser to the Pakistani government today. He said he knows Musharraf well, he knew Benazir Bhutto and he says he doubts Musharraf said that.
We also doubled back with the White House on the claim about the Iranians making that overture. One of the White House officials said: "It's not my job to be Ron Suskind's fact-checker. That would be a full-time job."
Another fascinating claim by Suskind in the book, that the U.S. has developed only three spies inside Al Qaeda. One of them, he says, was code-named "Love Bug," who was a Kurd associated with the now deceased leader of Iraq -- leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. Suskind writes that "Love Bug" gave very valuable intelligence to the U.S. before he was killed in early 2004.
A former CIA official wouldn't comment on the specifics. The current CIA spokesman says overall about this book: "If jumping to conclusions were an Olympic sport, Ron Suskind would be in Beijing now." -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They're trying, the White House, the CIA, all sorts of elements of government are pushing back really hard."
TODD: Very hard. Right.
BLITZER: Suskind has a fascinating section in the book on the Jordanian, King Abdullah.
TODD: That's right. He essentially says that at the time of Abdullah's ascension to the throne in the late '90s that...
BLITZER: From his father, King Hussein.
TODD: That's right -- that there was one CIA agent, according to Suskind, Robert Richer, who essentially worked the Jordanians -- the inner workings of the government -- and paved the way for King Abdullah to ascend to the throne.
I called Robert Richer today. He said he would not comment on that.
We also spoke to the Jordanian embassy. They said that's not true. They said if you know the Jordan government, the way it works and the Constitution, the king decides that and that's all there is to that.
BLITZER: And that's what the king wanted. He Abdullah to succeed him and he did.
BLITZER: That was one of his last wishes before he died.
All right. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.
BLITZER: By the way, we're going to get a lot more on these explosive allegations tomorrow, when the author, Ron Suskind, will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll discuss his book. He'll defend what he has written.
Also, if her face looks familiar, it should. It's been plastered on the walls of airports and post offices across the country -- one of the FBI's most wanted. Now, this American-educated Pakistani scientist is under arrest, suspected -- suspected of being an Al Qaeda operative and charged with assaulting American officers.
CNN's Mary Snow is working the story for us.
She's outside the courthouse in New York, where the suspect is set to appear.
What's the latest -- Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Aifia Siddiqui is still waiting to appear before a federal magistrate judge here in lower Manhattan. This is the latest chapter in a case that has been shrouded in mystery.
The Justice Department has said it wants to talk to her about her alleged ties to Al Qaeda. Her family says she is a victim of U.S. prosecutors who don't have a case.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice-over): Five years after disappearing, Aifia Siddiqui is in federal custody in New York. The mother of three from Pakistan, who studied neuroscience at MIT and Brandeis, faces charges of attempted murder and assault of U.S. officers and agents in what prosecutors describe as a shootout at a detention facility in Afghanistan.
She stood out on the FBI's radar as the first woman to be on an FBI alert in connection with Al Qaeda. In 2004, FBI Director Robert Mueller described Siddiqui as an Al Qaeda operative and facilitator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER: Each of these individuals is known to have a desire and the ability to undertake planning, facilitation and attack against the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: But Siddiqui's family in Pakistan tells a very different story. Her sister made a plea, saying: "Whoever is listening to my voice, please know that my sister is innocent."
The family believes she's been held in secret detention at the Bagram U.S. base in Afghanistan.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, has been monitoring her case for several years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The circumstances of her disappearance match the pattern of unlawful detention and what's called enforced disappearances by Pakistani authorities.
SNOW: A spokesman for the U.S. military denies the charge and says Siddiqui was not in U.S. custody. Authorities say Afghan police took Siddiqui and a teenage boy into custody last month because they were acting suspiciously. They say Siddiqui had documents on how to make bombs, chemical substances in sealed bottles and jars, and papers describing U.S. landmarks, including some in New York City.
A former FBI agent described Siddiqui's arrest as moderately significant.
FORIA YOUNIS, FORMER FBI AGENT: In terms of how big she is, obviously she's not Osama bin Laden or one of the real big people that the FBI is looking for. But she is still a big sized fish. She has been on the wanted list for quite some time.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW: Now, Wolf, I spoke with Siddiqui's lawyer earlier today, who said that the government's story, in her words, does not pass the sniff test. She says that she finds this story, in her words, extremely contrived.
Now prosecutors say if Siddiqui is convicted of the charges that she is now facing, she could face up to 20 years in prison on each count -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow is working this story at the courthouse.
Mary is in New York.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty.
He's also in New York and he's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: A new book says President Bush committed an impeachable offense. He ordered the CIA to forge a letter to bolster his case for the war in Iraq.
These explosive charges are contained in a new book, "The Way of the World," by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind.
He says he spoke on the record with U.S. intelligence officials who said that President Bush was informed in January of 2003 that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. The president's response to this information was reportedly: "F (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) it. We're going in".
Three months later, the U.S. invaded Iraq using a forged document as its rationale, says Suskind.
He writes: "The White House called on the CIA to concoct this forged letter from the head of the Iraqi intelligence agency to Saddam Hussein. It was backdated" -- the letter -- "to before 9/11 and indicated one of the main hijackers, Mohammed Atta, trained for his deadly mission in Iraq."
The phony letter was designed to prove a nonexistent link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, the held of Iraqi intelligence, who told British intelligence sources that Iraq had no WMD, he was resettled in Jordan with the help of the CIA and paid $5 million in hush money.
Suskind called Mr. Bush's actions "one of the greatest lies in modern American political history" and suggests they constitute a crime far worse than Watergate.
The White House pushing back hard. They call Suskind's claims "absurd." They describe his work as "gutter journalism" -- he did win the Pulitzer Prize -- including what the White House calls "wild allegations that no one can verify."
Former CIA Director George Tenet ridicules the credibility of Suskind's sources, as well. He calls the White House directive to forge a letter "a complete fabrication".
So here's the question -- what does it mean, do you suppose, if the White House did, in fact, order the CIA to forge a letter in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're just hearing now, Jack, that there may be an effort in the Congress to now go ahead and have some hearings on this explosive, explosive charge.
What do you think?
CAFFERTY: I think I'll hold my breath.
Impeachment's off the table, remember?
BLITZER: Yes, at least -- all right. You're right.
All right, Jack, stand by.
John McCain compares Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, while a top McCain supporter says Obama's like an Internet date.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Politics is a -- well, it's not tiddly winks, by any means.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to talk to Mitt Romney about both of the candidates. We'll hear from the candidates themselves, raw and unfiltered, in their own words. Stand by for that.
Also, a heart-stopping evacuation -- passengers forced to flee their flight on the plane's emergency slides.
Plus, there's new information about a piece of equipment that may -- repeat may be key to the anthrax attacks case.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(What's the latest -- Betty?
BLITZER: They had just taken off for a Hawaiian vacation. So you can imagine their surprise when only an hour later, their plane made an emergency landing and these passengers were forced to evacuate on inflatable slides.
Let's go to Ted Rowlands.
He's in Los Angeles watching this story for us.
All right, you're at LAX. What happened?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boy, Wolf, well, we're just finding out from the passengers. Within the last few minutes, we've talked to some of the passengers on this flight. And basically they say that a few minutes -- well, about 57 minutes total they were in the air. At some point, when this plane was over the Pacific Ocean, they say there was a white smoke that started coming into the cabin. They said it wasn't overly dense, but it was unnerving. They could smell it. And people said they were getting very nervous.
And sure enough, the pilot got on, they say, to tell them they were going back to Los Angeles. They say the flight -- this is a 757 -- then rerouted, came back to L.A. Passengers say the pilot got on first and said we are not going to use the emergency slides, we're just going to exit in an orderly fashion as soon as we get to the gate.
But then, passengers say as soon as they touched ground here back at L.A. , the decision was made to get off the plane as soon as possible.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIE BROWN, PASSENGER: Then it was a split second -- go, go, go. Don't take any bags with you. Just go. Get off. And we just walked to the exit door and there's that huge slide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROWLANDS: A hundred and eighty-eight passengers, seven crew members, Wolf. All of them fine. There were some minor injuries -- five people with scrapes from going down that slide.
The decision made, obviously, because they weren't sure what they were dealing with. We still don't know from American exactly what that smoke was. But the good news -- nobody seriously hurt. A lot of people though, very, very nervous, boy, as you can only imagine, when they told them to get off the plane ASAP.
BLITZER: We were watching it live dramatically as they were come down those evacuation slides.
All right, Ted.
When you get more information, you'll let us know and then we'll let our viewers know, as well.
Raw and unfiltered, John McCain speaking in Michigan after touring a nuclear plant in Newport. He talked about why nuclear power should be a big part of the solution to America's energy problems.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: Solving our national energy crisis requires, as I've mentioned, an all of the above approach. And that will require aggressive development of alternative energies like wind, solar, tide and biofuels.
It also requires expanding traditional sources of energy, such as offshore drilling.
And I noticed that there is confusing, now, information from Senator Obama as to whether he actually supports offshore drilling or not. The fact is we have to drill here and we have to drill now and we have to drill immediately. And it has to be done as quickly as possible. And I believe that it's vital that we move forward with that regardless of what we do on other energy issues.
Senator Obama has said that expanding our nuclear power plants "doesn't make sense for America". He also says no to nuclear storage and no to reprocessing.
I could not disagree more. My experience with nuclear power goes back many years, to being stationed on board the USS Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered aircraft. I knew it was -- aircraft carrier. I knew it was safe then and I know it's safe now.
And I propose a plan to build 45 new nuclear plants before the year 2030. And that would provide 700,000 jobs for American workers. And that means new jobs. And if we really want to enable technologies of tomorrow, like plug-in electric cars, we need electricity to plug into.
Now, we all know that nuclear power isn't enough and drilling isn't enough. And we need to do all this and more. And it's time that the Congress came back to Washington and went about the people's business. They just went on a five week vacation without -- without even in the slightest way addressing this nation's energy needs.
People who are paying $4 a gallon for gas are sick and tired of a Congress that won't act in their behalf.
So I'm urging Senator Obama to urge the Democratic leaders of Congress to call Congress back into session. Come back from their vacation and act on our energy challenges. When I'm president of the United States, I'll call them back into session and I'll keep calling them back until they act on behalf of the interests of the American people in this compelling national security issue.
And it's time we got serious about energy independence. Our nation is sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much. And some of that money ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations.
We're going to achieve energy independence and we're going to get it done. And we're going to use every available resource at our disposal. That means the Lexington Project, which I have been talking about now for a long, long period of time.
I hope that the Congress of the United States will come back into session, address offshore drilling, which is absolutely vital, address nuclear power and all of the other approaches that are vitally necessary to achieve energy independence. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And now, in his own words, Senator Barack Obama. He's also in a battleground state. That would be Ohio. Running against a 71-year-old, here's what the 47-year-old Obama had to say when he was asked a question about age limits on politicians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: What is your opinion -- and I'm not being disrespectful to the elderly. But what is your opinion as far as setting term limits or age limits on these people, so that we get younger people in those positions that know exactly what's happening in the United States?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: Well, this is kind of a tricky question for me. You know, I've got colleagues in the Senate who are doing just outstanding work and they're well into their 70s. And they've got incredible energy. I mean, one of my dearest friends in the Senate is Ted Kennedy. And that guy is still fighting...
OBAMA: You know, that guy is still fighting on behalf of universal health care and still fighting for the minimum wage and just doing great work.
So, you know, I generally have not been in favor of term limits, just because what happens is nobody's term limiting -- nobody is term limiting lobbyists. Nobody is term limiting the slick operators who are walking around the walls of Congress.
So what happens is they get all this experience and knowledge, but then legislators, they're churning in and out. It actually may actually shift more power to the lobbyists and away from the legislators.
I do believe in one form of term limits. They're called elections.
And so my attitude is I'm less concerned about what age folks are than what are they doing. And if they're not looking out for your interests, then it's time to throw the bums out.
OBAMA: Some of these things aren't anybody's fault. It's just that's how the system has evolved. But some of it has to do with fact that Washington is not looking after you. They're not fighting for you. That's why I don't take PAC money. That's why I don't take money from federal registered lobbyists. Because I want to be accountable to you. That's why...
OBAMA: That's why I helped pass laws that said, you know, lobbyists can't give gifts and they can't give meals and they can't give corporate jets for -- for Congressmen to ride in. Because that makes Congressmen more favorably disposed toward them and less favorably disposed toward you and what you need.
So that's really what I think has to change in the system. We've got to be able to hold folks accountable. And let me say this. I want to be held accountable. I want to be held accountable. If I am fortunate enough, if I have the honor to serve as your president, then you're still going to have to watch out. You've still got to make sure that I'm doing what I said I was going to do.
OBAMA: You know, because that's how our democracy's supposed to work. Our democracy doesn't work automatically. It works because the people hold politicians' feet to the fire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Olympic athletes wearing masks to protect themselves from some of the world's most polluted air.
And an accused mobster with a notorious name in court facing murder charges.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(What's the latest -- Betty?
BLITZER: Carol Costello has got the day off.
But Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's the latest -- Betty?
NGUYEN: Wolf, the son of the late mob boss, John Gotti, is being held without bail after appearing in federal court in New York today. John "Junior" Gotti and five other defendants face charges, including racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder and drug trafficking.
Federal prosecutors say Gotti was involved in the killings of three men between 1988 and 1991 and was trying to extend the reach of New York's Gambino crime family all the way to Florida. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch gave emergency workers quite a scare. The New York "Daily News" reports the 83-year-old, who wears a pacemaker, accidentally set off his medical alert device last night. Now, firefighters and EMS workers rushed to his apartment. And when they got there, they saw that he was OK, even joking about it. Koch says: "To the consternation of my enemies, I am still alive."
Good for him.
And look at this -- there are weddings and then there are weddings. This one really got off the ground. The couple tied the knot high above Britain. The bride, wearing a white wedding dress and was strapped onto the wing of one biplane, the groom on the wing of another and then the priest on a third.
What are they thinking?
I have no idea. Well, they shouted their vows through special microphones so guests a thousand feet below, safely on the ground, could hear them.
And I guess that brings new meaning, Wolf, to death do us part.
BLITZER: I've seen a lot of strange things.
BLITZER: But that's crazy.
All right. Betty, thanks very much.
A potential vice president talks about the current vice president.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Dick Cheney is a fine person, who has served his country with distinction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Why is there word emerging that the vice president, Dick Cheney, might not go to the biggest GOP event in four years?
We'll talk about that and more with Mitt Romney himself.
Plus, new information in the anthrax investigation. It involves some high tech government equipment and how a scientist might have used it to carry out the attacks.
And later, an incredible story. Researchers say it's a discovery -- a huge group of gorillas that no one knew existed. We have the pictures. We know how they were found. We'll share it all with you.
All that and more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(What's the latest -- Betty?
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, laying out its case -- the Justice Department will publicly detail its evidence against the now dead suspect in the anthrax attacks. But it's facing skepticism among scientists about whether Bruce Ivins really was behind the attack.
Mitt Romney is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He just might join John McCain on the Republican ticket. And he's talking to us about how to solve America's oil woes and if he regrets comparing Barack Obama to "an Internet date."
And a huge rally today on Wall Street. After three straight losing sessions, the Dow Jones surged more than 331 points today. It's the fourth biggest gain of the year.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're learning new details now about how the now-dead scientist suspected in the 2001 anthrax attacks may have carried them out.
Let's go to CNN's homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve. She's watching the story for us.
Jeanne, what are you picking up?
JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tomorrow, the survivors of the 2001 anthrax attacks and the families of the victims expect to be briefed by the FBI on the investigation into Bruce Ivins, the Ft. Detrick scientist and suspect who committed suicide last week. Meanwhile there is new information about a piece of equipment that may be key to the case.
MESERVE: This is a lyophilizer. A machine like this can convert wet anthrax, the kind used at Ft. Detrick, into a dry powder. A powder was used in the anthrax letters.
Lyophilizers are not usually used at Ft. Detrick where Bruce Ivins worked, but in the fall of 2001, around the time of the anthrax attacks, Ivins borrowed a lyophilizer to do authorized research, according to a source familiar with the investigation, who did not want to be identified because it is ongoing. The machines are widely used and easy to get.
DR. PETER HOTEZ, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I wouldn't unnecessary make the conclusion that just because he had access to a lyophilizer and used a lyophilizer that that provides a smoking gun that he must be using this for sinister purposes.
MESERVE: Richard Spertzel, a leading anthrax researcher goes further. He tells CNN, there is no way a lyophilizer could have been used to create the fine anthrax spores used in the 2001 letters. Spertzel says, another advanced machine would be needed, and he says there is no way anyone could produce such high-quality anthrax in secret.
The skepticism in scientific circles about the case against Ivins is putting additional pressure on the Justice Department to lay out its evidence, all of it, soon, says a former prosecutor.
ANDREW MCBRIDE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think the public and the survivors of the victims of the anthrax attacks are entitled to see the evidence before the grand jury and if there was a draft indictment and they were ready to indict Mr. Ivins, to see that as well.
MESERVE: And that is exactly what the Justice Department plans to do. After briefing the families on the case tomorrow, the department is expected to brief the press. However, one government official says the anthrax case will not be officially declared closed.
BLITZER: And we heard in the last hour, Tom Daschle, one of the recipients of those anthrax letters, he said yesterday he got a call from the FBI director Robert Mueller, saying, get ready, we're about to tell you basically everything they know. So, I assume those calls are already being placed, to let the families and the victims understand what's going on.
MESERVE: That's absolutely right. We do know that a lawyer for one of the victims in Florida says that his widow has been told to come to Washington. She's planning to be there tomorrow morning at the Justice Department to hear all the facts.
BLITZER: We'll be anxious to hear all these facts, especially if they've got a handwriting match between the letters and Ivins. We'll be anxious to see what's going on. Jeanne, thanks very much.
Barack Obama's stepping up his attacks on John McCain, accusing his republican rival of being part of the energy problem. The charge rejected by a top McCain supporter, who is also a potential running mate.
And joining us now, the former governor of Massachusetts, the former republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Widely believed to be on Senator McCain's short list right now. We'll talk a little bit about that later.
Governor, thanks very much for coming in.
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASS. GOVERNOR: Thanks Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: In the past couple of days, Senator Obama has been making this very serious charge against Senator McCain. Let me play a clip for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said, and I'm quoting here, "our dangerous dependence on foreign oil has been 30 years in the making and was caused by the failure of politicians in Washington to think long term about the future of our country." What senator McCain neglected to mention was that he was there 26 of those 30 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, a serious charge. Can you cite one legislative accomplishment that Senator McCain produced during those 26 years in Washington, in order to achieve energy independence?
ROMNEY: Well, I'm not a historian that goes through all of the pieces of legislation John McCain has worked on. But let's talk about one piece of legislation that's pretty relevant, and that's the Bush energy plan, which Barack Obama voted in favor of. And John McCain looked at and it said, it's so larded-up with tax breaks and special incentives to oil companies and gas companies, John McCain voted no on that piece of legislation.
They have very different perspectives. John McCain has laid out his plan to get energy independence, and it includes nuclear power, it includes drilling offshore. Both of those things are opposed by Barack Obama. And there's no way America can become energy independent and energy prices can come down without nuclear power and more drilling as well as all the alternative sources that both men agree on.
BLITZER: He also proposes, Senator McCain, a cut in the overall corporate tax structure in the United States. And that would, in effect, represent a billion dollar a year bonanza, if not more for Exxon Mobil and the other big oil companies. Should there be an exemption for the big oil companies producing record corporate profits every year so they don't benefit from yet more tax breaks?
ROMNEY: There's a real question that we have in this country as to whether we're going to believe in free market systems and the way the markets work and free enterprise or whether it's simply we want to have government-run economies and we can pick winners and losers and say that certain companies are making too much money and then by the way, if companies don't do well, should the government pay them money so they will do better? I mean this is where it all leads.
I don't like the fact that big oil is making the kind of money that they are making. I don't think a lot of people are excited about it. At the same time, I'm not sure you want to jump in there and change the rules after many, many investors, retirees and pension funds and so forth have invested in companies like Exxon Mobil. Do you say, hey, guess, what guys, we're taking away the dividends that you invested for.
So, in my view, you put down the law, you follow the rule of law and you also lower the tax rates on small corporations, on all corporations, to make America more competitive. We have corporate tax rates well higher than Europe, almost as high as Japan's, the highest in the world. It's killing jobs here. John McCain is right.
BLITZER: Senator McCain in that ad that caused a lot of controversy the other day he compared Senator Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Yesterday you said Senator Obama was like a, "Internet date." Here's the question -- is it appropriate to -- to use these kinds of comparisons against the democratic presidential nominee in effect? Is it appropriate to be name-calling the democratic presidential candidate?
ROMNEY: Well, the name-calling is on both sides, of course. And politics is a -- well, it's not tidily winks by any means. And in many cases, you want to describe something in way that people remember. I thought John McCain's ad was humorous and right on target.
And, in fact, you know, we've watched Barack Obama give some wonderful speeches, talking about hope and audacity. But what we hasn't done is talk about what he would do to solve the problems of America, and now that Americans are actually listening to him talk about energy and finding that he opposes offshore drilling and he opposes nuclear power and he said that we can end our problems with energy with a -- with inflating our tires more appropriately and tuning up our engines, people say wow, this guy's -- this guy's not ready for prime time.
BLITZER: Governor, do you regret calling him, saying he's like an internet date?
ROMNEY: No, he's like an internet date it sounded good initially. When people look at him and hear him speak, they say, wow, this guy's great. And when they get to know him a little better and you say you know, what you really see behind the surface is not what really people had hoped for.
BLITZER: The Democratic National Committee, they've got a website basically saying all the republican potential vice presidential candidates out there represent the next Dick Cheney. And we're putting it up on the screen right now. You're on the short list by all accounts to be the vice presidential running mate for Senator McCain. What do you think about Dick Cheney?
ROMNEY: You know, Dick Cheney is a fine person who has served his country with distinction. I don't agree with him on every issue. I don't agree with most republicans on every single issue. And -- but my guess is that a lot of people who are being considered by John McCain as VP material are people who are very independent, probably of John McCain but also Dick Cheney or George Bush. Just because we're republican doesn't mean we see all issues the same way and suggesting that we're all -- all like Dick Cheney or all like George Bush is a nice effort on their part, but I frankly don't think it will fly.
BLITZER: He's been vice president now for almost eight years. Earlier he was the defense secretary, he served in congress, served as a White House chief of staff under then President Gerald Ford. Should he be invited to speak at this republican convention in St. Paul? Because we're getting word he's not going to be there. ROMNEY: Yeah, I have no idea who should be speaking at the convention.
BLITZER: But should he be speaking, should he be invited given his public service over the years?
ROMNEY: I don't know. I don't know that he particularly cares. I don't know that it makes a big difference.
Frankly, what makes a difference in the presidential election is who the presidential nominee not who the vice president or the vice presidential nominee is. And a lot of people are putting a lot of attention on the short lists and who is on it and who is not. But it's going to come down to John McCain and Barack Obama. We're going to listen to their opinions on issues and see them debates. And on the basis of those two men head-to-head, America is going to choose the next president and they're going to want someone who can lead and has the experience of leading in difficult times. John McCain has been a leader all his life. Barack Obama hasn't had that experience yet. I'd like him to get it before we consider him for higher office.
BLITZER: Wouldn't it be insulting, wouldn't it be a slap at Dick Cheney if he weren't allowed to speak at the convention?
ROMNEY: If Dick Cheney didn't want to speak at the convention, it certainly wouldn't be a slap. I don't think anyone is suggesting that he will or won't speak. I don't know that it makes a difference one way or the other.
BLITZER: Governor Romney, thanks very much for coming in.
ROMNEY: Thanks Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: The Olympic opening ceremony only three days away and the excitement is building in Beijing. But will a haze put a cloud on the games? The U.S. athletes aren't taking any chances. Some of them are already wearing masks.
In flight meals are largely gone. It seems to cost you more to find a day to check your bags. Now a major airline is finally offering a perk travelers can enjoy.
And extraordinary images of a huge discovery in Africa. And it may make all the difference in the world for endangered gorillas. Stay with us.
BLITZER: With just three days to go before the Olympics begin, a powerful earthquake has jolted central China. The 6.2 quake killed at least one person. We're waiting to stand by for more numbers.
Air pollution is also a huge concern right now for China as the games near.
Let's go to CNN's John Vause. He's in Beijing. John?
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question of Beijing's air quality has been an on-again, off-again crisis for these Olympics. It might be on again today.
There appears to be a heavy haze settling over this city once again and the first athletes wearing masks having been seen in this city. Four members of the U.S. cycle track team touched down at Beijing airport, with protective black masks. They make no apologies for this. Saying they need the masks to ensure they put in their best performance during the Olympics. The Japanese and the Koreans are also planning on wear masks.
But at least one athlete is happy with the haze. Australian shooter Russell Marks says he likes it because it helps him with his performance.
The IOC says the masks just aren't necessary. And the Chinese believe that this is, in fact, a question of insulting them. They believe the masks will not help the athletes in their performance and, in fact, many athletes and coaches say the pollution is not the main problems during these games; it is more actually to do with the heat and the humidity.
BLITZER: All right, John. John Vause is in Beijing for us.
Meanwhile, there's been a huge find for wildlife experts. They've discovered, get this, 125,000, 125,000, western lowland gorillas.
Let's go to Rusty Dornin. She's following this story for us.
Rusty, this is an amazing, amazing story. How have they been hidden for so long?
RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, people, Wolf, people forget how vast the continent of Africa really is. And it was hunters and folklore that really tipped local researchers off and set them off on their incredible journey.
DORNIN: It was a three-day trek through forbidden swamp and jungles, into some of the most remote areas of equatorial Africa. The discovery researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society in the northern Congo Republic stunned not only primatologists but the world. These are some of the photos taken on that trip. Researchers now estimate there are 125,000 lowland gorillas in this area. More than double the number thought to exist in all of Africa.
But how did that many gorillas elude the experts? First, it's an area nearly the size of West Virginia, 18,000 square miles. JILLIAN MILLER, THE GORILLA ORGANIZATION: It is vast. It is unchartered. Great areas of it are unchartered. It is almost as big as the Amazon. It's second only to the Amazon and these gorillas are in a particularly swampy area, so it may be that, you know, that local people knew about these animals, but visitors, just don't go to those places.
DORNIN: Gorillas make nests before they sleep at night. Survey teams counted the number of nests. But the threats facing this endangered species are numerous. Wars in and the Ebola virus have wiped out thousands. Habitat destruction means hunters can get much closer to the animals.
MILLER: The logging companies come in. They build roads, and as soon as they build roads, their trucks are coming in and out. And the trucks go out with commercially hunted meat which is then sold in the major towns. This is what we call Bush meat.
DORNIN: Despite this amazing discovery, experts say the future for gorillas is still at best uncertain. Although there may be a lot more isolated pockets of the primates in central Africa. Primatologists hope it will mobilize more researchers to go out and find them.
DORNIN: Also the gorillas, where they are located, those African governments have to be cooperative in these efforts and also, again, it's just tough to stop the poachers from going in and selling the meat and also stopping the spread of the disease.
BLITZER: All right, Rusty. What an amazing, amazing story. Thanks very much for bringing it to us.
It's one of the sharpest policy differences between John McCain and Barack Obama. It involves nuclear power. Details of their battle and where they stand, that's coming up.
Plus, the discovery that has scientists rethinking the possibility of life on Mars. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Check back with Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty File.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is what does it mean if the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq? That's the charge that's made in the new book called "The Way of the World" by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Suskind. Here is some of what you've written. Got a lot of mail on this. Tom in Boston, "It means we should be ashamed as Americans. Bill Clinton was impeached for not being honest about his sexual indiscretion. George W. Bush misled the Congress and the public about Iraq, condoned the torture of prisoners, authorized illegal electronic surveillance and refused to comply with subpoenas just to name a few and yet he'll walk away scot-free. Times like these make me want to move to New Zealand."
John writes, "Call a special session of Congress to investigate these charges now. To hell with the Olympics. This is the drama America really wants to see. If these charges prove to be true, we show the world that we're willing to impeach a sitting lame duck president and correct our mistakes in public."
Ron from Winnipeg writes, "To put it simply, the Bush administration made you all out for fools then proved themselves right. How you ever reelected this bum, is beyond me. Good luck."
Kirk writes, "If true, then Bush, Cheney, et cetera deserved to be clapped in irons, held for trial and executed for treason."
Joanne in Blaine, Maine writes, "So why am I not surprised? George Bush is not only the worst president in the history of this country he's also the biggest criminal. And he got away with it all. What's wrong with this Congress? He should have been impeached and criminally charged years ago."
Susan writes, "Ah, to be the torch bearer in this crusade. It is time to investigate every minute indiscretion of the Bush administration. Suskind is a well-respected journalist who finally reveals what could be the truth about our invasion of Iraq. If Bush is innocent of forgery, there ought to be no problem with thorough investigation. Let the games begin."
And Tom in Denver says, "Suskind, Woodward and Clarke and McClellan? How many more books does the American public need before it realizes that this administration has done something terribly wrong?"
If you did not see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Look for yours there among hundreds of others.
BLITZER: And get ready because Bob Woodward, Jack, has a new book coming out in early September as well. We always know he'll have some bombshells in there. We'll watch closely.
CAFFERTY: He's a pretty good reporter I think. Isn't that true?
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Jack.
It's called the ishoe. How high tech footwear designed for astronauts could help us on Earth.
Plus internet access on your next flight.
BLITZER: One bad fall can have serious consequences. Now a new smart shoe just might help keep you unbalanced.
Let's go to CNN's Dan Lothian.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, NASA research has resulted in many things that we use here on Earth. Now something designed to help astronauts regain their balance after returning from space may also help the elderly stay on their feet.
LOTHIAN: It's called the ishoe. Insoles with wires and sensors, batteries and blue tooth, it was developed by MIT grad student Erez Lieberman while he was an intern at NASA.
EREZ LIEBERMAN, MIT GRADUATE STUDENT: It diagnoses poor balance by just tracking a person is distributing pressure on their feet.
LOTHIAN: Senior citizens often struggle with balance because of problem was muscle tone or nerve endings, bad vision or inner ear issues. The hope is notice patterns on the computer and give doctors critical information so that a serious fall can be prevented. Something that Dr. Lewis Lipsitz at Hebrew Seniorlife in Boston says happens all too often.
DR. LEWIS LIPSITZ, HEBREW SENIORLIFE: There are about 300,000 hip fractures a year in the United States. About 25 percent of people die within a year of having a hip fracture.
LOHTIAN: I traded my size 12 loafers for a pair of ishoe insoles.
Should I move around at all?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you can move around.
LOTHIAN: Do I lean forward like this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, you can lean forward. You can see that the weight distribution is increasing.
LOTHIAN: My movement shows up as raw data on this laptop and is translated on to the visual screen of dots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I lean over to the left a little bit, it's measuring that. You can tell there's something going on.
LOTHIAN: As I rock back and forth, raise a foot and balance on my toes, the black and blue dots show that I've lost control.
Dr. Lipsitz is testing his own smart shoe doing long term research on about 800 people. He says while gathering this kind of data is important, finding something to fix the problem, like a vibration device in his shoe is critical.
LIPSITZ: To intervene on what we find and improve their balance and improve walking so they're at less risk of falling.
LOTHIAN: Lieberman says future versions of his ishoe will not only measure movement but also stimulate the feet or alert the patient in some way that they're getting off balance. He's been testing the technology in a small group. While there's plenty of research to do, he's encouraged by these early steps.
BLITZER: Dan, thank you.
Delta, meanwhile, is ready to put wireless internet on all domestic flights. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She has the details.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, now you'll be able to work all the way through your business trip whether you like that or not. Delta Airlines will offer wireless access on all domestic flights by next summer using this service from Aso called Go Go that lets you connect from the air using any wireless enabled device, and they're already giving advice on in-flight etiquette, like mute your computer, and don't shock your neighbor with the sites that you visit in the air.
Wireless access is something several airlines have been testing. But cell phone conversations, they are still off-limits. A Delta spokesman says that's something that their passengers don't want. And don't think this Wi-Fi is going to be free. Just like snacks and checked bags, there's a fee involved. Wireless access starts at 10 bucks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of people will want it.
Abbi, thank you.