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THE SITUATION ROOM

Obama Administration Gets Tough With Auto Companies; North Korea Missile Fears

Aired March 30, 2009 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This hour, why the federal cash already given to the automakers has fallen into a black hole.

Plus, a startling allegation about the Bush administration's war on terror -- the journalist Seymour Hersh explaining his claim about Dick Cheney and an alleged terror hit list. And Cheney's former national security adviser, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM to respond.

And the death of actress Natasha Richardson saves a little girl's life -- her parents now thankful they were watching CNN after their daughter was hit in the head.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

President Obama's refusing to give GM and Chrysler any more long- term bailout money unless they make painful concessions. He's giving the automakers one more chance to show Washington their firms are worth saving. GM will get enough financial help to keep it going for another 60 days, so it can produce an acceptable reorganization plan. Chrysler gets 30 days, while it tries to finalize a partnership with Fiat, the Italian automaker. The president says bankruptcy remains an option for both carmakers.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

Dan, the president getting pretty tough, forcing, in effect, the CEO of GM, Rick Wagoner, to go bye-bye.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He was very tough. He did force him out, as you mentioned.

This White House really has been coming somewhat under fire because some are arguing that there's a double standard here, that you didn't see the White House pushing out any Wall Street bigwigs. But the White House says different circumstances. In this case, Wagoner had to go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Rick Wagoner spent decades climbing up the ladder at GM, but he was ousted in a swift and decisive move by the White House. To unions and creditors and suppliers, the alarm clock just went off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it focuses everyone's attention. If you can take the longtime CEO of the country's largest car company and basically push him out of there, it shows everybody that the administration and the automotive task force is very, very serious.

LOTHIAN: Serious pressure to make concessions over the next 60 days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's holding everyone's feet to the fire, and I think that's probably the most important outcome of this move.

LOTHIAN: The White House says Wagoner's ouster is less about sending a message and more about saving a company.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a recognition that will take new vision and new direction to create the GM of the future.

LOTHIAN: Tough talk from the president, but the administration was hesitant to say who pulled the trigger and when.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to get into a ticktock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not?

GIBBS: Because I'm not.

LOTHIAN: In a move that may just further anger taxpayers, filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show Wagoner is eligible to receive more than $20 million from GM. In leaving, he thanked all who supported him and added, "Ignore the doubters because I know it is also a company with a great future."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: For anyone out there who is in the market to buy a GM or a Chrysler product, but might be a little concerned, well, the administration offering some reassurances, saying they will back up any warranties if you buy a new car -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chrysler and Fiat, they have this so-called framework agreement. What happens, though, if it doesn't work out, if that framework collapses?

LOTHIAN: Well, clearly, it will be bankruptcy or even worse than that, that the company will have to dissolve, but this administration really hoping that that deal between Fiat and Chrysler can come together and if not that another company will step up.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian is at the White House.

Take a look at this. General Motors, Chrysler and their financial services companies received more than $24 billion -- billion -- in assistance during the Bush administration. Most of that, by the way, went to GM.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She has been taking a closer look at those numbers.

Here's the question, Dana. Do we know how GM and Chrysler spent the money?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not really in terms of specifics, Wolf.

We have been trying all day, both from the Treasury Department, from key congressional offices here on Capitol Hill and even from GM and Chrysler directly. And all we were able to really get, Wolf, were generalities, that they use that taxpayer -- those taxpayer-backed loans to pay salaries, pay suppliers and operate plants and production lines.

Now, here is what I can tell you, that these two companies were required to give weekly reports to the Treasury Department. But we asked for that and we were told that those reports are private, they will not be made public, because all of those sources insisted to us that if they gave us the information about their day-to-day operations, it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

BLITZER: I know, Dana, that the president spoke with congressional leaders last night. He effectively told them, you know, this is what I'm doing.

He wasn't seeking their guidance or their input, was he?

BASH: It doesn't seem that way at all.

The senior senator from Michigan, Democrat Carl Levin, he did a conference call with reporters today. He said he wasn't -- the president wasn't asking for their advice. Now, it was very clear that Senator Levin was not happy that the White House pushed out GM chief Rick Wagoner.

But he also said he didn't have a chance to do anything about it. Here's what Senator Levin said on this conference call about the discussions with President Obama.

I will put it up on the screen. He said: "There wasn't much point in arguing whether or not it was fair or unfair, wise or unwise. It was a decision that he didn't ask us about, that he informed us about."

So, there you go. The president basically informed Congress, didn't consult them or ask their opinion about whether this was the right thing to do with Rick Wagoner.

BLITZER: Tough times for the auto industry, indeed. Dana, thanks very much.

By the way, Rick Wagoner won't be leaving GM empty-handed. In addition to a pension package estimated at $22 million, Wagoner is due to receive about $367,000 in stock awards and more than $500,000 in deferred compensation.

If one of the big automakers went bust, hundreds of thousands of jobs could vanish. General Motors currently employs almost a quarter of a million people worldwide, about 84,000 of them in the United States. Chrysler has more than 50,000 employees, about 38,000 in the U.S. Most of the rest, by the way, are in Mexico and Canada. That doesn't include all the suppliers to the automakers that could go under and lay off thousands more workers.

In North Dakota and Minnesota right now, residents are being warned that the threat of massive flooding is not over with yet. The Red River is receding from its highest level in over a century, but an expected snowstorm could set off another round of sandbagging, evacuations and deep fear.

Let's go to CNN's Ted Rowlands. He is on the scene for us at the waterfront.

It looks pretty snowy and nasty out there, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.

We're out on the Red River in a boat here. And the snow has come. That predicted snowstorm has started and is expected to continue until Tuesday. The good news is, the river is now down about 39 feet. And when you compare it to the 43-foot projection that they had just a week ago or less than a week ago, it's fabulous news.

But city officials warning people to keep vigilant, keep their eyes on those levees, make sure there are no compromises. One of the reasons, there is extreme pressure on the levee system because of the Red River. And the measuring of the river is part of the formula that they're doing each day.

We're here out on the boat with members of the USGS, the United States Geological Survey.

And this is Chris Laveau.

You have been measuring. What have you seen in terms of the water level? Has it been dropping significantly?

CHRIS LAVEAU, HYDROLOGIST, USGS: Yes, we have been measuring for the last week and we have seen it rise. And now it is falling.

ROWLANDS: And you were saying earlier that when you compare it to what it would normally be this time of year, it is extraordinary how much water is in this river.

LAVEAU: At the peak a couple days ago, we measured 29,400 CFS. CFS is about 7.5 gallons. Normally, it would have been 700 on that day.

ROWLANDS: Twenty-four thousand compared to 700, incredible.

What does this snow do? LAVEAU: Obviously, any moisture at this time is not welcome.

ROWLANDS: Not welcome at all.

It's unclear, though, Wolf, about what significance the snowfall will have, people keeping their fingers crossed. And city officials telling folks to keep vigilant and wait this thing out. They're hoping it is just a couple more days, hoping that the levees will hold -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly haven't dodged a bullet yet.

All right, thanks very much, Ted, for that.

Photos show it may be only days away from launch. Why is North Korea really sending up this powerful missile? And why are so many experts deeply concerned about its mystery payload?

And cyber-hackers based in China, they infiltrate computers around the world, stealing documents, and activating cameras and microphones. You won't believe who is being targeted.

Plus, they were only seconds away from losing her -- how CNN's coverage of a celebrity's death helped a couple save their child's life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Military experts say this satellite image reveals North Korea possibly only a few days away from a missile launch. The big question is this. What is the purpose? What is going on?

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's working the story, working his sources over there.

What are you hearing, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, defense officials believe this launch is really a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test, but they probably won't do anything to stop it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): These are new satellite images of a North Korean missile on its launchpad. Experts say, once fired, the missile would cross over Japan in seven to eight minutes, meaning it would take a quick decision to stop it. U.S. warships with high-powered radar are monitoring the launch. But, as the defense secretary told FOX News, there's little chance they will try to shoot it down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If we have an aberrant missile, one that was headed for Hawaii, that looked like it was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider it. But I don't think we have any plans to do anything like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE: The key is what's on top of the missile. Its payload is obscured in this image, but North Korea says it's a communications satellite. And for the most part, American defense officials believe them.

A satellite will likely shoot straight up into Earth orbit. A launch to simulate a nuclear warhead would travel on a lower arc out over the Pacific. North Korea says it will launch by this weekend or early next week, depending on the weather.

DAVID MOSHER, RAND CORPORATION: Generally, people like to launch missiles during clear conditions and during the daylight, so it's easier for them to keep track of what's going on as the missile progresses, that is, you can say that the engines are burning well or not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: And given that the North Koreans have limited test- range facility, those visual observations mean even more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, based on your reporting, and what I hear you saying, Chris, if it is a satellite launch, the missile goes straight up, and they would determine that pretty quickly, as opposed to going toward the Pacific Ocean, which would be a more ominous sign.

LAWRENCE: Yes, exactly.

But the thing is, Wolf, if it works, North Korea will have proven guidance control, reliable fuel, almost everything it needs to one day arm a nuclear warhead on a similar missile. But because no one's going to shoot down a commercial satellite, it's a very effective cover.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. All right, thanks very much. We will stay on top of this story involving North Korea.

Meanwhile, there's a threat out there targeting new victims every day, cybercrime. Reports in the United States jumped to 33 percent last year, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. But now something more sinister than a cyber ripoff has been uncovered.

CNN's John Vause has the story of an Internet spy web and wait until you see who investigators say is behind it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What began as an investigation into possible hacking of computers at the office of the Dalai Lama may have uncovered a vast network of cyber espionage, possibly originating from China and infiltrating so-called high value targets -- a computer at NATO, foreign industries and embassies in more than 100 countries. His holiness says he doesn't know the Chinese government is responsible. When he called for is an investigation, told CNN there's no need for anyone to spy on his office.

DALAI LAMA, EXILED TIBETAN LEADER: If you are open, transparent, then no need for the spying, these things. If you want to know, ask directly. That's much better.

VAUSE: Researches at two universities, Toronto and Cambridge, discovered the global spying Web and called it GhostNet. And say for almost two years, it's been devastatingly effective.

RONALD DEIBERT, AUTHOR, "TRACKING GHOSTNET": They can extract any document they wanted. They can turn on web cameras, turn on audio devices so that they can in effect use the computers as a listening device in the offices.

VAUSE: GhostNet spread initially by e-mail and its control service were traced to three provinces in China -- Hainan Island, Guangdong and Sichuan. The fourth in Southern California. Researchers in Canada have stopped short of blaming the Chinese government of outright involvement. "It is not inconceivable that this network of infected computers could have been targeted by state other than China, but operated physically within China."

Another possibility they raise, Chinese hackers freelancing their skills. Recently, one of the country's most infamous alleged hackers known as Top Fox was arrested in Beijing. Police say his Trojan program was made freely available on the Internet, and at one point was used to hack more than 30,000 computers a day, emptying bank account, accessing stock details and e-mails.

(on camera): As for the Chinese government and GhostNet, there's been no official comment from Beijing. Diplomats in Chinese embassies in London and Washington have played down the investigation, while the foreign ministry here tells CNN there will be a formal response -- quote -- "when the time comes."

John Vause, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A startling allegation about the Bush administration's war on terror. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Seymour Hersh, explains his claim about Dick Cheney and an alleged terror hit list. And Cheney's former national security adviser, John Hannah, he's here to respond.

Plus, the phrase Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says you won't be hearing the Obama team use anymore.

And we go live to a Chevy dealership. How are they taking today's news? We're going to find out if they sold any cars today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Sales at Chrysler and General Motors are down more than 40, even 50 percent from a year ago. And to get things trying to move again, the automakers are slashing prices, offering big bargains at the dealerships.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's looking into this.

What kind of deals? What are we talking about?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, first of all, prices on all cars right now are down about 2 or 3 percent over last year. But on these American vehicles, you are going to see much bigger savings.

We got this from CNNMoney.com that did a survey of the prices you're going to be paying right now for GM, Chrysler models. Cadillac CTS, for example, from GM starts at about $36,000. That's the sticker price. But people are paying right now more like $30,000.

And this goes across the board as well. The Chevy Malibu, you will be able to pick one of those up, a basic model, for under $20,000. Bigger vehicles as well, SUVs, trucks, Chrysler's Dodge Ram, for example, the top of the range version of that model, you're going to save about $6,000, $7,000.

The savings are coming from these creative incentive programs. You might get employee pricing, plus a rebate on the vehicle that you buy. Add that to what President Obama announced today, that the government will back new warranties on Chrysler, on GM, and you will see real efforts right there to lure people back to the lots to buys these vehicles.

BLITZER: Yes, and go into those dealerships and start negotiating. Don't just accept the number that they offer. If you need a car, go ahead and bargain for it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

As Washington sets some very tough terms for bailing out automakers, what's the impact on auto dealers?

Let's go to CNN's Jim Spellman. He's joining us from a Chevy dealership outside Denver.

What are you seeing and hearing out there, Jim?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Wolf, they're ready to deal here at Medved Chevrolet. They have sold one Chevy Impala here so far today. Times are tough here. And two-and-a-half years ago, they had 600 employees, today, just 275.

I want to bring in John Medved, the owner.

Mr. Medved, what do you make of the administration's plan and the ouster of Rick Wagoner?

JOHN MEDVED, GM DEALER: Well, I can tell you that, first thing, that Mr. Wagoner is a very, very good man, and probably one of the most premier automotive executives in the world.

And for the Obama administration to do what they did, I think they were sending a signal to some people. And if they, in fact, didn't understand what he was trying to say, I think the parties that aren't cooperating to be able to put these bridge loans together are brain-dead.

SPELLMAN: What will the impact be if GM doesn't get this bailout money?

MEDVED: Well, if they don't get the bridge loans and General Motors doesn't survive, you have got 2.5 million to three million people that as far as I'm concerned have a problem as to whether they're going to have a job or not.

I think we spent $785 billion to create 2.5 million jobs. So, for the additional $20 billion or $30 billion to save 2.5 million vs. to go ahead and try to create them for $785 billion, I think the math is very simple.

SPELLMAN: There you go, Wolf. It's tough times here, but -- and they're hoping the money comes through -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If you need a car, though, it's a good time to buy a car. But don't forget to go ahead and negotiate the price.

A startling allegation that the Bush administration had a terror hit list and that Vice President Dick Cheney was the man in charge. The journalist Seymour Hersh, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain his claim. And Cheney's former national security adviser, John Hannah, he's here as well.

Plus, the president heads to Europe, where he's very popular, but his economic policies, not so much. Will he be outshined by his wife?

And it looks like a spaceship has landed on the National Mall right here in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says you won't be hearing all that much talk about the global war on terror. Secretary Clinton today confirmed that that phrase has now been abandoned by the Obama administration.

President Obama has signed a measure making two million new U.S. acres protected wilderness. The law represents one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in 25 years and covers land in nine states. NASA's Orion space module has landed on the National Mall right here in Washington, D.C. The six-seat craft is on display on its way to Florida for safety tests. It may one day carry astronauts back to the moon or even to Mars.

Still to come also, the best political team on television.

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

Sharp new denials today of a journalist's claim that the Bush administration had what amounted to an assassination hit list and that Vice President Dick Cheney was in charge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEYMOUR HERSH, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORKER": It's an executive assassination wing, essentially. It's the Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC, it's called.

They do not report to anybody except in the Clinton -- in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list, and executing them and leaving.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): A Special Operations Command spokesman rejects the report, says their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.

He adds that the vice president has no command-and-control authorities over the U.S. military. Two former Cheney aides also reject the claim, as does the former Bush homeland security adviser, now a CNN national security analyst.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: There is no such squad wandering the Earth. They don't do this. There is no such thing.

BLITZER: Assassinating political leaders has been banned since 1976. But suspected terrorists are a different story. When it comes to top al Qaeda leaders, like Osama bin Laden, American policy remains unambiguous.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wanted, dead or alive.

OBAMA: That we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants.

BLITZER: Abu Musab al Zarqawi is the highest-profile commander killed by American forces so far. Former Bush homeland national security adviser Townsend says the list of authorized terror targets is less than 100, people who can be killed without a trial.

TOWNSEND: These are individuals who either have blood of Americans on their hands or are plotting the death and destruction of Americans or American interests around the world. And those individuals, the U.S. military and the intelligence services, are given authority to capture or kill them wherever they're found.

BLITZER: And who makes the list of targets for the president to sign off on?

TOWNSEND: It's the military. It's intelligence. It's law enforcement, the Justice Department. It's a very rigorous interagency, across-the-government process.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I spoke just a short while ago with the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, and I asked him if he stands by his allegations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HERSH: Everything I wrote about, everything I said in that article was written in and has been written over the years in "The New Yorker."

The basic premise that I was saying is, there's a unit known as the Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC. It's a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about. And I spent -- if people read a story I wrote last summer in "The New Yorker," the Congresspeople are very upset -- the senior leadership. It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill -- we're talking about high value targets. That's absolutely correct.

BLITZER: Anything wrong with that?

HERSH: Oh, sure, because what's the intelligence basis?

What's the legal basis for that?

BLITZER: Well, if Osama bin Laden, for example, or Ayman Al- Zawahiri, the number two al Qaeda leader -- you know, the former president and the current president basically have said that if they were available to be taken out, they'd be taken out.

HERSH: The idea that you're telling a group of American combat soldiers -- who, by the way, I have no bone to pick with. As I said even at the University of Minnesota, at that speech, these guys are doing -- they're admirable people doing their job.

The idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high value targets who, up to a certain point, I know for sure, until very recently, were clearing lists. That doesn't mean Cheney has an assassination unit, that he says I want to go get somebody. That's how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress. Congress knows very little about this group -- can't get clearings -- can't get hearings, can't get even classified hearings on it. I -- Congresspeople have told me this.

Goes around and has authority from the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody -- and I'm sorry, Wolf, yes, I have a lot of problems with that, because (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: What about they send these...

HERSH: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: ...they send these unmanned drones over Pakistan. There's a house and they say, you know, shoot that missile into that house and kill someone and then they cross off the name?

HERSH: OK...

BLITZER: Is that an assassination?

HERSH: If it's done by JSOC and they have reason to think that there's a high value target in there...

BLITZER: What if it's done by the CIA?

HERSH: Well, the CIA -- when -- the CIA has learned a lesson. The reason that I could write a story last summer in "The New Yorker" about it is there was a joint operation inside Iran involving JSOC and the CIA. And the CIA wanted to get it -- they wanted to go to Congress and they wanted to authority. They wanted to get something known as a presidential finding. That's how Congress got a smell of how much is going on.

There's a lot going on that I wrote about and I've written about before. It's not the phrase -- I said assassination...

BLITZER: But when you said executive assassination ring...

HERSH: No, I said wing, actually.

BLITZER: Well, was it wing or ring?

HERSH: Wing, I said.

BLITZER: Wing. All right.

HERSH: But that's all right. It's the same point.

BLITZER: Yes.

HERSH: It was -- I wish I'd -- dumb, dumb. I wish I had said something different, something more -- more careful, because it's a loaded phrase. It comes down to the same thing -- that you can -- you have a -- you've delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good. And I can tell you, it's always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.

Yes, it -- what I -- JSOC is not a new phenomenon. It's been written about. I mean, in fact, in his latest book, Bob Woodward has a page about it, basically more praiseful than I would be in terms of how effective they were against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The bottom line is, it's -- if it were the way your little presentation as set up, that everything was checked and cleared -- in fact, there's been an awful lot of delegation to this group, which has not briefed the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of -- of Constitutional authority.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I also spoke about Dick Cheney -- spoke with Dick Cheney's former national security adviser, John Hannah. And I asked him for his reaction to Sy Hersh's allegation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN HANNAH, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO DICK CHENEY: It's not true.

And I think you heard in that interview that there was a little walking back from the original claim that was made in the speech, that Mr. Hersh made in (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Explain exactly what's going on in terms of a list.

Is there a list of terrorists -- suspected terrorists out there -- who can be assassinated?

HANNAH: There is -- there's clearly a group of people that go through a very -- an extremely well-vetted process -- an interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States or are suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given to our troops in the field, in certain war theaters, to capture or kill those individuals.

That -- that is certainly true.

BLITZER: And it starts with Osama bin Laden?

HANNAH: Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list.

BLITZER: And there's...

HANNAH: No question.

BLITZER: And there's about 100 of these suspects out there?

HANNAH: I don't want to get into any exact numbers. It is a -- it is a small group. And the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: And when he says this JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, has this authority, that they don't even tell Congress about that.

HANNAH: It is extremely hard for me to -- to believe. I -- I -- I don't know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it's hard for me to believe that those committee chairmen and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they -- if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.

BLITZER: And so this would be, from your perspective -- and you worked in the Bush administration for many years -- it would be totally constitutional, totally legal to go out and find these guys and to whack them?

HANNAH: There's no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war -- and we know -- there's no doubt we are still at war against al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in Afghanistan and on that Pakistani border -- that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including -- including the leadership of the enemy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: President Obama and the first lady -- they're getting ready to embark on their first overseas trip as first couple.

What kind of reception will they get in Europe?

And will she outshine him?

The best political team on television is standing by to weigh in.

Plus, a girl dangerously close to death and her parents didn't even realize it until something they saw here on CNN alerted them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama heads to Europe tomorrow for the G20 Economic Summit. He'll be meeting with leaders who represent two- thirds of the world's population and 85 percent of global economic activity. But they don't necessarily all have the same priorities.

Abbi Tatton is here.

Who wants what when it comes to the G20?

TATTON: Wolf, we've 19 countries plus the European Union. They're all affected by the economic crisis. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're all going to be on the same page when it comes with solutions about how to fix it.

President Obama's push is for a global stimulus plan. In that, he's got an ally in Britain's Gordon Brown, who's talked about a global New Deal.

Beyond Britain, it's less certain. German's chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said that Germany has already spent enough money, telling the "Financial Times" that: "This crisis did not come about because we issued too little money."

And then you've got more blunt comments from the current president of the E.U. Then you've Mirek Topolanek, who called Obama's plan, Wolf, the road to hell.

BLITZER: Outside of Europe, the developing countries, what are they thinking about all of this?

TATTON: Wolf, these are emerging economies who, in some cases, have made it clear that this crisis did not come from them. In India, you've got the Indian prime minister, who says that the crisis was made elsewhere. The Brazilian president called it: "created by white people with blue eyes."

These are emerging economies who are suffering from the global financial crisis, in any case. And they're going to be looking for a bigger say in the global solution.

BLITZER: It should be lively in the coming days. We'll have extensive coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

TATTON: We will.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley; our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and Roland Martin, our senior political analyst. They're all part of the best political team on television -- Candy, he's got to -- he's going to have his hands full over there. But he does have a star -- namely the first lady, Michelle Obama, who's going to be helping him out.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And, look, we expect her to be very popular. But I have to tell you, having been with then candidate Barack Obama over to Europe, he is very, very popular there. I think that you will see, as you do in most of these economic summits, a lot of protests on the street. It's not something that he saw in Europe when he was over there.

But I think you'll still see the supporters line the streets, that sort of thing. And she obviously is a big asset. But there's lots of talk would she outshine him, pretty much as Jackie Kennedy did JFK?

My answer at this point is no, because he's still got an awful lot of shine to him over there.

BLITZER: We did hear from the secretary of State, Dana, today, Hillary Clinton, confirming what we all suspected, that this new administration no longer using the phrase "the global war on terror."

Why is that? BASH: Because it's a relic from the Bush administration, that when you're talking about the perception of the United States overseas, it rubbed a lot of people -- a lot of U.S. allies the wrong -- the wrong way. So that's why the secretary of State was clearly confirming what is already quite obvious when you listen to the rhetoric -- or lack thereof -- from the Obama administration.

This clearly was just a way to -- to say point blank, look, we get you, we understand where you're coming from -- to many of the U.S. allies, ahead of President Obama's trip.

Because remember, as Candy was pointing out, one of the main themes of his candidacy was I'm not George Bush, not just in terms of domestic issues, but in terms of the way the United States is perceived around the world.

BLITZER: He's got a difficult challenge in the sense, Roland, that he's got to appeal to the international community -- to speak to their audiences when he's in Europe. But he's also got to be worried about how that plays here at home.

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, of course. He has to be concerned how it plays at home. But the reality is, I think, when it comes to the economy, Wolf, that we operate in a global economy. And so Americans cannot act as if that we are somehow separate from everyone else.

A lot of these folks -- a lot of these other ministers -- leaders of other countries, they have been critical of the stimulus packages in this country because they're saying wait a minute, your problems are causing our economic problems.

And so -- so, look, he's going to have to talk a different tune, if you will -- have a different tone in dealing with them as to how he's going to repair the American financial system, because it does impact them.

BLITZER: In announcing his auto deal today -- his proposals to try to rescue Chrysler and G.M., Candy, the president also said this about the White House decision to dump the CEO of G.M., Rick Wagoner.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We're not just looking at Mr. Wagoner. You're seeing a change in the composition of the board of directors. Ultimately, they will set the long-term vision and the long-term goal of the -- goals of the company. But it was important, I think, to send a clear message that we're going to be looking forward and not backward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some are saying there's a double standard -- one standard for G.M., let's say, you dump the CEO, another standard for Citigroup, for example, which is getting billions in U.S. government money. You didn't force them to dump the CEO there.

CROWLEY: No. But they did force some other CEOs out on -- in some of these places. Certainly, the head of AIG -- at least this was under the Bush administration -- was gone and they brought in somebody else.

But the fact of the matter is that while, yes, this is a signal that we're moving forward, this is also a tip of the hat to the outrage that has been out there -- the bonuses from AIG, the what are we getting out of this, they're doing anything they want.

This was certainly a tough message from this president that, look, we -- we are going to be in charge. There is a price to pay for taxpayer money that you'll be getting. And obviously, it was also a signal that they were not the least bit satisfied with those plans that came in from G.M. and Chrysler.

BLITZER: Some on the Hill...

MARTIN: And, Wolf, they should...

BLITZER: Hold on one second.

Hold on one second -- Dana, on the Hill, there are some saying this is a slippery slope when the White House -- when the federal government is telling a private company who the CEO should be and, as we just heard, the president saying you know what, we're going to make sure that they change the composition of the board of directors, as well.

BASH: A lot of people are saying it's a slippery slope, mostly Republicans, even some Democrats from Michigan.

But on Candy's point, Wolf, on the issue of, you know, hearing the outrage, in some quarters here on Capitol Hill, it has actually inflamed the outrage because you have some members of Congress -- not just from Michigan, but many Democrats saying wait a minute, it's not just about the CEOs, but it's about the overall approach of the Obama administration toward Detroit, that they're taking -- you know, they're looking at everything to the Nth degree, whereas with Wall Street, you know, what, $17 billion -- $24 billion what the United States government has already backed for Detroit. That was, you know, a drop in the bucket in terms of what the United States government has done for Wall Street.

BLITZER: All right. Roland, make your point quickly.

MARTIN: Yes, Wolf, I heard your interview earlier with the Obama administration official. I don't understand what the dancing is. Either they lay claim to getting rid of Wagoner and come out and clearly say the president made the call, this is why we're doing it. And so they should take ownership of it, as opposed to sort of -- rather than just dance around it -- well, you know, these sort of things happen.

It's still not clear why they said he needed to go. That's... BLITZER: A good point.

MARTIN: ...they should add some kind of clarity there.

BLITZER: They should just say it and end it and move on.

All right, Roland is going to be taking over for Campbell Brown starting tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, "NO BIAS, NO BULL," while Campbell is on maternity leave.

Roland, you'll still be here in THE SITUATION with us -- in THE SITUATION ROOM with us. Good luck tonight.

MARTIN: That's right, still hanging every day with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Roland Martin, right here on CNN.

Tomorrow, President Obama heads to Europe for his first overseas trip as president.

What do you think is the most important thing he needs to do while he's there?

Send us your video comments to ireport.com/situationroom, then watch tomorrow's show to see if your video makes it on the air.

An actress' deadly accident raising a red flag here on CNN and helping save a child's life -- we lay out the improbable chain of events you may find hard to believe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll have complete coverage of the president's decision to fire the CEO of General Motors and to order an alliance between what's left of Chrysler and Fiat of Italy. The president taking a much tougher approach to Detroit than Wall Street, however. We'll be talking about that with three of the country's leading economic thinkers.

Also tonight, North Korea preparing to test fire a missile that could reach Alaska or Hawaii. You may be surprised to learn what the Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, says the United States can do about that. We'll have a special report.

And a troubling new threat to our health and safety from communist China.

Just how toxic is the drywall from China and just how much is it poisoning homeowners coast to coast?

Join us for all of that and all the day's news and much more at the top of the hour.

THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer continues in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, on Wall Street today, one of the worst trading days of the year. Major sell-offs sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting after the White House rejected restructuring plans from both General Motors and Chrysler. And at the end of the day, the Dow lost 254 points, to close at 7522.

And oil prices, well, they head down again, tumbling below $49 today. May benchmark crude lost almost $4 a barrel, to settle at $48.41 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. And gasoline futures also dipped by more than a dime a gallon. Experts blame persistent global uncertainty about the economy and one predicts that crude could fall as low as $47 a barrel in advance of this week's G20 summit in London.

And Houston Texans' running back Ryan Moats has accepted the apology of a Dallas police officer who pulled a gun on him this month. Moats tells ABC's "Good Morning America" that he hopes Officer Robert Powell's apology was sincere. Powell said he poorly handled a traffic stop in the parking lot of the hospital where Moats' mother-in-law lay dying. And Moats' mother-in-law, indeed, passed away before Powell let him go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Betty Nguyen, thank you very much.

Natasha Richardson's death spurred parents to seek treatment for their daughter in the nick of time.

Let's go to our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

What a heart-wrenching story this is -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it really is an amazing story, Wolf.

The McCracken family of Mentor, Ohio says they may owe their daughter's life to Natasha Richardson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN (voice-over): Nearly two weeks ago, Morgan McCracken was playing baseball in the yard when her father hit a line drive that landed just above her left temple.

DONALD MCCRACKEN, FATHER: We obviously got an ice pack and iced it down. And she -- you know, within minutes or so was -- she was doing fine. She didn't have really any pain and no swelling at that point.

COHEN: Two days later, the McCrackens were watching CNN and learned of the tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson. And that got them wondering. Their little girl seemed fine, but was she really OK?

They went to kiss Morgan good night and she complained of a headache.

CONNIE MCCRACKEN, MOTHER: And then that night, when the headache began, I think the fear kind of set in and the reality was we needed to do something fast.

COHEN: On the alert because of Richardson, the McCrackens acted quickly.

D. MCCRACKEN: We went from something that, you know, we were very concerned about to something that's serious -- very serious.

COHEN: They took Morgan to their local emergency room and later she was airlifted to a trauma center, where she had emergency brain surgery. She had the exact same injury as Richardson's.

DR. ALAN COHEN: This is the blood clot. It's an epidural hematoma. It's a large blood clot pressing on the brain in the frontal area.

COHEN: Morgan's surgery happened just in the nick of time. Her doctor said if her parents hadn't acted fast, she wouldn't have awakened the next morning.

D. MCCRACKEN: At the first sign of any symptom, don't hesitate. Just call -- call your pediatrician. Get to the emergency room. Just don't hesitate, because we were seconds -- minutes away from losing her.

COHEN: Morgan is recovering beautifully and the McCrackens hope Richardson's family hears about her case and knows that something good came from their tragedy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN: Wolf, I want to show you very telling images of Morgan's brain before and after the injury. As you can see on the pre-op one, there's that big pool of blood in the upper right hand corner. Post- op, it's no longer there.

What happens is these bleeds could be very slow. And that's why, for two days, she seemed completely fine --, Wolf.

BLITZER: Oh, I'm glad it all worked out in the end. Thank God for that. And thank God for those doctors. And thank God her parents were watching CNN.

Elizabeth, thank you.

Getting revenge while playing a favorite sport.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What do you have against Bernie Madoff?

Oh, Bernie Madoff ruined my life. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The invention that lets golfers take a whack at Wall Street swindler Bernie Madoff.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If someone bilked you out of your life savings, you would probably like to give them a good whack. Well, now you can.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" trip to the driving range.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOOS (voice-over): This is the story of a guy so teed off at Bernie Madoff...

WALKER MANZKE, SLEAZEBALL CREATOR: The biggest Sleazeball in the world.

MOOS: ...that he created Sleazeballs.

MANZKE: Going for a ride, Mr. Madoff.

MOOS (on camera): So what do you have against Bernie Madoff?

MANZKE: Oh, Bernie Madoff ruined my life.

MOOS (voice-over): Walker Manzke says he lost his job and his mom lost almost $5 million running a feeder fund that funneled investors to Madoff.

MANZKE: And all of a sudden, poof -- it's gone. Now I can whack his face all day.

MOOS: Or at least part of the morning at the golf club at New York's Chelsea Piers.

MANZKE: Jan (ph) is not enough.

MOOS: For some folks, maybe a funny t-shirt would have been enough or an "I Hate Bernie Madoff" bumper sticker.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But the Sleazeball idea came to Walker and he ran with it -- selling them on his Web site in packages of three for $17.95. The day Madoff pleaded guilty, Walker stood outside court selling them.

MANZKE: There's his little face. I'm going to smash that smirk right off of there. Die.

MOOS (on camera): Did you say die?

(voice-over): But why stop at one Sleazeball? Walker has plans to expand the brand.

MANZKE: I'd have a Sleazeball coming out every month.

MOOS (on camera): Sleazeball of the month.

Who's the next Sleazeball?

(voice-over): That would be the other alleged Ponzi scammer, R. Allen Stanford. His ball is in the works. Folks can recommend a future Sleazeball at Walker's Web site. Suggestions range from House Speaker Pelosi to former Governor Blagojevich to A-Rod -- or even a steroid variety pack featuring Conseco, Bonds, Rodriguez.

Another popular candidate?

MANZKE: Bernie Madoff's wife should have her own Sleazeball, as well. Personally, I agree. People want to put their ex-wives on there. And if they wanted a custom Sleazeball, I could do that for you.

MOOS: But you'd have to order at least 300.

(on camera): And if you ever want to kick sand in Bernie Madoff's face...

MANZKE: Get him. Get that Madoff ball.

MOOS (voice-over): But watch out you don't end up in a sand trap.

MANZKE: If you're not careful you could end up on a Sleazeball, too.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

MANZKE: I hope you feel that one.

MOOS: ...New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jeanne, thanks very much.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.