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THE SITUATION ROOM

Fundraiser-In-Chief; Ex-Bush Lawyer Fights for Gay Marriage; "Wise Latina' versus. White Males; Seven Days Adrift At Sea; Fresh Activity At North Korea Nuke Site

Aired May 27, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


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

Happening now, it's one of the most dangerous places in the world with or without nuclear tests and missile launches. And U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula prince could be caught right in the middle of it. We're about to take you to the front lines.

A counter-attack against California's ban on same-sex marriages -- why a powerful political odd couple is now teaming up to fight the gay marriage ruling.

And after the daughter of a boxing champ dies playing on a treadmill, we're taking a closer look on the hidden dangers your children face with these machines and what you can do about it.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama just landed in Los Angeles. He's been hitting the jackpot, jetting out West and joining with big name stars to raise money for fellow Democrats.

But is there a conflict in being the nation's leader and party leader at the same time?

Let's turn to our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry.

He's out in Los Angeles traveling with the president.

How is it going out there -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, last night here in Vegas, tonight in Beverly Hills. You mentioned the president already in Los Angeles. And he's taking on a new role -- fundraiser-in-chief.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): In Las Vegas the president tried to make up for recently saying businesses receiving bailout funds should not travel to "Sin City."

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's nothing like a quick trip to Vegas in the middle of the week. Like millions of other Americans, we come to this beautiful city for the sights and for the sounds. And today, we come for the sun.

HENRY: But he also came for the campaign cash, joining Bette Midler and Sheryl Crow at a glitzy Cesar's Palace fundraiser that raked in a jackpot of about $2 million for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

OBAMA: You are hungry for a new kind of leadership and new ideas and a new kind of politics. And working with Harry Reid, that's what I'm delivering right now.

HENRY: The president needs the majority leader to push through his Supreme Court nominee and key legislation. To he doesn't want Reid to suffer the fate of former majority leader, Tom Daschle, who was bounced from office.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Probably the MVP on Capitol Hill right now is Harry Reid. And he's up for re-election and he could have a tough race. Right now, he doesn't have an opponent. But President Obama wants to make sure that his best friend in the Senate doesn't have a quality opponent.

HENRY: But the jet-setting could fuel a backlash.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think most Americans feel that he's got his hands full with problems back in Washington, why is he out raising money?

But, you know, this goes with the turf. He is -- and one of the hats he wears, beyond being commander-in-chief, is he's also the leader of his party.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: Now Mr. Obama is in Beverly Hills for two more fundraisers. One is a thousand dollar per person concert with Jennifer Hudson, Earth, Wind & Fire; also, a dinner with the president -- $30,000 a couple.

Big money -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thirty thousand, yes. That's not cheap.

All right. Thanks very much, Ed for that.

Before leaving Nevada, the president marked another milestone -- 100 days since the enactment of his $700 billion stimulus package. Speaking at Nellis Air Force Base, the president said -- and I'm quoting now -- "We're already seeing results."

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: From where we stand today, the road to our economic recovery is still long. We've got a lot of work to do and a lot of folks who are still hurting out there. And the road to a new clean energy economy is even longer. We're not going to do it overnight. But after four months of this administration and 100 days of this Recovery Act, we have carved out a path toward progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's Elaine Quijano is going to be doing a reality check for us on the economic recovery program. That's coming up a little bit later right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A political odd couple is teaming up right now, making a federal case of same-sex marriage. It comes one day after the California Supreme Court upheld voter-approved ban that stripped gay couples of the right to get married.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now with more on this story -- what's the next step, Bill, for the opponents of Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage in California?

What's their next step?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, some are going to the ballot box, but some are making a federal case out of it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential election, Ted Olson represented George W. Bush and David Boise represented Al Gore.

Today, the two attorneys joined forces to challenge Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriages. It was just upheld by the State Supreme Court, so Olson and Boies are taking it to federal court.

THEODORE OLSON, FORMER U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: There are going to be many people in this country that think this is not the time to go to federal court or you're not going to be successful in federal court.

DAVID BOIES, FORMER COUNSEL TO AL GORE: When you have people being denied Constitutional rights today, I think it is impossible, as a lawyer and as an American, to say to them, no, you have to wait.

SCHNEIDER: But the federal courts are filled with judges appointed by Republican presidents. Supporters of same-sex marriage are already raising money and gathering signatures to put another proposition on the California ballot to repeal Proposition 8, which passed by a narrow majority last year. Supporters of same-sex marriage believe they've got the momentum.

LARA SCHWARTZ, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: There's already been an enormous amount of buyer's remorse among Californians.

SCHNEIDER: A carefully targeted ballot box strategy could prepare the way for court victories.

SCHWARTZ: Civil rights, social, economic advances, protections for women, protections for racial minority, religious protections and now protections for the LGBT community. Move forward, you know, with court cases and with activism and with working legislatures and these things, you know, happen together.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Now, there's an old adage that says the Supreme Court follows the election returns. And that's why supporters of same-sex marriage believe a few key election victories could turn the courts around -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see.

Thanks very much for that, Bill Schneider.

Let's go right back to Jack Cafferty in New York.

He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Some people who know a lot more about the economy than most of us think that things are about to begin looking up.

A new report by a group of leading economists says the recession should end in the second half of this year, although it will be a more moderate recovery than what typically happens after a major downturn -- and this was a major downturn.

A report by the National Association for Business Economics Outlook also forecasts the following. The nation's gross domestic product will turn positive in the third quarter. It experienced its biggest decline since 1957 during the first half of this year. A total of 4.5 million jobs will be lost this year, which will push the unemployment rate to 9.8 percent, but it's expected to drop to 9.3 percent in 2010.

When it comes to real estate, most of these experts expect home sales to bottom out by the middle of this year and the majority say housing starts will bottom at about the same time.

As for consumer spending, an overwhelming majority of these economists say that more thrifty behavior is here to stay -- at least for the next five years. And speaking of the five year outlook, more than half the economists say they expect the potential growth of the economy to be between 2 and 2.5 percent during that five year period of time.

Never mind, though, what the experts say. A lot of ordinary Americans have been very hard hit by this recession. We'd like to know if things are getting any better from where you sit.

The question this hour is this: Do you see any signs in your everyday life that the economy is starting to turn around? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack for that.

Race and the U.S. Supreme Court -- does a justice's background make a difference in his or her rulings?

Should it?

We'll talk about that and more with White House communications director, Anita Dunn. She's standing by live.

Also, two American contractors break their silence about those controversial killings of an Afghan civilian that happened on this Kabul road. Now, they both say their company, Blackwater, told them to lie. They talk to us in a CNN exclusive.

Plus, a dramatic rescue at sea -- dozens of men, women and children adrift for a week -- the latest sign of a growing humanitarian crisis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president's nomination of a Latina to the Supreme Court may force the Republican Party to carefully consider a confirmation battle. But some Republican icons have wasted no time ripping into Judge Sonia Sotomayor for what they characterize as her racism.

Let's talk about this and a lot more with the White House communications director, Anita Dunn.

She's joining us from the North Lawn.

Anita, thanks very much for coming in.

ANITA DUNN, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Wolf, thank you for having me.

BLITZER: This is the comment that she made, the judge, back in 2001 that's generating this commotion: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

The argument being isn't justice supposed to be blind.

DUNN: Well, Wolf, I think it's interesting if you look at the fact that out of -- out of an entire clear that has encompassed fighting crime as a big city prosecutor, you know, being a corporate litigator, sitting on the federal bench for 17 years, authoring nearly 400 legal decisions and participating in nearly 3,000 cases, that what her opponents and what the right-wing has come up to attack her with is one isolated quote from 10 years ago from a journal.

I mean, the reality is she is a highly qualified nominee -- probably one of the most qualified that we have seen. And, you know, it's pathetic, to some degree, that this is all they've come up with.

BLITZER: Here's what Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, put out today. He said this: "Imagine a judicial nominee said, 'My experience as a white man make mess better than a Latina woman. New racism is no better than old racism. A white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. A Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

That's from Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House.

DUNN: Well, obviously, Newt Gingrich is entitled to his opinions. And, clearly, there are aspects of the Republican Party that have said they see this nomination -- and would have seen any nominee -- as an opportunity to raise money, to try to excite their base.

But I think the American people really are going to ask themselves, is she qualified?

And there, you have someone who has been nominated twice to the federal bench, by a Republican and by a Democratic president, confirmed twice by the United States Senate, who has an experience and more years on the federal bench than any sitting member of the United States Supreme Court did when they were nominated.

BLITZER: But does she -- looking back now, does she regret those comments?

DUNN: Well, I can't -- I won't speak for the judge. But I think I will say that there's nobody in this country who doesn't believe that a diversity of backgrounds and a diversity of circumstance doesn't -- doesn't bring a -- a richness to any decision-making process.

I mean, the reality is that Ronald Reagan recognized this when he nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the court -- the first woman ever nominated to the Supreme Court.

The reality is that we all recognize that people from different backgrounds have different points of view, bring different things to the table. But what's also true is that in 17 years as a federal judge, nearly 4,000 opinions, she has applied the rule of law. That is what she said she would do when she was asked...

BLITZER: All right...

DUNN: ...about these before. And that's what she...

BLITZER: Does...

DUNN: ...will do on the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Does she believe that empathy -- empathy -- should be used to decide cases?

DUNN: As the president has said, he wanted a qualified nominee -- and she's clearly very qualified -- who also would understand the real life effect of court rulings, because these things aren't done in the abstract. This isn't in some ivory tower exercise, that these are court rulings that affect people's ever everyday life.

That's what the president was talking about when he discussed empathy and that is clearly what she brings to this court...

BLITZER: Because she...

DUNN: ...is an understanding of how these affects everybody's lives.

BLITZER: Because yesterday in her remarks, she seemed to agree, obviously, with the president when she said this.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and governments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But there are others who say justice is supposed to be blind. The chief justice, John Roberts, says a justice on the Supreme Court should be like a baseball umpire -- not worrying about the consequences of decisions, but just trying to call the play accurately.

What do you say to those critics who are no doubt going to raise this issue when she comes before the Judiciary Committee?

DUNN: Listen, Wolf, I think that, frankly, anybody that President Obama nominated would have been criticized by aspects of the Republican Party. As they've openly said, they're disorganized right now. They want somebody to raise money around. And so we understand. That's what they're going to do.

But at the end of the day, what the American people have to ask is, is this a judge who has the qualifications to be on the Supreme Court?

Clearly she is -- number two in her class at Princeton; graduated summa cum laude; Phi Beta Kappa; went to Yale Law School; has been sitting on the federal bench for 17 years; confirmed twice by the United States Senate.

So is she qualified?

Yes.

Does she understand how the law affects people's lives?

She absolutely does. And President Obama has made it clear that's what he believes the American people need in a judge.

And let me give you one example where this is important.

In the case of Lily Ledbetter, who was a woman who, for years, was paid less than men doing the same job she was doing. Now, she had no way of knowing that.

The Supreme Court ruled that she couldn't sue for equal pay because the statute of limitations had expired. Congress passed a law overruling that.

We want justices who understand how things really do work in the real world. And I think Judge Sotomayor's experience and her background -- her background of having worked hard, raised by a single mother, working herself up to some of the most prestigious universities in this country and becoming a federal judge, that's the kind of background that lets a Supreme Court justice understand not only the rule of law, which she is committed to, but also the real world consequences of those laws.

BLITZER: Anita Dunn is the White House communications director.

Thanks, Anita, for coming in.

DUNN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A suicidal man is pushed off a bridge by an angry onlooker. We have new video of an incident that's making headlines around the world.

Plus, tens of thousands of people on the run with little food, water or shelter -- an escalating conflict spawns a humanitarian nightmare and we have the dramatic pictures.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again, Wolf.

A major Army base is temporarily shutting down after a rash of suicides. Officials at Fort Campbell in Kentucky say the deaths of at least 11 soldiers this year are either suspected or confirmed suicides. The base is closing for three days to hold training on suicide prevention. CNN's Chris Lawrence is on his way to Fort Campbell and will have the inside story for us tomorrow.

Well, take a look at the this -- new pictures of a bizarre incident in China -- a man contemplating suicide on a bridge was pushed off by an onlooker, as you're about to see right there. He fell onto a partially inflated emergency cushion and suffered spine and elbow injuries. The man who pushed him was reportedly outraged with people who threaten suicide in public places. It's unclear if he faces any charges. And Samsung is recalling about 160,000 of its Jitterbug cell phones because the phones may not be able to connect to 911. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the problem happens when the caller is in a no service area. Federal regulations require all wireless phones to have 911 capability. Samsung is offering customers a free software upgrade -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Fred.

Stand by.

Barbara Starr is here, our Pentagon correspondent, with a unique story that's going on -- Barbara, most of the time when we hear about Somalia, we're thinking pirates off the coast of Somalia. But there's a war going on there and there's a human aspect of what's going on.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is a humanitarian crisis these days, Wolf.

Let's look first at where all of this is happening. When you go to the map, this is the Horn of Africa -- Somalia. Earlier this week, a U.S. Navy helicopter was flying in the Gulf of Aden. And when it looked down, it saw a very disturbing sight, to say the least -- 52 Somali, men, women and children in this boat trying to escape. The boat had become stranded in the water. These people were in the water with no food, exposed to the elements for some seven days.

The Navy moved in very quickly to try and rescue these people. When you see the pictures, Wolf, they are so compelling about what is going on in Africa these days.

The people were brought on the Navy ship, suffering from dehydration, malnutrition, exposure to the elements. Of course, the first goal was to try and get help for some of these small children that were stranded, as part of this overall party trying to escape.

When you look at this photo, if you zoom in, you can see this is a group of Navy commandos, if you will, with one small Somali child that they have in their arms that they are bringing to safety.

They put a doctor on board this ship today because one of the women on board is pregnant and about to give birth and they want to get her medical care and get these people some help.

BLITZER: Yes. What a heartbreaking story that is.

All right, thanks very much, Barbara Starr, for that report.

With or without nuclear tests or missile launches, the Korean Peninsula is already one of the most dangerous places on Earth. And U.S. troops are right in the middle of it all. We're going to take you to the front lines.

And the daughter of the boxing champ, Mike Tyson, dies while playing on a treadmill -- we're going to tell you about the hidden dangers your children may face with these exercise machines. And does former President Bill Clinton still have some hard feelings about the election?

Why he's only spoken to President Obama once since then.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a brazen terrorist attack in Pakistan's second largest city. Find out why it's considered a very serious blow to the heart of the country's security apparatus.

President Obama forging new ties with Saudi Arabia's King. Iran, Israel and the Palestinians all issues on the table. And an upcoming meeting on Riyadh -- what about skyrocketing oil prices?

Will the president's trip have an impact?

We're taking a closer look.

And baptism by fire -- just a day after being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor prepares for an intense meet and greet on Capitol Hill.

Who will guide her through this political minefield?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All right, we're getting a story that's just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, is here.

Tom Foreman is here -- but, Barbara, tell us the disturbing information you're receiving right now.

STARR: Wolf, two sources have confirmed to us that the U.S. intelligence community is now seeing activity at the Yongbyon nuclear reprocessing complex in North Korea. This could not be more concerning. No one thinks the North Koreans are ready to restart that plant, which was disabled several months ago.

But sources confirming in the last several days there is activity at the plant that they believe could lead to reprocessing beginning again. And if that happens, that puts North Korea back in business making the type of nuclear fuel that could be used as a weapon.

BLITZER: This is all so -- so disturbing -- and, Tom Foreman, you're here because if it comes down to military action on the Korean Peninsula or beyond, that's a nightmare scenario for the whole world.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. Let's take a look at what Barbara was talking about a minute ago. The area we're talking about is right in here underneath the K here on North Korea on this. And this is a DigitalGlobe satellite image of the very facility you're talking about.

Remember that big cooling tower that was blown up last year?

That's right there -- the remains of it right there. Here is one of the nuclear facilities over here that we're talking about. There's another one just over here, across the water and there's one down in here. So that's exactly what you're talking about, Barbara.

But let's talk now about something different, which is the power of this.

I'm going to take this map and throw it away.

Let's look at the Korean military. Barbara give us a read on this -- 1.1 million troops.

That's a lot of people.

STARR: It's a lot of boots on the ground, but the question is the quality of those troops. They do very little training. North Korea is a malnourished country of people. They have very restrictive capability.

Sure, they have 1,000 missiles or more -- a lot of ballistic missiles. They can threaten the world. They could fire those missiles. There's no question about it.

But are they reliable?

Do they train?

Do they have all the same kinds of military readiness that Western forces do? That's a question.

No doubt, they can cause a lot of havoc, they can be a massive threat. But, still they're somewhat within their area of operation.

FOREMAN: You know, Wolf, this is a very, very big military force by numbers compared to others. Look at this, China up here, with more than two million, the United States, a 1.4 million, something like this. There's India down here.

Look at this -- North Korea, the fourth largest military on the planet. That's quite a claim for a different place.

But if we go beyond this and look at really the possible battlefield that we would be dealing with here, we move it aside. Barbara, walk us through this, North Korea up here, South Korea down here. What are we worried about?

STARR: What you are obviously worried about is ground forces coming across the DMZ, artillery fire, missile fire. Seoul, of course, is so close, you're talking about the possibility of an attack on Seoul happening within minutes.

FOREMAN: They can strike this far very, very quickly.

STARR: Absolutely. That's the nightmare scenario.

So what does the U.S. do about it? What does South Korea do about it? The U.S. has troops there, South Korea increasingly capable of looking after itself.

But the U.S. has a reserve force, if you will. There are a number of Navy ships offshore. There are satellites that keep watch for any early warning...

FOREMAN: 7,400 troops afloat, roughly?

STARR: Maybe.

FOREMAN: Neighboring countries, shat, 34,000 in Japan?

STARR: It's a regional defense these days.

And the U.S. has a significant air capability in the region. Dozens of fighter jets, bombers, and all of that.

But an awful lot tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan these days. So nobody wants to see war, heaven forbid, break out here.

FOREMAN: And, Wolf, if it started out here, just as Barbara said, you would see forces coming from the U.S. in to help out South Korea from all of these directions, and it would certainly put a lot of pressure on North Korea.

BLITZER: Yes, but they have million man army just north of that DMZ and Seoul and that populated heartland of South Korea. We're talking about 30 or 40 miles below the DMZ. This is not very far if they start launching rockets and moving troop in.

STARR: And that's the whole reasons the hair trigger that is the U.S. and the regional strategy is to stabilize the situation -- talk, diplomacy, jawboning, whatever you want to call it. This is a hair trigger. Nobody wants to see this happen.

But nobody can figure out what is motivating North Korea right now to do what it's doing. So how can you stabilize the situation when you're not really sure what's going on?

BLITZER: The North Koreans are sincere in saying they are ready to abrogate the truce that ended the Korean War in the 1950s, and all bets are really off.

All right guys, we are going to be on top of this story, so don't go away. Thanks very much.

Let's get a closer look at this really, really dangerous hot spot, the front line between these two Koreas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Pauline Chiou at the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. It may seem calm and serene, but it's the most heavily fortified border in the world.

I want to show you a couple of landmarks. Behind me is the southern boundary fence, which runs the length of the DMZ, which is 248 kilometers long and four kilometers why.

In the distance you can see the North Korea flag. That's where the North Korea propaganda village sits. It's still unclear if anyone actually lives there. It was built for show several years ago.

Over my right shoulder is the Kaesong industrial complex. This is a joint venture between north and South Korea to make goods to sell. 38,000 North Koreans work here, 2,000 South Koreans, mostly factory managers, also work there.

It was considered a symbol of cooperation when this started back in 2003. But since then, it has become a symbol of tension, especially this week, after the events that started on Monday with North Korea undertaking its nuclear test and then following up with several short-range missile launches.

As we are standing here, we have seen vehicles going back and forth along the western corridor, which is one of two roads in the DMZ. This corridor goes from South Korea into the Kaesong industrial complex. Trucks go in with material, and they come out with finished products.

So, as of now, it seems that it's business as usual on the surface.

In the DMZ, Pauline Chiou, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Former president of the United States Bill Clinton is reportedly angry at Ted and Caroline Kennedy for supporting Barack Obama in the election. So how does the former president feel about the current president?

Plus a growing buzz out there about Liz Cheney potentially running for office. Is there a political future for the former vice president's daughter?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh running together in 2012? What's going on here? Let's talk about it with our CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazil and the Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

I'm talking about this story on the "Politico," Mary, and I want you to weigh in, because you used to work for Dick Cheney. Roger Steinan writes that he's speculating maybe Cheney and Limbaugh will be the Republican ticket.

This led to immediate speculation that Cheney and Limbaugh intend to run as a ticket in the 2012 election. A full blown international crisis like the one President Barack Obama is now facing in North Korea gives that possible ticket its first real test.

You're smiling, I'm smiling, but is there any realistic notion that first of all, your former boss, Dick Cheney, is thinking about 2012?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is a conservative's dream. I would giving up this perch, Wolf, in a New York minute to go work for that ticket.

But, as the vice president said on CNN and anyone else that cares to listen, no he's not running. Anything he's advocating or talking about now is in defense of or support for policies that he thinks are important to this country, and he has no intention of running again.

But be still my heart, the thought of it.

BLITZER: It would really energize the base of the GOP, Donna, that that kind of ticket, don't you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I'm sure it will energize the base.

But right now the Republicans, they understand that they have to do more than just energize the base. They have to rebuild the party, and rebuild it essentially from scratch.

I don't think the vice president is running, and I hope now that he's given his big major speech, he will save the rest for his book.

BLITZER: If you look, Mart, at those poll numbers we had a few days ago, Dick Cheney's favorable rating right now 37 percent. Rush Limbaugh 30 percent. Contrast that to Colin Powell -- 70 percent.

Donna makes a good point. It's not enough just to energize the base of the GOP.

MATALIN: Well, right. And Cheney's reach is well beyond the base of the party, whatever that is.

If you look at -- while his numbers were improving over the last couple of weeks, he has never been about a personality contest.

But what has happened at the same time frame is support for major Obama initiatives, starting with Gitmo had a 20-point swing. When Obama came in, there was a 10-point advantage for keeping -- for closing Gitmo, and now there's a 10-point deficit. He moved on that.

People now agree with Obama's contention that Gitmo has made us less safe. They disagree with Obama's position on releasing those legal memos and potentially prosecuting the authors of them. These were all the pieces that Dick Cheney brought to light and made a debate about. And when he sees things that are going to make this country insecure, he's going to talk to them again.

Donna is right that the Republicans are in disfavor. But the road back is to do a principled advocacy and a cogent one. And that's the way they'll come back.

BLITZER: And Dick Cheney, Donna, is by no means shy. He's doing more and more television interviews almost every week. But go ahead and respond to what Mary just said.

BRAZILE: Look, I love it when the former vice president is out there making the kind of case that, quite frankly, got the Republicans in trouble in the first place.

So I think more Cheney, more Limbaugh is very helpful to not just the Democratic Party, but healthy in terms of allowing the country to have a real debate over who will make us safe and secure?

And also I want to say that in terms of Gitmo, it was President Bush and Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates who advocated also closing the prisons down there in Guantanamo Bay. So I don't understand what the big noise is about. I think the president will come up with a plan and that the Senate will reconsider their proposal.

BLITZER: I want to talk about Bill Clinton in a moment. But very quickly, Mary, Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, do you think she's getting ready to run for office?

MATALIN: She's astoundingly bright, remarkably accomplished, has five kids, had two of them while she was doing her State Department stints. She's busy working with her father now. She's a wonderful human being.

There are many people who hope that she does, and many people who will join her on that quest if she does. She's a great statesman.

BLITZER: Will you join her on that quest.

BRAZILE: Let me just say this -- less than 20 percent of all public offices are held by women. So we shouldn't rule out any woman running for any position in this country.

BLITZER: Very quickly, the "New York Times" Sunday magazine, Donna, has an article by Peter Baker saying that the former president is still pretty angry at Caroline Kennedy and Ted Kennedy for supporting Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential process.

And he's sort of upset he really hasn't spent a whole lot of time, quality time, with President Obama since taking office. What do you think about that?

BRAZILE: You know, Wolf, I think some former staff or some former assistant has too much time on their hands. Bill Clinton right now has been assigned to be a special envoy in Haiti. He's raising money to help that country. He's helping out every time he's been called on by the Obama administration.

And so I think people have too much time on their hands.

And, by the way, he has an important conference coming up in September. So I think Bill Clinton has a lot to think about, including helping to elect Terry McAuliffe down in Virginia.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

A week after her return from an Iranian Jail, an Iranian- America journalist meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and says thanks to the American government and the American people.

Plus, what parents can learn from the Mike Tyson tragedy after the former boxing champs daughter dies on a treadmill. We're going to show you how to keep your children safe on these machines. Stick around, you're in the "Situation Room."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Police call it simply a horrible tragedy, but the strangulation death of Boxer Mike Tyson's four-year-old daughter is putting a spotlight on a household hazard that injures thousands of children each year, a treadmill.

CNN's Brian Todd is looking into it for us and talking to an expert -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Consumer Products Safety Commission tells us that about 2,600 children each year in the United States are treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to the use of treadmills.

Now for more on the potential dangers of these machines, we're joined by Don Mays. He is the senior director of product safety for consumer reports. He's joining us from the consumer reports lab in Yonkers, New York. Mr. Mays, Thank you very much.

Basically, what we're looking at here, you're right by a treadmill. You're going to show us some of the potential dangers. There's one feature that's there just to your right. It's called the safety tether. Show us the potential danger of that and what could a child get caught up in there?

DON MAYS, CONSUMER REPORTS: This safety tether is designed to clip onto your waste while you're walking and running on the treadmill. In the event of a fall, it pulls a magnetic key out of position, and that shuts down the treadmill automatically. That helps to prevent burn or abrasion injuries that can occur if you do, in fact, fall.

The problem is that most people don't use these safety devices, and they can tie them up out of the way. And in that case, it can form a loop in which a child can strangle.

There's been at least one strangulation death as a result of a child getting caught in a loop similar to this.

One of the other issues that you would find with treadmills is the fact that children can often get their hand caught between the moving belt and the guard, or underneath the moving belt.

That can cause very severe hand abrasions. And it's a problem if children are around treadmills.

So our recommendation is keep your children away from a treadmill, whether it's working or not.

One of the other issues that we may find with treadmill is that we advice people not to keep their treadmill plugged in when not in use.

So if you unplug your treadmill, what you don't want to do is you don't want to take the cord and throw it over the treadmill or loop it through the treadmill because that can form a loop in which a child can get their head ensnared.

TODD: One thing we're told though from authorities, is that in the Tyson case the treadmill was not operational. I'm going to read you a quote from the Phoenix police. This is from Sergeant Andy Hill, quote, "Investigates tell me it's a circuitry cord that's actually part of the apparatus."

He said "Most people never look under the console of the treadmill. If you do, there's a number of electrical components that come up in the console, including some wires." He said "It looks like this girl was just up there looking around, pulling around, somehow got hold of a cord, pulled it down, and that was the loop that ended up going around her neck."

Can you show us what he's possibly talking about here?

MAYS: Sure. This particular treadmill doesn't have a cord or a wiring harness that can be pulled down from the underside. But there are, in fact, some exposed wires here that you can see, that in some treadmill designs may, in fact, cause a -- form a loop in which it would cause a strangulation hazard.

Now, we know of one other similar incident back in 2001 where the wiring harness was related to a serious injury of a child.

TODD: All right, Don, thanks very much for joining us.

That was Don Mays, senior director of product safety for "Consumer Reports."

He also told us a treadmill should be kept in a locked room. Make sure it's unplugged. Remove all cords, including that safety tether.

The Phoenix police tell us the medical examiner's report on the death of Mike Tyson's daughter is not back yet. The Consumer Products Safety Commission is also investigating her death, Wolf. So a lot of answers yet to come.

BLITZER: And it's not just treadmills. There's lots of other stuff in the house that potentially could be extremely dangerous for young kids.

TODD: Plenty of things. The home is a more dangerous place than people realize.

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, an average 22 children die each year trying to climb bookcases, televisions, desks, and other furniture that topples over on them.

There are about a dozen deaths each year from children strangling on draperies and blinds. Swimming pools by far the biggest single hazard -- 300 children under the age of five drowning each year. And chemical and medicines kept in the house lead to an average of about 30 deaths each year, Wolf.

You know, again, these are things that people all of the time don't think about, but you got to think about.

BLITZER: If you got kids, especially, you always got to be very careful. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, useful information.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Do you see any signs in your day-to-day life that this economy is starting to turn around?

A group of economists has now predicted that the recession will end in the third quarter of this year. But the recovery, they say, will be moderate.

Nancy in Illinois : "I wish, Jack. My husband lost his job just before Labor Day last summer and hasn't found another, and we don't have health insurance. So that would be a big, "no," but thank you for asked."

Joe, the dealer, not the plumber, in Las Vegas: "Jack, not too much, but I must say, since last week here in Las Vegas, things have been looking a tiny bit better. Traffic last Thursday was horrible, which I was happy to see, and the streets were busy with foot traffic.

The world series of poker starts next week with a new $1,000 event, as well, which may help out."

If you didn't see your email here, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile, and look for yours there among hundreds of others.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: That's a real education, all right, Jack, thanks very much.

An afghan civilian shot and killed on this road by American contractors. Now they break their silence in an exclusive interview with CNN and reveal the lie they say their company wanted them to tell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An Afghan civilian is dead, and American security contractors are accused of shooting him.

The U.S. military is investigating, but in a CNN exclusive, our Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence gets another side of the story from the contractors themselves -- Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this isn't just American contractors versus Afghan officials. It's the contractors against their own company. And it all comes down to whom do you believe?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: An Afghan civilian was killed in Kabul, shot by American contractors on a dark, dusty road. That much both sides agree.

But the security company says the men were drinking. The contractors say the company's making that up to put the blame on them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were not allowed to use our weapons until we feel that there's an imminent threat. And that's what we felt that night.

LAWRENCE: On camera for the first time in talking to CNN by satellite, they asked to us conceal their faces for their families' sakes.

The contractors say they were driving their interpreters home at night on a major road, two trucks, two contractors each, when an Afghan car accelerated up to their lead truck and rear-ended it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My vehicle went out of control and flipped a few times. I ended up hitting -- hitting something.

LAWRENCE: They say the Afghan car turned, rushed toward the second truck, and almost ran over a contractor.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Was your gun right there with you like in the front seat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have your weapon, like, nearby you. And when I got out of the vehicle, I had my weapon in my hands, yes.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): They opened fire with AK-47s provided by the company. An Afghan was shot in the stomach and died. Two others were injured, including a pedestrian.

Another civilian shooting two years ago ultimately got Blackwater banned from Iraq. Its security guards were accused of killing 17 civilians there.

Blackwater renamed itself "XE" and still gets multimillion dollar contracts in Afghanistan. These contractors are former U.S. troops hired by XE to give weapons trains to Afghan soldiers.

In Steve McClain's termination letter, the company says he breached his contract and violated its alcohol policy.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Had you ever had a drink in the six months or so that you had been in Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not in Afghanistan, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir. There's no question that you were drinking. It's "I know you were drinking, I know this happened," pretty much trying to force us into making a statement on that.

LAWRENCE: What would they have to gain by insinuating that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can say a guy was drunk, you just turned that into a personnel issue, like a single issue with the contractors. So for them it's a business move to make us the scapegoats in this.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The company told us that did not happen. Their direction was to cooperate with the investigation, and lying is not cooperating.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: I've got a copy of their original DOD contract, which does not provide the contractors with weapons. But the U.S. military says there may have been a local decision that gave them the authorization to have them.

The military is considering referring this case to the Justice Department, but there are some Afghan officials who want it heard in Afghan court -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, with that exclusive. Thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now -- threatening new moves by North Korea, including brand new activity at its nuclear complex. The U.S. is promising consequences for the regime's bullying of the world.

Plus, General Motors' bankruptcy may now be a done deal. The automaker gets hit with a rebellion as time for the company to save itself runs out.

And a U.S. warship sunk. It wasn't an attack and it's not an accident. We'll tell you who paid good money to watch it go down.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.