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THE SITUATION ROOM

All-Out War with the Taliban; Defending Against Cyber Threats; Gunmen Hit Iran Campaign Office

Aired May 29, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer is off.

I'm John King.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

One after another, U.S. allies' major cities are hit by deadly bombings and Taliban militants say they'll keep it up until Pakistan calls off the military offensive.

Some of those threats have been caught on tape. Now, with all vehicles forced to pass through checkpoints, Pakistan's capital is being turned into an armed camp.

CNN's Reza Sayah is in Islamabad.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Pakistani military officials say what militants are doing is targeting civilian targets and military targets in major cities. They cite Taliban threats in this recording by a Taliban spokesperson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(VIDEO CLIP)

SAYAH (voice-over): Military officials say this is the voice of Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan, planning a revenge attack with Taliban colleagues within the past two weeks.

CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the tape, but CNN staffers who have interviewed Khan say the voice seems to match his.

MUSLIM KHAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Do you want to die while doing jihad or do you want an ordinary death?

This all should happen to the generals and colonels of Punjab, so that they get to know.

SAYAH: The voice on the recording goes on to say: "It should be on the houses of these army personnel, so that their children die and they get to know.

Military analyst Jamshed Ayaz Khan says he expects more attacks.

JAMSHED AYAZ KHAN, MILITARY ANALYST: This will increase to an extent, because they are now on the defensive. They are on the run. And when they are on the run, they have to do something somewhere.

SAYAH: Despite the deadly attacks, analysts and military officials say the Pakistani government must take advantage of what they call unprecedented support to go after the militants. With the faces splashed across newspapers, the Taliban's top leaders are now Pakistan's most wanted. In the streets of Islamabad, many people say they want the Taliban, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These, you know, terrorists have to be stopped. And there's no other way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I personally believe this is about time. The army has to take an action.

SAYAH: The U.N. Says almost 2.5 million people have fled the battle zone in Swat Valley -- a monumental migration not seen since Pakistani's independence -- a humanitarian crisis that may become much more complicated to manage as the war spreads beyond the Swat Valley.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAYAH: Today, government officials say the number of refugees who fled the battle zone has reached nearly 3.5 million. To put that in perspective, the population of Los Angeles is a little more than 3.5 million. Remarkably, all of them, according to government officials, displaced within the past month -- John.

KING: Reza Sayah for us in Islamabad.

Reza, thanks.

At risk -- the nation's power grid and financial system and perhaps your own personal identity. President Obama announcing new steps to counter the growing threat of cyber attacks.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has more -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: John, if you think cyber security is some wonky, esoteric issue, think again. It has profound ramifications for you and how you live your life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Hackers cut power to a skyscraper and then reprogram it to play Space Invaders in a spoof video on YouTube.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: But cyber security is not a laughing matter.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's now clear this cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.

MESERVE: Americans use the Internet to bank and shop and talk to one another. Electricity, water, transportation all depend on it. But every day there are attacks. The White House estimates in the past two years, cyber crime has cost Americans more than $8 billion. And last year alone, hackers stole $1 trillion worth of business secrets. Military and intelligence networks have been penetrated and tests have shown that cyber attacks can destroy critical infrastructure, like this generator.

President Obama says the country is not prepared.

OBAMA: From now on, our digital infrastructure -- the networks and computers we depend on every day -- will be treated as they should be, as a strategic national asset. Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority.

MESERVE: The president will hand-pick a cyber security coordinator to integrate policies across government, work closely with the private sector and correspond the federal response to attacks. Still unknown -- who will get the job.

JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: If you get the wrong person or you put them in an office that doesn't have very much power, you can have the best plan in the world and it still won't work.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: The plan is short on specifics, though the president says the government will not dictate security standards to private industry and will not monitor private networks or Internet traffic.

Security experts say they generally like the steps the administration is taking, but warn there are many more steps to take on the long road to securing the nation's cyber infrastructure -- John.

KING: Jeanne Meserve.

Jeanne, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty in New York now with "The Cafferty File" -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again, John.

The American dream may be slipping away. Examples -- they're everywhere.

One comes from CNNMoney.com, which does a report on how the life of autoworkers is changing -- and not for the better.

It used to be that getting a union job on the production line of one of the big car companies in Detroit would instantly vault someone into the middle class, even if they didn't have much formal education. Those days are long gone.

With Chrysler declaring bankruptcy, General Motors expected to follow soon, the government is demanding these companies bring their labor costs into line with foreign competitors. And that means an entry level autoworker who used to make $28 an hour could soon be making half that -- $14.

Workers benefits are also under siege. Union employees will have to pay a much larger share of their health care expenses. And when they retire, the company won't be paying for their health care at all anymore. Also, going forward, fewer medical procedures and drugs will be covered.

The story of the American autoworker is just a slice of what's happening all across the country. It seems increasingly likely that millions of people won't be able to maintain the standard of living they've grown accustomed to, not to mention what's around the corner for the next generation.

A recent poll found more than one third of all parents think their kids' standard of living will be worse than theirs is now.

So here's the question: How will your children's lives be different from yours?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

You know, the history of this country, John, was always the next generation had it better than the generation before them. I think that's all changing now.

KING: I can tell you from my travels recently, Jack, for the Sunday show, you are dead right. And it is the question of the moment. That's what people -- and people feel it and parents feel horrible about it.

CAFFERTY: Well, we've squandered our kids future in terms of the huge debts we've run up. They're going to have to pay this money back, if it ever gets paid back at all. And that's not much of a legacy for us to leave them, I guess.

KING: You're dead right on that one. Looking forward to the answers.

Jack, thanks very much.

It's one industry that actually wants more government regulation, not less -- why peanut farmers are turning to Washington for help and oversight.

Also, President Obama naming some of his big political donors ambassadors. All modern presidents have done it, but some people say it's time for the practice to stop.

Plus, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in a Clash for Cash.

But is it really?

The true relationship between these two former presidents. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: For the second straight day, a bloody attack in Iran. Gunmen wounded three people at a campaign office for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran's state news agency says the gunmen were captured. The attack was in the same city near the Pakistani and Afghan borders as yesterday's mosque bombing, which killed at least 16 people. A militant group said to have Al Qaeda ties has claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The attacks come two weeks before Iran's presidential election.

Let's get some insights now from CNN's Fareed Zakaria -- Fareed, let's start with the basic question, violence like this in Iran, is it unusual, as it appears?

Or do we just not report on it as much?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Oh, no, it's quite unusual. There is some activity in Iran's -- in parts of Iran where the Persians are ethnically a minority, around the border areas, where there are Azaris (ph) and such. But this is not one of those.

This appears to be your classic Sunni jihadist group that is anti-Shiite. You remember, we saw a lot of this in Iraq, where Sunni groups were trying in various ways to bomb Shiite mosques, bomb the offices of Shiite religious figures and political figures.

This appears to be something of that order and probably comes out of the Sunni jihadi groups in Pakistan, which is, of course, very close -- Pakistan and Afghanistan -- which is, of course, very close to Iran.

KING: And what does it tell you that President Ahmadinejad's campaign office was targeted?

Who would be his natural enemies, if you will?

ZAKARIA: That's -- that actually was quite puzzling and I would imagine it has something to do with Ahmadinejad as president of Iran rather than anything else. Because, remember, the Iranians have been pretty active in Afghanistan. And they've been funding certain groups and not funding others. And they have generally been -- this is the irony here -- they've, generally speaking, been against many elements of the Taliban. They have not liked the Taliban for a variety of reasons.

But the hard core Sunni jihadi elements within the Taliban might well have a very strong anti-Shiite bias. This is something we saw, again, in Iraq, where there was a real tension between the Sunni jihadi groups and the Shiite religious groups. And it may be that.

But there was, as you know, bomb blasts there yesterday. That was more explicable. That was at a mosque. This one, I doubt it's one of Ahmadinejad's political opponents. I would think it's more likely to be one of these Sunni jihadi groups. KING: And how do you think it will impact?

We're just two weeks away from this election in which President Ahmadinejad has a crowded field, including some reforest candidates, too, I believe, who would prefer better ties -- warmer ties with the West?

ZAKARIA: My gut is that Ahmadinejad will win. First of all, let's remember, he's pretty popular. Yes, his popularity has faded somewhat. But he's a populist guy, a very populist mayor of Tehran. He's also good as populist politics, gimmickry, symbols. He's been doing a lot of handouts -- using the power of the presidency to pass around a lot of pork.

So there's some substantial basis there.

Secondly, they didn't allow the most important reformist candidate to run. And that would have been Mohammad Khatami, the former president, who is wildly popular in Iran.

So, clearly, the Council of Guardians, the kind of -- Iran's ruling clerical elite -- is more comfortable with Ahmadinejad than anybody else. He was not their favorite originally when he ran four years ago. But they seem to have gotten comfortable with him.

And so my guess is that the reformists will probably put on a decent showing, but in the end, Ahmadinejad will win, which -- all of which means continuity in Iran policy. We will face an Iran, after the elections, that is very similar to the one we've had. And we've hoping that there will be some kind of magical shift here. But I think we're going to have to figure out what's the interesting, creative response that we have to the same old Iran.

KING: Fareed Zakaria, excellent insights.

Fareed, thanks for joining us.

ZAKARIA: Thank you.

KING: And Fareed, of course, is the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." It airs every Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. Fareed's guest this week, former secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

They've come from industry, show business and high society to represent America in foreign capitals. Key supporters are often rewarded by presidents.

But should campaign donors be turned into diplomats?

More now from our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you know, when it comes to war zones, presidents tend to pick for -- as ambassadors -- career Foreign Service officers. But when it comes to plush postings in European countries, they often turn to political supporters. And now some diplomats say it's time for a change.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): It's an American political tradition -- contribute big bucks to a candidate and the new president might make you an ambassador. Now, career diplomats say it's time to end the spoil system.

JOHN NALAND, AMERICAN FOREIGN SERVICE ASSOCIATION: Send out a political fundraiser or a sports team owner or a used car company owner who has no relevant experience is -- is taking a huge risk for the United States.

DOUGHERTY: A risk, he says, especially after 9/11.

NALAND: If that person has no experience with intelligence matters or security matters or military matters, something could happen and that ambassador could be the wrong person at the wrong time.

DOUGHERTY: So far, only five of Obama's 189 nominated or confirmed envoys a career Foreign Service officers. Some were major Obama supporters, like Pittsburgh Steelers owner Daniel Rooney for ambassador to Ireland and entertainment company head Charles will, at times, kin, who raised half a million dollars for Obama, nominated for ambassador to France.

Most presidents choose about one third of their nominees from outside the State Department. The American Foreign Service Association wants it to be just 10 percent. The Foreign Service Act of 1980 says contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor.

Neither Rooney for will, at times, kin has diplomatic experience, but Rooney has broad connections in the Irish community. Will, at times, kin's father was an ambassador and he grew up in French speaking countries.

Plus, some countries like the idea of having someone who they think has the ear of the president.

Barack Obama admits he will make some political appointees, as previous presidents have.

OBAMA: It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some excellent public servants, but who haven't come through -- through the ranks of the civil service.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And some political appointees work their entire lives in the diplomatic arena. For example, President Obama's NATO ambassador, Ivo Daalder, he was on the NSC, the National Security Council, and advised Barack Obama during the campaign -- John.

KING: And he's not going to London or Paris. Jill Dougherty for us at the State Department.

Jill, thanks very much.

First Lady Michelle Obama pays a visit to the kids who helped her plant the White House fruit and vegetable garden and offers what you might call a healthy lesson in eating -- the first lady in her own words.

Plus, a kidnapping foiled by a pizza guy. He shares his story of the delivery he'll never forget.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Fredrick Whitfield is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what do you have?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again, John.

Hello, everyone.

Those Maryland school kids quarantined in China amid swine flu concerns can now finish their trip. A mother of one student tells CNN the teenagers were released after their temperatures registered normal. Chinese authorities quarantined a group Monday because a person on the plane was suspected of having swine flu. Once released, the mother says, the students boarded a bus filled with gifts and flowers. They returned home on Sunday.

A pizza deliveryman helped rescue a kidnap and rape victim who investigators say was being held in a remote cabin in Tennessee. Investigators say a 46-year-old man kidnapped a woman while she was jogging in Atlanta, Georgia. They say he took her to a rental cabin, raped her, tied her up and then ordered a pizza. That's where the deliveryman comes in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WVLT)

CHRIS TURNER, PIZZA DELIVERYMAN: He signed the credit card slip and she pops up over the couch and her hands were bound with rope and then is mouthing to me: "Please call 911."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Wow! His call led sheriff's deputies to the scene, where they arrested the suspected kidnapper.

Questions surround a New York shooting scene where a police officer was shot and killed yesterday by a fellow officer. The police commissioner says Omar Edwards, who was black, was off-duty and in plainclothes when he saw someone rummaging through his car and chased the suspect with his gun drawn. The commissioner says a patrol officer, who was white, saw the chase and opened fire, killing Edwards. Community members are questioning whether race played a role. And President Obama is developing a habit these days, it appears. He made another surprise visit to a burger joint today. And this time, he stopped at the restaurant, Five Guys in Southeast Washington, D.C..

So how did he take his cheese burger?

Well, he added lettuce, jalapeno peppers and mustard. He also ordered several burgers to go. Earlier this month, President Obama and Vice President Biden tried a burger joint in Iowa. And all that after checking out the Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C., as well.

And this just in. The Associated Press is reporting the winner of the Preakness, Rachel Alexandra, will not run in the Belmont Stakes. The filly's owner had been working out the horse at Churchill Downs and was waiting to decide whether to enter the horse in the third leg of the Triple Crown. Rachel Alexandra became first -- the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness, but will stop from there.

That's enough history-making for that horse -- John.

KING: All right. I bet we haven't heard the last, though.

WHITFIELD: I know it.

KING: Fredricka Whitfield.

Fred, thanks very much.

It's been dubbed a Clash for Cash -- Bill Clinton and George W. Bush go before the public, for a price.

So what's the real relationship between the former presidents?

Is the GOP shooting itself in the foot?

Some Republicans keep shooting off their mouths about the Supreme Court nomination. The latest -- the congressman likens a Latino group to the KKK.

And back when he was known as Barry Obama, a fellow students took dozens of pictures. Decades later, they're on display.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, North Korea taunting the world with a nuclear test, several missile launches and a bold warning -- the strategy the United States is hoping will diffuse the situation.

General Motors driving toward the brink -- why a new union contract probably won't save the automaker from bankruptcy.

And Senator John McCain joins us to make a big endorsement -- the connection with the race in California to replace the governor.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are sharing a stage in Toronto this afternoon, laying out their very different world views for a paying audience in what some are calling a Clash for Cash.

But is it really?

CNN's senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, joins us live -- Candy, what is the relationship between these guys?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been off and on when you're in the political world, they certainly have had their differences, as recently as last year, of course, when former President Clinton was campaigning for his wife.

But you also know that former President Bush picked both Mr. Clinton and Bush the dad to go help with tsunami fundraising, to help with Katrina fundraising.

And, in fact, that sort of started a bond. So I think there's going to be more cash than clash in this. You're right, they have two very different world views. Obviously, that's going to be talked about. But they don't -- former presidents really do, in general, have a fairly good feel for one another, simply because they know what they've been through.

KING: They know what they've been through.

Now, the former president, most recent, George W. Bush, was out solo last night. Let's talk about that.

In a speech last night in Michigan he said this: "I was pleased to have someone serve as my vice president who was not running for president, because someone who's running for president will, at times, try to distance themselves."

What is he trying to say -- you know, with Dick Cheney out there so much, there's been a lot of people asking well, does George W. Bush agree with all this?

CROWLEY: Well, what's interesting is he also said in that same speech was that he wasn't going to criticize President Obama because he knew what it was like to be criticized by people and he didn't like it. So he didn't want to do it, which I thought certainly was -- there was no mention of the name Dick Cheney, but it certainly had that flavor to it.

But I'm also told by people that know both these men and know about their post-administration activities that they do talk. They have talked on occasion; that they, in fact, are cordial and like each other. There was some suggestion that maybe this was the good cop/bad cop, that George Bush came out and said -- didn't say nice things -- defended his administration, but didn't take that next step, as Cheney has, and criticize Barack Obama.

But they say, look, this just -- it just -- there's no coordinated thing here. Dick Cheney, as we know, has said he's -- you know, he's not in politics. He wants to say what he wants to say.

But when George Bush left office, he said, I want to fade into the sunset, I'm not going to criticize the new president and I'm going to make some money.

So I think that's what you're seeing here.

KING: Making some money. And both -- both Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush working on books.

CROWLEY: Correct.

KING: We'll look forward to those.

CROWLEY: Yes.

KING: Candy Crowley, thanks so much.

Joining us to talk about this and more, Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, and Republican strategist Tony Blankley, whose resume includes a stint as a former spokesman for Newt Gingrich.

Let me start, Arianna, to you first, on this joint appearance. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush -- as Candy just noted, they are part of the exclusive club. These guys, former presidents, tend to play nice.

What do you expect?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Absolutely. And I expect them to see a lot more of them, John. And, also, being joined by Tony Blair, who is another former leader of the free world who is on the speaking set making six figure money per appearance.

So, this is to be expected. And as Candy said, they actually have a very friendly relationship, not just over Katrina, but, also, remember when the president, during the very, very rough primary, was criticized for racist remarks about now President Obama, apparently President Bush called him and commiserated with him.

KING: So Tony, is it making cash for a good cause, maybe raising a little bit of money for themselves or their libraries or can former presidents do important policy business?

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER GINGRICH PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I don't think America has ever figured out what to do with our former presidents, and particularly now, as they're getting longer life expectancies. Obama would be 55 after his second term.

We probably should think about a better way to use former presidents than we have, which is basically to ignore them. And either they make a little money, and people scorn that, or they don't do anything but go golfing, like late President Ford.

I think we're wasting generally quite a valuable asset in not institutionalizing in some sense something more useful for former presidents to do.

KING: Maybe we'll work on a plan for that.

And let's listen. George W. Bush has been pretty quiet, especially, in contrast to Dick Cheney. He was out in Michigan last night. Ken and I told talk about one snippet.

Let's look at another one. George W. Bush in Michigan last night said this, "It's much harder to be the son of the president than to be the president. And it's much harder to be the father of the president than to be the president.

And I used to have to admonish him to not pay attention to what they're writing on the editorial pages about his son. I had gone through the same agony myself. And so I'm confident the end of the presidency is a great relief because of our strong love."

The president is talking about his relationship, the unique relationship, not since the Adams' days, of his farther the former president. But, Arianna, is he pushing aside dealing with the criticism of his own administration?

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. We're never going to hear the full story, John, of that relationship until many, many years to come, because as you know, there were fundamental differences, especially over the war in Iraq.

And you have seen President Bush 41 get emotional again and again in public. And we don't really know exactly what is going on with him. A lot of his former advisors opposed an invasion of Iraq. So that's a very complicated one.

KING: Tony, do you think it's harder to be the son of the president than to be the president? I think not.

BLANKLEY: I know neither of those conditions. Certainly I'm not going to know the being the son of. Maybe one of my boys will be -- I'll be the father of.

I would think either way. The father-son relationship is a psychologically interesting relationship anyway. Make them both president, and then you've combined the fact that very often when you're in the game of politics, you feel worse for your family than you do for yourself.

So I think it would be very hard to be the son or the father or the spouse of the president. KING: This is not the first Supreme Court battle that has turned ugly early on. But some of the language has been quite remarkable. Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh suggesting that Judge Sotomayor is a racist.

And I want you to listen to something that the former Republican Congressman, Tom Tancredo, told CNN's Rick Sanchez yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM TANCREDO, (R) FORMER CONGRESSMAN: It's an organization, called "La Raza" in this case, which is, from my point of view, anyway, nothing more than a Latino -- it's a counterpart -- is a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tony, I want to go to you first on this one because of your knowledge and activity of the conservative movement. Is language like this helpful? Everybody's entitled to their opinion, but does that help the party?

BLANKLEY: It's not a good comparison, because, of course, the KKK was a supremacist organization that used violence. And to the best of knowledge, La Raza does not use violence. So they're advocates. So they're more like the NAACP than the KKK.

But I think this kind of thing comes up when we get into identity politics. And that's what we're in the middle of with this nomination of Sotomayor. And we can talk about that.

But when you have a person put forward in part because of their genetic code, then it's very hard to separate out the individual from the group that the person represents, and you get a lot of nasty politics, which we're in the middle of right now.

KING: Arianna, I want you in on the point. But as you come in, does it disappoint you the White House is clearly decided on the strategy where they're going to try to walk back from the speech Judge Sotomayor gave at Berkeley that Tony refers to as "identity politics," where she said, among other things, but she said she hoped her experience as a Latina woman would help her make decisions in a way that would be better than a white man who did not understand those circumstances?

HUFFINGTON: I'm surprised, especially because we have the quote from Alito himself, who made a very similar remark. And in the end, all that means is that you bring to every decision you make all your history and all your experiences, and that's only human.

But I want to take issue with Tony about the fact that it's identity politics or that President Obama picked her because of her ethnicity. She's so qualified, it's so hard to make that comment.

But beyond that, I don't understand why Republicans are acting in such a self-destructive way, because after all, Hispanics are such an important demographic, they were such an important factor in the last election when Obama got 67 percent of that vote over McCain's 31 percent.

So why are they doing that? It seems totally against all the interest in the party that wants to be in the majority.

BLANKLEY: Arianna, I carefully said it was partially. And as you know, all the major media before he announced his choice, said it was going to be a woman and probably a Hispanic woman.

So the calculation that this was going to be identity politics in the selection, we all understood, "The Washington Post," the "New York Times," everybody was expecting that.

The problem comes that when you've got someone who at least in part is held out to represent a group, then when you make a criticism, or, for that matter, a complement of the individual, it's imputed to the group, and that creates this is kind of tension that we have in the politics.

It would be cleaner if we could just discuss the individual's individual merit or demerit, rather than have them always representing some genetic or demographic group.

HUFFINGTON: That's their choice. It's Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and Tancredo who are doing that.

BLANKLEY: It was the president's choice, as all the media reported, to pick someone who is going to be a woman. Just as my President Reagan did the same thing. I didn't agree with it then when he picked Sandra Day O'Connor because she was a woman instead of because he thought she was the best candidate.

KING: Help me here, Tony, because it sounds to me like you think there are principled points to make about her legal philosophy, about her specific legal rulings, and I suspect that you said it's a bits of a trap here, the president picked a Latino woman knowing that the politics of that, going after her, could be quick sand.

BLANKLEY: I don't want to impute anything to the president getting into a trap or not. He chose, obviously, to pick a candidate who was a woman and who was Hispanic. And I assume that that was not irrelevant factors in his calculation.

Nothing wrong with that. As you said, Reagan picked Sandra Day O'Connor for a similar reason.

But I am saying, when that happens, it gets very hard to separate out the individual from the group, and you tend to get nasty politics. And we're in the middle of nasty politic politics that derives from identity politics. And it's played by both parties in all sorts of ways, and, I don't think, to the advantage of the country.

KING: Arianna, you have heard from Senator Cornyn and some others in the Senate disagreeing very strongly with the language used by Rush Limbaugh and used by Newt Gingrich. Does that give you confidence that in the confirmation hearings, when the senators run the show, not people outside maybe on talk radio or elsewhere making comments, that those will be polite and on the issues and the ruling, not on personality or loaded language?

HUFFINGTON: I think much more so, John.

First of all the senators have to get reelected. So they don't just have to get ratings. So it's a very different calculation.

And also, contrary, again, to what Tony said, they have the choice how to approach this. They can approach it on the basis of her rulings, of her views of jurisprudence, or they can play the race card. And I doubt the senators will actually do that.

KING: Help me understand another issue. The White House says the president never asked her where she stands on Roe v. Wade or a constitutional right to privacy. And yet White House allies and White House official are now telling pro-abortion rights activists, don't worry, she's with us. How do they know?

HUFFINGTON: Whatever they know and however they know it, I'm sure they don't know it from the president, because the president is a very smart man, and he would never have directly asked her that question.

KING: So is there a secret code, Tony?

BLANKLEY: We have heard this before. When Republicans have nominated people, those on our side of the aisle would be told, don't worry, he's really solid. And we heard that about Souter, of course, many years ago. He wasn't really solid from a conservative point of view.

So there's always a little bit of speculation. It's a ritualistic dance that this town plays where you can't quite ask them directly, and so everybody's winking and nodding like mad. And sometimes the winks and nods are like mis-signals, and then you get a very disappointed electorate after that.

KING: Tony Blankley, thank you. Arianna Huffington, thank you,as well. With the ritual also comes a little trepidation. We will watch this one pay out. Thank you both for coming in.

First Lady Michelle Obama says the presidential campaign took a toll on her family's health. Now she reveals what she did to turn that around.

Plus, rare photos of a young Barack Obama, many of them not seen for decades. We have the pictures and the fascinating story of the woman who took them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Check this out, dozens of pictures of a young Barack Obama, most of them unseen for decades. They're now on exhibit and for sale at a southern California gallery.

CNN's Kara Finnstrom talked to the photographer about her subject, a college freshmen who called himself "Barry" Obama. Kara, what did you learn?

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, she says she met the president back when he was 19 or 20, and that even then he had a lot of charisma. She called him "one cool guy."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA JACK, PHOTOGRAPHER: Look at him, he's so cute, he's so charming here. And then he moves up, and he's thoughtful.

FINNSTROM: Portraits of a young Barack Obama back when he went by the name Barry. They were snapped almost 30 years ago.

JACK: He's got his flip-flops, he's got his high wasted jeans, remember those? He was very fashionable.

FINNSTROM: Lisa Jack was a photographer student at Occidental college near Los Angeles in 1980 when chance brought her in contact with the future president. He was an Occidental freshman.

JACK: A friend of mine said you have to take meet and take a picture of this really handsome guy. And his name is Barry.

FINNSTROM: She asked him to pose for a class assignment, and he agreed. She shot a single role, 36 pictures.

JACK: I think I captured youth, confidence, fun, and seriousness, meaning you can also see that he had quite a thoughtful and pensive side. I think they sort of show the complexity of the man already at this age.

FINNSTROM: Some of them show Obama with cigarette in hand.

JACK: Everybody smoked because it was cool then.

FINNSTROM: For decades, the negatives sat in a box untouched.

JACK: I think it was around the Republican National Convention when I recognized that these were historical.

FINNSTROM: But Jack kept the existence of the photos secret until after the election, fearing they might become a campaign issue.

JACK: I just didn't want anything to be used politically. I'm not political and these are not political.

I didn't think anybody was going to come.

FINNSTROM: A big crowd turned out as the photos went on display Thursday night at a gallery in West Hollywood. They're online too, and prints are on sale starting at $1,000 each.

Jack doesn't know if the president has seen him. She would like to give him one of the portraits of his younger self.

JACK: I still think Michelle should pick it out. He's her man.

The offer is out there, for sure, absolutely, of course.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FINNSTROM: And that chance encounter could prove lucrative for Jack. Before that exhibit even opened up yesterday, 150 copies of those photographs had been sold -- John?

KING: Well, she said he was a pretty cool guy. Now she's got a pretty cool business opportunity.

FINNSTROM: She sure does.

KING: Kara Finnstrom for us in Los Angeles. Kara, thanks very much.

A defense contractor with ties to a powerful congressman blocked from further deals with the Navy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JACK MURTHA, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: What does that got to do with me?

QUESTION: I'm asking, do you think you've been too strongly in support with them over the years?

MURTHA: What do you think? I'm going to oversee these companies? That's the Defense Department's job. That's not my job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Can Congressman John Murtha keep his distance from allegations of fraud?

And a deadly salmonella outbreak could cost their industry $1 billion. Why peanut farmers are now asking the government for more regulation.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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KING: Not too long ago, the peanut industry was in the hot seat, slammed by lawmakers after one producer's tainted product caused a deadly food poisoning outbreak.

Now peanut farmers are going back to Congress asking for more regulation.

Let's turn to CNN's Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't have enough power?

DANA BASH, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, they apparently don't.

Let me tell you something that might surprise you. The FDA, they only have the clear authority in terms of the food industry to actually, formally recall baby formula. That's it.

And food recalls, this is a big issue for contamination. Contamination scares are usually done voluntarily, and that is an example of what many call a dangerously weak food system. And farmers we talked to in the hard-hit peanut industry, they want Congress to change that for the sake of their livelihood.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: At first, Christopher Meunier's mother could not figure out what made him so sick, hospitalized for a week.

GABRIELLE MEUNIER, MOTHER: All of a sudden, the symptoms got very, very bad, very fast. We had absolutely no idea what was going on, never considered salmonella.

BASH: It was salmonella from tainted peanuts, an outbreak that sickened tens of thousands of people and caused nine deaths. The contaminated peanuts were traced to just one processing company with two plants in Georgia and Texas.

But the economic repercussions are widespread. Just ask Virginia peanut farmers Dee Dee and Tommy Darden.

DEE DEE DARDEN, PEANUT FARMER : When the salmonella scare hit, that just put the brakes on everything. It's really going to hurt us, at least 20 percent to maybe 30 percent less income on the farm.

BASH: That's why the Dardens are joining peanut farmers across the country in a move that may seem surprising, they want more government regulation over their industry.

DARDEN: The consumer wants confidence in buying a product. And I think a good food safety law would do that.

BASH: Jimbo Grissom came to lobby Congress on behalf of nearly 1,000 peanut farmers.

JIMBO GRISSOM, WESTERN PEANUT GROWERS ASSOCIATION: Stricter food safety would be good for the industry, and it would be for most industries.

BASH: Lawmakers appear to be listening.

REP. ROSA DELAURO, (D) CONNECTICUT: It is hard not to see a food safety system in crisis.

BASH: Several bills are moving through Congress to give the FDA more power over peanuts and other foods.

Now, federal inspectors visit some food plants only once every ten years. That could be stepped up to every 18 months for high-risk facilities.

Lawmakers are also pressing to give the FDA something they don't have now, clear authority to recall tainted food products.

And they want to toughen requirements on food handlers and growers to identify and report contamination.

Tommy Darden said it's worth it ...

TOMMY DARDEN, PEANUT FARMER: This is what it's all about.

BASH: ...to save his peanut farm and his way of life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Democratic aides in House and Senate tell us that Congress is on track to pass a bill stiffening regulation over the country's food supply by the end of this year.

And since it has strong support from the Obama White House, John, and, actually, senior Republicans in Congress, because many of them have hard-hit farmers in their home states.

You know, when you're talking about the peanut industry, it has really been walloped, they say they will lose about $1 billion because of the salmonella scare.

KING: Wow, $1 billion. Seeing those pictures makes me want to go to the ball game to help them out.

Dana Bash, thanks so much.

Time now to check back in with Jack Cafferty -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: John, the question this hour is, how will your children's lives be different from yours. If you didn't see your email here, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile, look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- John?

KING: A great discussion there, a great discussion. Thanks.

CAFFERTY: Interesting stuff, yes.

KING: Thanks, Jack.

Disturbing signs North Korea may be preparing for a new long- range missile launch on the heels of this week's nuclear test and days of short-range launches. What's behind the show of force?

Plus, the first lady's healthy eating. We'll hear from Michelle Obama in her own words.

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KING: First lady Michelle Obama's fruit and vegetable garden is coming in nicely. And today she visited the elementary school kids who helped her plant it, and gave them a lesson in healthy eating.

Here's the first lady, in her own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an example of why we wanted to do this. And I'm so happy that today some parents and community members have been able to join us.

One of the ways that I got involved in gardening and eating fresh foods is because I was a busy parent. When we started this election, even before this campaign, you find that your schedule is so packed that it becomes difficult to figure out how to quickly and effectively feed your family.

So, what do you resort to? I know, it was takeout. It was processed foods. It was everything quick and easy. And we started to see that taking a toll on our health.

And our children's pediatrician gave me a little tap on the shoulder and said, you might want to make some changes.

And the changes that we made were very simple. We added more fruits and vegetables to our plates. We eliminated processed foods. We didn't say no to anything. We still went out. But it was just about moderation.

And we were able to engage our children in the process of understanding what foods do to their bodies. And like the kids at Bancroft, they ate up that information. And they started schooling me and lecturing me about what I should be eating and what a carrot does and what broccoli does. And sometimes they look at my plate in disgust now.

(LAUGHTER)

M. OBAMA: But what that just told me is that kids can lead the way for us, because we care about them so much. I know I care about these kids as much as I care about my own.

And I wanted to share some of the lessons that I learned as a parent, and the improvement that I saw in our overall family health, with the rest of the nation, because it is difficult if you don't know about choices.

And we also know that access and affordability is also an important part of this conversation, which is why encouraging people to use farmers' markets, community gardens, are really critical. But we have to figure out how to make this more affordable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Excellence advice there from Michelle Obama.

Happening now -- the president's Supreme Court nominee comes between Republicans. This hour, new anger from the party chairman directed at Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and their allegations of racism.

Plus, North Korea fires another missile and blasts the United Nations members as hypocrites. New fears of a potential attack that could reach as far away as Alaska.