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Conflicting Victory Claims in Iran; Iran Vote Critical to U.S.; Cracking Down on North Korea; Tornado Threat Near Memphis
Aired June 12, 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: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news, the breaking news we're following in Iran. Conflicting claims right now in a crucial election. Iran's state news agencies reports a re-election win for the hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but a reform-minded rival is also claiming victory right now. What we do know is there's been a massive turnout. The votes are still being counted.
Christiane Amanpour is standing by. We're going to go to her in a moment.
A stunning show of solidarity by the United Nations Security Council, voting unanimously today to slap North Korea with tougher sanctions, punishment for a recent nuclear test. But will the unpredictable North lash out in dangerous new ways?
And the former president, George H.W. Bush, celebrating his 85th birthday by jumping out of an airplane. He tells CNN -- and I'm quoting now -- "old guys can still have fun." We have the interview with the former president. That's coming up.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But let's begin with the breaking news out of Iran, where the hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his main reformist rival, Mir Hossein Moussavi, are both claiming victory in a crucial election.
Let's go straight to our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. She's in Tehran, where they're counting ballots.
What do we know right now -- Christiane?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's really been a set of extraordinary developments this night. Around 11:00 p.m. local, which was just over two hours ago, Mir Hossein said he called a press conference. We hadn't expected it. We all rushed down there. It was jam-packed.
And he said that according to his own polling experts and campaign workers and others who are at various polls and had done their own work trying to figure out the numbers, he said that he had definitely won. He also said that the election officials had, "broken their promise" -- the promise that the interior minister made that the polls would stay open as long as people were out there to vote.
Well, they did close at 10:00, having been extended several times. And he says that there were many, many of his voters still outside -- or voters still outside trying to get in.
Now, shortly thereafter, the interior ministry's official election commission held their press conference. And, this, again, totally unexpected. We had not expecting to be hearing anything official tonight -- and that was somewhere just before midnight -- to say that they had started counting and they were giving the votes so far. About 10 million votes, they say, have been counted so far. And they're giving the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, some 68 percent or so of the vote and Mir Hossein Moussavi about 28 percent of the vote. That's according to the figures that they've been bringing out. Now, Ahmadinejad's own Web site has said that he expects to win. And he says that they expect to win and their numbers reflect "the villages and the provinces."
So we do not know where these numbers are coming from at the moment and what they've counted, whether they've counted all the areas or whether it's the cities or not.
But clearly, this has gone far against what many people expected, given the outpouring for Moussavi all of this past week, given the fact that there was a record outpouring and turnout at the polls today, according to the official elections committee and according to all the people who've covered elections here before. People turned out in huge numbers -- in record numbers. And all the figures and all the analysts pointed to a huge turnout benefiting Mir Hossein Moussavi.
At this time, 1:30 in the morning here, there are competing -- competing claims of victory in this very important election -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Christiane, do they have international observers who come in and watch the balloting and then the counting of the ballots, as they do in many other countries when they have these kinds of elections, to make sure that the process isn't corrupt, that it's free?
AMANPOUR: No, they don't. They basically have officials from the interior ministry, from the -- from the governorate, from each of the campaigns. We went to several polling stations in Tehran today. And at one polling station we saw just one observer from one campaign. And it happened to be the president's campaign.
Then we went to another polling booth and several others -- we did see observers from Mir Hossein Moussavi's campaign there.
So it was a little irregular -- or, rather, uneven in terms of who was monitoring. We did hear from the Moussavi camp that thousands and thousands of people -- they had tried to register observers -- were not able to be registered. So -- so not all the polls had all the observers from all the camps. In addition, there were rumors flying -- and this, of course, was rumors flying -- that some of the (INAUDIBLE) or the pens which were going to be used at the official polling booths might have vanishing ink in them. So the election officials were compelled to broadcast last night that everybody could bring their own pens and mark the ballots. And we certainly saw people bringing their own pens.
But there has been concern about the potential of cheating, to the extent that one of the former presidents, Rafsanjani, a very powerful power broker here in Iran, had his own legions of paid experts to go out and monitor the election campaign and also had a very -- had a conversation with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, after which he pronounced himself satisfied that there wouldn't be cheating.
Mir Hossein Moussavi's campaign said yesterday -- in fact, his wife, who's been campaigning with him -- said that if there's no cheating, they were convinced that they would win.
Anyway, the polling -- or, rather, the figures now are giving the win so far to the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we're going to be staying in close touch with you, Christiane, as we get more information.
The turnout, as Christiane says, was massive. And the campaign itself was marked by fervent calls for change.
Whoever wins Iran's election may have a critical impact on U.S. policy toward Iran and the region.
Let's go live to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.
She's picking up more on this part of the story.
What are you hearing?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, the -- publicly, the Obama administration is taking a hands off approach on this, knowing that any perceived interference in that election really could backfire.
But that said, the State Department Iran watches, both in this building and around the world, are absolutely riveted, knowing that the outcome of this election could be as important to the United States as it is to Iran.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Iranians living in America cast their votes for Iranian president at 41 sites, from Los Angeles...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Soon, there can be really good relations based on mutual respect, mutual trust.
DOUGHERTY: ...to Washington, D.C.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone is so excited to be able to have an actual part in an election that could actually mean so much.
DOUGHERTY: For the Obama administration, it's all eyes on this election -- with its tantalizing possibility of better relations.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're seeing people looking at new possibilities. And whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate, hopefully, will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.
DOUGHERTY: From his inaugural address...
OBAMA: But that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
DOUGHERTY: ...to an Iranian New Year's message.
(BARACK OBAMA SPEAKING IN FARSI)
DOUGHERTY: ...to his speech to the Muslim world, President Barack Obama has offered Iran the chance of a new relationship.
But if the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is re-elected, Iran watchers predict little will change in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.
If his challenger, reformist Mir Hossein Moussavi, pulls off an upset win, most experts think the face of Iran might be more open to the West. But they caution the man who really calls the shots on Iran's foreign policy, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will remain the same.
KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: When it comes to Iran's bottom line, on the nuclear issue, on its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no one is expecting things to change dramatically as a result of these elections.
DOUGHERTY: But change in Iran -- even a bit of change -- could have broad implications for the United States on things like Iraq, on the war on terror, on Afghanistan and, especially, Wolf, on the Mideast.
BLITZER: We'll watch it closely and see what happens.
We'll check back with Christiane.
Jill, thank you.
Another important international story we're following right now, North Korea. When the Communist North tested a nuclear device, the will of the community was test -- the world community was tested, as well.
Now, with stunning solidarity, the United Nations is striking back with tough new punishments.
CNN's Dan Lothian is standing by over at the White House.
But first, let's go to CNN's Richard Roth over at the United Nations -- tell our viewers, Richard, what happened today at the United Nations Security Council.
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, nations here had promised North Korea would pay a price for its nuclear and rocket tests. And today here, ambassadors named that price.
ROTH (voice-over): North Korea communicates through nuclear and rocket tests, the U.N. Security Council through resolutions. The diplomatic weapon of choice -- sanctions, approved unanimously against North Korea.
ROSEMARY DICARLO, U.S. DEPUTY AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The message of this resolution is clear -- North Korea's behavior is unacceptable to the international community and the international community is determined to respond.
ROTH: The response this time includes new measures aimed at Pyongyang -- inspections on the high seas of any vessel believed to be carrying missile or nuclear technology to North Korea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The countries will first try to inspect the behavior with the consent of the flux state, if not to direct the boat to a port so that it could be inspected.
ROTH: However, ships can't use force to stop suspicious vessels. Russia and China remain concerned about provoking the unpredictable North Koreans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All parties should refrain from any words or deeds that may exacerbate the conflict. Under no circumstances should there be use or threat of the use of force.
ROTH: The country of origin of any ship that refuses to stop for inspection will be reported to a Security Council sanctions panel, though punishment is left unclear. Previous resolutions were ineffective because many countries failed to follow through with action.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We call on all member states to implement these measures, including the new inspections regime, fully and without delay.
ROTH: Some analysts feel the sanctions that will truly bite are financial measures designed to stop funding the secretive nation's weapons programs. An arms embargo will also be expanded on North Korea. The Council urges the North to return to political talks.
ROTH: An early indication of how North Korea will receive this resolution -- its ambassador was a no show. That was the South Korean ambassador, Wolf, listening to the U.S. delegate speech -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Richard.
Thanks very much.
Let's go over to the White House.
Our correspondent, Dan Lothian, is getting reaction over there -- Dan, what are they saying?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the Obama administration says that it is pleased with today's vote by the Security Council. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., was here at the White House. She says that it sends a strong message to North Korea that its provocative, radical actions come at a cost -- the White House really believing that the resolution has teeth that will bite.
But I can tell you, Wolf, that privately, some top aides say that it's anyone's guess what North Korea will do next. And if history is any measure, this resolution alone won't cause North Korea to back down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Based on past experience and the pattern that North Korea has of reckless and dangerous actions, it would not be a surprise if North Korea reacted to this very tough sanctions regime in a -- in a fashion that would be further provocation and further destabilizing. In that event, we will continue to do what we committed to do today, which is to implement to the fullest extent what is the strongest, toughest sanctions regime on the books for any country today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: The administration says that it is working with China, South Korea, Russia and other neighbors to really put pressure on North Korea. But senior administration officials pointing out that this is just the first step, that other options are under active consideration. They're talking about economic, diplomatic steps, but not giving any details yet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Dan.
Thanks very much.
We'll get back to you. Forty-one turns 85 and celebrates by jumping out of a plane. And our own Robin Meade of HLN jumped with him. Her interview with the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush, on this, his 85th birthday. Look what he's doing.
Also, the shooting over at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum here in Washington -- the latest in a series of deadly attacks by lone gunmen following speeches by President Obama. Why some say it's more than a coincidence.
Plus, out of the wreckage -- they salvage the personal effects of plane crash victims. Now, an exclusive look inside this very somber operation.
BLITZER: He made his first parachute jump when he was a Navy -- when his Navy plane was shot down during World War II. He jumped again on his 75th and 80th birthdays. And today, the former president of the United States, George H.W. Bush, celebrated his 85th birthday by jumping with a member of the U.S. Army parachute team.
Before the jump, he spoke out with our own Robin Meade, an anchor of our sister network, HLN, who also made a tandem jump.
Listen to this.
ROBIN MEADE, HLN ANCHOR: What's with your penchant for jumping still?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, two reasons. One, it still feels good.
BUSH: You still get a charge out of it. It's not easy to do it at 85, I guess.
MEADE: I don't think it's easy to do at any age.
BUSH: No. And secondly, just because you're old, that doesn't mean you can't do fun stuff. And I don't want to sit around drooling in the corner. And so it's -- it's a wonderful release. And, you know, because I was president, it sends a message all around that you can go out and get something doing, that old guys can still have fun and still do stuff.
And so there's two -- those are the two reasons.
MEADE: Now, I thought I remembered, President Bush, that Barbara said no more after you were 80. BUSH: Well, Barbara has different ways of phrasing her enthusiasm. One of them is, one way or another, this is your last jump. I said, come on, darling, one way or another?
The last one was, well, I'm glad you're doing it at the church here. We won't have far to move you.
MEADE: Or you'll be hanging from the steeple.
So now you're turning 85. And I know that you are not one to talk about the dreaded L word...
BUSH: No, I don't like that.
BUSH: I don't like the L word.
BUSH: No, I know...
MEADE: Now that your 85, are you thinking a little more about the L word, legacy?
BUSH: No. I was thinking about the L word meaning life -- life its own self. But, no. I think, my view on legacy is let the historians figure out what I screwed up and figure out what I got right. And I'm confident that, you know, we had a good administration and good people. And I think the same thing is true of our son.
And, you know, he had tough times and all, but he's doing it right. He's laying back there and he's not criticizing the president. And I'm very proud of him.
And I hope that we both have set examples for how you ought to conduct yourself when you've been president and then you go out of office. Let the other guy do it and support him when you can and be silent. Don't be out there criticizing all time.
So the L...
MEADE: So one guy at the helm?
BUSH: Yes. And the L word -- so, it doesn't j I mean, my view is the historians will decide these things, for better or for worse, for right or for wrong. So I'm not doing any biography or anything like that. And I'm confident, because we had such a great team around us, that it will -- it'll be favorable.
MEADE: You know, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, she's someone that you appointed to a U.S. district court.
BUSH: The district court, yes. MEADE: Now, she's been nominated for the Supreme Court.
Do you think, will she -- what would she do -- what would her impact be on the Supreme Court, do you think?
BUSH: I think she'd pull a rip cord just at the right time and make a very nice parachutist. I don't -- I'm going to leave that to others to analyze. But she should be given a fair hearing. She should be accorded every courtesy that goes with her record as a judge and her aspirations to be a Supreme Court justice. And I -- I have the feeling she will be confirmed, But, again, I don't -- I don't go into that day in and day out.
MEADE: OK. I ask that because First Lady Laura Bush was quoted this week as saying, she's a winner. You know, think she'd do good things. And I just wondered if you agreed.
BUSH: Well, I wouldn't go as far as say winner, because I don't know her that well. But I think she's had a distinguished record on the bench. And she should be entitled to fair hearings. I like the way Senator John Cornyn said it -- I mean, he may vote for her, he may not. But he's been backing away from these -- backing off from those who use radical statements to describe her or to attribute things to her that may or may not be true.
I mean she was called by somebody a racist. Well, that's not right. I mean it's not fair. And it doesn't help the process to be out there name-calling. So let them -- let them decide whether they want to vote for her or not and get on with it.
BLITZER: Joining us now, Robin Meade, from our sister network, HLN -- Robin, good work. A good interview. I see you got the Robin Meade "MORNING EXPRESS" Golden Knights jacket on. You look really good out there.
Tell us what -- how this came about and what it felt like jumping out of a plane with the former president of the United States.
MEADE: Yes. It came about because the Golden Knights, the Army's premier parachute team, they have been asking for years if I would parachute with them. And the answer has been no, but come up with something where we couldn't say no.
And they did. They -- you know, they came up with this jump with President Bush on his 85th birthday. And, you know, I'm not going to say no to a former president for his 85th birthday. So that's how the jump came about.
He is cool as a cucumber. You know, this is his seventh jump. It was my first so I was the person kind of wondering what am I going to go through. And he basically, you know, was kind of coaching me through it. He said, you're going to love, it's exhilarating, you know, made the point that he's 85 and still loves it.
So this is a little bit of him talking with his son afterward. Now, you notice the sons were not up there jumping.
But here's what they had to say afterwards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, sir. That was awesome.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It was awesome.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I'm doing good. These are two of my boys on my birthday.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So are you guys planning to skydive with him anytime soon?
GEORGE W. BUSH: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's thought about it.
QUESTION: Were you worried at all?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not until the landing.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Not -- I wasn't worried the least bit.
Were you worried, Robin?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be honest.
MEADE: I wasn't worried about him, because he's just cool as a cumber. I was a little worried about myself, whether I would get seasick or something like that but...
GEORGE W. BUSH: But you handled it.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: She did. She handled it well.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Happy birthday. I think it's awesome, an 85- year-old guy is jumping out of airplanes on his birthday.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just curious what you had for breakfast this morning, sir?
GEORGE W. BUSH: You probably -- you can find it out there in the ocean.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Never mind. No. No. It's really exciting and wonderful. And I'm so glad to be alive and glad my family's all with me here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How old you compare this jump to your first jump, which was during World War II when you were 20 years old?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, no comparison. That was -- that was under adverse conditions. The plane was burning and I did it wrong. I hit my head on the tail of the plane and the parachute hung up momentarily on the aileron. So it ripped some of the panels out.
It was quite -- quite different. But this is this is great. Just wonderful.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, can you explain the feeling when -- describe to us the feeling when you both get out of the plane and you're in freefall.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, that -- that part is fine. I mean, the first -- the only scary part is when you first look out, even though you're hooked onto somebody now. And, I don't know, what did you think, Robin?
You first look out the door and say what the heck am I doing?
And then it all happens so fast, you're just ready to go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hear you wanted to spend -- you requested to spend a long time under the canopy.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, as long as we could. We -- I forget what altitude we went at today.
What did we go at, Mike?
MIKE: 10,500 feet, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike, you should get in here.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 10-5. Yes, sir.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He's my man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you want to go again?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Sure. My 90th birthday. I've already announced it right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is harder, doing this or, say, getting a bill passed through Congress?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, that... (LAUGHTER)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: ...getting a bill from me. I don't know how this president feels. Getting a bill passed through Congress is much harder. This isn't hard. You've got professionals who know what they're doing and you just relax and enjoy it.
BLITZER: Pretty exhilarating (INAUDIBLE)...
MEADE: You know, I would totally agree with him -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I say it was pretty exhilarating for you.
MEADE: Yes. I would totally agree with him, what he said about that five seconds.
Oh, gosh, it was. That first five seconds he talks about when the -- the plane doors open and you realize, yes, you're going out that door -- yes, that's beyond exhilarating. I -- I -- they told me that if I say no, no, no...
BLITZER: And you keep your feet -- when you're landing, the key...
BLITZER: ...the key is for you -- and we're showing our viewers -- to keep your feet straight up so you don't break any legs or anything like that.
MEADE: Yes. They said Kurt Isenberger, who was my tandem partner, he was the national skydiving champion last year. He said just keep your feet up, kind of pike it and -- but I was going to keep those feet up because I didn't want to plant -- you know, face plant on live TV.
BLITZER: You did a great job, Robin.
MEADE: By the way, Wolf...
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.
By the way, the president said that when he goes at 90, we have a deal. I'm going to get to go with him again.
MEADE: So I will go with him. I will not be going before then.
(LAUGHTER) BLITZER: You'll be pressured by the Golden Knights. They want you to come over there all the time, I am sure.
All right. Robin, thanks very much.
Good work. A good interview.
BLITZER: And you're a courageous young lady to jump out of that plane.
MEADE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Don't forget, Robin Meade of our sister network, HLN. "MORNING EXPRESS" every morning, weekdays you can see her, on HLN.
We're following breaking news at this hour -- conflicting claims of victory in Iran's presidential election.
What will it mean for President Obama if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is re-elected or if he's unseated by his challenger?
Arianna Huffington and Tony Blankley -- they're here to discuss that and more.
Plus, so-called lone wolves, gunmen with an agenda -- are President Obama's speeches spurring them to carry out deadly attacks?
BLITZER: There's a tornado warning in downtown Memphis right now.
Let's go to our severe weather expert, our meteorologist, Chad Myers.
What do we know -- Chad?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We have this line of weather that has rolled right through Arkansas all day long, Wolf, which is raking it literally like a rake, with fingers just knocking down trees all the way across Arkansas today. This is our affiliate, WRAG. This is a look out into Memphis right now. Not looking ominous yet. But just to your west, literally 10 miles west of the city, three separately rotating thunderstorms with tornado warnings on them. And they will be with us for the next 20 or 30 minutes.
If you are in Memphis, you need to be taking cover now, even if the sirens aren't going off -- not yet, they're not going off, but the warning hasn't quite been issued for you yet. But all of these warnings are headed your way.
Take a look at the radar picture here from -- from west of Memphis now. We're still talking about Missouri and Arkansas. There is Memphis proper. This weather is right on your doorstep. It is heading your way. And it will blow through.
Even if there's not a tornado, Wolf, there will be winds to 70 miles per hour with this what we call bow echo.
See how that looks like a big bow?
That's going to bring some big time winds.
BLITZER: All right. Anybody in the Memphis area, listen to Chad. He knows what he's talking about.
We'll get back to you, Chad.
Thanks very much.
MYERS: All right. Thanks.
BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what else is going on?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.
An American student on trial for murder in Italy has taken the stand. Amanda Knox is accused of taking part in murder of her British roommate almost two years ago. Prosecutors allege that she was killed in a drug-fueled sex game. Knox said today that on the night of the murder, she was at her boyfriend's house and she accused police of forcing statements out of her after she was arrested.
A dozen people, most of them children, have been sickened in a suspected carbon monoxide poisoning at a California church. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church in San Diego County was evacuated this afternoon. Special hazardous material crews were called in. Authorities say 17 children and five adults were exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide. They are now at hospitals being treated.
And the youngest son of Senator Ted Kennedy is again seeking treatment for substance abuse. Congressman Patrick Kennedy last sought treatment three years ago after an early morning car crash. He has struggled with depression, alcoholism and addiction. In a statement, Congressman Kennedy says his recovery is a life-long process and that he will do whatever it takes to preserve his health --Wolf?
BLITZER: We wish him success. We wish him good luck as well.
WHITFIELD: One day at a time.
BLITZER: We showed the wrong video as well, I apologize for that. To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, conflicting claims of victory in a vote that could have a major impact on U.S. diplomatic efforts with Tehran. We're following breaking news on the Iranians' elections.
Sarah Palin talked to me about her feud with David Letterman. I also asked her about her political future. You're going to see the entire interview I conducted today with Sarah Palin. That's coming up later right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And President Obama is ready to sign what's being called the strongest action Congress has ever taken on tobacco use. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is now open once again two days after an 88-year-old white supremacist allegedly shot and killed a security guard. Some say it's more than a coincidence that the attack came just a week after President Obama visited a concentration camp in Germany and spoke passionately and dramatically about the holocaust. CNN's Deborah Feyerick is looking into this story for us -- Deborah?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the big question, is a pattern emerging between President Obama and attacks by extremists acting alone?
FEYERICK (voice-over): Three times President Obama has given a controversial speech. Three times lone gunmen, so-called lone wolves, have shared the headlines. The latest attack, Wednesday's shooting at the holocaust museum. White supremacist James Von Brunn allegedly opening fire five days after the president's trip to a Nazi concentration camp where he criticized those like Von Brunn who say the holocaust never happened.
OBAMA: It is baseless and ignorant and hateful.
FEYERICK: Is it a coincidence or is there a link as some suspect? Mark Wietzman tracks Internet hate speech and says it has accelerated since the president's inauguration.
MARK WIETZMAN, DIRECTOR, HATE TASK FORCE: Anytime the president speaks it reminds people again forcefully that we are being led by an African-American, that the country is perhaps taking a different direction, repudiated racism and hate at large, which puts these people in an extreme, marginalizes them even more and perhaps provides violence as their last refuge.
FEYERICK: Michael Chertoff is former homeland security secretary, says not so.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You can't really draw a connection between what a president says and what some crazy person does.
FEYERICK: Yet two weeks after the president called for common ground on the abortion debate at Notre Dame, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder allegedly killed a Kansas abortion provider George Tiller. Days later, on the eve of his much-anticipated trip to Cairo, a Muslim convert allegedly opened fire at an army recruiting office. In April, the Department of Homeland security warned law enforcement agencies right-wing extremists have used President Obama's election to recruit new members and that white supremacist lone wolves now pose the most dangerous domestic terror threat.
CHERTOFF: What is true sometimes is that when public issues are elevated in public discussion, people who are predisposed to commit an act of violence might be pushed over the edge.
FEYERICK: Experts say lone wolves are often emboldened by like-minded people they meet on the Internet. But because they usually don't announce the details of their violent intentions, it's very difficult for law enforcement to catch them before they act. Wolf?
BLITZER: Deb Feyerick, thanks very much for that.
She wrote that she was carrying a terminally ill child and choosing against abortion, but her popular online blog turned out to be a hoax. Stand by. We have details.
And Sarah Palin takes on David Letterman, calling his recent joke sexist. My one-on-one interview with the Alaska governor in its entirety. That's coming up.
And Canada geese, the birds that forced that U.S. Airways plane to land in the Hudson, they are a growing threat. What's behind their population explosion?
BLITZER: Get back to the breaking news we're following this hour, potential political upheaval in Iran. It's where both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi (ph) was found either claiming victory in today's election. What exactly is going on and what are the ramifications for the United States? Let's discuss with our guest, Arianna Huffington. She's the editor in chief of thehuffingtonpost.com and Republican strategist Tony Blankley, a former spokesman for Newt Gingrich. Arianna, how big of a deal are these Iranian elections?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, THE HUFFINGTON POST EDITOR IN CHIEF: They are a very big deal, Wolf, even though we all know that in the end much more powerful than the new president is going to be the ayatollah, the mullahs who control the country, but nevertheless the excitement, the incredible turnout, over 70 percent. Remember, we had 58 percent here and that was a pretty exciting election in November. All these things we have definite social and cultural and political implications. As to who's winning, we still don't know. They're both claiming victory. So the question is going to be, if Al Franken will be seated first or the new president of Iran.
BLITZER: Or sort of like Florida in 2000 if you will. Tony, as far as the Obama administration is concerned, do you believe it really makes a difference whether Ahmadinejad or Mousavi is elected?
TONY BLANKLEY, PRESS SECY TO NEWT GINGRICH: Actually, I do but in a way that you might not think. I agree with Arianna, by the way, that I think this election is going to have a lot of implications for domestic Iranian politics. I think the danger is if that Mousavi wins that we will be under the delusion that we can have sincere negotiations when we're looking at the nuclear weapons perhaps being available within a year, plus or minus. We're pretty cynical about Ahmadinejad, so I think the danger is that, after all, Mousavi, when he was prime minister, was the one who started the nuclear program. So, I'm afraid that we might get into what we think is sincere negotiations when they're not.
BLITZER: Are you afraid of that, Arianna?
HUFFINGTON: Not really, because Mousavi, after all, has been critical in his campaign against the isolation that Ahmadinejad has brought about for the country, against his belligerence. So, if he wins, those arguments will also win the day. And it doesn't mean that the Obama administration is suddenly going to abandon skepticism and caution.
BLITZER: Let me get to another subject, Tony. I'll start with you. Sarah Palin, I spent some time with her today. The full interview is going to be running in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour, but what's going on right now? Is she seriously trying to position herself for a possible run for the White House in 2012?
BLANKLEY: Well, look, I mean, I don't know, but she's acting as if she is. I think she's very much on her game. I mean, you gave -- I saw parts of that interview previously that you did with her and you gave her plenty of opportunities for her to step in her tracks and she didn't take them. She was very careful on how she wasn't -- you asked her, are you saying this about the president, no, no,. So, I think she is very on her game and, as you know in the polls, she is among the leaders on the Republican side. It's 3 1/2 years, so a lot can happen, but I think she's looking more and more like a potential candidate.
BLITZER: One thing she did say to me, and you'll hear the interview, Arianna, when I said, forget about 2012, are you running for re-election as governor of Alaska in to 2010? She refused to say. The reason I asked that question is because if she says, yes, I'm going to run for election in 2010, that could be a signal she's probably not going to run in 2012. If she doesn't run in 2010, maybe she's leaving the door open for 2012. What do you think?
HUFFINGTON: Well, you're absolutely right. Alaska is not a very good place geographically from which to launch a presidential campaign. So, the fact that she didn't give you a straight answer and left the door open is probably an indication that she is planning to run in 2012, because she may be able to see Russia from her porch, but it's not as easy to get to New Hampshire and Iowa from her porch.
BLITZER: I'm curious Arianna, who's right in this dispute she has ongoing with David Letterman? She's very passionate when she's lashing out at him for making that joke the other night. What do you think?
HUFFINGTON: Well, as Letterman himself admitted, his joke wasn't exactly in the best taste. But Sarah Palin is using it to actually foster that same kind of division between Letterman and real America, the same theme that she used again and again during the campaign.
BLITZER: It's a useful theme for her, isn't it, Tony?
BLANKLEY: Well, theoretically. Look, I think -- I read in Arianna's report a very good article by a woman and she argued that you should take these charges seriously, that you shouldn't second guess Palin's thoughts. These are serious things. And so, she was on Sarah Palin's side. So, I would recommend to Arianna "The Huffington Post."
BLITZER: She loves to hear that. A lot of people are reading the Huffington Post, but one thing, Arianna, you have a wide range of views at your post there. So that's always useful, right?
HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. That's the idea. We want Tony to be writing more for us.
BLITZER: I suspect he will be. All right. Arianna, Tony, guys, have a great weekend. Thanks for coming in.
BLANKLEY: Thank you.
HUFFINGTON: Thank you.
BLITZER: It's the company that actually salvages stuff that's found in planes that go in the water. What's going on? Families looking for some stuff that's really, really important to them. We're going to go inside and see how they find it, they clean it and what they do with it.
BLITZER: We're about to get an exclusive look inside a company that returns personal items from plane crash victims. Let's go to CNN's Sean Callebs. He's managed to work this story for us. What did you find out, Sean?
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting and actually this company is on standby to work in the aftermath of the Air France crash in the Atlantic. Right now, they have the personal effects from four separate crashes including the miracle on the Hudson and that crash in Buffalo.
CALLEBS: At first glance, they are forgettable items -- shattered sunglasses, a small purse, shredded clothing, negatives, a Marine corps pin. They all belong to people who were in a plane crash. And now these items mean the world to loved ones. They were retrieved by Global BMS, the only company working with U.S. airlines to recover personal items after a crash. Look at this. Doesn't the sheer violence of what happened really hit home?
MARK ROCCO, GLOBAL BMS: Oh, yeah. It certainly does. So, again, we recognize we're here to serve the people.
CALLEBS: BMS gave me an exclusive tour of the warehouse that processes personal effects from air disasters. Company executive Mark Rocco goes to a crash site with emergency officials in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. Scores of his employees will salvage anything they can. It is sobering, somber work. Carriers pay BMS millions of dollars after a disaster to make sure the job is done right.
ROCCO: It's clean, safe to handle and odor free. So you don't smell anything from the incident, no jet fuel, no smoke odor, et cetera.
CALLEBS: A pilot's wings, perhaps the last photographs a person ever took, shredded clothes, socks. BMS carefully wraps and returns all items.
ROCCO: We don't want it to look like a gift and yet we don't want to make it look like it was just thrown in a box.
CALLEBS: This weathered Michael Connelly book means the world to Dan Vinton, one of those who walked away from miracle on the Hudson.
DAN VINTON, US AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549 SURVIVOR: As bad as this looks it is real. We're just blessed we're here as a family together and lucky.
CALLEBS: In 1996, Congress passed the aviation disaster family assistance act mandating airlines do everything possible to return items to survivors or the next of kin.
ROCCO: It's a very humbling experience. One, you don't take life for granted, so you're thankful to see the sun come up every day.
CALLEBS: It can be an emotional job and Wolf, they cover much more than plane crashes. For generations they've been covering all kinds of disasters -- fires, floods and the biggest in the United States, including hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
BLITZER: Sean Callebs with that report, thanks Sean very much.
An online hoax now exposed. A woman who had built a huge Internet following by blogging about carrying a terminally ill fetus to term admits she was faking, faking, stand by.
And my one-on-one interview with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. You're going to be hearing the entire interview. She's showing off her foreign policy credentials. Is she criticizing President Obama's policies toward Israel? Stand by, the full interview, that will be coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: An online fake is now exposed. A Chicago woman who built up a significant following by blogging about carrying a terminally ill child to term now admits it was all a hoax. Let's go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She is watching the story for us. Who was running this blog?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Online, she was known only as April's mom and she had thousands of people fooled. Posting on this website that she was carrying a child diagnosed with a terminal disease to term. She said she wouldn't have an abortion. She posted that she wanted people's prayers. She posted details, updates about the pregnancy daily. As she became more popular online, she posted an address where people could send something our way should they be so interested. Last weekend, things started unraveling. The blog posted a photo saying that the miracle baby had been born and then an eagle-eyed doll maker in Buffalo, New York spotted this and said, hang on a minute. That's not a baby. That looks like one of my dolls and she posted photos to prove it. Well, the blog then was very quickly taken off line and now, a 26-year-old Chicago woman (INAUDIBLE) has told the "Chicago Tribune" that the blog was hers and it was all a hoax.
BLITZER: Why did she do it?
TATTON: This is still unfolding now. Lots of people online have questions. She hasn't responded to our questions but she did say in that interview with the "Chicago Tribune" that she just got addicted to all the attention. You can imagine that people online are really talking about this. Jennifer McKinney runs a popular parenting site that follows the fake blog. She says she is trying to forgive but she's hurt and deceived on behalf of her readers.
BLITZER: All right, what a story that is, all right, thanks Abbi very much.
We are following the breaking news, potential political upheaval unfolding right now in Iran where there are conflicting claims of victory in today's presidential election. Will Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be ousted by a challenger?
Plus, Canada geese blamed for forcing the U.S. Airways flight into the Hudson River and now the birds' population is exploding. So is the threat they pose to planes.
BLITZER: Canadian geese, the kind of bird that forced that U.S. Airways plane to land in the Hudson. They are (INAUDIBLE) a growing, growing threat with an exploding population right now. Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York checking out this story for us. What are you finding out, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know Wolf, we've heard Captain Sullenberger testify on Capitol Hill this week about large birds filling the entire wind screen after taking off from New York's Laguardia Airport. After the splash down of U.S. Airways flight 1549, there's now, a new effort in New York to combat a growing problem.
SNOW (voice-over): For Canada geese, this is what attracts them, water, lots of grass and no predators. That's why Doug Johnstone of the Marine Park Golf Course relies on his border collie Sky (ph) to chase them.
DOUG JOHNSTONE, MARINE PARK GOLF COURSE: It seems like the problem's getting worse and worse every year because there's just more and more of them.
SNOW: These geese which can weigh about 10 pounds have been growing in population and share the skies with planes going in and out of New York's area airports. After U.S. Airways flight 1549 sucked in Canada geese that took out both engines, but miraculously landed in the Hudson, the city got together with other government agencies to find new ways to combat them. Round one is kicking in now since geese are in molting season where they lose feathers and can't fly. Martin Lowney is the Federal government's wildlife services director in New York.
MARTIN LOWNEY, USDA WILDLIFE SERVICES PROGRAM: The geese will be euthanized. We're going to use American veterinary medical practice methods to euthanize the Canada geese.
SNOW: The city is targeting dozens of city-owned parks within a five mile radius of JFK and Laguardia airports. Airports already use things like pyrotechnics to scare geese using falcons, which are predators and there are airport supervisors who can shoot geese, if necessary. Officials estimate this program will eliminate about 2000 Canada geese of an estimated population of about 25,000. Glenn Phillips of New York's Audubon says it won't have a big impact and says what's more effective is creating a habitat unattractive to geese.
GLENN PHILLIPS, NEW YORK AUDUBON: They need to replace lawns with other kind of habitats, shrubs, trees.
SNOW: But the city's deputy mayor of operations says the new program is just the start.
DEPUTY MAYOR EDWARD SKYLER, NEW YORK: Considering the stakes of aviation tragedy both in the air and possible impact on the ground, that anything you can do to improve safety, even if it is only an incremental difference is worth doing.
SNOW: Now the city's airports also plan to install a bird radar system that would detect large clusters of birds. One official says the efforts will take a few years to reduce the geese population. Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, thank you.
And happening now, breaking news, a hard line U.S. antagonist versus a change candidate some compare to President Obama. One will be the next president of Iran, but both are claiming victory right now.
President Obama is poised to do something some say will stop many people from dying. It's being called the strongest action Congress has ever taken on tobacco use.