Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Dollars for Boehner's District; President and Pope Hit Touchy Subjects; Anger on the Streets of Iran; Bailed Out Firm Gives Bonuses Again; Homicide Not Ruled Out; President Obama Arrives in Ghana

Aired July 10, 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: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the president and the pope meeting for the first time in public -- all smiles for the camera, but what happened behind closed doors, as two men with vastly different world views hit on some sensitive subjects?

Ominous developments in Iran right now -- dramatic new images of the unrest are surfacing, as an American-Iranian academic is arrested in Tehran -- his whereabouts now unknown.

And the L.A. police chief now says he can't rule out murder -- murder in the death of Michael Jackson, while the singer's father says he suspects foul play.

Are we on the verge of a Jackson bombshell?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: It was all pleasantries and small talk as President Obama and the first lady met Pope Benedict XVI over at the Vatican today, before leaving for Africa. But behind-the-scenes, frank talk on subjects where the two leaders have little common ground, including abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president.

He has new details of his meeting with the pontiff and more -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president came to the Vatican, behind me, for his first meeting with Pope Benedict -- a meeting full of symbolism, but also substance. Topics on the agenda included areas of agreement, such as the hope they both share that Israeli-Palestinian peace could be achieved in the near future; also, the efforts at the G8 summit to fight global poverty and hunger.

Disagreements, as well, like abortion -- White House aides saying that the president wanted to stress to the pope, as he did recently at that commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, that he's trying to bring people together on this very delicate, sensitive issue. Also interesting, the pope wanted to discuss another issue you wouldn't expect at a meeting like this, perhaps. In a rare move, he wanted to discuss the financial crisis -- the pope believing that powers like the U.S. need to put some more authority out there -- more regulation of the financial markets, believing that the financial crisis has unfairly affected the poor all around the world.

The two men also exchanged gifts -- the president giving the pope a stole, essentially a vestment that had been placed on the remains of St. John Neumann, the first U.S. -- naturalized U.S. citizen to become a saint. The pope giving Mr. Obama a medal, as well as a mosaic representing St. Peter's Square.

Now, after their one-on-one, the pope and the president were joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as the first daughters, Sasha and Malia -- the first lady dressed all in black, as is the tradition.

Now, after receiving one of the gifts from the pope, the president was heard saying: "We'll find a place of honor for that." The president also noting when he received the encyclical from the pope -- essentially the pontiff's views on various important issues -- that he thinks it will be great reading material for the flight to Ghana, the president's next stop -- the first time an African-American president will be going to a majority black country in Africa.

Obviously, the world will be watching -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us from the Vatican.

President Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, are due to arrive in Ghana within this hour. We're going to have live coverage for you.

This historic trip is significant. It's the first time an African-American president of the United States -- the only African- American president we've ever had -- is visiting a Sub-Saharan African country. He visited Egypt and North Africa earlier in the year.

We're following this trip to Ghana. We're going to bring you the arrival live. That's coming up. Stay tuned for that. You'll see history unfold.

Meanwhile, there are new signs unfolding right now that Iran is coming down very hard on those protesting the government. And there's word of the arrest of the first Iranian-American journalist since demonstrations began after those disputed elections.

Let's go to CNN's Reza Sayah.

He's following all this from the CNN Iran Desk.

An American citizen has now been picked up, is that right -- Reza?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This is significant because this is the first U.S. citizen to be detained by Iranian authorities during the post-election turmoil. His name is Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh. He's actually an Iranian-American scholar and a sociologist. According to sources very close to his family, he was picked up by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, dragged out of his home on Thursday in front of his wife and a small child.

It's not clear why he was detained. But we can tell you Dr. Tajbakhsh was picked up before, in 2007. He spent about four months without charge in Iran's notorious Evin Prison and released.

We spoke with one observer today. He tells CNN this could be -- and we emphasize this could be an attempt by the Iranian government to drag Washington into the post-election fray -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope he's out of there and out of there soon.

We're also getting some more compelling images coming in to the Iran Desk where you are right now.

What are we seeing?

SAYAH: Video coming into the Iran Desk all day. We've picked out the best for you. This first one we're going to show you gives you a glimpse of what appears to be a change in strategy on the part of the Basij. The Basij, of course, the volunteer militia, who usually wear street clothes. They've come under criticism for wearing street clothes.

So what eyewitnesses have told us is that now they're wearing brand new uniforms. And you can see these security forces with street clothes on top. They're wearing camouflage vests. And what you're going to see is these surprise attacks. All of a sudden, you see a Basij member rush to someone with a camera. And the next thing, you know, we see a black frame and the picture taking is over.

Now, what happens when a member of these security forces catches up with you?

We have what could be some disturbing video to some. So we forewarn you, what you're about to see is graphic.

Now, this is a young man who we spoke to today. And he tells CNN that he went to the rescue of a number of women who were being beaten up by security forces and this was the aftermath. He says about six people ganged up on him with batons. You see the welts in his back and on his head.

Not the numbers that we've seen in previous weeks. About 3,000 people came to the streets in downtown Tehran yesterday. There was an aggressive crackdown. Eyewitnesses say the next time there could be a protest is when President Ahmadinejad is sworn in, possibly later this month, maybe in August -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Reza, we're going to stay on top of this story with your help.

Thank you. Fresh outrage, meanwhile, over a new round of bonuses at the company that took billions of U.S. government bailout dollars. That would be AIG.

We asked Brian Todd to take a closer look -- Brian, what's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this scheduled bonus payment next week could get this issue boiling all over again, as if AIG needed it. But this time, the company is trying to preempt the political fallout.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): More bonus payments to top AIG executives are due on Wednesday -- $2.4 million for 43 employees.

But Congress' bailout watchdog had this warning.

ELIZABETH WARREN, TARP OVERSEER FOR CONGRESS: Look at unemployment. Look what's happening to everyone's 401(k). Look how many people are losing their homes. And there are people who think they can still take taxpayer money and pay fabulous bonuses. I just -- it's a two universe problem here. There's going to be trouble over this.

TODD: But an attorney who represents some of AIG's executives says denying them bonuses would break the law.

JOHN SINGER, ATTORNEY FOR AIG EXECUTIVES: If these folks had contracts, then that's the prevailing law of the land. They're legally entitled to get the bonuses. And it really doesn't matter what she or people think.

TODD: Taxpayers have already made available to AIG a $180 billion bailout.

(VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: There was an outcry earlier this year when the company said it had to pay out $165 million in bonuses, even to executives of the disastrous AIG unit that caused the company's near collapse. And over $200 million in bonuses AIG says were agreed to before the bailout are still supposed to be paid out next year.

A source close to the matter tells CNN, AIG is asking Kenneth Feinberg for guidance on that set of bonuses. Feinberg is the Obama administration's pay czar, who will vet bonuses at seven companies getting big taxpayer bailouts.

AIG declined to comment, but published reports stay company has also asked Feinberg to weigh in on next week's $2 million payment, as well.

Will there be a renewed outcry? A.B. STODDARD, COLUMNIST, "THE HILL": I think it's smart of AIG to ask the administration for approval, because it does provide them political cover if the administration blesses the bonuses. I think it's tricky for the administration to get -- to put some skin in this game.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: And the Treasury Department is not commenting, but did say that overall, when Kenneth Feinberg reviews bonus proposals, bailout companies will need to convince Mr. Feinberg that they have struck the right balance to discourage excessive risk taking and reward performance for their top executives -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, technically, Mr. Feinberg is only reviewing future bonuses. There's some question whether these were from previous contracts.

TODD: Much of these were from previous contracts. And Mr. Feinberg does not necessarily have to rule on them. And if he doesn't, AIG has to take the heat pretty much alone on this one.

But you have to keep in mind the scale of these bonuses. This upcoming round next week is $2.5 million. They have another scheduled pay out next year of more than $200 million, again, from a previous contract. When that comes to bear, a lot more outrage is going to come out.

BLITZER: Yes. A public relations nightmare for AIG.

TODD: It is.

BLITZER: No doubt about that.

Brian, thanks very much.

We're standing by. The president of the United States and the first lady -- they're are about to land in Accra, Ghana. We're going there live. You'll see Air Force One touch down right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, Michael Jackson's father now says he suspects foul play in his son's sudden death. And police say they can't rule out murder. We'll get the latest on the investigation from "INSIDE EDITION" chief correspondent Jim Moret.

And one third of all American servicemen and women smoke. But now the U.S. military is being urged to ban smoking altogether.

And dramatic video raising serious concerns about the way some schoolchildren are being treated in school.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now, there's Air Force One. It's now on the ground at Accra, Ghana. You see the red carpet. The president of the United States and the first lady, they'll be walking down those stairs soon. This is an historic visit -- the first African-American president of the United States visiting Sub-Saharan Africa right now. We're going to have extensive coverage. Stand by.

Meanwhile, investigators looking into what -- or maybe even who killed Michael Jackson say they're not ruling anything out.

The Los Angeles chief of police said this to CNN's Ted Rowlands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE: Well, the inquiry into the death of Mr. Jackson is continuing. We will still await corroboration from the coroner's office as to the cause of death. That is going to be very dependent on the toxicology reports that are due to come back. And based on those, we'll have an idea of what it is that we're dealing with -- are we dealing with homicide, are we dealing with an accidental overdose, what are we dealing with. So as we're standing here speaking, I can't tell you because I don't have that information.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You would wait until the coroner is finished or do you -- that's -- you don't need to wait until their report's out, do you, to change the classification of the investigation?

BRATTON: No. We have a very comprehensive and far-reaching investigation, which has been pretty widely reported in the media -- that we're looking at his prescription drug history, the doctors that he's dealt with over the years. We have the cooperation of the DEA and the state attorney general's office, who keep those records. So those are being looked at by our personnel.

We, at the time of the death, with search warrants were able to seize a number of items from the residence in which the death occurred. And those will assist in the investigation as it moves forward.

ROWLANDS: (INAUDIBLE) a sense of the classification of a death investigation to a homicide, what needs to take place?

BRATTON: That would actually be the coroner's determination. He -- he makes the determination as to the nature of the death.

ROWLANDS: Will you wait for a definitive cause of death to change the investigation?

BRATTON: In terms of -- we move forward in a variety of ways with our investigation, which is, in many respects, a comprehensive set of inquiries, so that no matter which way the coroner's finding would go or the multiple findings he may make, we would be in a position to not have lost time, if you will, waiting for that report. So we're not marking time waiting for his report. We're gathering, based on our experience in these matters. And, unfortunately in Los Angeles, we have a lot of experience with death investigations that we've got very good investigators. So they'll be prepared to deal with whatever the coroner's findings may be.

ROWLANDS: Are you getting cooperation from all the doctors?

BRATTON: I won't speak to the intimacies of the investigation. That's not our policy. But as has been reported in the media, we're speaking to and will be seeking to a number of the physicians that attended Mr. Jackson over the years that he was being treated.

ROWLANDS: And, finally, if -- you know, because people think, oh, a homicide investigation or doctors -- there's a clear difference, is there not, possibly, in intent and in possible charges?

And just because the investigation is going one way, it doesn't mean some physician is going to be thrown in jail.

BRATTON: I'm not even going to speak to that. I'll wait to see what the coroner comes back with. And once he comes back with his determination, we'll be able to speak to -- in a much clearer and a very open way -- what our course of action will be. But I'm not going to speculate at this time. We're going to wait until he gets back with his findings. He has his role and responsibility. We have our role and responsibility. But the next move really is his.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Bill Bratton, the Los Angeles police chief.

I want to discuss what we just heard and more with Jim Moret.

He's the "INSIDE EDITION" chief correspondent, a former CNN anchor.

Before we get to that, I just want to point out to our viewers, Jim, that the president of the United States and the first lady -- they've now landed in Accra, Ghana. We have these live pictures coming in. They're going to be going down the stairs and to that red carpet fairly soon. The president of Ghana, among others -- they're waiting to receive the president of the United States.

Our correspondent Nkepile Mabuse is there. We'll go to her. We'll talk about what's going on.

But let's -- let's discuss what we just heard from Bill Bratton, the L.A. police chief. Pretty startling stuff, when he says he can't rule out homicide.

JIM MORET, "INSIDE EDITION" CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And if you listen to the chief's words, he said a corroboration as to the cause of death. That's what they're waiting for from the coroner -- corroboration. That implies that the LAPD has a strong suspicion as to the cause of death.

So, Wolf, I think that's very telling, that choice of words. And when you talk about potential charges, you could have negligent homicide. You could have manslaughter charges. I don't think they're specifically talking murder charges. But they do want to look in to see whether this is an accidental overdose or if a doctor was there at the time, over prescribing and knowing or should have known that this could lead to death.

BLITZER: And it's fair to say -- and you know the law out in California -- that they're not going to make any decision until the autopsy by the coroner's office is complete. And that's going to take, what, another two or three or four weeks?

MORET: Right. They have, actually, brain or brain tissue that they still have to examine. That will give them additional information. And don't forget, Wolf, there's no real rush to file charges.

If you look at the Anna Nicole Smith case, charges did not follow in that case for over a year after her death. So there's no need to really rush into filing charges, but there's simply the possibility that charges could eventually be filed.

BLITZER: And that clearly would be explosive if, in fact, that happens. And we saw the police chief, Bill Bratton, carefully, carefully weigh every one of his words, knowing how explosive this situation is.

Michael Jackson's father, Joe Jackson, gave an interview to ABC News. And among other things, he said this.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY ABC)

JOE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S FATHER: I just couldn't believe what was happening to Michael, because -- I just couldn't believe it, you know. And I do believe there was foul play. I do believe that, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He says foul play. Those are serious words.

MORET: They are. And if you look into potential over prescribing, changing names, aliases, doctor shopping, enablers, all of that could -- could come under the umbrella of foul play.

Remember, that -- that Joe Jackson...

BLITZER: Hold on one second, Jim...

MORET: Sure.

BLITZER: ...because I want to show our viewers history unfolding right now.

There's the president and the first lady and Sasha and Malia. They're walking down the stairs in Accra, Ghana.

This is the first time, as president of the United States, he's been to Sub-Saharan Africa. This is an historic moment, as I say. And leaders of Ghana, a country that is moving toward democracy, has had some successful elections in recent years, is doing well -- the president is now there.

This is obviously a very, very important moment in U.S.-African relations.

Our correspondent, Nkepile Mabuse, is on the ground for us in Accra -- all right, set the scene a little bit, Nkepile.

Tell us how important this is for Africa.

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It truly, Wolf, is a momentous occasion, of course, for Ghana, because this is the first country that President Obama has chosen to visit in Sub-Saharan Africa as the president of the United States; but, of course, for Africa as a whole, because we do expect Mr. Obama to touch on his Africa policy when he addresses parliament tomorrow.

So this is a huge occasion for Africa. And, of course, Mr. Obama is getting a truly African welcome, with drummers and dancers welcoming him there at the airport as he arrives and he touches down.

Some have called it a homecoming, of course, because of President Obama's roots in Kenya -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, as you say, those roots are in Kenya, not in Ghana. His father was from Kenya.

Why Ghana and not Kenya?

MABUSE: Well, you know, many Kenyans are feeling rather snubbed by President Obama, because they expected that Kenya would be the first country that he would visit on the continent.

But, you know, Mr. Obama has made it very clear that he's trying to uplift good governance on the continent. And that is expected to be a huge focus of his address on Saturday. He says that President Atta Mills, the current president of Ghana, has shown that he wants to address corruption -- corruption which Mr. Obama himself has blamed for robbing Africans of progress and success.

And he's also praised Ghana for its good governance and a similar transfer of power from a ruling party to opposition parties, such as has happened a couple times in Ghana. And they've had free and fair elections. And he sees them as a good example of what Africa can achieve. And he has made a link between the prosperity and good governance and added that there will be no investment without good governance.

So we're expecting that to be the theme of -- of his trip when he's here for 48 hours on the African continent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He'll be -- he'll be in Ghana on Friday, today and tomorrow.

I remember back in 1998, Nkepile, I was CNN's White House correspondent and traveled with then President Bill Clinton to Ghana. We were in Accra. And a lot of our viewers who remember that -- that visit will remember literally thousands of Ghanaians going past security lines, rushing the then president of the United States, Bill Clinton, not out of anger or anything, but because they loved him and they were just so excited that the American president was in Ghana then.

I assume that there is that same kind of electrical moment -- if not even much more so -- right now for President Obama.

MABUSE: Exactly, because President Obama is the first African- American president of the United States. And that, in itself -- I mean during his election campaign, many Africans feel -- felt very inspired and uplifted by President Obama.

And I had an interview with the former president of Ghana, John Kufuor, who said, you know what Mr. Obama can do for Africa is to change the psychological mind set and liberate Africa psychologically, because President Obama has said time and again that Africans can stand up on their feet and do things for themselves.

So while his predecessor, President Bush, pledged millions and millions and millions of dollars to fight diseases on the continent, for poverty alleviation and for health and infrastructure, you know, they -- President Kufuor was making the point that even if Mr. Obama does not give more money, at least he can psychologically liberate Africans, because they've been inspired by him. And through him, they believe anything is possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because not just millions of dollars, President Bush and Congress authorized, but billions and billions of dollars for Africa, for HIV/AIDS, for famine relief, among other areas.

It was interesting at his news conference, Nkepile, earlier in the day in Italy, the president made a point of saying that his father, when he came to the United States from Kenya, at that time, Kenya's economy was even better than several of the developing economies in Asia, whether it's South Korea or others.

But obviously, what has happened in India, certainly in China, Korea, elsewhere, has surpassed Africa. And he said it's time for Africa to get going. He says there are all of the opportunities there. Unfortunately, it's not happening.

And the question for you, Nkepile, because you know this story well, why?

What's going on?

MABUSE: Well, I mean President Obama said it himself -- corruption is one of the main problems on this continent. Even the aid that has flooded into Africa has not trickled down to the ordinary man on the streets. And if you look at Ghana, even Ghana itself, the infrastructure is -- is so bad that even if there are trade opportunities, it's really difficult for most African countries to actually take advantage of some of those opportunities, because there just is not the know- how, there isn't the infrastructure, there hasn't been money spent on infrastructure and the kind of things that can make Africa compete with other continents and the countries in Africa to compete on the same level with other countries.

So corruption is one of the main problems that I think Mr. Obama will talk about and that he has blamed for the state of Africa at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Some tough love from the American president for Africa. That's probably going to be one of the themes of his address before the Ghanaian parliament tomorrow. Tomorrow morning he's speaking at the parliament. Talk a little bit about that moment.

And I want to alert our viewers, we're going to stay on this picture until we see the president and the first lady and their daughters get inside that limousine and begin to drive -- drive away from the airport.

But go ahead and talk about the parliament visit tomorrow. Also, he's going to be visiting a former slave port in Ghana, which has, obviously, very significant -- significant meaning for America.

MABUSE: Yes. It's believed that Ghana is the first place that Europeans came to -- to trade, first in gold and then slaves. And Mr. Obama will be, as you rightly said, Wolf, going -- he will be going to Cape Coast to see one of those -- the places where slaves were kept before they were shipped away. And, of course, many of them died on these ships and were just tossed into the ocean.

He's also going to be going to a local hospital. And he's going to be meeting, also, former presidents. We know that he's going to be meeting president -- former President Rawlings of Ghana and also President Kufuor.

And I asked former President Kufuor whether he's going to be appealing for anything -- money or anything. And he said, no. He's just going to congratulate Mr. Obama for his achievement and he's not going to be asking for anything.

But, of course, you know, two former U.S. presidents have been here -- have pledged money to this country. And there are expectations on the streets that Mr. Obama will also be pledging more money to the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, well, there's a limit to how much money the United States has, given the economic conditions here, Nkepile, as you know -- not as much as it used to have. There you see the limousine that will drive the president and the first lady and two daughters to the place where they're staying.

By the way, where are they staying tonight -- Nkepile? -- Nkepile?

MABUSE: Well, it's not clear at the moment. We've been told they may be staying at the U.S. embassy here in Accra. But it's very difficult to confirm such things here. But we've been led to believe that he will be staying at the embassy.

And, of course, many Ghanaians are looking forward to seeing Mr. Obama, but they might not have the opportunity that you were speaking about when Bill Clinton was here, where people could actually see him and touch him. Mr. Obama is not going to have any kind of public event while he's here.

So many people will have to just live with watching him on television, even in their own country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You see the president has gone away from the limousine right now. It looks like some dancers are -- are entertaining and welcoming the president of the United States.

I don't know if we can hear any of that music.

Let's listen in briefly and see if we can.

(VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. The president obviously enjoying that.

Any -- tell us about the significance -- the symbolic significance of those dancers -- Nkepile.

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's an African welcome, really, Wolf. That's what it is. You have drummers there. You have singers. You have dancers basically to tell Mr. Obama that he's welcome here. If you drive around a car, you'll see on the posters that Mr. Obama's face is on, there's a word written, which means "welcome." You'll be hearing a lot of that while you're covering this event. This is just to signify how happy Ghanaians are to have the president and host him for the next 48 hours, Wolf.

BLITZER: Given the number of people there, it looks like they've brought out basically the entire Ghanaian government and members of parliament to receive the president of the United States. Obviously, very happy, the dancers are entertaining the president and the first lady. We'll continue to monitor what's going on. We expect in the next minute or so the president to get into that limousine and drive off for the rest of the evening. It's already late into the night in Accra. Tomorrow, he addresses the parliament, goes to visit that clay fort among other things he's also going to be having, by the way, an interview with our own Anderson Cooper tomorrow, an interview that will air here on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" Monday night.

We'll take a quick break. We'll continue our coverage of the president's visit to Africa right now, history unfolding. We'll go back to Jim Moret for more on the Michael Jackson investigation. A lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. The motorcade is leaving the airport. The president is in his limo. You see the armed vehicles leaving the airport. The president and first lady and daughters are headed off to sleep somewhere, we're not exactly sure, maybe the U.S. embassy in Accra. Historic moment you saw live here on CNN.

Let's go back to Jim Moret, who's been covering the investigation into Michael Jackson's death. And we were saying how the father, Joe Jackson, Jim, is now suggesting he believes foul play was, in fact, the reason that Michael Jackson, his son, is dead. And I cut you off when you were trying to answer that question.

MORET: No problem at all. I just want to point out to viewers who may think it's unusual to go from President Obama in Ghana to the death of an entertainer. The investigation right now is focusing on the abuse of prescription drugs, which here in the United States affects millions and millions of people. So, the investigation here is really greater than just focusing on Michael Jackson. It really has broader ramifications, so I want to point that out. But when you talk about foul play, you're talking specifically about doctor shopping, the abuse of prescription drugs, and that includes not only doctors but pharmacies, enablers, people around Michael Jackson. I think that's really what Joe Jackson was focusing on.

BLITZER: Because the coroner's spokesman, when he came out and made the initial results of the autopsy, said he didn't see any evidence of foul play then. Now, you remember those words were very precise.

MORET: Yes, I do. But you have to look at what the investigation is looking at now. It's even broader than simply the cause of death. What the L.A. police chief said very specifically was they're looking at a long history of drug use. And so, they're looking at years and years. Now, clearly what happened five years ago didn't cause the death today. However, you're looking at potential criminal wrongdoing over a period of years. So, there are a lot of doctors who treated Michael Jackson who I suspect are consulting with lawyers right now.

BLITZER: Set the scene for Monday when there is this custody hearing on the three kids and lots of speculation right now over Debbie Rowe, the biological mother of the two older Jackson kids, whether or not she will seek some sort of custody. What do we know?

MORET: Well, Debbie Rowe stated to a local Los Angeles reporter that she wants to fight for her kids, and her kids are only the two oldest kids. Those are her natural children. She has no claim as to blanket, the youngest child. However, the attorney stated they want to wait and see so that implied perhaps that the two sides may be talking. Katherine Jackson and Debbie Rowe. And this is where Joe Jackson comes in again, because he also made statements to ABD that he and Katherine should both be involved in raising those three children. We did hear through Debbie Rowe in that interview in a Los Angeles station that she wants a restraining order against Joe Jackson, because don't forget, Michael Jackson for years has claimed physical and emotional abuse by Joe Jackson, and Joe Jackson said that he thinks that at least two of those kids might have a future in show business. So, inserting him into this equation could cause problems with regard to the custody hearing that's coming up on Monday. We don't know if there have been negotiations between Katherine Jackson and Debbie Rowe, although we suspect there have. But I think Monday could be an explosive hearing.

BLITZER: Yeah. Well, we'll cover it, obviously, and you'll help us on Monday, as well. Jim Moret, thanks very much.

MORET: Sure, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's part of life in the war zone for many U.S. troops, but it could soon be banned. Details of who's urging the military to snuff out smoking.

Plus, she was a mentor to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Now she's speaking out about her qualifications and controversy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hearings are starting Monday before the senate judiciary committee on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to becoming United States Supreme Court justice. One of her mentors is now speaking out about her qualifications and her controversy. Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's looking into this story for us.

We're going to have live coverage starting at 10:00 a.m. Monday morning. All right. What are you hearing?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we had a rare opportunity to spend time in chambers with a senior judge on the U.S. district court who's also been a longtime mentor to fellow judge Sotomayor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Judge Miriam Cedarbaum has remained tightlipped as her 23 years as a federal judge in New York, presiding over mostly white- collar cases that included Martha Stewart. But she agreed to talk about her protege, Sonia Sotomayor. Cedarbaum became her mentor when Sotomayor was appointed as a federal trial judge at just 38 years old. Tell us what Sonia Sotomayor is like.

JUDGE MIRIAM CEDARBAUM, U.S. DISTRICT COURT: Everyone in this building is a friend of Judge Sotomayor's. That is when she has a party, which she loves to do, she invites the people who clean our chambers, the guards downstairs, people who work in the kitchen, everybody in the courthouse.

SNOW: Cedarbaum says over the years they developed a personal friendship with a shared love of opera, ballet, art, and music. On the professional side, Sotomayor has referred to Cedarbaum in some of her speeches, including one that's gained widespread attention.

CEDARBAUM: I didn't know that until recently, when it became of such interest to the press.

SNOW: Cedarbaum had given a speech pointing out the differences between male and female judges and their approaches to cases. In several speeches, Sotomayor took up the issue and questioned whether those differences should be ignored, including in 2001, saying, "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." While critics seized on that comment, Cedarbaum dismissed it and was reluctant to talk about it.

CEDARBAUM: I think it's a tempest in a teapot, because I know judge Sotomayor, and I have no doubt that she is what I consider an upright judge, who is not influenced by her personal biases or her fondness of -- in deciding cases.

SNOW: Of the cases society mare has ruled on, Cedarbaum sees nothing to stall her confirmation process.

CEDARBAUM: She has absolutely nothing to hide and has no reason to be concerned at all about any of her decisions over the last 17 years. She has been an upright, honest, intelligent, and careful judge.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Those views are reflected by other judges CNN has spoken with, some liberal and some conservative. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much.

Let's talk about what's going to happen next week in the U.S. senate. Joining us now, Democratic strategist, former DNC communications director, Karen Finney, and Republican consultant and CNN political contributor Alex Castellanos. Interesting, the CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll that came out today, should the senate confirm Sotomayor to be on the Supreme Court, 47 percent said yes, 40 percent said no, 13 percent are unsure. They don't know enough apparently about her. That's relatively close there.

KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, that's the purpose of having these hearings. People will have the opportunity to hear for themselves about her record and about her judicial thinking. So, and I think they're going to like what they hear, actually. I think they're going to be very impressed. She's done a number of meetings on the hill already. I hope what we'll hear are some thoughtful, hopefully tough questions, but hopefully thoughtful.

BLITZER: Barring some bombshell, you have no doubt she'll be confirmed, do you?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It certainly looks that way but that's why we have the hearings. Those numbers were better at the beginning of the process when the people heard the great uplifting bootstrap story of come from nothing in the Bronx to the highest levels of the American judicial system. But then Americans began to hear questions about the wise Latina woman reaching better decisions and issues about affirmative action and gun control, and so I think that's part of it. And also that President Obama's moving so fast and making so many large reforms that now I think a lot of Americans are looking at whatever he does, is it a question mark, so it's not just about her. It's about the president, too.

FINNEY: You know, I think she's going to do the president proud. And I hope what people see in her story is the sense of her character. Here's a woman who never let things that could have been barriers stand in her way. She set some goals and she achieved those by working hard.

BLITZER: She does have a very compelling personal story.

FINNEY: And it's unfortunate, I will tell you but I think the stakes are high for the Republicans for Monday.

BLITZER: Alex is a wise Latino man, as you know.

FINNEY: A wise Latino man.

But because of the way the Republicans let the rhetoric get far ahead of themselves when she first came out, let's hope they are able to ask fair and unbiased questions.

CASTELLANOS: But Wolf, Miguel Estrada had a great bootstrap story, too. He came to this country and couldn't even speak English as a child. He had tremendous legal experience, as well, 15 cases before the Supreme Court and won 10. So, just having a great story is often not enough.

BLITZER: He's right. Great story alone is not enough. We'll see how she does.

FINNEY: Has a good record.

BLITZER: We'll have live coverage starting 10:00 a.m. Monday morning. Very quickly on Ghana, you reminded me, I was there in 1998 with then President Clinton. You were there, as well, working for the president.

FINNEY: I was.

BLITZER: You remember that surge when all those Ghanaians tried to storm and get close to the president.

FINNEY: As you remember, it was a pretty massive field and about 500,000 people were there, and as the president and then President Jerry Rawlings started to work that rope line, there was that -- we call it the love surge.

BLITZER: It was much more organized there when you saw the pictures of the president and the first lady and the children walking down the stairs.

FINNEY: But it's very exciting that President Obama is there, and I hope all Americans can feel proud. You know, here he is touting democracy in Ghana. They've had a peaceful transfer of power and, you know, sort of reinforcing those messages on the continent.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We'll leave it right there. Glad we showed live pictures of the president arriving in Ghana in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Will U.S. troops be forced to kick the habit? New details of a brand-new report urging the pentagon to ban smoking all together. Is that possible?

And more than 35,000 fugitives nabbed. We're going to go inside operation falcon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new report is urging a ban, yes, a ban on tobacco use for members of the United States military. Wow! Let's go to our pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence.

So many soldiers, marines, they smoke. How is this possible?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It sounds almost incredible when you think about it, Wolf, but then you look at what the study found that the VA is spending billions of dollars in treating veterans' tobacco-related illnesses so the pentagon is at least considering stamping out smokes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: A cigarette dangling from a soldier's mouth. Iconic? Yes, but maybe outdated. The V.A. and pentagon commissioned a new study that recommends a complete ban on tobacco. That means no more tobacco sales on base and no smoking for anyone in uniform. Retired General Russell Honore admits he tried to quit but says some combat troops need it.

GEN. RUSSELL HONORE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: When you're tired and you've been going for days on end with minimum sleep, and you're not getting the proper meals all the time, that hit of tobacco can make a difference.

LAWRENCE: With the army worried about its record-breaking suicide rate some wonder if now is the time for stamp out smoking.

SGT. 1ST CLASS GARY JOHNSON, U.S. ARMY: Some feel smoking is their stress relief. What is the replacement?

LAWRENCE: The pentagon says "the department supports the goal of a tobacco-free military. However, achieving that goal will depend on coincident reductions of tobacco use in the civilian population." The study found civilians don't smoke as much as soldiers.

DR. KEN KISER, MILITARY SMOKING RESEARCHER: Among active duty people about one in three smoke, in the general population it's less than one in five.

LAWRENCE: The pentagon bans smoking in buildings and on bases years ago. It has counselors on call to help service members quit, but while local governments have heavily taxed tobacco, the commissaries and PX often sell it at deeply discounted prices.

KISER: The military sends very mixed signals and this is what's confusing to people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: And the study found that profits from those tobacco sales can be $80 million, $90 million a year and that pays for recreation and family programs on base. The study also recommends that the ban be phased in over five to ten years, but right now the pentagon just thinking about it. Wolf?

BLITZER: Going to cause quite an uproar. Thanks very much, Chris Lawrence for that.

It's not just the troops. The commander in chief has been a smoker as well. He's been battling to kick the habit. How does that sit with the American public? Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is taking a closer look.

Bill?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, on the topic of smoking, President Obama's position seems to be watch what I say, not what I do.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Recently President Obama signed an anti-smoking bill into law.

DR. DAVID KESSLER, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: For the first time, it gives FDA the ability to regulate, it's the most dangerous product out there.

SCHNEIDER: Mr. Obama has a personal interest in the subject.

OBAMA: Almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday. I know. I was one of these teenagers.

SCHNEIDER: When a reporter played gotcha with the president and asked him about his smoking habit, the president played gotcha right back.

OBAMA: You just think it's neat to ask me about my smoking as opposed to it being relevant to my new law.

SCHNEIDER: Does the fact that President Obama smokes occasionally affect people's opinion of him? Nope. Does it say something about his character? Nope. It just means he's human, with human weaknesses.

OBAMA: As a former smoker, I constantly struggle with it.

SCHNEIDER: Including maybe a little self-delusion.

OBAMA: I would say that I am 95 percent cured.

SCHNEIDER: Do people want the president to stop smoking? About a third do. About half say they don't care if he smokes every day. None of their business. Liberals are sometimes accused of getting into people's business. Do they care if President Obama smokes? Nope. About half say it's okay with them if he smokes every day. Republicans? Most Republicans say it's okay with them if the president smokes every day. Light up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: How tolerant those Republicans are. Wolf?

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you. Bill Schneider reporting.

President Obama touches down in Africa. You saw it live here on CNN, just a few moments ago, after a summit that left him a bit weary and disappointed. We're going to give you details of what he gained and lost in Italy, before flying to Africa.

The new GM emerging from bankruptcy. We'll tell you how much it's costing U.S. taxpayers and how many American jobs the streamlined automaker is planning to cut.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM. what is going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. navy marines are suspending their search for the black boxes. Others will try to locate the plane flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder which stopped transmitting noises after 30 days. All 228 people aboard Air France Flight 447 were killed on June 1st.

A new appeal from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the release of two American journalists being held in North Korea. Last month, North Korea's highest court convicted and sentenced Laura Ling and Euna Lee to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the country. Secretary of state Clinton today said the two women should be released on humanitarian grounds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The journalists and their families have expressed great remorse for this incident, and I think everyone is very sorry that it happened. What we hope for now is that these two young women would be granted amnesty through the North Korean system, and be allowed to return home to their families as soon as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SNOW: Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained in March.

There's been another discovery at an Illinois burial ground where hundreds of graves were dug up. Authorities say they found Emmett Till's original casket at a garage at the burr oak cemetery. He was the 14-year-old victim of racially motivated 1995 killing in Mississippi. Four people are facing felony charges for digging up hundreds of graves and reselling the plots. Till's grave was not among those that were disturbed. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary, thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, President Obama is in Africa, after a summit that left him a bit weary and disappointed. This hour, what he gained and lost in Italy, and his private talks with the pope.

Disturbing new evidence of Michael Jackson's prescription drug use, the confidential document that claims he once took up to 40 anti- anxiety pills a night.

And the feds that nabbed thousands of America's most wanted. An impressive summer sweep to take violent criminals off the streets.