Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama's Olympic Defeat; Sex, Blackmail, and David Letterman

Aired October 2, 2009 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the best political team on television has these big stories. President Obama loses his Olympic gamble. Did he embarrass himself by failing to win the Games for Chicago? This hour, Mr. Obama's day keeps getting worse.

Plus, David Letterman's blackmail and sex scandal. Should he be held to the same standard as the politicians he often makes fun of?

And a Republican senator says his party should admit that some of the president's harshest critics are crazy. Lindsey Graham is taking on some of the loudest, most famous conservative pundits.

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

An Olympic-sized reminder today for President Obama that his popularity and personal appeal can get him only so far. Chicago lost out on hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, despite his unprecedented lobbying effort on behalf of his hometown. Rio de Janeiro got the nod and now the president is back home and he's jumping more hurdles.

Here's our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president said the great thing about sports is that you can lose but still play a super game. The problem is the commander in chief is playing catchup on a host of other issues right now.

(voice-over): The president burned tons of jet fuel and political capital to fly seven hours to Copenhagen and offer his grand vision for America hosting the 2016 Olympics.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The nation that has been shaped by people from around the world wants a chance to inspire it once more.

HENRY: But then came Chicago's less-than-inspiring finish.

JACQUES ROGGE, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: The city of Chicago, having obtained the least number of votes, will not participate in the next round.

HENRY: A sharp blow delivered by the International Olympic Committee while the president was still midair on his way back to Washington.

B. OBAMA: Although I wish that we had come back with better news from Copenhagen, I could not be prouder of my home town of Chicago.

HENRY: A turn of events that left the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod, struggling to explain what happened to his clout on the international stage.

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I don't view this as a repudiation of the president or the first lady. I think that there are politics everywhere and there are politics inside that room.

HENRY: But it's hard not to see it as a rebuke, especially after the emotional pitch from first lady Michelle Obama, her voice cracking as she recounted her late father's struggle with multiple sclerosis.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: My dad was my hero, and when I think of what these Games can mean to people all over the world, I think about people like my dad, people who face seemingly insurmountable challenges, but never let go.

HENRY: And the Olympic defeat is hardly the only challenge for the president. Even before he left Copenhagen, Mr. Obama met aboard Air Force One with General Stanley McChrystal, huddling on how to deal with the deteriorating war in Afghanistan. And upon his arrival back at the White House, the president was grappling with more bad news Friday. Unemployment rose to 9.8 percent.

B. OBAMA: Today's job report is a sobering reminder that progress come in fits and starts.

HENRY (on camera): Top White House aides are confident that the stimulus is working and will turn the jobs picture around early next year, but that's still far from a certainty and the president is still facing an uphill struggle in his push for health reform. A loss in that battle will be far more devastating than the defeat here in Copenhagen -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ed Henry in Copenhagen for us, a dramatic day indeed.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, Republican strategist Tony Blankley, and our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

How much of an impact, Gloria, if at all will this have politically on the president, the setback in Copenhagen?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think in the long term, probably not much. But in the short term, it gives his political opponents in particular an opportunity to say he looked foolish. It gives the rest of the people in the country an opportunity to say, gee, we thought we were seeing a little bit too much of him. And this may be kind of a tipping point, because a lot of folks thought, gee, why is he going over to Copenhagen to cut a deal that wasn't done before he got there?

That's not good politics.

BLITZER: Yes, but it's a secret ballot, so it's hard to cut a deal in advance.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I was shocked that Chicago did worst of the four cities, I thought in the end it would be a contest between Rio and Chicago.

(CROSSTALK)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. It was this whole, oh, it's between Chicago and Rio. And then like right out of the box, OK, it's not you, Chicago. There wasn't even any anticipation.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: And I think, in Chicago, they were going, what? It's not only didn't we win; we placed fourth.

So, I think long term there just wasn't -- there's no political gamble here for him. It's not as though NATO now says, well, now we're not going to send troops to Afghanistan. And he lost the Olympics. So, I just think it's a couple of days, a weekend full of, oh, well, I guess his rhetorical powers aren't as great as we thought they were. And then we move on, because the real question is can he deliver health care?

BLITZER: What do you think, Tony, because some will have deeper analysis?

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, it's not the end of the world, but it's an unfortunate event for him. It undercuts some of the images for him as being popular internationally.

It also, just at a technical level, it gets an audience that doesn't usually follow politics. This is the sports audience. I know from my experience any time a politician gets into a cultural issue, suddenly you have a whole audience, not just the people who watch politics, but -- so, a new group of people who don't look up very often at politics have looked up and he probably didn't perform as he would like.

BORGER: Maybe he gets some credit for trying in that case with those people.

BLANKLEY: Well, he might. I think it more reflects the poor management of the White House. They just don't seem to have priorities and message discipline.

CROWLEY: But didn't you get the feeling -- and Suzanne would know this better -- but I and the get the feeling -- he said two weeks ago, I can't do this. I haven't got the time, right? He said that publicly.

And you just get the feeling that Valerie Jarrett and his wife came to him and said, you know what? If you came, maybe we could get it.

(CROSSTALK)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There's the sense at the White House talking to aides there is that they feel -- it's not invincible, but they feel pretty much empowered. We can do anything. We have taken on a lot these last eight months. We're just going to keep going and going and going and going.

I think this deflated them. I was on the South Lawn of the White House today and I saw the body language between the president and Michelle, and the two of them were walking hand in hand. And they have those kind of tight smiles, like, we're OK, we're OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: But it wasn't convincing.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But, Suzanne, they're going to -- people are going to forget about this, I think, in a few days.

What they're not going to forget about are the jobs that are continuing to be lost. Today, another quarter-of-a-million jobs lost in September. The president spoke about that when he came back to the White House. Listen to what he said.

(CROSSTALK)

B. OBAMA: But, for the second straight month, we lost fewer jobs than the month before, and it was the fewest job than that we had lost in a year. So, make no mistake. We're moving in the right direction.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, that's -- excuse me -- that is what he said back on September 7, that they're moving in the right direction, but still a quarter-of-a-million jobs lost, 9.8 percent unemployment.

He acknowledged that this is a serious problem that he's got to work on.

MALVEAUX: They are worried about this. Time is not on their side. They realize that the jobs are not going to catch up to the recovery. And so, they keep trying to convince the American people that the recovery is actually working, that there's something that is happening here.

That's not a message that's actually really resonating with a lot of people. And when we talk about going to the Olympics and stretching yourself far too thin, not just talking with White House aides, I talked to -- my mother's a good barometer, and she's a big Obama fan -- she's got the cardboard cutout and everything -- but that she was the one person who said, look, this is a mistake. I don't think you should be going to Copenhagen.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: There's too much going on in this administration.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold your thoughts, guys. We got a lot more to discuss.

I want to bring in Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File," though, right now -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I don't suppose that this would come with any big surprise that money is the biggest source of stress in most countries in the world. A "Reader's Digest" survey asked people from 16 countries what stresses you most and gave the options of money, family, health or the state of the world.

Money topped the list in 10 of those countries, not surprising, since we're going through the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression in this country. The nations that worry the most about money, they include Malaysia, China, Singapore and of course the United States.

The countries who care the least about money are Russia, France and Italy. In these three countries, people were more worried about their family. The poll finds the second biggest source of stress is the state of the world. People in most nations, with the exception of Italy, are not too stressed about their health.

In Italy, though, health was the top issue for men, number two for women. The poll results also show that men and women often worry about different things. A senior editor with "Reader's Digest" says it's not surprising that people in a lot of these countries agree that money's their biggest worry. She says, "We have more in common across national borders than we might realize. That's a quote.

So, here's the question. What's your biggest cause of stress and why? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and unburden yourselves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of folks will, Jack. Thank you.

The drama over Afghanistan's presidential election sees a dramatic twist. Amid allegations of massive election fraud, the second highest ranking United Nations official in Afghanistan is now out of a job. Is it because he urged a complete recount in the Afghan election, and that angered the president, Hamid Karzai? I will ask him.

Also, that same man give us a unique inside assessment of Afghanistan. What should the U.S. next steps be regarding the war?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He was the second highest ranking United Nations official in Afghanistan, but now he's out of a job after clashing with his boss over the disputed Afghan presidential election.

Peter Galbraith had pushed for the U.N. to forcefully address widespread allegations of voter fraud. He's joining us now.

Peter, you saw problems even before the voting started. How bad was the situation, bottom line?

PETER GALBRAITH, FORMER U.N. REPRESENTATIVE TO AFGHANISTAN: Well, the fraud was massive. Probably up to 30 percent of the votes cast for -- of the votes recorded for President Karzai were not actually cast by voters.

In some areas, the polling centers' results came out that were totally improbable, that 4,048 votes for Karzai out of 4,048 votes cast. In other centers, people's vote were seen -- were recorded as voting in exact numbers of 500 for Karzai, none for anybody else. It was massive and it was obvious.

BLITZER: So you wanted a total recount. You wanted a do-over, but you were overruled on this. Your boss, the top U.N. official, said you're wrong and basically Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. secretary- general, fired you?

GALBRAITH: Well, it became a choice between him and me, or at least he put it that way, and the secretary-general decided for him.

But it wasn't just a recounted that we were talking about, Wolf. Before the elections, I wanted to push the Afghan institutions -- and we were there to support Afghan institutions -- to eliminate what I call the ghost polling centers. These were polling centers that actually were never going to open because they were in areas that were so insecure that the Afghan election officials had never been able to go to them. And, so, the votes were recorded for those places, but they never existed.

BORGER: Mr. Ambassador, how big an impact should this alleged corruption in this election have on our future relationship with Afghanistan as we talk about the possibility of putting as many as 40,000 more troops there?

GALBRAITH: Well, we're in Afghanistan, not -- we want to help the people of Afghanistan, but certainly the United States is there for its own interest. But it does raise a...

BORGER: But if Karzai is corrupt, doesn't that affect things?

GALBRAITH: It certainly does. And the idea of the counterinsurgency strategy and the 40,000 additional troops, that can work if there is a credible Afghan partner. But we know that the Karzai regime has been ineffective. It's been riddled with corruption. And now it appears that it may be staying in power through an election that was massively fraudulent. It's not going to have the credibility with a large segment of its own people to be a reliable partner to the United States.

MALVEAUX: Ambassador, did the Obama administration have any idea how big a problem this was going to be? Because clearly the president said they were going to put an additional at least 20,000 troops to make sure that those Afghan elections were legitimate and that that would take place, and then they would reassess the security situation in that country. Now we see that this fraud has continued. Did they have a sense at all in terms of how bad this could turn out?

GALBRAITH: Well, I think Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, did have an idea.

And I'm sure that he was passing the word on to his superiors. But, frankly, this is really a failing of the U.N. mission, of which I was the deputy chief.

We were responsible for supporting free, fair and transparent elections. And the head of the mission, at every stage, tried to stop me and my team, who was 100 percent behind what I wanted to do, first to try to reduce the risk of fraud and then address the fraud after it took place.

BLANKLEY: Mr. Ambassador, if the Biden plan was put in place, what would be the effect on the Afghan government and our interests there?

BLITZER: Well, let me just explain, before he answers that question, the Biden plan meaning a much more reduced U.S. military level to go after terrorists, a counterterrorism plan, as opposed to a much more robust U.S. military presence, which is what General McChrystal, the U.S. commander, is recommending.

But go ahead.

GALBRAITH: I'm not sure how the Biden plan would end up working if in fact that is his plan, because I think there may be need for troops in doing things other than counterterrorism.

But what is clear to me is that a step up in resources in these circumstances is very questionable. And I think perhaps we could use the leverage of these additional troops to try and get a credible government in Afghanistan. The root of the problem is that the way that most Afghans experience government is as inefficient, as corrupt, and, even worse, as abusive of power.

CROWLEY: Mr. Ambassador, as I sort of understand this from the 50,000-foot view, the U.S. may some time in the future send an additional 40,000 U.S. troops, if indeed that's what's being asked, to add on to our 68,000 troops that are already in Afghanistan to at least create a stable environment for a government that is corrupt and stole the election. So what is the alternative here?

GALBRAITH: Right. You ask a question -- I'm back home in Vermont -- and people after seeing these elections are always asking me, what is the Vermont National Guard going there to do? So I think that that is a very fair point.

Again, I think the answer, part of the answer, it's a very difficult situation, but we do need to have a credible partner that is going to be able to do things like improve local governments, apply the rule of law, address corruption, and promote economic development.

And that partner, which has to be the Afghan government, has to enjoy the support of the people. And there is going to be a segment of the people in light of these elections which are not going to accept the authority of that government.

BLITZER: Ambassador Galbraith, what do you say to those who say, yes, Hamid Karzai, he may not be perfect, he may have stolen the election, he may be a flawed president by our definition, but you know what, he's a lot better than the Taliban, a lot better than al Qaeda; you can't hope for perfection in Afghanistan?

GALBRAITH: Well, of course he's a lot better than the Taliban and al Qaeda. And he's -- you know, he's quite a pleasant person.

But, under his leadership, every year, the Taliban has made gains, every year, the security situation has gotten worse, to the point where, in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, the Taliban are in control of the countryside, they operate freely within the cities, and there's every reason to expect the situation's going to be -- further deteriorate unless we have change, a changed approach at the central government as well as on the local level.

And that either means having fair elections, letting the Afghan people decide, and if Karzai is their choice, certainly a very improved performance than we have seen from him in the last seven years.

BLITZER: Very quickly, give me a quick answer, because we're out of time, Ambassador Galbraith. Do you have confidence that the Obama administration, at the military and the civilian level, knows what it's doing in Afghanistan right now?

GALBRAITH: Absolutely.

This is a superb national security team, but I also would urge the president to rely on his instincts. Remember another young president, President Kennedy, who in 1961 resisted the pressure from his military to increase the number of troops in Vietnam and to convert their role from advisers to combat. This is a presidential decision and I have confidence in the president and his instincts.

BLITZER: Ambassador Galbraith, thanks very much for coming in.

It's as emotional as it is shocking, an Israeli soldier captured three years ago now seen in a videotape proving he's alive and sending a heart-wrenching message to his family.

Also, gripping new video from the scene of a massive killer quake where more than 1,000 people are feared dead.

Plus, the man accused of a sex blackmail scheme against David Letterman in court today -- we're finding out new information about him and the alleged crime.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: The prosecution makes its case against the man accused of blackmailing David Letterman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Halderman wrote that he needed to make -- quote -- "a large chunk of money" -- unquote -- by selling Letterman a so-called -- quote -- "screenplay treatment" -- unquote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Just ahead: new developments in the Letterman sex and extortion scandal.

And John McCain's former campaign manager warns Sarah Palin could do something that would be -- quote -- "catastrophic."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A double shocker involving David Letterman. The late- night TV host the target of an alleged blackmail attention by a CBS News producer, Robert Joe Halderman. He's accused of trying to extort $2 million by threatening to reveal sexual encounters Letterman had with some of his employees, encounters to which Letterman is now confessing.

Halderman was in a New York City courtroom over the past few hours.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is joining us now with more.

Susan, what's the latest?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Wolf, that CBS News producer is out of jail on $200,000 bond. He's described as intelligent, top-notch, but now stands accused of doing something his co-workers say is incredibly stupid, trying to blackmail David Letterman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Veteran CBS News producer Robert Joe Halderman is now making headlines in a tawdry blackmail case. Prosecutors say he tried to shake down late-night talk show host David Letterman for $2 million to keep Letterman's sex life quiet.

But Letterman beat him to it, surprising his audience by announcing he had affairs with co-workers and told a grand jury about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: The creepy stuff was that I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: His production company says the affairs happened before Letterman's marriage to his long time companion last spring. Prosecutors say Halderman gave Letterman a rude awakening about 6:00 a.m. Three weeks ago, leaving a package in Letterman's car outside his Manhattan home. The package contained a letter and a one page screenplay idea, threatening to reveal Letterman's affairs.

ROBERT MORGENTHAU, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Halderman wrote that he needed to make "a large chunk of money" by selling Letterman a so- called "screenplay treatment." The one page "screenplay treatment" attached to the letter referred to Mr. Letterman's great professional success and to his "beautiful, loving son."

CANDIOTTI: Letterman's attorney called the D.A. and they set up a sting. Two meetings were recorded between Halderman and Letterman's attorney at New York's Essex House Hotel. Wednesday, prosecutors say Halderman took the bait and deposited a dummy check. He was arrested outside CBS Thursday.

Halderman worked for CBS for 27 years and won an Emmy for this "48 Hours" documentary. He lives in Connecticut. He's divorced with two children and is paying $6,800 a month in alimony. A family spokesman says Halderman has been depressed about being far away from his kids. His lawyer says they'll fight the charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he's doing as well as can be expected. He's not dispirited. He -- he -- there is another side to the story. I'm not telling it today. There is another side to the story. It's not -- it's not the open and shut case.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Now, how did Halderman know about David Letterman's affairs?

It is not clear. But we do know, according to court records, that Halderman had a live-in girlfriend in 2007-2008 who worked for "The Letterman Show."

Was she the source?

And the other question, Wolf, is, how will fans react?

We can tell you the investigation is continuing.

BLITZER: All right, Susan.

Thanks very much.

Let's assess what's going on.

Back with us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley; Republican strategist Tony Blankley; and our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Gloria, you used to work at CBS.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from your former colleagues over there?

BORGER: I think they're stunned. They're shocked. This is someone who had a reputation as quite a good producer, has worked at CBS for many years. So as you can imagine, people there are just walking around shaking their heads. They...

BLITZER: The -- the use of the word creepy...

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Is a little bit creepy.

BLITZER: Yes, is very creepy...

BORGER: Creepy.

BLITZER: ...the fact that he described the relationships as creepy. He went on to acknowledge that he did have sexual relations with some employees at "The Late Show".

But what -- what do you make of that -- Candy?

CROWLEY: I -- I make of it -- I -- I just have this feeling. And, you know, and I -- it's the reporter in us -- that there's something else about this -- about whatever it was that went on. I mean $2 million saying you had sex with some people on your staff does -- it seems kind of like a high -- I mean I've never -- I've not been in the market, but it seems like that's kind of a high price.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: And then he uses the word "the creepy things that I've done," and you're thinking what did he have on him?

What is this?

(CROSSTALK)

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: But -- but keep -- keep in mind, that if they're a subordinate, then it could be sexual harassment and there are executives across this country who get fired... UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.

BLANKLEY: ...for that couldn't.

So is that what he makes -- I don't know what Letterman makes every year, but it's an awful lot more than $2 million. So if -- if the charges are true -- and David Letterman admitted last night that he had had relations with women on his staff, which meant subordinates. So he's admitting to something that most of the human resources offices in offices around the country would say is a violation...

BLITZER: If it...

BLANKLEY: ...and usually a fireable one.

BLITZER: But it's not necessarily any criminal violation...

BLANKLEY: No, no, no, no, no, no.

BLITZER: It's not any...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ...anything that's against the law.

BLANKLEY: No, it's a violation, but it's -- usually a condition of employment is not to commit sexual harassment.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it's very different, though, that, how -- how he's managed to handle this, spin this, if you will, as opposed to politicians who get into this kind of trouble. I mean I'll never forget when we had a fax from "The Drudge Report" that came over. John Palmer and I are in the office. We looked at it and said, oh, you know, Clinton with an intern.

And, you know, we thought is this going to be a story?

I don't know. Maybe not, you know. And then nine months later, we're covering the impeachment of the president. And it makes you think and it makes you talk about the possibility, what if Bill Clinton had handled this the same way and just had decided to -- to be truthful about -- about the affair?

I'm not saying it's a, you know, a situation with a young person, an intern, like Letterman. But if there was full disclosure from the very beginning...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: I mean it's interesting...

MALVEAUX: -- history would have been very different.

BLANKLEY: It's interesting you say that, because my recollection is at the time, people thought -- at the end of '98 -- that if he had not liked, if the president had not lied about it, he could have lost -- he could have been driven out of office that week in January, the 21st.

CROWLEY: Yes.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: That there was a fervor...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: There was a huge thing going on.

CROWLEY: There was. Yes.

BLANKLEY: And he created a -- a break and allowed everything to dissipate over the months and then was able to survive.

BORGER: And then had another enemy.

BLANKLEY: Yes. And so...

BORGER: I mean, you know, but...

BLANKLEY: ...he probably...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But Letterman got out in front of his own story here, decided, in an odd way, I thought, by the way, because the audience wasn't sure whether she was joking or whether he was telling them a serious story. But he decided to tell his side of the story first, on his show, in his way, issue the press release. And then you saw the lawyer today say, well, there's another side of the story but...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The first rule of damage control, as you know...

CROWLEY: Is to get out there.

BORGER: Is to get out there.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ...is you -- you tell the bad news instead of letting your enemies tell the bad news.

CROWLEY: Right. It's not as though bad behavior, however you want to define that, has exactly been, you know, get out of the game in Hollywood and entertainment. And that's why, you know, I -- I'm wondering why this was necessary to do this, you know -- he started on the show to sort of describe it the way he did, because entertainers, this is -- this is not, I don't think, huge news.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is there one standard, Tony... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ...for politicians who get themselves involved in these kinds of affairs, as opposed to entertainers, shall we say?

BLANKLEY: Sure.

BLITZER: Should there be a different standard for a public official as opposed to a private citizen?

BLANKLEY: Well, I mean, the question is, of what value is the individual to the organization?

If -- if Letterman is still of value to CBS, then they'll keep him. If a politician is not of value to the voters, they'll kick him out. And so I mean...

BORGER: His ratings are off.

BLANKLEY: At a practical level, it's a different -- it's a different question. As an ethical question, they should all be measured by the -- by the same standard...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It comes at a time, as you know, Suzanne, when his ratings were really very, very strong -- regularly beating Conan O'Brien.

MALVEAUX: Right. And, also, too, I do think, though, there is -- there seems to be a double standard because you look at the Polansky situation and it does seem as if people in Hollywood are applying a different kind of standard.

And I also think Washington -- the whole tone of Washington is very different than L.A.

BORGER: Yes.

MALVEAUX: I mean that plays out tremendously. I don't think there's a lot of wiggle room or forgiveness when it comes to politicians and their...

BORGER: Well...

MALVEAUX: -- and their transgressions in Washington...

BORGER: And (INAUDIBLE)...

MALVEAUX: It's a -- it's a brutal (INAUDIBLE)...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: But look what happened to Polanski. I mean...

MALVEAUX: It's a brutal environment right now. BLANKLEY: ...it turned on him. Initially, everybody was -- not everybody, but his friends were saying poor, poor Polansky. And then the French and others have said no, wait a second, rape is rape, whether you're a big shot or not. And so this is an interesting week to -- to be dealing in double standards, because it kind of reversed on Polansky.

BORGER: But if you're a viewer and you don't -- and you're a woman viewer, in particular, and you don't like David Letterman's behavior, you just don't have to watch it.

CROWLEY: Right. The point is the realm is different.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: If you're an entertainer, it's about the ratings.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: if you're a politician, it's about the voters. So I don't know that it's so much a different standard as it is a different way of measuring whether they should stay or go.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it there. But don't go away, guys. We have more to discuss.

A powerful Republican takes off the gloves and offers his unvarnished assessment of some members of the conservative media. Senator Lindsey Graham calling some far right pundits -- and I'm quoting now -- "crazy" and talking on the popular talk show host, Glenn Beck -- taking on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Glenn Beck is not aligned with any party, as far as I can tell. He's aligned with cynicism. And there's always been a market for cynicism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And a top Obama Education official has made it his focus to teach tolerance in the nation's schools.

So why do some administration critics still call him a danger?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An openly gay member of the Obama administration is fighting back against attacks from the right. We're going to follow up on a story we reported on yesterday.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin -- Jessica, you spoke with a key figure in this controversy.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I did, Wolf. And that person is coming to the defense of the Obama administration official. Now, let's put this in context. Conservative groups are calling for Kevin Jennings, a Department of Education official, to resign because of counseling advise that he gave a gay student two decades ago. Critics charge that Jennings, who is himself openly gay, condoned what they called statutory rape, even child molestation, because they say 20 years ago, he failed to tell authorities an underage student had sex with an older man.

Well, now, that one time student at the heart of the controversy is speaking out and speaking to us. In a statement obtained by CNN, the former student, called Brewster, says he actually did not have sex with the older man. He says: "Since I was of age of legal consent at the time, the 15 minute conversation I had with Mr. Jennings 21 years ago is of nobody's concern but his and mine." But he goes on to explain: "In 1988, I had taken a bus home for the weekend and on the return trip met someone who was also gay. The next day, I had a conversation with Mr. Jennings about it."

He says: "I had no sexual contact with anybody at the time, though I was entirely legally free to do so. I was a 16-year-old going through something most of us have experienced -- adolescence."

He also calls this whole firestorm "homophobic smear attacks."

Well, Wolf, the critics have also contended that Brewster was 15 at the time of this incident. The Fox News Web site continues to report that.

But here is a copy of his driver's license and it verifies that he was actually 16 at the time, not 15, which means that if there had been sex, he was actually the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.

Now, the Obama administration official, Kevin Jennings, has said, look, he thinks he should have handled the counseling differently. But secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, and the White House, are both standing behind Kevin Jennings tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin with that update.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, a powerful Republican senator is blasting some people on the far right. We're talking about Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He attended a conference here in Washington and said this about his own party and calls among some people -- he said that some people, at least on the far right, were, in his word, "crazy."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: You have to say that's crazy. So I'm here to tell you that those who think the president was born somewhere other than Hawaii, you're crazy. He's not a Muslim. He's a good man. And let's knock this crap off and talk about the real differences we have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He says those birthers who are questioning where the president of the United States was born, he says they are crazy.

Let's assess what's going on right now.

Tony, what is going on among the Republicans?

You're a Republican strategist.

BLANKLEY: Well, you know...

BLITZER: All of us know Lindsey Graham.

BLANKLEY: Yes, I know Lindsey. I've known him for years. I -- I -- he's usually pretty careful with his words. But regarding Glenn Beck, which is what he got most of the headlines for, I don't know on what basis he would call Glenn cynical. And, I mean I've listened to Glenn for years on radio and watched him on this network and others. And you may or may not agree with him, but to accuse him of being cynical, I don't know what the basis -- I mean he sort of reminds me of sort of a William Jennings Bryant kind of a person. He's very passionate at a time when the country is scared about a lot of things. That's not necessarily bad, to -- to talk to the passion of the people. Good people and bad people do that. And I don't see the -- the need to -- to attack people who are exercising their free speech...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: ...if you're a senator.

CROWLEY: Well, but...

MALVEAUX: Do you think it's cynical to call the president racist?

BLANKLEY: That's not a question of cynical. It's either right or wrong. But -- but there's nothing -- I don't -- cynicism is saying something you don't believe or doing something for reasons you don't believe. I don't know what he thought...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He really believed (INAUDIBLE)...

BLANKLEY: If he -- if he -- yes, if he believed it, he may be wrong, but he's not being cynical. So the word was cynical that -- that the senator used.

And, I mean, we're all cynical to some extent, but presumably the accusation was made because he's more than most of us are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only...

BLANKLEY: And so I think it's unfair unless he can prove it.

CROWLEY: But beyond the vocabulary of it, what's -- what's interesting here...

BLANKLEY: But the words count.

CROWLEY: -- is that he -- words do matter. But what I'm saying is the why of it -- why would Lindsey Graham, at this point, take on Rush Limbaugh, to a certain extent, and say what worries me is that people take their marching orders, essentially, from this -- take on Glenn Beck as cynical?

Why?

Because there is, within the party, a growing feeling the John McCains the Lindsey Grahams, that because there's this big void, every voice is filling it. And so it's a great place for the Democrats to say well, you know who speaks for Republicans, it's Glenn Beck. You know, and Glenn Beck's crazy. Or you know who speaks for the Republicans, it's Rush Limbaugh and look what he said.

So the Republican moderates feel more and more that they're being defined by what they believe is the outer edge...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I think what he's saying...

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: -- that benefits them.

BORGER: ...politics is cynical. What he's saying is that politics has become cynical, whether it's...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: ...whether it's Glenn Beck

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But -- and in his own party, he was talking about. I mean I think it's in both parties, politics has become cynical. And whether he was referring to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, he doesn't believe that those folks should frame the debate...

BLITZER: Here's what...

BORGER: ...for the Republican Party.

BLITZER: ...the conservative columnist, David Brooks, wrote in "The New York Times" today: "They" -- referring to Republicans -- "pay more attention to Rush's imaginary millions than to the real voters down the streets. The party is leaderless right now because nobody has the guts to step outside the rigid -- rigid parameters enforced by the radio jocks."

BLANKLEY: Well, there -- there aren't rigid parameters in force. They -- they're expressing their views. Politicians -- my old boss, Newt, stands up and speaks regularly. I don't think anybody intimidates him. I don't think anybody intimidates McCain. I don't think anybody intimidates Senator Lindsey. So you can stand up and talk and if you're persuasive, you have a following. If you're not, you don't. But certainly at a time like this, just as the Democrats, when they were not in government, they had a lot of powerful voices that were not elected and the party...

BLITZER: All right...

BLANKLEY: ...figures out who they want (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Candy, listen to -- to this exchange that our John King had earlier today at a seminar over at the Nuseum with Steve Schmidt, who was the top political adviser to John McCain during his presidential campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As someone who has won campaigns and lost campaigns and has worked very closely with her, does she have what it takes?

STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think that she has talents, but, you know, my honest view is that she would not be a winning candidate for the Republican Party in 2012 and, in fact, where she to be the nominee, we could have a catastrophic election result.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The she being Sarah Palin. No word...

CROWLEY: Were she to become the...

BLITZER: Yes. He was pretty blunt there, Steve.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Well, let me just say that that's a view that -- that some people share. However, the viewer in this case, in case anyone wasn't paying attention the last election, Steve Schmidt and Sarah Palin are not buddies. And he fears -- and probably rightly -- so that he will be one of the fall guys in her upcoming book. They don't like each other.

Having said that, there is a view within the Republican Party that she would be disastrous as a candidate. But as Tony will tell you, there is another view that she is fresh and...

BLANKLEY: But...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: You know...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: Let me just say something about -- about I -- how I think, at least, an opposition party (INAUDIBLE). I think that you shouldn't be trying to drive people out of the tent. Let everybody be in there and make their case. We've got three years before there's going to be an election. And then the public can decide who's making a case that's persuasive.

The idea that three years in advance you're saying, oh, you're not a Republican, you're not a conservative, just -- you know...

BORGER: But I don't think he's trying to drive...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: ...Sarah Palin's supporters out of the tent. I think he's saying he doesn't want Sarah Palin to define the Republican Party.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Because he thinks...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Because he thinks, like I think...

BLANKLEY: ...help define it another way.

BORGER: ...because he thinks that it needs to be broadened. I mean one of the reasons John McCain picked Sarah Palin is because he did not represent her wing of the party...

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Well, I'll tell you the one thing...

BLITZER: All right, guys...

MALVEAUX: -- the White House is celebrating the fact that you've got Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck all representing the party.

CROWLEY: Bingo.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: It works for them.

CROWLEY: Bingo.

BLITZER: Good point, Suzanne.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. And her book comes out mid-November, "Going Rogue." Have you seen the cover?

BORGER: Yes, I did. Yes.

BLANKLEY: A nice picture.

BLITZER: A nice cover.

BORGER: She's in red.

BLITZER: All right. Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, we're working on a lot of things.

President Obama and the first lady rebuffed in Copenhagen -- Chicago rejected for the 2016 Olympics.

Why did President Obama risk so much presidential prestige when no president before him has ever lobbied the Olympic Committee?

Also, hundreds of thousands more Americans losing their jobs. Unemployment hitting a 26 year high.

Why isn't the economic stimulus working?

Can this really be a recovery?

And details tonight of the alleged blackmail plot against David Letterman -- what will CBS do, if anything?

Will he keep his audience?

Will he keep his job and should he?

We'll find out what some of the best legal and media analysts in the country have to say.

And four of my favorite political analysts join us on why the president spent only 25 minutes with the general commanding our troops in Afghanistan, why the Senate majority leader said there will be a public option no matter what and why a few Republicans are beginning to learn to smile faintly again.

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou.

We'll see you in a few moments.

Republicans say he crossed the line when he said their version of health care reform calls on the sick to die quickly -- why Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson said the controversy over his rhetoric has been a boon -- a boon to his re-election bid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D), FLORIDA: During that session, I was privileged to be here and I saw my colleagues on the far side of the aisle...

(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with Jack to see what's coming up in The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, on a Friday night, is what's your biggest cause of stress and why?

Arlene writes from Atlanta: "My constant worry is the possibility of losing my job. Many companies are still sending jobs offshore. There's no media attention, but it's still happening every day."

Rue in Los Angeles: "I'm certainly more concerned about the state of the world than I am my own net worth. Mostly the state of the world revolves around U.S.-based politics. Every decade, regardless of which political party is in power, Americans' taxes go up. Since the creation of the IRS and the Federal Reserve in 1913, tax rates have gone up and continue to go up. At some point, it's got to stop. The government needs to rein in spending or eventually our children will be slaves."

James writes: "My greatest concern is being homeless. I'm in commercial construction. It's been hit hard and I've been short on work for several years now. When this mess began, I had close to $80,000 in savings. But with rent, taxes and all costs in general rising, I'm close to the end now. I'm 55 and I'm finding other employment is impossible."

Hugh writes: "Managing Type 1 Diabetes for a 6-year-old. It's a lot more complicated than just giving them insulin. How much insulin and when? The formulas don't always work correctly. Exercise is a wild card, but it's important. Sometimes I have to leave work on a moment's notice. I'm glad my boss understands. And sometimes I'm up in the middle of the night because the medical equipment fails. It goes on and on and on."

George in New York writes: "My biggest concern is the scarcity of reasons for hope. It's not that I see the glass half empty, it's the fact that I just haven't received any piece of good news in such a long time."

And Bob writes: "I have no job. I have twins in college. My nation's Congress is awash in cash -- corporate money, but I won't be able to get a checkup anytime soon. So, of course, I'm worried, will Brad and Angelina break up?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. There's a lot of very touching responds to this question.

BLITZER: Fifteen million people have lost their jobs here in the United States over the past year-and-a-half, two years, Jack. It's a very, very sad situation.

CAFFERTY: Indeed, it is.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

We're going to take another break. Another candidate emerging right now in the growing field of Republicans vying to take on the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, next year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, Democratic Chris Dodd of Connecticut is getting some high profile re-election help. His campaign says President Obama will come to the senator's home turf October 23rd to help him raise money. Dodd is facing a tough battle, a potential Democratic primary and approval rating in the 40s. And one poll shows him losing to a Republican contender in a hypothetical match-up. It's still early.

Democratic Florida Congressman Alan Grayson says this week's controversy is helping him rake in lots of cash for his own re- election campaign. Grayson was loudly criticized by Republicans for saying their health care plan is simply for Americans not to get sick and die quickly if they do get sick. Republican Congressman Tom Price of Georgia demanded Grayson apologize on the House floor. Now, an e- mail from the Grayson campaign to supporters says contributions have been pouring in since the uproar and it goes on to invite Congressman Price to serve as campaign finance director.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is facing a new challenger. Sue Lowden, chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party and a former Miss New Jersey. Polls show Reid is vulnerable as he seeks a fifth Senate term. He's expected to spend $25 million on his reelection campaign.

Remember, for all the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. You can always get inside information about THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. I'm on Twitter now -- Wolfblitzercnn, all one word, on Twitter.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Thanks for joining us.

Let's go to Lou Dobbs in New York -- Lou?