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Interview With White House Economic Adviser Austan Goolsbee; Shots Fired at Pentagon

Aired October 19, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Did the CIA know it had a double agent in its midst? At this hour, the spy agency takes the wraps off a secret report. We will break it down for you.

And as government investigators dig into possible fraud in the mortgage business, major banks are lifting their freeze on foreclosures. Should we trust them to do the right thing? I will ask the White House economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee.

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

The White House is warning the nation's banks it will hold them accountable for any violations of the law in the mortgage process. That warning comes as GMAC Mortgage joins Bank of America in announcing a resumption of home foreclosures.

The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, saying investigators are digging into the foreclosure scandal, adding that the banks can face government fines, as well as legal action from homeowners.

Meantime, the scandal keeps growing and growing.

Brian Todd is here. He has the story of what amounts to a foreclosure factory where managers allegedly were rewarded for signing fraudulent documents.

Brian, what is going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this firm, according to one former employee, had a practice called rapid docket, pushing foreclosures through as fast as possible the employee says to drive up the firm's bottom line while driving people out of their homes.


TODD (voice-over): He was the foreclosure king of Florida. David Stern's law firm handled more than 70,000 home foreclosures last year in a state that had more of them than any other. It is good business. Sterns made a good fortune, bought tens of millions of dollars worth of homes, sports cars and a yacht.

But now his office is being investigated by Florida's attorney general for allegedly unfair and deceptive practices, including allegations that one of his top deputies, Cheryl Salmons, got extravagant perks for pushing through foreclosure documents at a dizzying pace.

According to a sworn statement from a former employee posted on the attorney general's Web site, Salmons would sometimes sign 1,000 foreclosures files a day and in some cases would have other people sign her name for her.

The former employee said of Salmons, "I think it is every year that she always gets a new car and vacations and gifts, jewelry."

Another employee who is always said to have fabricated documents got perks from David Stern like a house, a car. The attorney for Stern and Salmons said neither would be able to speak with us. The attorney agreed to a phone interview.

(on camera): To the accusation that some former employees have given in sworn statements that employees of the firm were given jewelry, cars, houses in exchange for altering and forging documents and speeding them through, signing them without even reading them?

JEFFREY TEW, ATTORNEY FOR DAVID STERN: Well, of course, these statements were taken in secret by the attorney general. We were not given the right to cross-examine. So, I think they are suspect for that reason. But as to the cars and jewelry allegations in exchange for altering dockets, that is not true.

TODD (voice-over): But the Florida attorney general's office said the statements were taken as part of the investigative process and they had no obligation to make Stern's side aware of them.

We got these pictures of David Stern from a private investigator who is involved an ongoing dispute with Stern.

I spoke about this case with Clifford Rossi, former risk management official at Citibank.

CLIFFORD ROSSI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: I am not surprised at all, largely because this is very eerily reminiscent of what we saw on the way up with the mortgage crisis during the boom, in the sense that we had lenders doing lots of things from an underwriting standpoint, paying off folks, providing perks much like this to get a lot of loans on the books. Now, all of a sudden, we rewind to today and we're seeing on the downside of all this...


TODD: Rossi says we will likely see a lot more investigations like this as states and now federal investigators probe the foreclosure processes nationwide -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the banks, Brian, that work with these law firms? Do they have a responsibility in this?

TODD: Rossi says they absolutely do. They have an obligation to check the paperwork on these foreclosures, make sure the documentation is done properly. And he says not all of them do that, despite the fact that they pay these firms to handle the foreclosures. He says the big banks have to be more involved in this process.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that.

As we noted, the Obama administration is warning the banks about illegal mortgage practices. But what is it doing to get to the bottom of this foreclosure mess.

I spoke about that with the president's chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee.


AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: I think the important thing is that the White House, the president, months ago, set up the Financial Fraud Task Force that includes the treasury secretary, secretary of HUD and the attorney general.

And they are absolutely diligent of, if people violated the law, if they lied to judges, if they are committing fraud, no system should encourage that behavior. And we can't let that continue. But I don't foresee this having a devastating impact on housing.


BLITZER: Do you trust the Bank of America and GMAC, that these other banks involved in these foreclosures, do you trust that they will do the right thing?

GOOLSBEE: Look, it is trust but verify in any kind of business dealing.

This is a matter for the Financial Fraud Task Force to think about, for the state attorneys general and the private sector to clean up whatever mess they might have made. It is not -- I don't speculate about any individual institutions.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people are worried about the moratorium on foreclosures. It could have a huge impact on the housing market right now.

GOOLSBEE: Well, look, you have seen the president saying that we ought to be mindful of, there are people going out and trying to buy houses.

Some of the houses people are buying are foreclosure properties, and so, you do got to be mindful of not wanting to gum up the works of people being able to buy houses. At the same time, as I said, the president made clear from the beginning, if people are breaking the law, if they are claiming that they filled out documents that they never filled out, you know, those are legal matters, not economic matters.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: We are going to have more of my interview with the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers over at the White House, Austan Goolsbee. That's coming up later this hour.

Meanwhile, another important story we're following here in Washington, shots rang out in the pre-dawn darkness over at the Pentagon today. After a lockdown and a security sweep, investigators found that bullets had shattered windows in the complex.

Investigators are calling it a -- quote -- "random incident," but it's not the first such incident in recent days.

Let's go to our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

This is pretty disturbing stuff. What are you learning, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first off, no one was working in those offices where the bullets hit, so nobody was hurt. But when you hear the details of what happened, it may raise some serious questions about the real motivation behind this.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Two shootings at two military facilities within two days of each other, coincidence or connection?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is probably too early to say at this point.

LAWRENCE: So, let's look at what happened. Just before 5:00 a.m. Tuesday, Pentagon officers heard five, six, maybe seven gunshots. For 45 minutes, no one was allowed in or out of the Pentagon. Officers do not find a shooter, but do see two bullets lodged in bulletproof windows on the south side of the building -- 30 miles from the Pentagon sits the National Museum of the Marine Corps and just two days earlier, also before 5:00 a.m., someone took multiple shots at the museum. Five rounds hit windows. Five more hit the building.

LIN EZELL, LIN EZELL, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE MARINE CORPS: It is very visible from the highway and it is almost its best billboard, but we did not expect the building to also become a target.

LAWRENCE: Investigators believe a rifle was used in both shootings. Virginia police have sent evidence to a lab and plan to share information with Pentagon investigators.

STEVEN CALVERY, PENTAGON FORCE PROTECTION AGENCY: We have contacted them, I think, and the FBI has contacted them as well, just to see if there are any links.

LAWRENCE: This wasn't the first time someone has taken shots at the Pentagon. In March, a man walked right up to a security checkpoint near the Metro train entrance. At point-blank range, he shot two Pentagon officers before other officers shot and killed him. Officials believe he was one man acting alone, but the Pentagon has since ramped up security and pushed checkpoints further back from the building.

CALVERY: We are still evaluating whether or not we need to do anything additional to ensure security of the Pentagon right now. We think that our protective measures are adequate.


LAWRENCE: Now, a law enforcement official tells us that the bullets that were used in both shootings appear to come from high- velocity rifles, but outside of the similarities between the two incidents, there is nothing concrete to connect the two right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know this investigation is continuing at a very high level. Thanks very much, Chris, for that.

It is exactly two weeks before Election Day here in the United States. Top Democrats scrambling to try to motivate voters. The former President Bill Clinton on the road in Florida today, even as a new poll suggest he may carry more clout than President Obama.

In the new Gallup survey, 53 percent of Democrats say that if Clinton campaigned for a candidate, they would be more likely to vote for that person -- 48 percent say the same thing about President Obama -- 21 percent of independents say they would likely be swayed by a Clinton endorsement. Just 12 percent say that about the president.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A tough year apparently for Democrats, but Bill Clinton seems to be on a roll.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He is, Wolf. He really is on a roll, as those numbers show, but he also likes to talk about when he wasn't on a roll, because, Wolf, he has never forgotten when he was down. Take a listen to him today in Florida.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't do a lot of politics. And I got out, but this is the 90th event I have done in this election season.


CLINTON: And I want to tell you why, because I have seen this movie before.


CLINTON: And if it keeps going, it does not have a happy ending. You know, they -- Hillary is really popular now, but, in 1994, they tried to do to her just what they are doing to the speaker today. They tried to do to me just what they are trying to do to the president today.


BORGER: You know, Wolf, you remember this, because you were covering the White House -- 1994, health care reform had gone nowhere. Hillary Clinton was running that show, and the president lost 52 seats in the House of Representatives. Newt Gingrich, the Republican revolution took over.

And I remember the president having a press conference -- I am sure you were there -- when he had to declare that he was in fact relevant to the political process. And so what he is talking about is something that is a situation Barack Obama could well find himself in, in a couple of weeks.

BLITZER: Yes. He had to declare that the era of big government is over as well.

BORGER: That's right. Absolutely.

BLITZER: He had a lot of work to do.

It is interesting. It was not that long ago when Bill Clinton Barack Obama had a little rivalry going on as well.


BORGER: Two years. Yes, overnight is a lifetime in politics, right?

Remember after the South Carolina primary January of 2008 and the president said, you know, Barack Obama could be a lot like Jesse Jackson, trying to devalue his candidacy to a degree after Obama beat Hillary Clinton. But, of course, now Bill Clinton is so valuable to Barack Obama.

He pointed out today that he had been to 90 campaign events. Who else has been to 90 campaign events? Absolutely no one. He has been all across the country. He is valuable everywhere. He's valuable in California. He's valuable in Florida, Arkansas, West Virginia. He's been everywhere for this president and the Democratic Party.

He is the best emissary they could have, and while he says he is out of politics, Bill Clinton is never out of politics.

BLITZER: Never, because he is a very political animal. And I spent almost eight years covering him, so I appreciate that very much.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton can't go out and campaign. She is the secretary of state. But he is campaigning interesting. And it's interesting. He is campaigning for a lot of Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination back in 2008, a little nugget there.


BORGER: That is why he is in Florida today, Wolf, for Kendrick Meek.

BLITZER: Of course.

Thanks very much.


BLITZER: The Pentagon is shifting its don't ask, don't tell policy on gays serving openly in the United States military. It has now advised recruiting commands across the country that they can in fact accept openly gay and lesbian candidates.

The follows a federal court decision that bars the military from expelling openly gay service MSNBC. But a Pentagon spokeswoman says the notice to recruiters also notes that they must inform applicants that a reversal of the court decision might occur, leading to a reinstatement of the don't ask, don't tell policy.

Even though the Obama administration opposes that policy, they're asking the courts to reinstate it for other reasons.

Some harsh ratings for federal employees.

Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: At a time when millions of Americans are disgusted with the federal government, a new poll shows low marks and negativity toward civil servants.

The "Washington Post" survey finds 52 percent of those polled say the 1.9 million federal workers are overpaid for what they do.

Seventy-five percent say federal workers are paid more and get better benefits than those working outside the government.

Thirty-six percent say they're less qualified than private-sector workers.

And half say that federal employees don't work as hard as those in private companies.

The poll also shows a deep divide along party lines when it comes to the views of the federal work force, Republicans being by far the most negative.

Republican candidates are latching onto this sentiment, too. On the campaign trail, they're using civil servants as examples of what's wrong with government, too big, too invasive, too much in debt. They vow to freeze pay and furlough federal workers if they get control of Congress.

Federal unions and Democrats describe criticism of faceless bureaucrats as nothing more than scapegoating.

The government says it's hard to compare salaries in the private and public sectors because many jobs outside government are in low- paying industries, while a lot of government workers are typically more skilled.

The good news for government workers is that of people who have interacted with a federal worker, three in four say the experience was a good one. Also, the survey shows that younger Americans are more likely to give federal workers positive reviews.

So, here's the question: Is Americans' negative view of federal workers justified?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

Fourteen days until the crucial midterm elections here in the United States, CNN's John King, he is standing by. He will show us where some Senate seats may be up for grabs and why Democrats are so very worried right now.

Plus, the CIA might -- repeat -- might have known it had a double agent in its midst before that deadly bombing of an intelligence base in Afghanistan, killing many Americans. We have just received a troubling new report.

And aboard the space shuttle as it makes a high-speed, stomach- churning landing at the Kennedy Space Center. CNN's John Zarrella shows us what it is like.


BLITZER: Just two weeks from today, voters will cast ballots across the country in a crucial midterm election which could shift the balance of power here in Washington. A lot of people believe it will.

Let's walk over to CNN's John King. he is the host of "JOHN KING, USA" that airs right at the top of the hour.

John, this is a crucial election for the House and the Senate. Let's talk about some of these key Senate seats that are up for grabs right now.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": This is the big question mark right now, Wolf. As you know, most political professionals will tell you they think the House will probably shift hands, two weeks, long time, but as of today.

The Senate is the big question mark. Here's the current balance of power, 59 Democrats, 41 Republicans. That is counting the independents who caucus with the Democrats. So, what we did is, here's some of the seats that are at stake this year.

Now, voters will notice -- and I'm sure we will get messages -- we have already assigned a few of these races -- Florida leaning Republican right now. That could change. We know that. This is a hypothetical.

We have assigned some races based on current polling right now. Here, I'm going to assign even a more, so that we get a smaller group of tossups. Again, the New Hampshire race, maybe it will change. Arkansas, maybe it will change, Louisiana, Indiana, but right now those seats are trending Republican. So, we have assigned those over, which leaves you this group in the middle, about 10 races right there.

Right now -- you moderated this debate -- Democrats are feeling more and more confident about Delaware. So, they think that one can go their way, if I can get this to work and have it switch over. She is a little cranky today. All right, it's not going to work. See? There we go. We shift that one over.

Republicans think are going to win in the state of Colorado. Again, the polls have tightened in that race, but Republicans think that one is theirs. California right now, that's part of the Democratic fire wall, a tough one. I'm going to give California the benefit of the doubt. It's been a Democratic state. Again, Republicans will say, no way.

But let's just turn it over for now. Republicans feel very confident about Russ Feingold's seat in the state of Wisconsin. So let's assign that one. Again, it's a hypothetical, but let's assign that one for now.

Where are we? -- 48 for the Democrats, 46 for the Republicans. So if you are the Republicans, you now have to thread this needle. Barack Obama's old seat in Illinois, they do feel confident about that. People at the White House are very nervous about this seat here. Let's give that to the Republicans in this hypothetical. That gets them to 47.

In West Virginia, the polls recently have tightened. Some think the Democratic governor could be coming back, but assume there is a Republican current in the election and again in this hypothetical let's assign West Virginia. Where does that get us? -- 48-48, with Connecticut, Nevada, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

That is where Joe Biden was today, up in Patty Murray's seat in Washington State. Let's give that up to the Democrat. She is leading right now 49-48. It could come down -- and you could switch a few of these races -- but to two or three races, like Harry Reid's seat in Nevada, the Connecticut Senate race right now.

This is one where the Democrats feel relatively confident. So if we assign this -- we're talking -- we are going to spend two weeks talking about the Democratic fire wall. How do they protect the authority? Dick Blumenthal in Connecticut will be one of their targets. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania trailing for months suddenly seems competitive, at least in some polling. Watch the Democrats shift money from some states into Pennsylvania, because, if you look at this, they're at 50. As long as the Democrats can get to 50, Wolf, then Joe Biden is the most important person in America when it comes to legislating. The president would break a tie.

But this is the chess going on. If you take one race and give it there, the Democrats will send money in. If Republicans now see Sestak pulling slightly ahead, they're going to funnel their money in here.

Five or six Senate races that are key to the balance of power, which is why you're going to see resources and campaigning time split over the next two weeks. It is a fascinating game of chess going on with control of the Senate. Democrats today reasonably confident, but what they're worried about is there is a wave that takes a few of those races, like Connecticut, perhaps Delaware, it takes it away from them.

BLITZER: If there is a wave, they could lose the Senate. It is clearly possible.

KING: Clearly possible. This is the toughest challenge for the Republicans, but it is possible.

BLITZER: All right, you have will much more at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA."

KING: You bet.

BLITZER: John, thanks very, very much.

In harm's way, an undercover informant blows himself up on a U.S. base in Afghanistan, killing seven Americans. But did the CIA know ahead of time that he was a double agent? A stunning new report has just been released by the CIA. We have the details.

And turning your car into a phone on the road, it could happen sooner than you think. What is going on?

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



BLITZER: Two weeks before the midterm elections, and it is all about the economy and jobs.

My interview with the president's chief economic adviser, that is next.


BLITZER: A stunning new revelation is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM on a horrific attack at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. Seven CIA officers and a Jordanian spy died when a double-agent blew himself up back in December. An internal CIA report is now being made public this hour, and it's shedding new light on whether the attack could have been prevented.

Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has been looking into this story for us, has the report. Jeanne, what are you learning?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, before the bombing at the base at Khost, there were concerns that Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi might be a double agent. Now, he was the CIA asset who had been brought to an operations base in Khost to be interviewed. Once inside the compound, he detonated a suicide vest, causing those deaths.

A U.S. intelligence official says several people within the CIA expressed skepticism about his reliability over several months, and the same concerns were raised by the Jordanian intelligence service to at least one CIA officer, but quote, unfortunately, some of those concerns weren't properly documented or conveyed through formal channels, the U.S. intelligence official says. And they did not make their way to the right people, including those at the Khost base who might have been more cautious in dealing with a man they thought could be a valuable intelligence asset.

Personnel on the ground at Khost were not responsible for vetting al-Balawi, and they believed others had done so when they let him on the base. Al-Balawi might have been found out if there had been better communication within the CIA, but the U.S. intelligence official says there was excessive reliance on e-mails and instant messages and not enough use of formal cables that would have clued in more people to the operation.

These findings part of a CIA review just completed. It recommends 23 changes to CIA management oversight, communication, training and security procedures. Wolf, there have been questions about why so many CIA personnel were in such close proximity to this man. Now assets will be searched in more isolated areas by smaller groups of CIA employees -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne, who's going to be held responsible for this?

MESERVE: Well, the agency as a whole. CIA Director Leon Panetta has decided not to pin blame on individuals, because he feels this was a systemic failure, and because the deaths of the CIA personnel in Khost mean that not all the facts will ever be known.

A second outside review has also been done. Both reports are being handed over to the new CIA inspector general. He may ultimately have different or additional recommendations and conclusions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne, thanks very much. A very worrisome story.

Fourteen days to go before the midterm election that could turn Washington upside down, and the Obama administration is going all out to make the case that the economy is on the upswing.


BLITZER: And joining us now from the North Lawn of the White House, Austan Goolsbee. He's the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Austan, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: You've got a new four-and-a-half-minute whiteboard presentation on the White House Web site. Let me play a little excerpt from it. Here it is.


GOOLSBEE: What we have here are the monthly job losses and job gains in the private sector for every month over the last three years. And right here in 2007, the recession begins. Over the intervening months, we then have catastrophic job losses that get worse and worse, virtually every single month, until they peak in January of 2009.

The president takes office of January of 2009, and within 30 days, passes the recovery act.


BLITZER: And then we see the numbers begin to improve in terms of the private sector jobs, but here's the question that a lot of voters especially are wondering. A lot of Americans are concerned about when the president took office in January of 2009, the unemployment rate was 7.7 percent, and now nationally the unemployment rate is 9.6 percent. Why is that, if the rosy scenario you're showing is accurate?

GOOLSBEE: Well, Wolf, let me say first, I agree with everything that the guy in the video said.

And what I would say to the question of why the unemployment rate went up is what you can see from that graph is that we are going down, and it's getting worse and worse. And we change the trajectory, but you still have got to come out of a very deep hole. And so, of course, the unemployment rate is going to keep going up while you're pulling out of the hole.

The question is, did you change the direction? And the direction before we started doing anything was down, and the direction once we started doing things was up. I mean, I think that's the basic point.

BLITZER: That's the point you're trying to make, but for most people look at the unemployment rate, they see 7.7 when he took office and 9.6 percent now. That direction doesn't look good.

GOOLSBEE: Well, look, you shouldn't blame the guy who's trying to clean up the mess for making the mess. I mean, that's my point. There's still a lot of mess, and we're trying to get out of a deep hole, and the unemployment rate will go up, but it's just going up much slower. And we've now had nine straight months of private sector creation, and generated 863,000 jobs in the private sector over the last nine months.

But I'm not trying to minimize how tough the recession was. I mean, in that video, I am trying to emphasize that it started in 2007 and it takes a while to turn around a ship that's stuck in the worst -- you know, the worst whirlpool since 1929.

BLITZER: When are we going to see the unemployment rate go down?

GOOLSBEE: Look, the CEA puts out an official forecast and I'll refer you to the forecast, because predicted that unemployment would 10 percent for 2010. Barring some terrible development, we're going to come in better than that. And, you know, the president knows that the first step is you've to get more private sector job creation before the unemployment rate can come down any significant amount.

BLITZER: And the CEA is the Council of Economic Advisers, which you have. That report will be coming out.

In that long interview the president gave Peter Baker, the "New York Times" Sunday magazine, and he said something pretty startling. He said he didn't realize until it was too late that there's such a thing as shovel-ready projects, which the stimulus project boasted about these shovel-ready infrastructure projects. The president says in public works, there's no such thing. How could he say that?

GOOLSBEE: Well, you know, I don't know exactly, but what he was saying was you couldn't pass a project that would instantly go -- go into practice. That said, the Recovery Act was set up to phase over 2 1/2 to three years, and what we saw is that, as the money has gone out, about 70 percent of the money has been obligated now at this point. It went in waves, and it actually worked out to be pretty good.

If we had used all of the money in a one-month period and we went up and then went straight back down, I think people would be saying, "Uh-oh, you know, what did we do?"

BLITZER: Austan Goolsbee, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers over at the White House.

Shuttle landings have to be just perfect. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six, five, four, three, two, one, touchdown.


BLITZER: We're going inside the cockpit for a look at how the astronauts practice for the real thing.


BLITZER: The Shuttle Discovery is now on the launch pad as technicians prepare for next month's final flight. Discovery's commander has also been getting ready by practicing landing. He took CNN's John Zarrella along for the ride.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting new touchdown, pilot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Touchdown now just four minutes away.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's a shuttle orbiter gliding home to the Kennedy Space Center landing strip. Now, when I tell you, start counting, OK? Go. You're looking at an altimeter. By the time you count off 10 seconds, we will have fallen 2,000 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're on that steep descent and about 18 degrees as you come down.

ZARRELLA: This is not the inside of the orbiter. We're riding in a shuttle training aircraft, STA. At the controls is Discovery commander Steve Lindsey.


ZARRELLA: Lindsey is practicing landing on the Kennedy Space Center runway. At a fraction of the weight, the STA is designed to mimic just how a 200,000 pound orbiter would act on descent and landing.

(on camera) The first approach was started at about 32,000 feet. We're going to go around 10 different touch and goes, but we'll never actually touch. We'll be about 22 feet off the ground on each of those touch and goes, except on the last one, when hopefully, we'll touch and stay down.

(voice-over) Once a week for three months leading up to his flight, Lindsey will practice these landings. In all, about 200 times before show time, when he brings Discovery home at the end of its November flight. This day, the weather was perfect. You see, the coastline, and launch pads.

(on camera) Now, you can see there, the vehicle assembly building coming into view.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six, five, four, three, two, touchdown.

ZARRELLA: Why so many practice runs? When the shuttle lands, it's a glider. There are no do-overs. If you miss, you're done. The very first time a shuttle commander takes the controls on descent, he has to know exactly how his orbiter will act.

COL. STEVE LINDSEY (RET.), DISCOVERY COMMANDER: That's a really good feeling, to be doing it the first time when there's no go around, and saying, "I've been here before, and I know how to do this."

ZARRELLA: Just like the shuttle would, we approached the runway at 225 miles an hour.


ZARRELLA: To our west, a spectacular orange sunset. It's taken us nearly an hour and a half for the ten touch and goes. It's dark on our final approach, the runway below us just like a shuttle...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang gear touchdown.

ZARRELLA: ... coming home at night.


ZARRELLA: You know, it's amazing. You don't really have any of those sensations that give you nausea, Wolf. A couple of times, there's one point where they put it in reverse thrust, and you're actually moving backwards like this as they start that approach down. And that's the one point where you get a little bit in your stomach. But during the reverse thrust the whole way down, going about 300 miles an hour until they reach that landing pad.

So, I have to say, Wolf, I don't like to gloat about stories I do, but that was a spectacular ride -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Glad you did it, not me, John Zarrella. Thanks very much.

He was hailed as a hero after he slid out of the JetBlue plane, but today, he was in court.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... got me through to this day.



BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is back. She's monitoring some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, a hugely important story, Kate. It took decades to finally get what the Department of Agriculture did today to work out settlement with Native American farmers.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Big news out of the Agriculture Department. Under this proposed deal that Wolf just mentioned, the government will pull out $680 million to set -- to settle a long- standing class-action lawsuit. This suit, filed back in 1999, claims that the Agriculture Department unfairly denied low-income loans to Native American farmers and ranchers. Many then had to sell their land, some to white farmers, who received the loans. Native American farmers with claims going back to 1981 can seek compensation. The court, though, must still approve the settlement. And an update to a story we were talking about in the last hour. The NFL is slapping heavy fines on three players for flagrantly violent -- violating safety rules during games this past weekend. Steelers' linebacker James Harrison is being fined $75,000 for his hit on Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massa -- Massaquoi. New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather is being fined $50,000 for his helmet hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heath. And Falcons defensive back Dunta Robinson is being fined $50,000 for his collision with Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson. That's a lot of money.

And former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who became the hero of disenchanted workers everywhere, really, when he reportedly cursed out a passenger and then slid down the plane's emergency evacuation chute at JFK Airport, well, today, Slater pleaded guilty to attempted criminal mischief. As part of the plea deal, he must enter a year-long mental health program, take medication, and not get arrested for one year.

Slater thanked the public for its support, and said he's grateful to the court for helping him move forward with his life.

That raised a lot of eyebrows.

BLITZER: Let's not forget, when he slid down, he grabbed a beer before he slid down the chute.

BOLDUAN: There you go.

BLITZER: He did. Thanks very much.

Still two weeks to go on the campaign trail, but there have been some wacky moments already out there. Who better than our own Jeanne Moos to take a closer look?


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, "Is Americans' negative view of federal workers justified?"

Ron in Miami writes, "Federal workers are just people trying to get through the day and get to the paycheck at the end of the week. The fact is, a lot of people are upset with the way things are going in their own lives, and they're blaming the government and the workers that the government employs."

David in Cleveland says, "I worked for the U.S. Postal Service years ago, and I found the lever of effort appalling then. I haven't seen it get much better. Outsourcing many government jobs to private companies that have to bid for the work on a competitive basis would help significantly keep levels of service high and move us away from the tenured nature of government employees."

Sarah in Virginia says, "My husband is a highly-skilled, dedicated federal employee working 12-hour days on a regular basis and severely underpaid compared to the private sector. But he believes in public service, having served 20 years in the military before this job. I'm sure you can imagine how it makes me feel to see Republicans heaping scorn on federal workers."

Matthew writes, "The life of a federal worker in no way compares to that of a worker in the private sector. I grew up in the D.C. area, saw firsthand how different things were for them. With private- sector wages now stagnated, the federal workers enjoy all the bells and whistles of an over-bureaucratized government that has to offer, while those less fortunate in the private sector have to duke it out on their own."

Russ in Pennsylvania says, "Of course. All public unions ought to be disbanded and their jobs privatized. Look at Europe. How long is it going to take for people to realize that the special benefits and pensions are not capable of being supported by a declining middle class? Government has declared war on the middle class."

And finally, N. writes, "It's hard to tell. They're not asked to do more with less, as in the private sector. Also, they basically have tenure, so they're not generally in jeopardy of termination. Let's find out by cutting 10 percent of them. Tomorrow."

If you want to read more on this, you can find it on my blog:

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you.

He's the long-shot New York gubernatorial candidate who just may be winning some hearts and minds with his slogan: "Your rent is too damn high."


BLITZER: Stealing the show from the front-runner. Jeanne Moos gives us some moments to remember from a "Most Unusual" campaign season.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's as if we're binging on the fringe this political season.


MOOS: From candidates who look like cartoon characters to a former escort service madam.

KRISTIN DAVIS, NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: The career politicians in Albany are the biggest whores in this state. I might be the only person sitting on this stage with the right experience to deal with them.

MOOS: And this was just at the New York governor's race debate. MCMILLAN: Rent is too damn high. Rent, it's too damn high.

MOOS (on camera): Turns out this "rent is too damn high" stuff is highly contagious.

DAVIS: The property taxes are too damn high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rent is too damn high.

MOOS: Somehow it all feels like this year is more of a circus than usual. A political zoo.

(voice-over) And if you think the kung fu bear is entertaining, check out Bristol Palin in her latest incarnation on "Dancing with the Stars."

While the political circus continues. Oh, we've had some winners from Alvin Green of South Carolina. That's him in the background wailing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has he told you what happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but we're going to stay in the race.

MOOS: To Tennessee's Basil Marceaux.


MOOS: He was stopped when he lost the primary. And, like a bear, an angry bear, New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino practically ate a reporter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to take me out?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you going to do that?


MOOS: We also watched Paladino leave the debate stage -- that's him in the background -- to go to the restroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you got to go, you got to go.

MOOS: Christine O'Donnell's witch commercial has got to go.


MOOS: It's been auto tuned.

O'DONNELL: I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you heard.

MOOS: It's been parodied.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a witch. I'm you. America's a 300- pound bearded, diabetic man.

MOOS: This may be the first election in which a gubernatorial candidate debated in gloves. Jimmy McMillan says it may be psychological, but he wears them because of Agent Orange he encountered in Vietnam. So at least he manned up wearing them.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Some of you need to man up.



MOOS: As for being man enough to be OK with gay marriage...

MCMILLAN: The Rent Too Damn Party says if you want to marry a shoe, I'll marry you.

MOOS: Now that's really manning up.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Still have two weeks to go.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.