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Obama's Economic Team; Bush Pardons 14 People; Michelle Obama's Role as First Lady

Aired November 24, 2008 - 23:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, presidential pardons, a bank bailout and loud call to action from the President-elect. He says there's only one president at a time but the market seems to disagree. Investors clearly liking today's tag team effort; what Barack Obama said today and what the Bush administration did.
Stocks rallying for a second straight trading day, the DOW industrials up nearly 400 on top of Friday's 500 point gain. Reaction to the administration's bailout of Citigroup and President-elect Obama's unveiling of an economic team that expert's Democratic and Republican alike say is all business.

Much more on that from "360"'s Ed Henry.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President-elect Barack Obama is having the best of both worlds, first using his bully pulpit to suggest he's all over the financial crisis.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: That work starts today because the truth is we do not have a minute to waste. Right now, our economy is trapped in a vicious cycle.

HENRY: But when pressed on the details of his stimulus plan, he falls back on there is only one president at a time.

OBAMA: I don't want to get into numbers right now. Part of the task of this economic team behind me is to help to shape, the detail of that plan.

HENRY: He's leaving the details to his new money team led by Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary on the outside, while Larry Summers who lost out to Geithner for that post will be inside the White House leading the National Economic Council.

Friends say they worked together well in the Clinton Treasury Department when Summers was Geithner's boss but they could not be more different. Geithner, Head of the New York Fed is the diplomat who will be the public face of the economic plan.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, FINANCIAL TIMES: Tim Geithner, I think, will be an excellent Secretary of the Treasury. He is really smart; he is very good with people. HENRY: Nobody have ever accused Summers of being good with people, he's abrasive and undiplomatic, causing a furor as President of Harvard University by saying women were inferior at math and science.

If Summers had been nominated for Treasury Secretary, he would have faced a bruising confirmation hearing over the Harvard flap. Getting a White House staff job means no messy confirmation.

OBAMA: Larry has earned a global reputation for being able to cut to the heart of the most complex and novel policy challenges.

HENRY: Code for Summers may ruffle some feathers but he can get the heavy lifting done behind the scenes while Geithner is the public salesman; so Mr. Obama gets the best of both worlds again.

Another thorny issue they have to deal with, the President-elect is also hedging on how quickly to honor a campaign promise to raise taxes on the wealthy. He can push a law to overturn the tax cuts in January or let them expire at the end of 2010.

OBAMA: Whether that's done through repeal or whether that's done because the Bush tax cuts are not renewed is something that my economic team will be providing me a recommendation on.


HENRY: Now, that economic team also includes Christina Roamer, she'll be in charge of the Council of Economic Advisors, sort of the research and analysis arm within the White House and also Melody Barns, she'll be in charge of the Domestic Policy Council.

And when you take a step back from all these staff announcements, the point is, normally at the beginning, the President-elect rolls out the National Security Team. This time, it's all about Economic Security -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, clearly a message there. Ed, press conference tomorrow as well, what's going to happen there?

HENRY: Well, what's going on is, as this crisis is deepening; President Bush is a lame duck. So there's a leadership vacuum. The President-elect is trying to fill that vacuum, having another economic event tomorrow. They were going to take some more questions from reporters. He clearly wants to give the market a shot in the arm -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Ed Henry for us, Ed thanks as always.

"Digging Deeper" now on the Citigroup bailout, the company is laying off more than 50,000 people but is not at least not yet giving up its mega-million dollar naming rights to a baseball stadium that's not far from the New York Headquarters.

CNN's Chief Financial Correspondent, Ali Velshi joins us now.

Ali thanks for being with us.

They already got the $25 billion bailout already.


O'BRIEN: So this is kind of version 2.0. How critical is this? And does it go far enough to solve all the problems?

VELSHI: Well, there's a bailout, I'm going to tell you a little about how that works. The second part of it is actually is the most interesting and the bottom line, markets love this. Look at this, market just for a little bit at the end of the day, popped into that little band that I've been talking about for over a month now that 8,500 and 9,000 possible bottom to the market, clearly we broke through that earlier last week.

But this has been the biggest two day gain on the stock market in terms of points since 1987. It's been very, very strong. Now, what the government is going to do for Citigroup is it is going to inject $20 billion directly into Citigroup.

The bigger deal, and this is what you're talking about, is it enough, is it going to assume Citigroup's losses beyond a certain level. If Citigroup's losses are too big, Citigroup will only be responsible for some of it, we will be responsible for the rest of it.

But, it's also in return for all of this; the government is going to take a stake in Citigroup. We're actually getting shares as taxpayers that are going to pay a dividend.

So we are getting something in return for this deal -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, clarify that for me then, because obviously, it's clear to me that it helps Citigroup. But how exactly does that trickle down to consumers -- I mean people especially who are trying to pay their mortgages?

VELSHI: That has the biggest question we've been getting, let's talk about that in return for the loan, this is what Citigroup has to do.

First of all, there's a limit on executive compensation. That's been a big deal, the golden parachutes and things like that. The government will have to approve executive compensation at Citigroup, number one.

Number two, they have to reduce they're stock dividend payouts; they can't take those money that they're getting from the Treasury, from taxpayers and pay it out to shareholders who have stock.

But the biggest thing, Soledad, is that they are compelled to adjust loans for homeowners who are having trouble. Now, we're still trying to figure out details on how much of that they are going to do. But that's a start.

So unlike the $700 bailout of which they got $25 billion and they didn't do anything that was trickling down. In fact Citigroup was very clear, they were not going to have any trickle-down effect; they were going to use that first $25 billion to acquire other companies. This $20 billion comes with a lot of strings attached -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: OK, so you pointed out the band finally popped in, the biggest two day gain to close at 8,443; but home prices keep falling.

VELSHI: Yes, and of course, jobs, home prices, the market, these are all things that are relevant in this economy.

Take a look at this. The median price for a single family existing home, the homes that we think of, a used home as opposed to a new home is $183,700. One year ago, it was $206,700. That's a drop of 11.3 percent. That sounds like nothing but bad.

There's a little bit of silver lining, if you'll look at Nevada, Florida, places like that where prices were so high and have come down so much, more than the 11 percent. What you see, is that with interest rates remaining low, for people with good credit, there are some people who are starting to buy those homes.

We're not seeing that on a national level yet. But theoretically, as these prices come down and interest rates remain low, it could spur some home buying.

But again, homes are one piece of this equation, jobs are another, and your retirement is the third. And it's still shaky on all fronts. In fact jobs are not shaky at all; we just continue to hemorrhage jobs.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and when you say words like theoretically for the rest of us, that mean it's going to take a long time before we actually feel it.

VELSHI: We don't live in theory, yes.

O'BRIEN: Yes, Ali thanks. I'm going to ask you to stick around because I want to talk strategy now. Let's get to CNN senior political analysts David Gergen and Gloria Borger.

Guys, I appreciate you joining us tonight.

David, we heard President-elect Obama when he first came out and he said listen, you can only have one president at a time. And yet you see him acting more and more presidential each in every day.

Is this a problem or is it absolutely crucial at this point?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's crucial. Ali and Gloria and I talked late last week, that there was a vacuum in Washington and nobody was responding and the economy starting to go down real fast. We had two days in a row last week that scared the bejesus out a lot of people.

And then had the word of Tim Geithner, we had what was called -- Ali called a Geithner rally on Friday and now we have another rally today.

I think that's partly related to the Citi bailout but it's also partly related to these appointments by Obama and his announcement over the weekend of this massive stimulus package that he plans to move along and have possibly on his desk soon after he's president.

And so he's pointing a direction. People finally sense that there's a little more confidence, we can't tell whether these markets, they may slide again, but there's more confidence today than it was four days ago about where we're heading.

O'BRIEN: All right, David and Ali and Gloria, I'm going to ask you to stick around. We'll continue the panel right after the break.

You can join in, too. Go to and be sure to check Erica Hill's live web cast during the break, just getting under way.

Plus, straight ahead, pardon season, President Bush's first batch of names out tonight; the question now, which big names will be coming next. Our legal eagle Jeff Toobin will be joining us shortly.

And then later tonight, new developments where Michelle Obama is concerned, staffers named and you'll see some stereotypes shattered. That and much more tonight on "AC360."



OBAMA: Right now, our economy is trapped in a vicious cycle. The turmoil on Wall Street means a new round of belt tightening for families and businesses on Main Street. And as folks produce less and consume less that just deepens the problems in our financial markets.


O'BRIEN: That's President-elect Obama calling for quick action on the economy, warning of more pain to come but confident he says that Americans are up to the challenge.

We're talking "Strategy," economic, political, inspirational even with CNN's Ali Velshi, David Gergen and Gloria Borger. Thanks, guys for being back with me.

Gloria, let me start with this question for you. The President- elect just said he wants to sign a stimulus package day one, January 20th. How much pressure by saying that, how much pressure is he putting on himself to be able to deliver that, which will not be easy?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot and I think he's putting pressure on Congress to deliver. And I think it's clear he wouldn't have said it unless he thinks he can do it and get it done. Everybody agrees this is a moment and there's a crisis in this country and I think he's taking advantage of that moment and it's clear that he wants the Congress to come back to get something done, so it can go on his desk. And by the way, Soledad, it is not going to be small. It is going to be very large. It could be as large as $700 billion, that it'll include perhaps tax cuts for the middle class. And I think this is somebody who understands that he has an opportunity right now to show what he's made of and to inspire that confidence that you were just talking about a moment ago.

O'BRIEN: David, President Bush had said that he has been consulting with the President-elect. Is there precedent for that? How does it work exactly? Is it awkward? Can you explain that?

GERGEN: Well, it looked like it may be awkward in this case although President Bush has done a terrific job on this transition of extending help. And I think that, given the nature of the crisis, Barack Obama is now starting to reach out to him more and they are talking. But they'd talked just today, and Obama talks as well to the Federal Reserve Chief Bernanke.

So that there is and we learned today, I didn't know, that he's talking fairly regularly to Brent Scowcroft, who is a Republican National Security Advisor to George H.W. Bush.

He appears to be doing a lot of back scenes, behind the scenes kind of consulting, talking with a variety of people and now he's got some action going.

So all of these, we're in un-chartered territory all together here except going back all the way to the Depression. And in that situation, FDR barely spoke to Herbert Hoover. Hoover kept on trying to get him in and he kept on saying, no. Obama is taking a very different course.

O'BRIEN: Ali, there was a quote in the "Washington Post" today and it said, "Geithner and Summers cannot wait until January to come up with further remedies. Obama is in danger of seeing his presidency wrecked before he even takes office."

VELSHI: Yes, we saw last week how the wheels started to come off the economic bus. This can come unraveled very quickly. We have a couple of days of rallies and people say, are we out of the woods? We don't even know where we are in the woods.

Here is the thing. There is a lot of good will that President Obama has right now, with respect to fixing this problem. But every single day I'm involved one way or another on a call-in show at CNN, and not an hour goes by where somebody doesn't ask, where is my bailout?

This stimulus package will not take the form of checks that go to people. But it needs to make it feel like it's the people's stimulus; it's the people's bailout, because we've seen everybody else have it.

BORGER: That's why it'll have those tax cuts, Ali because he keeps talking about Main Street. It's also going to be an employment program essentially, --

VELSHI: Right.

BORGER: I would think because he keeps talking about 2.5 million jobs, it'll have a large public works component in it.

O'BRIEN: Well, you guys have heard and David, maybe you can weigh in on this, well the focus is on banks there's a sort of sense and let's just hope it trickles down. We actually have a fairly long way to go until we get to the inauguration. I mean, should something be happening now as opposed to waiting?

VELSHI: There are folks who suggest that something should be happening now. But as David and Gloria are saying, it's sort of unprecedented how much is happening now.

BORGER: Right.

VELSHI: Remember, the appointment of Tim Geithner means that this is a man who has been with Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke in many of those meetings, in those weekend sessions where we save banks or not save banks so there's no learning curve on Tim Geithner's side and Larry Summers has been there before; he was Treasury Secretary.

O'BRIEN: But some has suggested David that in fact maybe Geithner should go in and replace Paulson, I mean do it now before the new president comes in.

GERGEN: I think that doesn't make any sense. He's in a pivotal position now with the New York Fed. When the Citigroup bailout was being arranged over the weekend, he was right at the center of that. I'm sure he was up very late in the night last night before he was with Obama during the day today.

So I think they've got a very close set of conversations going on.

And I must tell you, that what really impressed me is going back to the beginning of your show tonight, Soledad, is that we thought that Obama is going to have to make a choice between Geithner and Summers. And instead of choosing, he took both.


O'BRIEN: He does them both.

GERGEN: I thought that was really smart.

O'BRIEN: That's quite a choice.

BORGER: Right.

The interesting thing to me, is to think back during the campaign, the mantra we talked about a million times was change during the campaign. Now, it's continuity. Now, suddenly, we're looking for continuity. We want to know that Geithner understands what Paulson's been up against, that he's been in those talks. So we're looking for a little bit of continuity here because we're in a crisis and we're anxious about it. And we also want a change. And in that, it means we want to get something done so we can fix the problem.

O'BRIEN: But Gloria, if you have a --

GERGEN: New policies.

BORGER: New, right.

O'BRIEN: If you have a senate that is not filibuster-proof and the President-elect --

BORGER: Right.

O'BRIEN: -- said he wants to see it on his desk, --

BORGER: Right.

O'BRIEN: -- passed through both houses --

BORGER: Soledad, here's what he's got. He's got Joe Biden to be his liaison to the senate, and he's got Rahm Emanuel, his Chief of Staff to be the liaison to the House.

O'BRIEN: In a crisis.

BORGER: Is in a crisis, you know, you're not going to get two better fellows of that and a Congressional liaison who has decades of experience on Capitol Hill. So in that team, I think they'll be able to work something out.

I don't want to sound like Pollyanna here, but that's a pretty good team.

O'BRIEN: We certainly hope so.

GERGEN: Soledad one other thing I just I would like to add to that.

O'BRIEN: Go ahead, David.

GERGEN: I mention he's going to have some more Republican support on this.

O'BRIEN: Right.

GERGEN: Remember, one of the most influential conservative economists in the country, Marty Feldstein, is calling for a massive stimulus. He believes it's necessary. When you have both sides, economists on both sides arguing that, I bet the Obama team gets some votes out of the Republicans in the senate before this is over.

BORGER: I agree.

O'BRIEN: Well, we will just wait and see. All right, guys thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Straight ahead, pardon me? Every president does it. This president has got plenty of big named felons in fact to choose from, to pardon a lying senator, corrupt Congressman, alleged torture enablers.

And that's just the folks who worked within the government. Presidential pardons, a preview is coming up.

Also, how Michelle Obama is breaking the mold, and not just in Washington, that's when "AC360" continues.



OBAMA: I have full confidence in the wisdom and ingenuity of my economic team and in the hard work, courage, and sacrifice of the American people.

And most of all, I believe deeply in the resilience and the spirit of this nation. I know we can work our way out of this crisis, because we have done it before.


O'BRIEN: President-elect Barack Obama today announcing his economic dream team. Its mission, quite literally, is to prevent a depression and create jobs, millions of jobs.

And, as you heard Gloria Borger say just a few moments ago, it is a very tall order. It's "Your Money, Your Future."

And, for some answers and lots of advice, let's get right to Andy Serwer. Andy is the managing editor of "Fortune" magazine. And the next issue comes out on Wednesday.

All right, here's -- we talk about the stimulus package.


O'BRIEN: List for me, tick off for me, what does it have to have?

SERWER: Well, it's got to be so broad-brushed Soledad. It has to address so many issues.

I mean, first of all, let's take the auto issue. You know, the auto industry; that has to be addressed. You know, he can't just write a blank check, but he can't let it die. So, there has to be a middle ground there. And that's what we're really talking about, middle ground.

We need aid to poor people right away. The safety net has to be addressed, so aid to states. We're also talking about food stamps. There's talk about that being increased and stepped up, $700 billion, possibly as much as that, as Gloria said.

O'BRIEN: I was going to ask you, because that's the number that Gloria was throwing out. Do you think that that's a fair estimate?

SERWER: Well, it's going to be between $150 billion and $700 billion, which is a huge, huge gap. But...

O'BRIEN: It's still a lot of money, no matter how you slice it.

SERWER: But, you know, it's just a lot, a ton.

And, then, of course, you know, we need to get a public works program, green jobs. I mean, it's such a wide spectrum.

O'BRIEN: And we only have about eight weeks before you get that going.

SERWER: But I think that's really positive, that he said, "I want this bill on my desk on January 20. I mean, it sort of puts the Congress on notice. It shows that he's serious.

You know, it's a tall order, but I think that Congress knows they have to do it. And as far as, you know, opposition, Republicans saying, well, you know, we don't know if it's right to increase government spending, I mean, come on. You know, if it's not right to increase government spending right now, if it's not right to run up a deficit when we have this crisis, when is it the right time to do those things? The time is now.

O'BRIEN: We have already -- we have already had a stimulus, granted, $150 billion...

SERWER: Right.

O'BRIEN: ... so nowhere near what everybody is talking about now. But how do you avoid it from not working a second time around?

SERWER: Yes, it's called pushing on a string, right? It's just sort of goes nowhere.

I think, just by virtue of the fact that he is new and is going to come in with a fresh team, he's going to get a whole lot of mileage out of that. I mean, we saw the stock market responding to the announcement of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers.

O'BRIEN: Yes, is that because there was a sense that there's a leadership void, I mean, as simple as that, and that the appointment of Geithner was a, "Oh, thank God, somebody's in charge now"?

SERWER: I think that's right.

But, I mean, fair or unfair to Treasury Secretary Paulson, I just think it's new blood. I mean, it may be a continuation of his policies. I mean, let's face it. We have been discussing the fact that Tim Geithner has worked hand-in-glove with Hank Paulson. I mean, he's going to be distancing himself in terms of some of those policies.

But these guys are not on different pages. And I think, Soledad, one way you can tell how serious the problem is how well President Bush and President-elect Obama seem to be getting along. I mean, you don't hear about, we want to go this way, you want to go that way, as much as, we want to work together to, you know, make this thing go away.

O'BRIEN: To what degree is overall confidence an issue here? I mean, will it be enough to have the changing of the guard, let's say, on January 20...


O'BRIEN: ... to stimulate something? I mean, is there a big psychological element in this?

SERWER: It's all psychological, ultimately, but confidence is something you can't just create.

Really, what has to happen is that enough Americans and businesses, CEOs, ordinary Americans, especially, though, need to not be afraid anymore.

They need to know that this beast, this economic meltdown, can't touch them, that their job is secure, that they have enough money for college, that they have cash in their bank accounts. Enough people have to say, you know what, this thing can't touch me. I'm OK.

And it's person by person by person. You know, we're sort of calling it the beast out there.

O'BRIEN: Is that realistic in the next eight weeks? I mean, come on.

SERWER: No, it's not realistic in the next eight weeks. I mean, it isn't.

But, you know, we can stop the bleeding, and enough people can start to feel a little bit better and maybe start to feel like things aren't getting worse. So, maybe that's just a first step right there.

O'BRIEN: ... the beginning of the beginning, right?

SERWER: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Andy Serwer -- always nice to see you, Andy.

SERWER: Good to see you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Just ahead on "360," thrill seekers are paying big bucks to swim with great white sharks. Is their quest for excitement actually making the animals more dangerous? Are the sharks being conditioned to eat human? Anderson investigates next on "360."


O'BRIEN: There's probably no other animal as feared as the great white shark, which is exactly why some people pay big money to get inside a cage and swim in shark infested waters. They do it for the thrill. But cage diving with great whites is becoming highly controversial; some people saying it's actually making the sharks more dangerous.

As part of our "Planet in Peril: Battle Lines" investigation, Anderson Cooper went to South Africa to investigate and here's a preview of what he found.


ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: When great white sharks start to circle your boat, the feeling is unsettling; 15 feet long, thousands of pounds. These are the animals of so many nightmares.

We've come to dive with these great whites, to get an up close look at them and the battle waged around them.

MIKE RUDSON, SHARK CONSERVATIONIST: Please do not go down unless we tell you to.

Mike Rudson (ph) takes tourists cage diving with great whites off the coast of South Africa. It's become a big business and but it's also, he says, a conservation effort. He thinks if people can see these endangered animals under water they'll learn to appreciate them and want to help protect them.

Cage diving, however, is highly controversial. We'll tell you why in a second. But right now, the water is filled with blood and fish parts called chum and the great whites have arrived.

Any recommendations for what to do?

RUDSON: Basically, don't scare the sharks.

COOPER: Don't worry about scaring the sharks, it's usually the other way around.

After we get used to being in the water with the sharks inside a cage, we have the chance to do something few others ever have. We'll go swimming with great white sharks without a cage.


O'BRIEN: Our world-wide investigation "Planet in Peril: Battle Lines" airs on December 11th, see where humans and nature are colliding and what we can all do to stop the damage.

You can check out more on our web site at

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: It's the holiday pre-order that Martha Stewart might have been waiting for: presidential pardon. She might have to wait a little longer. With his term nearly over, President Bush pardoned 14 people today. He also commuted the prison sentences of two others.

Stewart, a convicted felon, is not on the list today, and neither is the former Alaska senator, Ted Stevens; ditto for disgraced Olympian Marion Jones. So who was on the list? What are the chances that Stewart and Stevens and Jones will ever be forgiven?

With me for tonight's "Raw Politics" is the CNN senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.

Let's first talk about who made the list. No one you'd heard of ever, really, made the list; someone who was in for bank embezzlement, cocaine distribution, tax evasion, violation of the Bald Eagle Protection Act. Literally, no name you ever heard of on that list.

JEFF TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, these are actually the traditional kind of pardons the president gives. It appears that most of these people, or all of them, actually, were among the 2,000 who have applications for pardons pending in the Justice Department. This is the official channel for requesting a pardon.

And all of the pardoned people have completed their prison sentence, some decades ago, and/or have completed probation. So these are all people who had gone on to lead, apparently, exemplary lives, done good deeds, maybe had health problems.

President Bush has been very stingy with pardons. And this small list doesn't appear to have anyone unusual or controversial on it.

O'BRIEN: Now, is a presidential pardon absolute, so even though there are these guidelines, really, the president can pardon anybody he wants, right?

TOOBIN: Yes. There is this official procedure that the Justice Department has, where you have to file a long application. You have to check with the prosecutor in the case. And that's the official route.

The president is not limited by that route. The president can pardon anyone he wants any time. And at the end of presidencies, that's when the controversial pardons tend to happen.

O'BRIEN: OK, so there are some names I'm going to throw out, which could be controversial pardons if they were to happen. Folks who were post-9/11 interrogators, Michael Milken, Duke Cunningham, Scooter Libby; that was one I thought we might see today. Martha Stewart, who we were just talking about. Conrad Black, John Walker Lindh, Marion Jones; the list kind of goes on and on.

Anybody on that list you say, yes, I could see that happening?

TOOBIN: Well, Scooter Libby already had his sentence commuted by President Bush. So he got out of a prison sentence, but didn't get a pardon. He still has a fine to pay the federal government. He still has probation to serve. So he's not -- actually he doesn't have to serve probation either because of the commutation; so he's a possibility for a pardon.

The others, it's very much an individual thing. Martha Stewart, she's -- she's done with her prison sentence. So she might actually get a pardon. Conrad Black, who was a newspaper publisher, he's currently in prison. President Bush has not pardoned anyone who is in prison.

The most interesting of the possible pardons, I think, are the 9/11 interrogators, because they haven't been charged with anything. They may never be charged with anything, but President Bush and especially Vice President Cheney have been very interested in protecting the interests of the people who, according to some, tortured the people they were interrogating. And he wants to make sure they are not prosecuted. So President Bush could issue a preemptive pardon like Gerald Ford did for President Nixon, even though he was never charged.

O'BRIEN: That would be -- certainly be a controversial category.

Quick final question for you; Marc Rich was very controversial for President Clinton. And it led to those congressional hearings. I don't get it. If what the president does is absolute, how come it leads to these congressional hearings?

TOOBIN: Well, it's not -- it's an absolute power, but it's not free from criticism. And the idea of pardoning a fugitive was very controversial and, frankly, to me, as a former prosecutor, indefensible.

The -- so everyone has the right to criticize, but the president's word is absolute. It's one of the few areas where presidential power can't be challenged in court. It's just the president's alone to exercise.

O'BRIEN: We'll watch to see what he does. Jeff Toobin for us tonight. Thanks, Jeff.

TOOBIN: Right up until January 20.

O'BRIEN: We have a little time.

When we come back, Michelle Obama; as the nation's first African- American first lady, she's bringing her close-up with history into focus. Tonight, we'll take a look at how she's going to change stereotypes about black women and how much she may impact the way they see themselves.

All that and much more in a moment.


O'BRIEN: President-elect Barack Obama isn't the only one making White House appointments. Today, Michelle Obama also made a couple of announcements, choosing a social secretary and her deputy chief of staff.

And like her husband, Michelle Obama is making history, too. As the first African-American to be first lady, she's expected to change how the world sees black women and maybe even how they see themselves.

"Up Close" tonight, here's 360's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A high-powered professional, successful and the wife of the president-elect; three good reasons why Michelle Obama may change the image of black women.

ALLISON SAMUELS, "NEWSWEEK": When you look at television, we're either, you know, single mothers with a bunch of children or drug addicts or street walkers.

KAYE: Allison Samuels wrote this article for "Newsweek." She hopes and expects having Michelle Obama in the White House will help put an end to the stereotyping of African-American women, often portrayed as overweight, ignorant and angry.

EDDIE MURPHY, ACTOR PLAYING RASPUTIA IN THE FILM "NORBIT": Don't adjust my seat. That scientifically proves that you were adjusting my seat.

SAMUELS: We still have that negative image of black women being overweight and very loud and rolling their eyes and talking back and having these sassy one-liners all the time. And that's just not the entire community.

I think what Michelle Obama will be able to do is just show you a different type of African-American woman.

KAYE: During the campaign, Mrs. Obama was the victim of stereotyping, too. A television anchor, not from this network, referred to her as Barack Obama's "baby mama," a slang term often used to describe black women who have children out of wedlock. The anchor later apologized.

Mrs. Obama is a Harvard-educated lawyer who earned a six-figure salary before leaving her job to help her husband's campaign. With about 30 percent of African-American children being raised in poverty; that may register with black women.

OLIVIA FISHKIN, NEW YORK RESIDENT: The average African-American woman should take heed and hope that, with hard work and study, that they can also elevate themselves and aspire to become whatever they want to become.

KAYE: What about her skin color? It's much darker than African- American celebrities like Beyonce or Halle Berry. Samuels says that may send the message black is beautiful.

SAMUELS: In the African-American community, a lot of times beauty is sort of determined by how light you are. And what I love about Michelle is that she's not that typical look.

KAYE: Michelle Obama's physique may also light a fire under black women. Federal statistics show four out of five African- American women are overweight or obese. Mrs. Obama works out daily, often before her girls are even awake.

SAMUELS: You don't necessarily look at a size zero and go, "OK, I can look like that" in fashion magazines, but you have this real- life woman, who's a mother and a wife, who is making time to sort of work out and look good. And I think all of that is going to play a big role in African-American woman, you know, just sort of taking a step back and saying, "What can I do to be healthy?"

KAYE: So while Mrs. Obama may be focused on becoming mom-in- chief, as she likes to say, her role may be far greater than she'll ever know.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


O'BRIEN: Breaking barriers, rewriting history, facing extreme challenges in her own right. How is Michelle Obama going to redefine the role of First Lady?

Joining us tonight to talk about that is Faye Wattleton. She's the co-founder and president of the Center for the Advancement of Women. Nice to see you.

You know, on one hand, you think Michelle Obama is really so accomplished that, if anybody has to pull it off, she'll be able to. But on the other hand, it is -- it is not going to be an easy transition.

FAYE WATTLETON, CO-FOUNDER/PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN: No. It will be a very, very tight rope that she will have to walk, because anyone who makes a breakthrough the first time is expected to achieve and to excel at a degree that perhaps is not entirely fair.

She's really a blank slate for many people, who will protect what we believe that she should be or should not be. But she will also signal that she's a woman of her own making. She follows her own counsel. And I hope that -- that through the political process, we have not seen a homogenization of who this woman is in all of her complexity.

O'BRIEN: Sometimes I think they try to squish that out of you.

WATTLETON: Exactly, exactly.

O'BRIEN: And, you know, black women will often talk about, you know, living two lives. "Divided Lives," I think is the name of a book about it.

On one hand, you have to be a certain way at home and then another way at work. And she's sort of got her home and work life are one in a way? How's she going to navigate that?

WATTLETON: Well, Mrs. Obama has been educated in white institutions. And she has lived in a majority culture. And we do have an African-American culture. I mean, the qualities of our history and our legacy and the legacy of slavery and all that it has been with respect to our struggle informs who we are.

And yet, we have to walk among a society that may not fully understand where we come from. And that's why the stereotype of African-American women is often not a fair one and not an accurate characterization that -- that I think that Mrs. Obama's presence, the visual of her presence, has already made an enormous impact. And I think she'll continue to do so.

O'BRIEN: I think that's very true.

Barbara Bush used to have these witty one-liners all the time. One thing she said that was a little snitty was about Gerri Ferraro. She described her as -- rhymes -- I'm not going to say the word, but it rhymes with "rich."

And you sort of wonder, will a Michelle Obama be able to pull something like that off and not have that be front-page news?

WATTLETON: Probably. I can't imagine Michelle Obama saying -- making statements like that. I think she probably has a lot more respect for the range of temperaments among all women, including women of color.

But we are often very much characterized, because of our directness -- we were taught to be direct; we were taught to be honest -- the way we communicate with each other, the code process of African-American language and communication is different -- we're sometimes characterized as such.

As a matter of fact, in the early part of the campaign, people said that they were afraid of her. And why -- why to be afraid of her? Because she was a direct woman. And I think that we will become accustomed to her, and for that reason, we will move the ball forward on the image of African-American women.

O'BRIEN: We will certainly all be watching her, especially in these fabulous dresses that she likes to wear. Faye Wattleton, it's always nice to see you. Thanks for talking to us.

Up next, more on that notion that she was formidable on the campaign trail. We're going to take a look at how Mrs. Obama might or may not try to temper that image when she gets to the White House.

And then we'll take you on the red carpet for a sneak peek at our star-studded "Heroes" celebration. That's coming up next.


O'BRIEN: Talking about Michelle Obama. Back with Faye Wattleton, the co-founder and president of the Center for Advancement of Women.

This is what you do. What do you think, literally, will be Michelle Obama's impact on women, black women and not black women?

WATTLETON: Well, she's already had an enormous impact, just her presence; the capacity for us to understand or believe that a woman of accomplishment can be the First Lady of the United States. That's the top position for the wife of the president.

I think that, when she opens the door to think it's possible for minority women to enter, she elevates the prospects for all women. So the aspirations for women now are greatly changed.

I think what we really should be guarded against, however, is not to expect too much. She is still a human being. And there will be times when she may make mistakes. She is not going to do it always the very perfect way.

So it's really important that we sort of give her room and an opportunity find her best position so that she can serve her office as best as she can.

O'BRIEN: You have to imagine that there are literally little girls who will have their lives changed because of this.

WATTLETON: Well, all of us have had our lives changed through this. I have to believe that all African-American are looked upon a little differently. Now, we haven't solved the issue of racism and bias, but we have certainly moved the ball forward toward a more progressive outlook for all women.

But for her, the role is ever more important. And it will be a tightrope, because there will be those who will want to impose their expectations on her breakthrough. And so it's going to be interesting to watch.

O'BRIEN: She was on that tightrope during the campaign a little bit, too, and she managed that pretty well.

WATTLETON: She was on a tightrope. She now has four years to do it.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.

Now, it's quite a point of pride for us here at CNN. Over the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of you have voted to select CNN's Hero of the Year. Ten extraordinary Americans made the final cut.

On Thanksgiving night, CNN is going to honor each of them but name just one Hero of the Year.

Anderson Cooper taped the star-studded program over the weekend, and CNN's Brooke Anderson has a preview.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, welcome to our second annual tribute to "CNN Heroes."

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's an award show like no other.

TERRENCE HOWARD, ACTOR: I'm presenting an award to Liz McCartney, a woman who I think has the heart of a thousand angels.

RICKI LAKE, ACTRESS/TALK SHOW HOST: It feels like the Academy Awards, and I feel like she's winning, you know, the great honor. Go, Marie! Go, Marie!

ANDERSON: A night to honor ten selfless individuals whose commitment and compassion for the less fortunate are making the world a better place.

COOPER: These are people who are not looking for fame.

CAROLYN LECROY, CNN HERO NOMINEE: Door, please. Thank you.

ANDERSON: Carolyn LeCroy started a project to connect kids with their incarcerated parents. Marie da Silva founded a school in Malawi for AIDS orphans. And Tad Agoglia created the First Response Team of America.

JESSICA BEAL, ACTRESS: Ladies and gentlemen, CNN hero, Anne Mahlum.

KATE BECKINSALE, ACTRESS: Ladies and gentlemen, CNN hero, Viola Vaughn.

ANDERSON: Stars like Christina Aguilera turned the spotlight on these everyday people doing extraordinary things.

CHRISTINA AGUILERA, SINGER: (Singing "Beautiful.")

ANDERSON: An evening of emotion, meaning and hope.

MARIO RUIZ, CNN HERO NOMINEE: It is a day I will never forget.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


O'BRIEN: You can find out on Thanksgiving night who was named CNN's Hero of the Year. You'll hear amazing and inspirational stories; an all-star tribute, hosted by Anderson Cooper. That's on Thanksgiving night, 9 p.m. Eastern, only right here on CNN.

Coming up next, do you ever wonder what that cute cigarette- smoking chimp does when he's not taking a cigarette break or how Curious George made a living before the book deal happened?

Waiter. Yes, monkey waiters, in the restaurant. The customers who love it and the health inspectors who allow it.


HILL: All right, Soledad, I know your favorite part of being here at AC 360 is "The Shot."

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

HILL: Tonight -- tonight is a doozy. Animal related, as we prefer, of course. So a little, perhaps, "Dramatic Animal Video." There it is. Not the cat, but that's going to do.

A little something that you probably don't see and hopefully never will see at a restaurant: monkey waiters. It's not a sketch from "Saturday Night Live." This is actually the real thing.

Apparently, to keep a business alive, one Tokyo eatery brought in a couple of monkeys to serve the food, clean up the tables, because it's a little cheaper, perhaps, saving a bundle on labor costs.

Apparently, the customers love it. I don't know that I would be one of those customers. Health inspectors say it's just fine as long as the primates are dressed. I like the high standards.

O'BRIEN: Dressed?

HILL: Yes. They have clothes on, then we're fine.

O'BRIEN: That's the issue that they addressed?

HILL: Apparently. Not even a hairnet is needed, though. One American tourist sees nothing wrong with the monkeys but thinks that animal rights folks here at home would not approve.

O'BRIEN: OK. The monkey has a bottle in his mouth.

HILL: How about that?

O'BRIEN: I love animals, but...

HILL: I do, too. And I am all for the monkeys, you know, monkeys lib, if you will, but I don't know if I want the monkey serving my food.

O'BRIEN: Monkeys' lib?

HILL: Sure.


HILL: They need to be able to earn a living.

O'BRIEN: Will you send me the e-mail where that is so I don't visit?

HILL: Of course, all the most recent "Shots," on the Web site,

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Erica.

And that does it for this edition. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts right now.