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After A Tough Year, Obama Gets A Grilling; Obama: No Negotiating Over Debt Ceiling; New Revelations From NSA Leaker; Giving Chance to Iran Nuclear Deal; Did Obama Threw Spy Chief under the Bus?; Sexual Orientation and the Olympics; General Gone Wild

Aired December 20, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Jake, thank you.

Happening now:

Obama on the hot seat. The president gets a grilling at the end of a bad year for the White House. He takes the most heat over NSA spying amid new snooping revelations. He signaled some changes are on the way.

General gone wild. An Air Force report reveals a top nuclear missile commander was removed from his post for boozing and boorish behavior abroad. We have the details.

And SeaWorld is reeling right now after a CNN film exposes its treatment of killer whales. First, music stars canceled their performances. Now, a new blow from some very important customers.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama is heading off to Hawaii for a vacation and he probably really needs it right now. He just got a grilling over at the White House, a news conference on the same day that the latest CNN poll shows his approval rating remains at an all time low. The president took heat on the health care rollout program and especially on NSA spying.

We have stunning new revelations about that snooping just ahead. But let's get straight to our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, for the very latest -- Brianna.


President Obama came into the briefing room in a good mood. He left in a good mood, but there were some combative moments and he was peppered by reporters about a number of topics. Primary amongst them, the NSA spying controversy as well as his signature health care program, the rollout of which he described as his biggest mistake of 2013.

It's been a very difficult year for the president. His approval rating stands at 41 percent in our new CNN/ORC poll out today. And across the board, it is at or near its lowest numbers in other polls as well. So, perhaps this question summed it up the best. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Has this been the worst year of your presidency?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I got to tell you, Julie, that's not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years, close to five years, was running for president for two years before that, and for those of you who have covered me during that time, we have had ups and we have had downs. I think this room has probably recorded at least 15 near-death experiences.


KEILAR: Now, the big issue for President Obama is that Americans trust him less. You can trace that to the outrage over the NSA spying revelations, as well as the botched rollout of, and also, really, just the sort of general disdain for Washington following that shutdown this fall.

BLITZER: You know, Brianna, you literally had a first row seat to history today. You were in the first row. You asked the president a very important question that's generating a lot of headlines right now -- when you asked him about potentially making some concessions to raise the nation's debt ceiling, which has to be raised by February.

I'm going to play the exchange you had with the president today.


KEILAR: Will you negotiate with House Republicans on the debt ceiling?

OBAMA: Oh, Brianna, you know the answer to this question. No, we're not going to negotiate for -- with Congress to pay bills that it has accrued.

I think Congressman Ryan and Senator Murray did a good job in trying to narrow the differences and actually pass a budget that I can sign. Now, I can't imagine that having seen this possible daylight breaking when it comes to cooperation in Congress, that folks are thinking actually about plunging us back into the kinds of brinksmanship and governance by crisis that has done us so much harm over the last couple of years.


BLITZER: So, Brianna, he's clearly not blinking on that front.

KEILAR: No, he's not blinking and you heard there was some praise for Paul Ryan there, but he also slammed him for saying recently the Republicans were going to figure out what they want to extract in the fight over the debt ceiling.

That is expected to happen. The U.S. is expected to hit the debt ceiling and lose its ability to borrow money should Congress not act. That would be late February, early March is the estimate.

And the president, Wolf, went as far as to say I've got to assume folks aren't crazy enough to start that thing all over again. And I'll tell you, some Republicans actually share the president's sentiment on that, they will say it's not helpful when he says that.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Good question today at the news conference. Brianna Keilar, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He sent a direct message to the Republicans. What are you hearing? What's the reaction?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Brianna is dead right, that even those who agree with the president that they don't want to start messing with the debt ceiling, that they don't want to even threaten to turn the economy around or people's 401(k)s and all of the terrible things that would happen if the debt ceiling were hit. They don't think it's helpful for the president to say that.

But within the Republican Party, you heard Brianna talking about Paul Ryan saying publicly that he wants to extract something from the president. There aren't -- he doesn't have unanimity on that. There are Republicans, even in the House, who look at what happened in the shutdown and say we don't want to go through that again on something so much more important and perilous for the economy as the debt ceiling.

But then, you are going to see a lot of Republicans pushing to do something and the primary thing driving that, Wolf, is as we have seen so many times, conservative politics, primary politics. The Senate would say maybe that's why Paul Ryan pushed that because he was getting a lot of blowback from conservatives for the budget deal that he put forward. And even the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who has been historically somebody who has tried to sort of calm the conservative waters, on this, he has a primary challenge as well. He is saying we want to extract something also.

So, the first thing that has to happen and will happen over the next month or so is Republicans have to figure out what they want, get on the same page, and that is not going to be a pretty process internally.

BLITZER: And a lot of Republicans privately don't want a big battle because they also think it would detract from their successful efforts on Obamacare, in scoring political points on that front.

BASH: Oh, you're exactly right. And that is one of the main reasons why at the end of the government shutdown, Republicans said, enough already, we're going to basically uncle because they were convinced that they wanted to get back to Obamacare because that was doing so poorly, they were stepping on their message. Going into 2014, the election year, bar none, every Republican thinks that that is going to be their winning message and you're exactly right, a fight over the debt ceiling that they could get blamed for just as much as the president, they don't want it.

BLITZER: They don't want to step on that other message.

All right. Dana, thanks very much.

There are also new stunning revelations today about NSA spying even as the president addressed possible reforms at that news conference. He is weighing recommendations by an outside panel that's called for changes in NSA surveillance.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has been watching all of this for us.

The president was asked flatly if he would consider amnesty for Snowden in exchange for Snowden coming clean with all those documents. Pick up the story.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. He said he couldn't comment on it because Snowden is still involved in a legal proceeding but he certainly did not endorse the idea. In fact, he laid out how he continues to believe Snowden did, quote, "unnecessary damage to both U.S. intelligence gathering and diplomacy."

However, he did acknowledge his administration hasn't gotten intel gathering right and is looking seriously now at changes.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Under continuing fire at home and abroad for the NSA mass surveillance, today the president signaled real changes to come.

OBAMA: We may have to refine this further to give people more confidence and I'm going to be working very hard on doing that. And we've got to provide more confidence to the international community.

SCIUTTO: One possible reform, moving data on billions of phone calls of Americans from the NSA back to the phone companies.

OBAMA: Programs like 215 could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse.

SCIUTTO: His promise comes as the NSA's intelligence dragnet is proving even bigger than was known.

New documents revealed by Edward Snowden and shared with "The New York Times" revealed the NSA spied on the Israeli prime minister, the U.N. and businesses, including French oil giant Total, and the European competition commissioner overseeing U.S. companies such as Google. This after the administration has long insisted the NSA does not spy for commercial purposes.

Today, the NSA reaffirmed that point, saying in a statement, "We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of or give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to increase their bottom line."

Critics of surveillance say the president should accept most or all of the recommendations of a reform panel of intelligence and legal experts.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: They have done this for a living and have made those decisions that are key to keeping America safe.

SCIUTTO: The ACLU also a strong critic of mass surveillance, took a lighter look at the NSA.


SCIUTTO: With a YouTube video timed to Christmas.


SCIUTTO: As we reported earlier in the week, the president said he will make a speech in January, a definitive statement, he said, on changes to the NSA.

And, you know, Wolf, now the president is on his way to Hawaii for vacation, but you remember Hawaii is, of course, the place where Snowden did all his snooping to reveal those documents. So, Snowden could escape the U.S. but the president can't escape the story.

BLITZER: Yes, the president deserves a little vacation.

He did seem to throw the director of national intelligence, General James Clapper, under the bus a bit, didn't he?

SCIUTTO: Well, he did. He said in answer to a question about Clapper's comments earlier in the year before Snowden's revelations that the NSA does not do this kind of spying, he, of course, had to walk back those comments when we saw these revelations, the president said hey, listen, you're equating me with James Clapper, not the best support for your director of national intelligence.

And the president went on to say that he stands by all these statements he's made on the program, even going back before the revelations.

BLITZER: Yes, those comments sort of jumped out at me when I heard them.

SCIUTTO: No question.

BLITZER: Not every day you hear the president speak like that, even indirectly criticizing the director of national intelligence.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And as you've said earlier in the week, Republicans calling for him to resign.


All right. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat sparking anti-American protests but demonstrators in New York turn out to support the U.S. crackdown.

And a general gone wild. A nuclear missile commander loses his post after boozing and boorish behavior abroad. We have the details.


BLITZER: India is demanding the United States apologize for the arrest and strip search of an Indian envoy in New York. She's accused of paying a domestic worker much less than promised in a visa application.

And while the arrest has sparked anti-American protests in India, there was a demonstration in New York today applauding the U.S. crackdown.

Our national correspondent Deborah Feyerick is joining us with more.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, a lot of people came out today, about a couple dozen people, to show solidarity to let the nanny know and other domestic workers that in fact they're not alone, that the behavior among diplomats and certain consular officials has to stop.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Domestic workers make demands (ph)!


FEYERICK (voice-over): In a show of solidarity, nannies, housekeepers and other domestic workers in New York City came out to support the woman who has triggered a diplomatic disaster between India and the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Workers rights are human rights.

This as Indian officials pointed the finger at the American prosecutor who brought the charges, calling U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara overzealous, saying, quote, "The entire case is cooked up."

YASHWANT SINHA, FORMER INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: If you have a problem about compliance with the law, just tell us. I mean, what would we do? Either withdraw the person, the employee, or just negotiate some exceptions and they are possible. It can be done.

FEYERICK: Suggesting there had been a warning, the U.S. attorney said earlier this week that "in fact, the Indian government itself has been aware of this legal issue, and that its diplomats and consular officials were at risk of violating the law."

Indian officials who point out that Barrera is a man of Indian origin says his actions against deputy general consul, Devyani Khobragade, stem from what they call his own political ambitions. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney declined comment.

The 39-year-old diplomat has now been given a job as a counselor at the U.N. permanent mission, opening up the possibility she could receive full diplomatic immunity. That would have to be approved by the U.S. state department.

She has been charged with fraud and making false statements on a visa application she submitted on behalf of her nanny, who was allegedly coerced into later accepting lower wages and longer hours once that visa was issued. Khobragade's lawyer disputes the charges saying the domestic worker received two salaries, not one.

DANIEL ARSHACK, DIPLOMAT'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: She paid this housekeeper exactly what she promised to pay her, well above the minimum wage. She was obligated under the contract to pay her $9.75 an hour and that's what she did.

FEYERICK: Lawyers for the nanny, identified as Sangeeta Richard, deny this and say she received only one wage, 30,000 rupees a month or the equivalent of $3.31 an hour.

Meantime, security at the U.S. embassy in India remains compromised after local officials removed what they call courtesy barriers which keep cars and trucks from getting too close to the building.


FEYERICK: And Wolf, this all remains unresolved. However, lawyers for the nanny said that it was disappointing that Ms. Khobragade was actually trying to hide behind immunity and undermine the U.S. legal process -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: What a story, diplomatic rift escalating, it seems. All thanks very much, Deborah Feyerick.

Coming up, we will have more on President Obama's news conference today. What he said about the botched Obamacare rollout. He admits to mistakes but makes an interesting turn.

And Glenn Beck's jaw-dropping slam of Chris Christie. You won't believe what he's calling the New Jersey governor and possible Republican presidential contender.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story.

President Obama gets a year end grilling over at the White House from the news media after a very rough year for the president. Joining us now, our chief national correspondent, John King, our CNN political commentators, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, the former Bush speech writer, David Frum.

John, let me play this clip. This is the president acknowledging the blunders as far as the rollout of the affordable care act, and then he made a turn.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact is it didn't happen in the first month, first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable. And since I'm in charge, obviously we screwed it up. You've still got two million people who signed up, or more. And so what that means then is that the demand is there and as I said before, the product is good.


BLITZER: So what do you think of this strategy? Can he move beyond some of the failures by pointing out some of the successes?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Number one, good for him. Presidents hate that question. What was your biggest failure in the year and he answered it. He meandered a little bit but he got and answered it.

BLITZER: Some presidents would refuse that.

KING: It was obvious what the answer was but at least he answered.

Look, the president has a tough job right now. He's at the lowest approval rating of his presidency. Many of his own party, in his own party, are starting to abandon him. He's going into an election year where it will be hard to get anything done because of midterm elections to the states. So, is it smart to be optimistic? Is it smart to view the glass as half full, yes, that's the right political strategy.

The question is, can you take that attitude and make some adjustments in how you govern and then find the coalition to get stuff done in 2014, to get stuff done is still a giant question mark.

BLITZER: You know, Donna, he started the year at 55 percent job approval. But let me show the numbers as it went down. In May, it was down to 53, then in June, 45. Now, 41 percent, which is record low as far as job approval number in our CNN polling. How does he get over this?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First of all, by focusing on what the American people elected him to do. Makes sure we have a strong economy for the future. That we can help the middle class continue to grow and thrive in this kind of economy and not focus on all the distracting things that happened here in Washington, D.C. I remember we spent much of the year talking about things that didn't even exist. I'm not talking about Santa or the eastern bunny, I', talking about these fake scandals.

BLITZER: Like what?

BRAZILE: The IRS. Remember we spent a lot of time talking about whether or not somebody inside the Obama White House was going after conservative groups. We learned the IRS was going after everybody.

Look, I think the president is still, in the word President Bush, the decider. So, he can still shape policy, he can help shape the debate and this president will come back.

BLITZER: Because on the IRS, even the president acknowledged there were some mistakes that were made, there were some serious mistakes made there.

Let's talk a little about this 41 percent. The president now at the end of his fifth year, that's where your boss, your former boss, George W. Bush, was at the exact same time in his second term, at 41 percent. Bill Clinton at this point in his second term was at 56 percent. Ronald Reagan was at 63 percent. George W. Bush never really came up much from that 41 percent. How does this president in the next three years come up?

DAVID FRUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the president has said there's nowhere to go but up. He's quite wrong. There are other places to go beside up. There's down, there's flat.

The president has to begin to deliver economic success for more and more people. That is the great -- what is the greatest failure of the Obama years, it is that although the overall course of the economy turned around, the economy hit bottom in the summer of 2009, early 2010, and has been recovering, the vast majority of Americans don't feel it. And for a president who talks so much about the middle class, they have not been beneficiaries of his administration.

BLITZER: The economic numbers, the most recent numbers have been good. Third quarter economic growth --

FRUM: Economic growth --

BLITZER: More than four percent.

FRUM: Right. But that's the problem, that you are teasing people. That they read that things are better, the economy is better, their economy is not. This president said in his I believe 2011 state of the union speech that one of his goals was to restore Americans' faith in government. That's why this Web site story is so damaging, because it comes on top of all the other ways that government has not worked for people over the past few years.

BLITZER: You want to respond?

BRAZILE: People are still bleeding, there is no question, in this economy. This was a bad recession. The financial sector, the housing sector, millions of Americans lost their personal assets, their wealth. So it's going to take time to recover. The question is are we going in the right direction versus, you know, being stuck in the past.

We are moving in the right direction. We need more help from the private sector. And I do believe with 44 months of consecutive job growth, the American people will begin to feel some of the strength of this economy.

BLITZER: We could be in the midst a few weeks from now in a huge battle over raising the nation's debt ceiling which could have enormous implications on the economy if America's creditworthiness goes down, interest rates will go up, making everything more expensive. Here's what the president said today.


OBAMA: The debt ceiling is raised simply to pay bills that we have already accrued. It is not something that is a negotiating tool. It's not leverage. It's the responsibility of Congress. It is part of doing their job. I'm willing to have a constructive conversation of the sort that we just had in resolving the budget issues, but I've got to assume folks aren't crazy enough to start that thing all over again.


BLITZER: He's referring to Republicans when he says I have to -- I assume folks aren't that crazy to start that -- referring to the government shutdown.

KING: Given what happened the last couple years, I don't think it's safe to assume anything.

But this is a big test of leadership for the president of the United States and Speaker Boehner. B Because the president doesn't want to go through this again because today, the economy is starting to come back. People don't feel it or they don't believe it. It's been so long, it has been such a funk, their neighbors still out of work, or they are still out of work, they don't believe it.

The president has to hope that psychology changes early in the New Year to have that productive year next year. Speaker Boehner has to hope that the Republicans don't get blamed for anything again like the government shutdown, like the debt ceiling fight could hurt the Republicans ramping up for what they think will be a big year politically November 2014.

So, the Republicans want something, Paul Ryan said we want something. Can they find some modest way through this, I think that's what you look for. Speaker Boehner does not want to have anything happen that will disrupt the trajectory.

BLITZER: Should the president simply said, instead of saying he's not going to negotiate over this, they just have to do it, forget about any concessions, I'm thinking of the former president Bill Clinton, a man you worked for, admired greatly, would he have said in the '90s to Newt Gingrich when he was speaker, we're not even talking about that, it's my way or the highway? BRAZILE: I think the president's experience dealing with the Republicans on Capitol Hill, as you know, you give a little, you have to give much more, you got to keep giving, keep giving, keep giving.

We need that grand bargain at some time in the future now that we've got the budget for two more years. I think the president will do well by continuing to extend the olive branch. But the debt ceiling, that is one game we should not go back to the table and play.

I agree with the president. We can't negotiate. We need to fix that once and for all and start working on fixing this economy so that every American feels they have a good job.

BLITZER: Do you agree as well?

FRUM: You should certainly raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans I think will not be tempted to make a fight over it. First, they didn't do well on the last go-round.

BLITZER: On the 16 day government shutdown.

FRUM: Exactly. And second, what is coming up is the greater fight over Obamacare, not just malfunctioning of the Web site, but the defects built into the very character of the program. The people who are getting coverage, net new coverage under Obamacare are getting it through Medicaid, a tremendous expansion of an old not highly successful program. The exchanges aren't working and the subsidies inside the exchanges, the way the exchanges work, they put tremendous costs on some people who are waking up to their costs in order to deliver benefits to others. And that is the thing Republicans are going to want to talk about.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We've got much more to talk about.

The president threw a lot of good ideas out there for our discussion purposes.

Also under fire for NSA snooping, did the president today just throw his intelligence chief under the bus? We will discuss that.

And the TV talker Glenn Beck makes really shocking comments about the New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Is there a split among conservatives and is it deepening?


BLITZER: We're back with our chief national correspondent, John King, and our CNN political commentators Donna Brazile and David Frum.

David, I'll start with you. Listen to the president speaking about Iran and additional sanctions. There's a bipartisan group of senators led by Bob Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He wants new sanctions approved now, would only go into effect a year from now, assuming there's no deal. But listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran, but there's no reason to do it right now. So I think that the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you're running for office, or if you're in office.


BLITZER: It sounds like a real swipe at some of his Democrats like Chuck Schumer, who wants more sanctions right now, Bob Menendez. There's a whole bunch of Democrats who've co-sponsored this legislation in addition to a lot of Republicans.

DAVID FRUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Somebody buy the president a -- gift subscription for Christmas to the "Financial Times" and he will read every week about the companies that are making investment commitments -- long-term investment commitments to Iran. The French car makers, for example.

The point of these sanctions that Menendez and others are pointing to is to say to -- they're not for Iran. They're for Renault and Nissan, to say to them, you understand that if the Iranians defect, that those investments will be worthless in six months so don't make any commitments until you know that this deal is really working. Don't make them today, wait six months.

And that is exactly the kind of pressure that will lead us to success. And the president's approach is exactly wrong and his condescension to the people who are exactly right is very unbecoming.

BLITZER: Were you surprised the president turned this into a political issue? Suggesting even these Democrats think it's good when you're running for office or if you're in office, that they didn't really have substantive policy reasons to support this legislation but Bob Menendez and Chuck Schumer are doing it because it's popular in New Jersey and New York?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I think there's going to be a two-track strategy. There's going to be either negotiation that's ongoing with the administration, trying to keep everybody at the bargaining table, extracting as many concessions from Iran as possible. There's going to be Congress will continue to put their foot on Iran and make sure that the president will verify whatever agreement that is made. It's a two-track strategy and I don't think there's no way around it.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The political line at the end there about it's -- you know, essentially these politicians being politicians, that's why, Wolf, in private conversations with even some of his old, quote-unquote, friends in the Senate, a lot of non-love for this president for the way he's conducted himself as president.

From Democrats, sometimes it's sharp or sharper from Democrats than from Republicans in private conversations. The question here is, what's the vote count? If the vote count is so lopsided in the Senate and so lopsided in the House, the president actually veto the bill then or does he try to negotiate some language to make it even more conditional a trigger so he can go to the Iranians and say look, you know, I did the best I could, you guys better keep your end of the deal.

BLITZER: On NSA surveillance there was an interesting exchange involving General James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence. He's in charge of all of the U.S. intelligence community. I will play the exchange.


ED HENRY, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Your director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, months ago, went up, got a question from a Democrat, not a Republican, about whether some of this was going on and he denied it. Doesn't that undermine the public trust?

OBAMA: Ed, you're conflating first of all me and Mr. Clapper.


BLITZER: Wow. That jumped out at me. David, I assume it did as you as well. "You're conflating me and Mr. Clapper," as if Clapper doesn't know what he's talking about, I'm the president.

FRUM: Yes. Well, the follow-up question is, does your chief have your confidence? That's -- those people work for him. They can't defend themselves. It's the president's job to defend the people who work for him and if he can't defend them he should fire them.

BLITZER: Rand Paul --

FRUM: And right away.

BLITZER: The senator, was here in THE SITUATION ROOM this week and he said not only should the president fire Clapper, and a whole bunch of other Republicans are saying that as well, but he may be as criminally guilty as Snowden for lying to Congress. Supposedly.

BRAZILE: You know, Wolf, I'm not in any of those classified briefings so I don't know just how far his misleading statement went with Dianne Feinstein. He has had a tremendous amount of time in -- government service employee. I'm not going to sit here and criticize him. I know that in Washington, D.C., you make a mistake, everybody wants your head but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that things can be worked out. If not, I'm sure he'll tender his resignation.

KING: But the -- this is one of the reasons the president and the administration and faith in government is down in the polls because you have Mr. Clapper who has -- tells one thing to Congress, has to change it. You have Kathleen Sebelius who says this, has to change it. You have the president who in the early days of the Edward Snowden saga said some things in the briefing room, relying on what he was told by the intelligence agency, that turned out not to be true.

And so that's why it's not just the president's approval rating that's down. His honesty, his trustworthy, his credibility numbers are down. And that's what makes it harder to scratch and claw your way back, when you've lost your foundation in addition to that top line number.

BLITZER: Here's my assessment from someone who's covered the intelligence community. When you have a president of the United States suggest these kinds of words about the director of National Intelligence, a four-star general who served 30 or 40 years in the U.S. military, implying that maybe, you know, he's not that good, that sends a pretty negative message out there as far as morale is concerned and potentially could be a problem. But that's just my --

BRAZILE: When you've been less than honest with the oversight committee, that's a credibility problem that General Clapper has.

BLITZER: That's also true.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right.

FRUM: They're your people, you have to defend them as long as they're your people.

BLITZER: Yes. But if he doesn't have confidence in him, he's got to let him go.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: That's -- simple as that.

Let's talk about Sochi, the Winter Olympic Games in Russia. The president was asked about his presidential delegation that's going, no member of his family, not the president or the vice president.

He's sending a message to the Russian government, there's no doubt. Here's the president.


OBAMA: Billie Jean King or Brian Boitano who themselves have been world class athletes that everybody acknowledges for their excellence but also for their character, who also happen to be members of the LGBT community. You should take that for what it's worth, that when it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance, we don't make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation. We judge people on how they perform.


BLITZER: A clear sense of irritation that the U.S., president has with Russia's anti-gay laws that clearly have come to the fore in recent -- in recent months. FRUM: Well, those laws are appalling and shocking and the campaign of oppression, the larger campaign of oppression around them is disturbing both in its own right but also because it is another signal of how badly wrong things are going in Russia. That when a society singles out a group like this -- to persecute in this way, that tells you something is sick in that society.

And we have just seen -- we have lots of other business with Putin's Russia. The pressure on Ukraine to defect from their deal with the European Union and to turn into a very corrupt fashion back into the Russian space. And the massive amount of stealing and corruption that has surrounded these games in Russia, the 2014 games, is a good place for the president not to be.

BLITZER: What did you think of that, the decision to send this particular delegation to Russia?

BRAZILE: I think it's a great delegation. As a former athlete, I'm proud of all of the athletes and as well as, you know, former Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano. It's a great group of Americans and they will represent us, I think, very well.

BLITZER: What sport was yours?

BRAZILE: Basketball, threw the shot-put, you know, I horsed around as well.

BLITZER: This was in Louisiana.

BRAZILE: I did a lot.

BLITZER: In high school or college?

BRAZILE: High school and college. You know --


BRAZILE: I often tell my nieces and nephews that Auntie Donna's body got in college and brings that out.


KING: She's still tough today.

BLITZER: I didn't know she is a basketball --


KING: One surprise is he did not publicly mention President Putin. The delegation is a clear snub to the Russian government. The president's language about the Russian laws was clearly he was drawing the contrast. But he had an opportunity there to directly say something about President Putin at that event to sort of send the delegation over with the presidential wind at his back. He passed up that opportunity. BLITZER: The questions have been helpful in some areas. Syria's chemical weapons, the destruction of those, this interim agreement with Iran, for example, maybe finding a diplomatic solution as far as its nuclear program. They joined the other permanent members of the Security Council so there -- it's not all black and white.

FRUM: Well, a lot depends on how successful you think those arrangements in Syria and Iran really are. But I think --


BLITZER: Well, getting rid of Syria's chemical weapons is important.

FRUM: Yes, but the war in Syria continues.

BLITZER: The war goes on.


FRUM: People are being massacred --

BLITZER: Having said that --

FRUM: The fact they're being massacred with a different form of technology is not really such a huge improvement. You know, I suppose if given the choice I'd rather be machine gunned to death than asphyxiated, but you are just as dead. And that continues. Those are not huge successes.

And meanwhile, what is happening in the Ukraine is really -- the Russians are putting the thumb on Europe's energy trachea, they are taking away one of the largest countries that is -- in Europe and redirecting it away from a positive path of democracy and growth into a Putin-like style of government. There's a lot to be worried about.

BRAZILE: The real stars of these -- of the games are the athletes. And God bless them.

BLITZER: Of course.

BRAZILE: I wish them well. I will be rooting for them.

BLITZER: And you're -- and you're one of those former athletes.

BRAZILE: Team USA. I'm all the way for that.

BLITZER: Why didn't he send you on that delegation?

BRAZILE: Because he probably knows I don't like cold weather.


BLITZER: Donna, thanks very much. David, John.

Just ahead, general gone wild. The U.S. Air Force nuclear commander removed from his post for bad behavior. We are learning details of his outrageous conduct.

Plus, a plane crash and dramatic rescue, all caught on camera.


BLITZER: Now to a case of a general gone wild. A U.S. Air Force report revealing that a top commander of nuclear missile units was removed from his post after boozing it up and engaging in what is described as boorish behavior during a trip to Russia.

Brian Todd is here in the SITUATION ROOM with the shocking details.

Brian, tell us what's going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the general's colleagues said they were shocked by all of this. The report says he was often drunk, he met with questionable women and often irritated his Russian hosts. One person in the general's delegation said his behavior put them all at risk.


TODD (voice-over): He controlled three nuclear weapons units, an arsenal of America's intercontinental ballistic missiles, and according to an Air Force Inspector General's report, on a recent trip to Russia, Air Force General Michael Carey was often intoxicated, rude and spent a lot of time with foreign women.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, FORMER AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Exceptionally outrageous. This is a very, very serious issue, and quite frankly, cannot be tolerated.

TODD: The report says the trip in mid-July began with General Carey drinking on the plane ride over, then on a layover in Zurich, loudly proclaiming, quote, "He saves the world from war every day."

Carey commanded the 20th Air Force, a crucial nuclear war fighting wing. He was in Moscow to meet his Russian counterparts about safeguarding warheads. But he and a colleague also met with two women, including one who said she was Russian. They met on two consecutive nights, drinking and dancing until the wee hours, the report says.

On a third night, it says Carey talked for a long time with a female cigar store clerk. Quote, "Carey stated she was asking questions about physics and optics."

Former FBI officer Eric O'Neill, who took down spy Robert Hanson and was portrayed in the movie "Breach," says the general may have been targeted.

ERIC O'NEILL, FORMER FBI COUNTERINTELLIGENCE OFFICER: These women could be trained intelligence officers who are honey traps. Their job is to seduce him and to extract information from him, and he's put himself in a position where they have a good chance of doing that.

TODD: The concern tonight, experts say, is that the general could have unintentionally given up sensitive information.

LEIGHTON: He will understand not only how the missiles work but he will also understand what the missiles are targeted against so he will not only have access to the target list, he will understand something about the launch codes and he has worked in it himself as a more junior officer so he understands the procedures.


TODD: Tonight there is no indication officials say that General Carey's behavior impacted sensitive nuclear weapons operations and there's no indication that he went beyond drinking, dancing and talking with those women, but the report did cite him for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. He was stripped of his command of those nuclear units and is now an assistant at U.S. Space Command, but he still retains the rank of general.

We tried several times to get response from General Carey and could not. I eventually reached his wife on the phone. She said no comment and hung up on me -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But just his interaction with Russians caused quite a stir.

TODD: This is all over this report. According to this report, he often interrupted presentations, he often interrupted translators with annoying comments when he gave toasts, the report says he made insensitive comments about the war in Syria and about Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, and that really irritated the Russians.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, what a story that is.

Brian Todd reporting.

A plane crash and a rescue caught on camera. That white light is a small plane about to crash land near Tampa International Airport. The video was taken from a police helicopter on routine patrol. The chopper pilot landed near the crash scene and pulled the unconscious man from the wreckage just as the plane was catching fire. The victim is in stable condition. The helicopter pilot and his partner are being called heroes.

And this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The CEO of Target has issued a statement apologizing for the hacking that may have compromised tens of millions of credit and debit card users -- credit cards used at Target stores saying, quote, "We're in this together." He says, "As a show of good faith, Target is extending a 10 percent discount to all customers who shop in its U.S. stores tomorrow and Sunday."

Coming up, Glenn Beck slams Chris Christie, uses an eye-popping choice of words to describe the New Jersey governor and possible Republican presidential candidate.

Plus the growing backlash against SeaWorld sparked by the CNN film "BLACKFISH." Details of the park's growing public relations nightmare. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some shocking remarks by Glenn Beck about the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Does it foreshadow a conservative divide in 2016?

And S.E. Cupp is joining us right now. She's one of the co-hosts of "CROSSFIRE."

S.E., good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

S.E. CUPP, HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: You're filling in later tonight for Piers Morgan.

CUPP: Right.

BLITZER: You taped a long interview with Glenn Beck. Let me play a little clip and then we'll discuss.


CUPP: Let me ask you about the real world. Chris Christie is the real word.

GLENN BECK, FOUNDER, THE BLAZE: He is the real world.

CUPP: Now Chris Christie is almost certainly --

BECK: No, Chris Christie is a fat nightmare.



BECK: He is a nightmare.

CUPP: But, Glenn, he's almost certainly going to return for president.

BECK: Don't care.

CUPP: And in polling right now, he's beating Hillary Clinton.

BECK: Don't care. Don't care.

CUPP: We don't want to win?

BECK: Don't care. No.

CUPP: Conservatives don't want to win and --

BECK: Win for what? He's not a conservative. He's a progressive.

CUPP: How so? How so?

BECK: He is a progressive. Look at what he -- look at what he's for.

CUPP: Tell me. Tell me how he is.

BECK: He is -- have you ever looked into his nightmare of global warming? Have you looked into that?

CUPP: Yes. OK.

BECK: Have you seen it?


BECK: Where he stands on that?


BECK: Have you seen --

CUPP: So he's too cozy with the EPA. He's too -- he's a little cozy on global warming.

BECK: He's too -- you know what, you look at him on unions and you think to yourself, listen to what he's saying about unions, I kind of like that. He's for freedom. But no, no, no, look at -- look at the way he looks at guns. You should be well aware of where he stands on guns.

CUPP: Right.


BLITZER: That was quite a little exchange, S.E., you had over there with Glenn Beck. But he calls him, what, a fat nightmare?

CUPP: He did.

BLITZER: Is that what this is going to be? Republican versus Republican?

CUPP: Well, I think Glenn wouldn't call himself a Republican. It's interesting because he really seems to abstain from the political process, right? He puts a pox on both Houses, and he says they're all corrupt, I wouldn't vote for any of them, which in theory is a very interesting and fairly honest critique of modern politics. But in reality where I was trying to get him to go, you know, we have to vote -- we have to for Republicans or Democrats, and we have to elect people who are going to implement our values. So I tried to draw him out on just how his theoretical politics works down here --


It was an interesting exchange.

BLITZER: He called him progressive, too.

CUPP: He did. BLITZER: Which is usually the term you associate with liberals out there.

CUPP: He did. Yes.

BLITZER: So he doesn't mince any words.


BLITZER: But what about electability? Is that not a factor in all of this?

CUPP: Well, I asked him about that. I asked him whether he thinks conservatives winning elections should matter. If we want our values implemented in the form of policies, we've got to get our guys in there. We talked about Ted Cruz. I asked him what a voter should do if it's Hillary and Chris Christie, and his answer was interesting.

BLITZER: What was it?

CUPP: You'll have to tune in.

BLITZER: Really?

CUPP: Yes.


BLITZER: All right. Well, we will.

CUPP: It's called a tease, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm looking forward to it.

CUPP: Good.

BLITZER: The full hour tonight, right?

CUPP: Full hour.

BLITZER: S.E. Cupp and Glenn Beck on "PIERS MORGAN."

CUPP: We cover everything. Lots of personal stuff. We talk about "Duck Dynasty" a little bit.

BLITZER: Really?

CUPP: It's a really interesting hour.

BLITZER: I'm looking forward to it. 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight right here on CNN.

S.E., thanks very much.

CUPP: Thank you. BLITZER: SeaWorld is facing new backlash from the CNN film "BLACKFISH," which is critical of the way the park treats its killer whales.

CNN's Martin Savidge has the story plus new video one PR experts says could be devastating to SeaWorld. Martin is joining us now.

What's the latest with this controversy?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf. Yes, we've been watching now, as you've seen, a number of musical groups that have defected. They basically are saying that they're no longer going to perform concerts at SeaWorld.

Not unusual because many of them do stand up for certain social causes. But there is another new group that is also starting to say they're not going to go to SeaWorld, and that's a real problem, as we found out.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): A parade of performers, including Heart, Bare Naked Ladies and Trisha Yearwood had bailed on gigs at SeaWorld saying they're troubled by what they saw in "BLACKFISH."

WILLIE NELSON, SINGER: Well, I don't agree with the way they treat their animals. So it wasn't that hard a deal for me to cancel.

SAVIDGE: But as far as impact, this voice may be much more powerful.

KIRRA KOTLER, FIFTH GRADER: I felt sad how they treat them.

SAVIDGE: After seeing the film "BLACKFISH" 10-year-old Kirra Kotler told her dad she never wanted to go to SeaWorld again, which was a problem since her fifth grade field trip in a few weeks was to SeaWorld.

KIRBY KOTLER, KERRY'S FATHER: She said, I'm not going. I don't want our money going to SeaWorld. And that was pretty loud.

SAVIDGE: As this picture posted on the Web shows, the Point Dew Marine Science Elementary School's annual trip to SeaWorld is a long- standing tradition. The dad and daughter backed by other parents and students lobbied to go somewhere else. It worked.

Announcing the decision, the school's principal credited their protest for the change.

"I am pleased to model for our students the importance of speaking up to express your views and voice."

SeaWorld downplays the decision, saying, quote, "This is the only instance of a camp cancellation that we have experienced." It may not be the last.

Students at Point Loma High School put together this video that starts off by thanking SeaWorld for the memories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But after watching the documentary "BLACKFISH" on CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All those special memories have totally been cheapened.

SAVIDGE: Next comes a series of critical questions about how SeaWorld cares for its animals. Then the real punch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be no more admission tickets.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No more teddy bears.

SAVIDGE (on camera): What's the impact of something like that?

DAVID JOHNSON, STRATEGIC VISION PR CRISIS MANAGEMENT: It's really damaging especially it's cross-section of the population if you'll notice, very clean-cut, well spoken children, I mean, talking in very moderate language, talking about how much they've enjoyed SeaWorld, but now, you know, they just can't continue to supporting SeaWorld until they change their policies.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): PR crisis expert David Johnson says SeaWorld can get by without music performers. But he's got a real problem when kids feel this way about not going to SeaWorld.

K. KOTLER: I did something I was actually something that was really amazing.


SAVIDGE: SeaWorld took out these full-page ads in major publications, newspapers across the country. They refute a lot of the points that are raised in "BLACKFISH." They say they don't capture killer whales anymore, which is true. They don't, they breed them in captivity, but they also said they don't separate the mothers from the calves and they also say that their orcas live as long as those in the wild, and that's actually something that scientists would heavily refute -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Martin Savidge, thanks very much.

Happening now, White House grilling. Reporters pressed the president for more than an hour on Obamacare, NSA spying and more. How does he look back on this difficult year?

FBI blunder. A secret interrogation manual is made public in the most fascinating way. What does it reveal about the agency's interrogation methods?