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Haiti Adoption Nightmare; Killer Whale Attack

Aired February 24, 2010 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: CNN Primetime begins right now.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. Our top story tonight, tragedy at SeaWorld. A killer whale lives up to its name and that story is topping the "Mash-Up." We're watching it all so you don't have to.

A whale trainer is dead tonight killed by an animal that she had worked with for years.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The incident happened in a whale holding area at SeaWorld in front of an audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the trainer who's identified as Dawn Brancheau and is described as highly experienced. She was apparently petting the whale on its stomach and then Tilikum was called to go out into the main show area. Instead witnesses say it turned back around at a high rate of speed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then Tilikum just took off like a bat out of you know where, just took off really fast, and then he came back around to the glass, jumped up and grabbed the trainer by the waist and started shaking her violently.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This witness identified the whale as 30- year-old Tilikum, or Telly, a six-ton male who has killed before. A trainer in Canada in 1991 and in 1999 a man was found in his tank with bite marks.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A tourist at an earlier show said the animal seemed agitated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wished and prayed that they hadn't gotten the pool since the whale -- it was clear that it was upset.


BROWN: We're going to have a whole lot more on the story tonight when I am joined by animal expert Jack Hanna.

On Capitol Hill today, a big apology from Toyota's top executive. Akio Toyoda flew all the way from Japan to face the music. Take a look at what happened.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Akio Toyoda began with an acknowledgement.

AKIO TOYODA, TOYOTA PRESIDENT: I'm deeply sorry. My name is on every car. You have my personal commitment that Toyota will work vigorously and unceasingly to restore the trust of our customers.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: And then the grilling began.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Lawmakers expressed outrage over Toyota's culture of secrecy and disbelief that runaway cars were caused only by shoddy pedals or bunched floor mats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is absolutely appalling, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: One congresswoman even angrily said the Toyota's CEO did not show remorse for lives lost.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: At least 39 deaths have been blamed on the problem. Including the out of control Lexus in San Diego that killed four members of the Saylor family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unimaginable to lose some four people.


BROWN: Toyoda will be Larry King's guest tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

On the Senate side today, lawmakers ripped into contractors working in Afghanistan for a Blackwater spin-off company known as Paravent. They're accused of breaking military rules and endangering the mission there. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Paravent was not authorized to carry weapons. But that didn't stop contractors from arming themselves.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D-MO), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: On November 6th, 2008 you said the following in writing. "I got sidearms for everyone, 9 millimeters Sigmas and holsters. We have not yet received formal permission from the army to carry weapons yet but I will take my chances."

Is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I wrote that e-mail, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: One employee took hundreds of AK-47s from a storage bunker. But neither the company nor Defense Department can find a shred of paperwork to document it.

Even after a new rule required Afghan officers to sign for those weapons, Paravent took another 200 rifles. They were signed out by Eric Cartman. There is a "South Park" character by that name but Blackwater/Xe says no Eric Hartman has ever worked for the company.


BROWN: Company executives acknowledged the mistakes saying they are now operating with a, quote, "different approach."

In Vancouver today the parents of missing '80s TV star Andrew Koenig pleaded for him to get in touch.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Koenig has not been seen since Valentine's Day. His dad is Walter Koenig, who played Chekhov on "Star Trek", says Andrew was despondent in the days before he vanished.

WALTER KOENIG, ACTOR: I just want to know that you're OK. And it means you want to stay here. You want to -- you know, change your life and stay here and find, you know, peace and happiness here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Koenig played the character Boner on the '80s hit "Growing Pains" alongside Kirk Cameron. But as Koenig grew up, he battled severe depression. Now 41 years old, police don't know if he's dead or alive.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: According to online reports, the 41-year- old had been despondent, turning down recent job offers. He moved out of his home in Venice, California, February 4th.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're hoping that he just maybe wanted to get lost for a little bit and if he should somehow see this, I just want him to know that we are all desperately missing him and we love him so much.


BROWN: Koenig was visiting friends in Vancouver when he disappeared.

In Colorado tonight a middle schoolteacher is being hailed as a hero for preventing an all-out massacre outside of his school. When a gunman opened fire the teacher sprang into action.


DR. DAVID BENKE, MATH TEACHER: You're just doing what you can do to try and protect your kids.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Police don't know what set off the shooting as the classes ended for the day. The gunman opened fire in a parking lot, shot two students, one of them not seriously hurt, and a math teacher, Dr. David Benke, tackled the gunman before he could fire again.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Witnesses say seventh grade math teacher David Benke moved towards the suspect even as the gunman kept firing, and tackled him as he demonstrated on my colleague.

BENKE: I grabbed him by the front -- by this.


BENKE: Right, and then we were kind of dancing around for awhile.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Two students were shot. A seventh grade girl and an eighth grade boy. Benke wishes he could have done more.

BENKE: It bothers me that I was a little bit late. It bothers me that he got the second shot off. I only heard -- I only heard one and then saw another one and it bothers me that he got the second shot off.


BROWN: The suspect here, 32-year-old Bruco Strongeagle, who once attended the school, he's charged with two counts of attempted murder.

And we end tonight with a punch line. This is courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel. His take on life in Oprah's world.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "THE JIMMY KIMMEL SHOW": Yesterday Oprah's set was made entirely of chocolate. Chocolate chairs, that's one. Chocolate tables, chocolate grandfather clock, chocolate -- chocolate flowers and a chocolate vase. Even chocolate fireplace.

See, this is what happens when Oprah gets high.


BROWN: Jimmy Kimmel, everybody. That is the "Mash-Up" tonight. In a moment we're going to go back and bring you the latest on that deadly attack at SeaWorld. A trainer killed by a whale. Could this have been prevented? We'll talk to Jack Hanna when we come back.


BROWN: New developments tonight in a deadly attack involving a killer whale at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. A veteran trainer, 40- year-old Dawn Brancheau, was killed this afternoon during a news conference a short time ago.

A SeaWorld official said the trainer slipped or fell into a holding tank and was fatally injured by the whale. But a witness says that the whale grabbed the trainer by the waist as the crowd was watching. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten minutes into the show, they asked the -- they gave the command for the whales to start splashing, you know, at everybody so we got all excited. And it was obvious that one or two of the whales was not listening and, in fact, they started speeding around the tank there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We saw it like it was just one of the whale was like miserably -- we could tell, we could tell that this whale is not in a good mood at all. We literally could tell it was not cooperating that (INAUDIBLE) at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We walked out. There was a lot of people there. There was a trainer there standing by the window just talking about the whale. And people were asking questions. How much does he weigh, things like that, and then the wale wound his -- like floated upside down and the trainer said, oh, yes, he's -- you know, giving him a belly rub. He really likes that.

And I could tell it was Tilikum because you could tell by the huge, huge fin. And the trainer downstairs then called out to the trainer upstairs, OK, so-and-so we're ready and then Tilikum just took out like a bat out of you know where.

Just starts -- just took off really fast and then he came back around to the glass, jumped up and grabbed the trainer by the waist and started shaking her violently and her shoe -- left without her show floating and then sirens immediately started and then everybody down -- like not the trainer but the other people that are kind of standing around those -- the glass area started telling us that we needed to get out, get out.

The sirens were going off. People were running out. It's like I've never seen so many SeaWorld employees come out of the woodwork, people in suits, people in dress clothes, and they were just yelling at us that we needed to get out.


BROWN: And right now there are new reports that two other deaths are being tied to this very same whale.

With me right now is Jack Hanna who is the director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and host of "Into the Wild," of course.

Jack, thank you for being with us. And I just found out that you knew this trainer who was killed today. What can you tell us about her and how experienced she was?

JACK HANNA, DIR. EMERITUS, COLUMBIA ZOO & AQUARIUM: Well, first, let me say real quickly that Dawn was an incredible person. I've done several shows with her, even with Telly in the background.

And it's -- I'm still in a state of shock, number one. Number two, I want to make it clear that my good conservation friend Steve Irwin, what happened to him, he would want his work carried on. And I know that Dawn would want her work carried on.

If something ever happens to me, I would want my work carried on. And there are many reasons for that as far as the educational value. What SeaWorld, what we all do to try to bring the animal world to people, the tens of millions of people that visit our beautiful parks.

BROWN: But educate us a little bit, Jack, about these whales. I mean, this was an orca whale we're talking about here. Explain what the whales are like. I mean they are dangerous animals, right?

HANNA: Right. You said it perfectly. No one has ever denied that. SeaWorld, myself. They are dangerous animals, they're wild animals. When it comes to danger, so when we film in the wild whether it be glacier bear or with a killer whale, or the orcas or in -- where the killer whales or the orcas will go off on the beach maybe 10, 15 yards, whatever, to grab a sea lion off the beach and bring it back in the water.

These are natural behaviors. Now I've heard reports from 15 different people that have been on the air on different networks saying that she was grabbed by the waist. I've heard many different people say she slipped.

You must remember something that when something happens with me or like Steve or whatever, a great deal of time, it's human error. I don't know what happened. I wasn't there, but about 90 percent of the time when things like this happen with animals, whether it'd be an elephant death at a zoo, which is very rare, or this whale, it usually is human error.

And let me correct something. All of a sudden everyone is talking about two of the deaths that this whale was involved with. Yes, there was one in Canada. And I take my hat off to SeaWorld for bringing this animal into their parks years ago to give this animal a life.

And yes, there was another man killed. That man was a transient that sneaked in the park at 2:00 in the morning and this is the correctness -- it's on the news. And he got in the tank with this whale and was killed. That's not SeaWorld's fault. That's like if you went across the fence at NASCAR and got killed by a car.

This is the first accident at SeaWorld in 46 -- I'm sorry, death at SeaWorld in 46 years out of millions of interactions with these whales. It's a tragedy, and all I can is that's what the type of work we do.

BROWN: So let me challenge you just a little bit on that, Jack, because a lot of people are going to say whether this one death, we do know about in Canada or another one, whether or not that is in fact true, though, how does a whale that has already killed someone end up in a place like SeaWorld that most of us think of as a place for children, frankly.

I mean how often do incidents like this really happen?

HANNA: Well, they don't happen very often as I just said. It was the first time in 46 years at SeaWorld that a killer whale had ever killed a person. Is that terrible? Yes, it's terrible. But, again, this is Jack Hanna talking. I hope that SeaWorld continues with the great work they do with the killer whales. Steve Irwin, again, would have wanted the work to continue. Just like I would if something happened to me.

It's -- whether the astronauts knew when he went into space in the space station. Yes, they're up there exploring. It was a tragedy what happened but we continue that. I think the work is invaluable. What we're doing at SeaWorld.

By the way, most of the whales at SeaWorld, maybe 80, 90 percent, are whales that were born at SeaWorld.

BROWN: Right.

HANNA: They're not taken out of the wild. So, you know, we're hearing all kinds of reports about how these whales go to SeaWorld and know their condition -- let me tell you something, these whales are treated -- both expertise care. And by the way, Dawn was the icon.

These people are Olympic athletes. These trainers.

BROWN: Right.

HANNA: And there was an accident -- or something happened and that's what -- the end of the story.

BROWN: But I just -- again to play devil's advocate, I mean there are people who are going to say, these are killer whales. That we by bringing them to a place like SeaWorld we're trying to domesticate in a way for our own amusement, and they're not able to adjust to that environment because they're not supposed to be able to adjust to that environment.

HANNA: Well, not really. You're saying that all whales aren't adjusting to their environment. You know, again, 95 percent or 99 percent of our animals at zoological parks come from other zoological parks. They adjust to their environments perfectly, is what they do.

And Telly adjusted perfectly to this environment. I mean, now accidents happen. You know accidents happen. You go out and get in your car. I can't -- you know, I can't agree with that because should we just then out of -- 168 million people went to our zoos and aquarium last year. 168 million people, the biggest recreation in America, bigger than football, bigger than all of this put together -- all of them put together.

It's what people want to learn about the animal world. And that's what we're here for and that's what we're going to continue to be here for. Yes, accidents will happen at SeaWorld or things like this will happen. They might happen at the Columbus Zoo.

I can't guarantee you 100 percent what we do is -- nothing in life is 100 percent. But what our value is, what millions of people take away from the visitation of the SeaWorld as well as our other parks.

BROWN: What do you think is going to happen to this whale now, Jack?

HANNA: Well, see, Telly was always in with other females, (INAUDIBLE) with whales. Telly had bred, had babies, that type of thing. No trainers are ever in with Telly as I said about the first death -- or the second death when the guy was sneaking in the park and jumped in at nighttime at 3:00 in the morning, which shouldn't have been done.

So nobody has ever gone with Telly, so Telly has been socialized with other whales obviously and had babies but not with someone else.

I don't know what happened again but, you know, if I were a person to assume what happened, there were probably human error involved and again it's just -- I'm still in a state of shock over this.

But this is a young woman, you have to meet her. The bubbliness, her love of her job. She was one of the top trainers in the world. And these people have to go in the water that's cold and their training is impeccable, and SeaWorld's record to me until today has been impeccable.

Yes, they had a little incident in San Diego SeaWorld. And you'll talk with that trainer. He will tell you that what happened was something that happens. You know, it happens in our line of work.

BROWN: Well, Jack, again, for those just joining us, Jack, we'd mentioned earlier that you did know this woman who was killed and so certainly our thoughts with you and with her family tonight and we do appreciate you coming on and talking to us about this.

Jack Hanna. Thanks, Jack.

HANNA: Thank you.

BROWN: When we come back, a woman and her adopted son finally making it out of Haiti today, but it very nearly didn't happen and Sara Thacker is going to tell us her story right here in just a few minutes. (


BROWN: Six Haitian children are safe in the arms of their new parents tonight after an adoption process that threatened to turn into a total nightmare. Haiti's government is cracking down, trying to make sure that only true orphans are adopted, and that leaves many Americans stuck in limbo. A scary and frustrating limbo.

And we're going to talk to one new mom about that in just a moment but first Gary Tuchman has the story of what happened to her in Haiti.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Six tiny boys in the custody of the Haitian government, only minutes before they were to get on a plane to start new lives in the United States. Haitian officials suspicious of these three women.

(On camera): Is there any chance that the papers are not legitimate?


TUCHMAN (voice-over): Sarah Thacker is from Minnesota and was about to take this 2-year-old named Reese home as her son, but then serious allegations against her and against this woman who works in a Haitian orphanage, and who has raised Reese most of his life.

And this woman, a volunteer who came to Haiti to help. All three were going to escort Reese and the five other orphans to new families waiting for them in the U.S.

STEPHANIE ANDERSON, DETAINED BY HAITI POLICE: I can understand paranoia, absolutely, and I can understand that there was just a story where people were illegally taking children out of the country. However, I don't think that fear justifies action.

TUCHMAN: Here's what we know. The three women showed up at the Port-au-Prince airport for a flight with the orphans to Florida. A large group of Haitian civilians surrounded women and children.

THACKER: They started screaming at us that they're Haitian children and who do we think we are taking their kids from their country. These missionaries can't be stealing kids, and started swearing and then yelling at us.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Are you a missionary?


MARIA O'DONOVAN, DETAINED BY POLICE: I was scared. It is my job to protect those children and I did not feel like I could protect them on the street when we were being harassed.

TUCHMAN: Haitian police told us they arrived and took the group to a police station. They spent hours in custody. A U.S. embassy representative was with them to help.

The police interviewed the women who told them that Haitian prime minister signed the papers allowing the children to leave.

THACKER: He came back and he said that we don't believe that this is the prime minister's signature.

TUCHMAN: Ultimately they were told they would not be arrested but the children would at least temporarily be taken away, and they ended up at a different orphanage than the one where they had spent most of their lives.

The women were allowed to visit.

O'DONOVAN: Reese, smile for the camera. TUCHMAN: This is Reese, the boy Sarah Thacker is adopting, but she did not visit because she believes it could confuse him when she'd have to leave him after visiting hours.

As for the prime minister's signature, I called him on his cell phone to ask him about it.

(On camera): Prime Minister Bellerive? This is Gary Tuchman from CNN.

(Voice-over): I got his voicemail and never heard back. The senior senator from Sarah Thacker's home state of Minnesota says this is an overreaction to the arrests of those 10 American missionaries.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: They have filled out all the paperwork. This is a legitimate orphanage that has brought other children to America and I feel like these little babies are just caught up in this international dispute and it's just not fair.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


BROWN: Tonight, Sarah Thacker and her son Reese are safe in Miami and she is joining me right now by telephone.

Sarah, are you there?


BROWN: Well, tell me what a trip. I mean what does it feel like to just be back in the U.S. finally with your son?

THACKER: It just feels absolutely fantastic. I said I was going to kiss the ground but I actually didn't do it but I probably would have if others wouldn't have been watching.


BROWN: How is he doing?

THACKER: He's doing pretty good. Kind of been a hard day for him. Just lots of new things and so he's just basically wanted me to hold him all day. Which I don't mind.

BROWN: I know. I'm sure you don't. We're looking at pictures right now, just so you know, of you with him. I do have to ask you, we heard you say in Gary's piece a moment ago that when you got to the airport, the first time you were mobbed by people who were screaming at you and cursing you.

What was it like? What was going through your head as you were trying to get through that?

THACKER: I guess I was really, really scared. The men were blocking us from moving at all, and we were trying to get away. We had actually -- the three of us had split up a little bit because someone was going to save a space in line and then the two others of us were going to sit in the shade, and so we were trying to bring the -- the kids to the person that is closest to the airport door.

And they were following us and not letting us walk, and screaming, and I was afraid that they were going to take the kids and just run with them. It was horrible.

BROWN: And, Sarah, let me take you back a little bit because you had started the adoption process well before the earthquake hit. I cannot even imagine what you went through when you found out that the earthquake had happened not knowing whether he was OK.

I mean, walk us through what that was like.

THACKER: Well, he was -- is from an orphanage in (INAUDIBLE), Haitian which is 90 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake and so we were never actually worried about his safety. We were worried about food and supplies to the orphanage.

BROWN: Right.

THACKER: But we were not worried about the children there.

BROWN: So how did it affect the adoption process for you?.

THACKER: Well, it sped things up. On January 18th, they agreed to give all Haitian children that were in the process of adoption humanitarian parole and so we were really excited to be bringing Reese home earlier than we had thought.

BROWN: And I know I said you're in Miami. You're going back to your family in Minnesota tomorrow. Tell me just the first thing you're going to do when you get there?

THACKER: I'm pretty sure there's going to be a very large group of people at the airport and so probably just lots of hugs and I know our -- my family has been very worried about me and so I'm sure they're just going to be glad to have both of us back.

BROWN: I'm sure. Sarah Thacker, best of luck to you and to Reese.

THACKER: Thank you.

BROWN: And to all your family. Many thanks for being with us tonight.

THACKER: Thank you.

BROWN: And still ahead tonight, the very latest on the health care summit or as some are calling it a setup. Why some Republicans are crying foul on the eve of tomorrow's televised face-off with President Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Tonight, Republican criticism continues to mount. Just hours before President Obama's high-profile health care summit, what some see as an opportunity for compromise, others calling a trap.

And Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, also happens to be an orthopedic surgeon -- he is one of eight Republican senators who will attend tomorrow's meeting.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate you being here. I just want to get your take.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Thank you, Campbell.

BROWN: I want to get your take on what you're expecting tomorrow. You've heard top Republicans like John Boehner, Mike Pence, Rush Limbaugh, all saying that this is a trap by the Obama administration, but given you've had your cards on the table, the White House has had its cards on the table for months, essentially, how can this be a trap?

BARRASSO: Well, I'm hoping it's an opportunity to compromise. The president said, you know, please make a good faith effort and that's what I want to do.

I was surprised last week when he said well, I'm going to come out with a bill and he did just three days before this summit, which is supposed to be to get the best ideas the Republicans have to offer and then get incorporated into a bill. And then for Harry Reid yesterday to say, well, I'm going to ram it through no matter what, that makes me wonder if there's an agenda behind this.

BROWN: You don't think it makes sense for the White House to sort of lay out for you what the president's positions are very clearly so you have a place to start?

BARRASSO: Well, what he's laid out is essentially the bill that passed the Senate in December that over 60 percent of the American people have rejected. The last 10 polls show that people of America are against this cutting Medicare, raising taxes and causing insurance prices to go up.

BROWN: Let's assume though --

BARRASSO: So that's what the president -- now he offers something that's even more expensive. $200 billion more expensive because of the giveaways to unions. He's now said well, we'll give it away to everybody.

BROWN: So is there absolutely nothing in what he put forward that you can sign on to?

BARRASSO: I want to sign on to something that puts patients in charge, that gives people an opportunity to buy insurance across state lines, something that rewards individuals for their behavior that helps them stay healthy, get their cholesterol under control. All of those things that I think are important. (CROSSTALK)

BROWN: OK, but -- I think everybody wants all that, if you don't mind me pressing you a little bit on this.

BARRASSO: Go ahead. I'm fine.

BROWN: What specifically, though, is in the Senate legislation or what the White House put forward that you could support? Is there something specific you can give to us?

BARRASSO: The president gave us 11 pages of -- on his Web site. I want to see the bill. Even the Congressional Budget Office said they can't put a score to it. We need health care reform in this country. I've seen it as --

BROWN: But you just told me that it's basically the Senate legislation. I mean --

BARRASSO: Twenty-five years I practiced medicine in Wyoming. Twenty-five years I've taken care of Wyoming families as a doctor. We need health care reform. This major takeover of health care in the country doesn't do it. You can't add 15 million people onto the Medicaid rolls when half of the doctors in the country won't even see them.

BROWN: You do sound to me like you're going into this meeting pretty pessimistic. So if -- kind of you're already have dismissed what he's put forward, why go? I mean, if you've already sort of decided that this isn't getting off on the right foot, why go down that path?

BARRASSO: Oh, I think it started on the right foot a week and a half ago when the president proposed it. What I'm telling you is I was surprised to see that last Thursday, Republicans and Democrats alike were surprised when all of a sudden he said, well, I'm going to have a proposal out. And then the day before the meeting Harry Reid says, hey, tough, this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to ram it through the Senate regardless of whether the Republicans have ideas or not. That's not a way to go in good faith to come with our best ideas to talk about ways to help people across the country who are so concerned about the cost of care.

BROWN: Bottom line this for me if you can. Because according to the latest "USA Today" poll, over three-quarters of Americans don't believe that any sort of deal is going to emerge from tomorrow's summit. What do you think? Are you at all optimistic that something tangible, real is going to come out of this?

BARRASSO: Well, I'm hoping that we get to the best of what both parties have to offer and you have to do that in an incremental way. If the president comes in and says, this is it and Harry Reid says, tough, take it or leave it, then no. But if the president is sincere and wants this bipartisanship, I'm going to show up with a number of ideas and things that we can do to get the cost under control and by helping get the cost down, that will allow more people to get covered. BROWN: Well, we will all be watching tomorrow. Senator Barrasso, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

BARRASSO: Thank you, Campbell.

BROWN: Today, Toyota's president apologized to a woman who was nearly killed when her car sped out of control. In a moment, she's going to tell us how she feels about that apology. And at the top of the hour, Toyota's president joins Larry King to answer his questions.


BROWN: Toyota's president was grilled on Capitol Hill today, a rare moment for a Japanese executive to testify in front of Congress. Akio Toyoda repeatedly apologized while lawmakers pressed him to explain what and when he knew about the sudden unexpected acceleration problems in some Toyota-made cars. His appearance follows yesterday's emotional testimony from one of his customers Rhonda Smith, who was trapped behind the wheel of her Lexus. Take a look.


RHONDA SMITH, TOYOTA OWNER: I figured the car was going to go its maximum speed and I was going to have to put the car into the upcoming guardrail in order to prevent killing anyone else. And I prayed for God to help me. I called my husband on the Bluetooth phone system. I knew -- I'm sorry. I knew he could not help me, but I wanted to hear his voice one more time.


BROWN: This afternoon Congressman John Duncan asked Toyota specifically about Rhonda Smith's story.


REP. JOHN DUNCAN (R), TENNESSEE: She feels that it's -- that Toyota's response to her complaints was a farce because Toyota apparently told her there was nothing wrong with her car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, TRANSLATOR: I listened to the teammate by Miss Smith yesterday, and I feel very sorry and regret for the fact that while she was driving a car such a huge anxiety was caused to her. And at the same time I apologized for the response by the dealer which is not really up to our standards.


BROWN: And Rhonda Smith is joining me right now live. And, Rhonda, you just heard the head of the entire corporation apologize directly to you. How do you feel about that after the experience that you had?

RHONDA SMITH, TOYOTA OWNER: Well, I appreciate his apology and I have to accept his apology, but it does not help all those -- all those families who've been destroyed and all those who have died because of Toyota's inactions in the past.

I would like to tell him that I hope the Toyota company will act with sincerity on his apology and Mr. Lentz's apology to the public. I hope they act with sincerity on that. I also hope that they will open their minds and their wallets to the possibility of electronic malfunction in their vehicles. They have yet to do that.

BROWN: Well, let me follow up on that because you're right, they have yet to do that. I mean, you testified yesterday basically that they -- they called you a liar when you told them what had happened to your car. Today, the company's leader said under oath that he is absolutely confident it is not the electronics and you are sure he's wrong.

SMITH: Well, how do they know it's not electronics if they've not checked into it enough? They've admitted that they haven't.

BROWN: What would you like to see them do?

SMITH: Their job.

BROWN: And what does that mean to you? I mean what specifically given all that's happened would you like to see them do going forward?

SMITH: Well, for one thing, all the things that happened in my car, I am not -- I'm not a technician. I know I'm not a mechanic. But I know the things that happened to my car had nothing to do with the accelerator sticking, the car revving up and down, the car trying to start by itself, and the cruise light coming on by itself. I think common sense tells you there's something -- an electronic malfunction. That's what I think.

BROWN: I know someone actually called you since your testimony and said after what they had heard from you, they said, what, that they wanted to return their car, right?

SMITH: Yes, they did. They said they had bought a Toyota the day before and they did return their car and they bought an American- made car. And that's not really what I want to hear. I don't -- I don't wish harm to the Toyota company's industry. I want it -- I don't wish that at all. That wasn't something I want.

BROWN: I do know that you said you actually also feel sympathy for some of the dealers and certainly other people who have been affected by this.

SMITH: I do. I'm afraid -- I know it's going to harm probably the economy, but that's not my fault.

BROWN: Well, Rhonda, I do hope that you get some resolution to all this. I appreciate you sharing your story with us and with Congress. It was very powerful for a lot of people. Rhonda Smith joining us tonight. Rhonda, thank you.

SMITH: Well, thank you very much. BROWN: And a reminder, Toyota's president is sitting down with Larry King. That is coming up at the top of the hour. That is a worldwide exclusive.

And up next, "Broken Government." Find out how one senator was able to block the confirmations of nearly 50 Obama administration nominees.


BROWN: Our week-long report "Broken Government" continues tonight. We're going to look at why one lone senator is able to block dozens of presidential nominees. But first, more must-see news happening right now. Randi Kaye here with tonight's "Download."

Hi, Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Campbell. Talking real estate first.

Sales of new homes plunged to a record low last month. January's numbers are the worst in the nearly half century that the government has kept track of new home sales. Severe winter storms are partly to blame for January's drop. The numbers have gone down now for three months in a row.

Today, there are 15 new suspects in the hit squad murder of a Hamas leader in Dubai, bringing the total to 26. Security cameras caught some members of the hit squad in the hallways of the hotel where the man was suffocated with a pillow in January. Authorities identified the new suspects by tracking down phony passports. Suspicion has fallen on Israel's spy agency which denies involvement. Nobody has been caught.

And Hummer is history. General Motors says a deal to sell its Hummer brand to a Chinese company has collapsed and the line will be discontinued. GM says it will honor existing Hummer warranties.

BROWN: Arnold Schwarzenegger will be disappointed.

KAYE: Yes, he will. No doubt.

BROWN: Randi Kaye for us tonight. Randi, thanks very much.

Coming up, why well-qualified people can't get confirmed for top jobs in Washington. It's your "Broken Government" not at work when we come back.


BROWN: "LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just a few minutes. And Larry has got a big exclusive tonight. Larry, tell us.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": You're right, Campbell. We've got a worldwide exclusive with Toyota's president and CEO, Akio Toyoda. He testified before a congressional committee today about those controversial defects. He'll answer your questions tonight.

And we've got breaking news on that shocking killer whale attack today, leaving a trainer at Sea World in Orlando dead. We'll also finish by talking to the parents of the missing "Growing Pains" actor. All of that next on "LARRY KING LIVE," Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Larry. We'll see you in just a few moments.

There may be no better example of our "Broken Government" than what's called the blanket hold. It is when a senator stalls a president's nominees to pressure the White House on an often totally unrelated issue. The Obama administration blasted Alabama Senator Richard Shelby for putting a hold on nearly 50 nominees. But as Dana Bash report, Shelby has no regrets.


DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A refueling tanker, long overdue for retirement. This senator wants its replacement made in his home state, Alabama. But Richard Shelby says the Air Force competition is a sham. So in protest, he did something drastic. He blocked most of President Obama's nominees to an array of federal agencies that have nothing to do with his issue.

(on camera): Near blanket hold, nearly 50 nominees.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Forty something, that's right.

BASH: That's pretty extreme. Why did you do that?

SHELBY: Well, I did it to get the attention of the administration.

BASH (voice-over): And did he ever. He made headlines and became a symbol of gridlock. But in his first TV interview on the subject, he makes no apologies.

(on camera): What it sounds like you were trying to do, very up front about it is put money, put jobs back in your state of Alabama.

SHELBY: Well, ultimately I'm a senator of Alabama but I want to make sure there was fairness because if there's fairness, the jobs will go there.

BASH (voice-over): Shelby eventually lifted his hold on all but three nominees for senior Air Force positions. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell tells CNN without these highly qualified professionals, we are not firing on all cylinders.

(on camera): Do you think the nominees that you have holds on are qualified?

SHELBY: Oh, I don't have any idea.

BASH: So they're leverage?

SHELBY: That's part of -- that's part of the life up here.

BASH: It is part of life here in the Senate. It's not in the official rules but by tradition any senator can put a hold on any presidential nominee for any reason, and both parties do it.

(voice-over): Hans Von Spakovsky was nominated by President Bush for the Federal Election Commission. A Democratic senator held him up over a voting rights issue.

(on camera): Which senator?


BASH (voice-over): That's right. Then Senator Barack Obama.

SPAKOVSKY: So it was not because I didn't have the qualifications. It was because he disagreed with me on a substantive issue.

BASH: Now the president has a different perspective.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well-qualified public servants shouldn't be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual senators.

BASH (on camera): But take a closer look at Obama's first year success with his nominees before the Senate and it looks very similar to his predecessors.

(voice-over): In 2009, the Senate confirmed 353 of 569 major Obama nominations compared with 360 out of 513 during Bush's first year. Senate historian Don Ritchie calls the hold a time-honored tradition.

DONALD RITCHIE, SENATE HISTORIAN: It makes them powerful individually, and it allows them to stop things that they feel need to be adjusted or were wrong to start with.

BASH: That's Missouri Senator Kit Bond's argument for his controversial hold. He says the General Services Administration is dragging its feet on moving 1,000 federal employees out of a dilapidated Kansas City building, so Bond blocked Martha Johnson for GSA administrator.

SEN. KIT BOND (R), MISSOURI: I have only one way of getting their attention and I put a hold on the nomination of Miss Johnson.

BASH (on camera): But it has nothing to do with Martha Johnson.

BOND: No, Martha Johnson, I think, will be a fine administrator. I voted for her.

BASH (voice-over): That's right. When Democrats finally forced a vote after an eight-month delay, Bond voted yes. (on camera): People from the inside looking in say, why did the senator hold up somebody who he thinks is qualified for a separate issue?

BOND: Because an unresponsive bureaucracy will not respond to the needs of the people we represent unless you have a means of getting their attention.

BASH (voice-over): Nominees in limbo. Broken government to some but to senators in both parties --

BOND: It's not a symbol of broken government, it's how government works.


BROWN: And Dana Bash joining me right now. And, Dana, is it always senators from one party blocking the nominees of presidents from the other party? Or do you ever see, say, a Democratic senator doing this to a Democratic president?

BASH: You definitely do see that, Campbell. Senators have been known to block nominees in their own party because as you heard from Senator Shelby and Bond, many times it's parochial. It's not partisan or sometimes senators have a particular issue they're passionate about, for example. Democrat Russ Feingold is on the forefront of campaign finance reform. He had a hold on an Obama nominee for the Federal Election Commission.

You remember most recently, Campbell, the president's nomination of Ben Bernanke for a second term at the fed it was in trouble. It was Senator Bernie Sanders who put him on hold. And he's an independent but he caucuses with the president's fellow Democrats, Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Dana Bash for us tonight. Dana, thanks.

BASH: Thanks, Campbell.

In just a few moments, "LARRY KING LIVE" and a worldwide exclusive with Toyota's president. But first tonight's "Guilty Pleasure," the tongue twister on Capitol Hill.


BROWN: "LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just a few minutes. But first, Jeanne Moos with tonight's "Guilty Pleasure," the Toyota tongue twister.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With cameras worrying like insects, the press preyed upon Toyota's CEO.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey, hey, hey.

MOOS: As they pushed and shoved to get the shot. While congressmen took their shots taking turns holding up gas pedals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this one here has had some sticking problems --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which means that when you take your foot off --

MOOS: And though Toyota was on everybody's lips, they didn't all pronounce it the same.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm a great admirer of Toyota.










MOOS: The car as opposed to the grandson of the company's founder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's got Mr. Toyoda's name on it. You don't want to claim it anymore?

TOYODA: My name is on every car.

MOOS: Well not exactly his name.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Toyota's CEO Akio -- Akio Toyoda -- spelled differently but sounds the same.

MOOS (on camera): What a difference a "D" makes. It's mostly a matter of strokes.

(voice-over): The family changed the name of the car company from Toyoda with a "D" to Toyota with a "T" because in Japanese, Toyoda with a "D" has more brush strokes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eight, nine, 10. MOOS: Ten instead of eight, and eight is considered a lucky number.

Despite Mr. Toyoda's many apologies --

TOYODA: I am deeply sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, TRANSLATOR: From the deepest part of my heart, I sincerely regret --

MOOS: There were no bows of contrition as he had bowed at a press conference in Japan and the going got rough at this congressional hearing, especially for the head of Toyota North America over a company memo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm embarrassed for you, sir. This is one of the most embarrassing documents I've ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like we're having a hanging before the trial. I'm not saying that you're not guilty.

MOOS: Pity the poor translator getting shoved up to the mike. Of course, all this is nothing compared to the jabs from comedians.


NARRATOR: Toyotathon.


MOOS: Reporters previewing the testimony of Mr. Toyoda ran into their own defects.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The special treatment that he's going to get, if it's unlocked, oh, that's horrible. That's just what you don't want on television. Can we unlock it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you did it so gracefully. That's all right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, here we go. All right.

MOOS: Reminds us of that most famous encounter with a locked door. Mr. Toyoda probably wished he had been locked out of this hearing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that a yes or no?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE AND FEMALE: Let's call the whole thing off.


MOOS: New York.


BROWN: And that's it for us. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just a few minutes. Again, Larry has that big exclusive tonight. We will see you back here tomorrow night.