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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview with Mohamed Morsy; Two Controversial Nominations; Hillary Clinton's First Day Back At Work; GOP Senator Opposed Hagel Nomination; From West Wing to House of Spies; Winter Compounds Refugees' Misery, Flu Outbreak Spreads to 41 States; Plane Carrying Famous Fashion Boss Missing
Aired January 7, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, my exclusive interview with Egypt's controversial new president, making news with an announcement you'll hear first right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Also, President Obama picks someone to lead the CIA and the Pentagon. We're going to hear from a former Senate colleague who says Chuck Hagel is the wrong man to become the next Defense secretary.
And chances are you've either had it or know someone who does. We have new information about the flu that's spreading across the United States and beyond.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
He's the highest profile leader to emerge from the Arab Spring revolutions and Mohamed Morsy's tenure as president of Egypt has been marked by controversy.
I sat down with him yesterday at the presidential palace in Cairo for an exclusive one hour interview, during which Morsy revealed his plans to visit the United States soon.
BLITZER: When will you come to the United States?
When will you meet with President Obama?
What do you think of President Obama?
MOHAMED MORSY, PRESIDENT, EGYPT (through translator): God willing, I will plan for this trip. There is no set date yet, but it will most likely be before the end of the first quarter of this year.
President Obama is an elected president by the American people and he grants the will of the American people by working for the interests of the American people. And this is the American people's right in their president.
I respect him and I value him. He played an effective and important role in the cease-fire in regards to Gaza and the end of attacks against Gaza. He cooperated with us in a big way and I'm still in constant communication with him. When we meet, there will be a chance to talk about cooperation in different areas, like scientific research, manufacturing and production, investments and tourism.
BLITZER: So you plan on coming to the United States, god willing, inashallah, as we say, in the first quarter of this year, between now and the end of March?
MORSY: Before the end of the first quarter, god willing, I will visit, as you said I will visit, the United States of America. And I will be happy with this visit.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: I also asked the Egyptian president about the blind Egyptian cleric who was convicted here in the United States in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Omar Abdul Rahman is serving a life sentence in a U.S. Prison.
BLITZER: Just clarify your position on what you want the U.S. Government to do as far as the -- the blink sheikh is concerned, who's being held in prison in the United States, convicted of his involvement in the blowing up of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing incident?
MORSY: I want him to be free, but I respect the law and the rule of law in Egypt and the United States. What I am talking about isn't a violation. I don't want a violation of the rule of law, but there are also many humane aspects. There could be things like visitation, assistance, his children, his family, assisting him. He is an old sheikh and sick and blind.
We need to respect that in this sheikh.
Is there a chance for him to be freed?
I wish this, but considering my respect and appreciation for the American rule of law and the American government, our relationship, Egypt's relationship with America deserves that these issues be reviewed, if that is OK according to the law.
If it isn't possible -- and I hope that it is possible -- if it wasn't possible, then these humane aspects need to be taken into account for him to be in a humane prison, to be able to have visitors, to be able to have company, to be able to visit with his sons and children, for his family to visit, for us to see him, for people to see him and know how he is doing, because he is a man, an old man, and he deserves full care. I wish that there could be a big possibility for the American administration to look into this matter about this sheikh, who is very old, without there being, I don't intend on violating the rule of law in anyplace. And I don't like anyone asking me to violate the rule of law in my own country.
But the humane aspects, at the very least, need to be guaranteed.
BLITZER: Will you make this appeal directly to President Obama when you see him?
MORSY: When I meet with him, I will talk to him about this issue.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: All right, let's get a little bit more on what's going on.
Our CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen, is joining us -- Peter, you've studied the case of the so-called blind Sheikh for a long time.
What do you make of the -- this very bold public announcement that he's going to ask the president when he comes here before the end of March, before the end of March, to release him or at least do something to give him a better -- better treatment for his role in the effort to blow up the World Trade Center back in 1993?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sheikh Rahman is in sort of an unusual situation, I mean, in two ways.
First of all, as you know, Wolf, he's -- he's in ill health. So he's sort of in a medical prison facility.
And, secondly, he's under something called special administrative measures, which basically people convicted of terrorism who are regarded as a threat are not allowed to communicate with anybody, really, outside their lawyers. And so he's not only just in prison, he's under some pretty tight controls.
You know, these controls could be lifted, but I think there would be a lot of federal prosecutors who were involved in the cases in the Southern District of New York who would be very reluctant to let Sheikh Rahman certainly go back to Egypt. But he -- but even on a lesser level, to have more visitation, because he's used visits from his -- even from his lawyers, in the past, to get messages out to his followers, which have actually led, in some people's view, to more violence.
BLITZER: Because he would, presumably, the fear is he would inspire other terrorists out there to go out there and kill Americans.
BERGEN: Yes. And, in fact, one of his lawyers was convicted, a female American lawyer was convicted for passing messages to his -- essentially, to his group in Egypt. She spent -- she's probably still in prison. So this is a kind of sensitive issue, beyond him going back to Egypt, but just the idea that he might have the ability to communicate with people other than his immediate -- the people he has to communicate with on his legal team.
BLITZER: Tell us why this is important for President Morsy to raise this issue.
Why is this a popular cause within his base, The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, in Egypt?
BERGEN: Well, Sheikh Rahman is regarded as a fairly important religious scholar. I mean he went to al-Azhar University, which is the sort of Harvard of Sunni theological thought. He's been the leader of a very violent group in Egypt, a theological leader. The Muslim Brotherhood is, you know, kind of, you know, at least on the ideological spectrum, on which Sheikh Rahman is the more extreme version. And they, you know, they clearly have a different view of him than, let's say, American federal prosecutors did in the case. It wasn't just the World Trade Center case, Wolf, it was also plots to blow up landmarks all around New York, the Holland Tunnel, the -- you know, and other places that didn't, luckily, happen.
BLITZER: We're going to be releasing a lot more of this interview throughout this week. He goes in-depth and he talks about what's going on in Egypt, dissent within in Egypt, what he plans on doing with those, like Mohamed ElBaradei or Amr Moussa and other Egyptian leaders who criticize him. More -- much more of this interview, obviously, going to be coming up, including under what circumstances he would be willing to sit down with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, or the Israeli president, Shimon Peres. That's coming up.
But as far as meeting with the president of the United States, everything I'm hearing -- U.S. officials, so far, are relatively pleased with what President Morsy has done over these past six months, especially his role in that cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
BERGEN: Yes. And I think it's also been U.S. government policy for some period of time to engage with The Muslim Brotherhood, because The Muslim Brotherhood is a major political force in the Middle East, not only in Egypt, but in many other countries. There was a period when, certainly under the Bush administration, when talking to The Muslim Brotherhood was something that was not U.S. government policy. Clearly, that has changed.
BLITZER: You know, he -- he's a graduate of the University of Southern California, a Trojan, if you will. He spent seven years living here in the United States.
And when he comes back to the U.S. as president of Egypt, I think he wants to go back to USC and see some of the folks he studied with or whatever. That's going to be a fascinating visit once he comes.
BLITZER: I'm sure you're looking forward to it, as well.
BERGEN: Indeed. BLITZER: And Egypt is the largest of all of the Arab countries, what, almost 90 million people there. And I think it's, arguably, the most important of all of the Arab countries, as well, not only in North Africa, but in the Middle East.
So we go through a lot of stuff. Much more of the interview coming up.
Peter, thanks very much.
President Obama has announced his picks for two critical national security posts. He's tapped the former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, to be the Defense secretary, and his counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, to lead the CIA.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now -- Barbara, how telling are these nominations?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, both of these nominations are already mired in controversy. But the president is making clear he picked two men he knows, he likes, that he feels close to. This is his second term national security team. The president wants who the president wants.
STARR (voice-over): In announcing his nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense, President Obama made certain he sent this message about his second term foreign policy.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chuck recognizes that American leadership is indispensable in a dangerous world. He understands that America stands strongest when we stand with allies and with friends.
STARR: The White House knows the Hagel confirmation hearing could become a free fire zone over whether the nominee is tough enough on Iran and supportive enough of Israel, criticisms Obama himself has faced.
Hagel seemed to try to deflect that criticism in speaking of traditional diplomatic friends.
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I'm also grateful for an opportunity to help continue to strengthen our country and strengthen our country's alliances.
STARR: In Hagel, Obama gets an independent-minded Vietnam veteran and a one time Army sergeant who strongly believes war is a last resort, a view Obama shares.
OBAMA: And Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction.
STARR: But global threats could, at any point, compel him to recommend military force, in particular, if Iran's nuclear program continues. SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: If it becomes clear that sanctions are not enough, then there's going to be a discussion that any secretary of Defense, including Hagel, as well as the national security team, has got to decide whether that means limited strikes against facilities.
STARR: But in choosing John Brennan, one of his closest national security advisers, to become the next CIA director, the president is showing he will not back down from the CIA's aggressive use of lethal force, both in partnering with the military, as it did on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and in relying on lethal drone attacks -- a drone policy that critics say amounts to targeted killing.
BERGEN: Whatever your views of the drone campaign, John Brennan is one of its principal architects, whether that's in Pakistan or whether that's in Yemen.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
STARR: But back at the Pentagon, Chuck Hagel's most immediate challenge may be cutting the military budget, something he's on the record as favoring. You know, with the war in Afghanistan wrapping up in the next two years and a Congress very much looking for spending cuts, Hagel may be the man for that part of the job -- unless, of course, another national security crisis rears its head -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope it doesn't.
Thanks very much for that.
There's enough national security crises out there already.
We're going to have much more on the Hagel nomination coming up -- why he could be in for a rocky confirmation process. Stand by for that.
And Hillary Clinton heads back to work today, where her staff greets her with a surprising gift.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: My number one criteria in making these decisions was simple -- who is going to do the best job in securing America?
These two leaders have dedicated their lives to protecting our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Obama nominating the former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, to be the next defense secretary and his counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, to lead the CIA. Let's dig a little bit deeper with our chief national correspondent, John King.
What does it say about the second term by putting these two men in charge of these two critically important positions?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the president decided, number one, in the intelligence community, to stay the course with somebody he likes and trusts. John Brennan has been at his side at the White House for four years. Now, that Gen. Petraeus has left the CIA, the president wants somebody he trusts, he likes, and he believes has a deep understanding of the intelligence community.
Picking Sen. Hagel, I think that's a much more interesting pick and a more controversial pick, as you know. Number one, you put a Republican at the Pentagon at a time you're trying to shrink the Pentagon. The president thinks that will help. And the president's not afraid to pick a fight here with some republicans.
So, I think it's a sign that he wants to show, I won the election, I get my team. But I think if you look at both of them and add in Senator Kerry, the new secretary of state once he is confirmed, it's a comfort level. And the second term, you know, worrying about maybe satisfying every political interest group or every faction in your own party, you want people you like and you trust.
BLITZER: You Heard Ari Fleisher, our CNN contributor, the former Bush White House press secretary, say, you know, for all practical purposes, and I'm paraphrasing him now, Hagel isn't really a Republican anymore.
KING: Well, this is a great divide and a great debate in the Republican Party. Would he say the same about Dick Lugar, a very respected Republican voice who, of course, has left the United States Senate? Would he say the same about Colin Powell who served Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and then George W. Bush in Republican White Houses? Thought himself about running for the Republican nomination for president one day who have views much more like Chuck Hagel.
So, as you know, in the last 10 or 15 years, there's been a fascinating divide in the Republican Party, the pragmatic James Baker (ph), you might say, when it comes to world affairs, (INAUDIBLE) when it comes to world affairs, Chuck Hagel would fit closer to then than the neo-conservative view that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and that has been represented in the United States Senate in recent years by John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
BLITZER: You mentioned Colin Powell, he wasted no time coming out with a strong statement welcoming, endorsing Hagel's nomination. "I believe that more than ever, we need that kind of independent and bold leader who thinks in and out of the box." Let's look ahead to the confirmation process.
I think the Democrats, by and large, will fall in line behind the president, because that's their instinct to support a Democratic president. What about the Republicans? Is there going to be a real split, or in the end, will they come around and go along with Hagel?
KING: Making phone calls and e-mails today, you get the sense that in the end, Hagel will get many, if not most, of the Republicans. Will some plant the flag because they oppose him? Some legitimately have questions about his views on Iran's sanctions where he doesn't want unilateral sanctions. Some have used about whether they think he's been pro-Israel enough, if you will.
Sen. Hagel is going to have the time to explain himself. He's already tried to explain some of these things away. There are other things that have nothing to do -- some of what's happening with Chuck Hagel is personal. At the end of his time in the Senate, some of his friends have started to deteriorate but some of it is also, Wolf, political beyond this.
That Republicans, after losing the election to President Obama, after what many believe was too many concessions in the fiscal fight, some of them are looking for places to plant flags anyway in opposition to the president. So, he'll lose some, but he's going to have time to explain himself. He still has some friends in the Senate.
And you mentioned the Democrats. Harry Reid, the leader, has come out in favor of Chuch Hagel, Carl Levin, the chairman of the key committee that will have to -- have this confirmation hearing just come out and favor, the Democrats who have raised questions -- they want to ask him about Israel.
They want to ask him about Iran. If you ask on this day, looks like he'll have a fight. But on this day, the math looks more than good.
BLITZER: I suspect during those testimony -- during the testimony, he'll say -- he'll reassure a lot of those people on his positions, whether Iran sanctions or Israel or Syria or some of these other sensitivity issues, defense department spending cuts. I think he'll probably reassure. I've known him for a long time. You have as well. And he's a very, very smart, tough guy. And I assume he'll do very well.
KING: Smart, tough, articulate, personable, and he knows the Senate.
BLITZER: And he's got a huge fan not only in the president which is pretty important, but Joe Biden, the vice president. There's a great Biden/Hagel relationship as well. Thanks very much for that.
Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton's, first day back at work was greeted with some surprise gifts and laughs. Her colleagues welcoming her home with a helmet -- a football helmet and a jersey. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is over at the state department with more. Give us the details, Jill. How did it go?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Well, Secretary Clinton almost certainly won't be doing any international travel before she leaves office. And it's not the way we expected this non-stop secretary of state to end her term as America's top diplomat.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): After almost a month of illness recuperating from a stomach flu, a concussion, then a blood clot, secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, went back to work. And the state department went to work showing she was, as they claim, fully recovered. In the pink, her spokeswoman said, literally in a brilliant pink jacket, chairing her weekly meeting with the department's senior staff.
She got a surprise from one of her deputies. A uniform, he said, for Washington, the city where life is a contact sport. A football helmet with the state department seal and a jersey with the number 112, the number of countries she's visited as secretary of state.
VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: She thought it was cool. But then, being Hillary Clinton, she wanted to get right to business.
DOUGHERTY: Her first order to her staff, improve security after independent panels slammed the state department in the wake of the Benghazi terrorist attacks.
NULAND: She wants to have every single one of those recommendations on its way to implementation by the time her successor is sworn in.
DOUGHERTY: Clinton has been talking with her presumed successor, Senator John Kerry, almost daily. Some critics accuse Clinton of faking her illness to avoid testifying on Benghazi. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee wants to question her before Kerry is confirmed. And the state department says she'll do that when Congress reconvenes.
But that's not until after President Obama's inauguration, January 21st. In her first week back, Clinton's schedule lists several White House meetings midweek and talks with Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, Thursday and Friday. Aides say she's also meeting with staff behind the scenes.
But when it comes to her future, says Clinton's friend and democratic political analyst, Hilary Rosen, Clinton is no rushing any decisions.
HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Everybody for the next two years is going to talk to her about whether or not she's going to run for president. I think she's expecting that, and I think she's grown, you know, quite a thick skin and kind of laughing it off and not feeling pressure to follow anybody else's timetable.
DOUGHERTY (on-camera): But even if Hillary Clinton isn't planning to run in 2016, she can't afford to look weak or incapacitated right now. And her aides indicate that she's going to try to use every available minute in these last few weeks and make them count -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope for the best for her. We wish her only, only the best. Glad to see her out and about. I thought she looks terrific today when she left her house. And she seemed pretty excited about all those little gifts and all the welcoming back statements. Thanks very much, Jill, for that.
Doctors and emergency rooms are bracing for what could be the worst flu season in a decade. Just ahead, we're going to have the latest on a deadly outbreak that's forced more thousands of people to be hospitalized.
Plus, honoring a teacher who gave her life in the devastating Newtown massacre. You're going to find out what her hometown plans to do next.
BLITZER: The former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, and the Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, they are now in North Korea. A controversial trip is under way. Our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. So, how is it going?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, we are just getting new video showing the two men inside the country. Richardson commenting that they are on a private humanitarian visit and plan to ask about an American prisoner who is there. The state department has openly objected to this visit.
Google, which is expanding its presence throughout Asia, says it doesn't comment on, quote, "personal travel."
And a preliminary hearing for the alleged gunman in the Colorado movie theater massacre is revealing gruesome new details about that night. The first officer to confront Holmes testifying today he was smelly and very detached from all the carnage around him. The state is hoping to show it has enough evidence to proceed to trial.
Attorneys for Holmes who's charged with 166 counts are expected to argue diminished capacity. Twelve people were killed and dozens injured in that July shooting.
And, a new elementary school in Stratford, Connecticut, could soon bear the name of a hometown teacher who died protecting her students in the Sandy Hook massacre. The mayor is proposing that the school be renamed to honor the memory of Victoria Soto. The measure requires approval from the town council and is expected to be taken up at a meeting next week.
And the library of Congress is going digital, adding tweets to its collection of public documents. So far, the archiving effort has amassed 170 billion public Twitter messages as part of an agreement the library signed with the social media site in 2010. The library's currently looking for ways to make this new database available to the public.
And I think that's going to be quite a telling history if you can go back and see what people were tweeting at the moment on given events like the state of the union and the like. Interesting, isn't that?
BLITZER: You've been tweeting a lot?
SYLVESTER: I have been, although, I was on vacation. So, I kind of took off last week, but -- BLITZER: @LisaSylvester?
BLITZER: @LSylvesterCNN.com. @WolfBlitzer. I've been tweeting, too. Thank you.
SYLVESTER: Sounds good.
BLITZER: President Obama's choice for defense secretary drawing criticism, including some of Chuck Hagel's fellow Republicans. One of them is here to explain why he has already decided he won't vote to confirm Hagel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a good man, but this is the wrong job for him, because he's certainly outside of the national security mainstream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is President Obama's choice to become the next secretary of Defense but his confirmation could be a rocky one, even some of his fellow GOP lawmakers say Hagel is the wrong man for the job.
And joining us now from Capitol Hill, Senator John Cornyn of Texas. He's a key member, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will hold confirmation hearings for Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense.
Senator, thanks very much for coming. And I know you've already said you will vote to deny him confirmation. Why not wait to see how he does during the Q&A, during the testimony, before making up your mind?
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Well, Wolf, Chuck Hagel has a long record. And by the way, I consider him to be an honorable man with a distinguished record of service. But also at the same time, profoundly wrong on some of the biggest national security threats confronting the United States today. Namely, a nuclear Iran. Their aspirations to get a nuclear weapon, which would of course destabilize not just the region but present a national security threat to the United States and certainly a state sponsor of international terrorism.
He also has supported direct negotiations with state sponsor -- excuse me, State Department designated terrorist organizations like Hamas, which recently rained in thousands of rockets into Israel. And also his commitment to supporting our principal democratic ally in the Middle East I think has caused a lot of people on a bipartisan basis to say he's a good man but this is the wrong job for him because he's certainly outside of the national security mainstream. BLITZER: Because he says -- and he said it again, once today in an interview with his hometown newspaper, his views on all these sensitive issues have been widely distorted. So I guess the basic question, since you say he's an honorable man, why not give him a chance to explain his views before coming out and saying he's not worthy of being secretary of defense?
CORNYN: Well, the president has a job to nominate someone he chooses. And of course the Senate has a separate job to give advice and consent to these nominations. I'm satisfied due to my knowledge of his record where he stands on these issues. I believe the positions I've stated are not distorted. I believe those are accurate. But I'm in favor of him having an opportunity certainly in a confirmation hearing to answer those hard questions on a bipartisan basis.
This is not a partisan issue. This is one where people who are concerned about his commitment to national security issues, the most important ones who face the country today.
BLITZER: Will you put a hold on his nomination or filibuster his nomination?
CORNYN: I am -- I think it's really premature to talk about that now. We have a number of people including my colleague Dan Coats and others who I know you've heard from just recently who have expressed their concerns, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and others. There have been a number of Democrats who privately have said that they have concerns and are unwilling to commit to his confirmation.
So there's going to be a lot happen between now and the hearing and after the hearing and we'll have a chance to express our views then. So I would say it's premature to say what the process is going to be because, frankly, I don't know.
BLITZER: What example do you have that he's anti-Israel?
CORNYN: Well, I believe that, you know, comments he's made about the so-called Jewish lobby, which seem to denigrate the efforts of pro- Israel individuals, myself included, who view that relationship as a special relationship, and one that's important to our national security and stability in the region.
I'll give him an opportunity to explain his views. But as you know, there's a number of pro-Israel organizations that have already come out and said that based on his -- based on his long track record, they just have profound doubts about his ability to support our principal ally in the Middle East. I think that's very important.
BLITZER: In an interview that he gave to Aaron David Miller, a -- a retired -- a former State Department diplomat in the book he wrote, he did say -- Hagel, he said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here." Hagel later said maybe his wording wasn't good.
I interviewed Aaron David Miller the other day here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Listen to what he said about Chuck Hagel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: The notion that Chuck Hagel is an anti-Semite, the notion that his use of the term Jewish lobby suggests the fact that he's not qualified to be the secretary of defense or somehow that he's fundamentally hostile to the state of Israel, I think is wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You want to respond to what Aaron David Miller just said?
CORNYN: Well, I think he is saying things that I am not saying. I'm not making any accusations here. I'm saying Israel is our principal ally in the Middle East and based upon his support for face-to-face negotiations with the principal sponsor of international terrorism in the region, Hamas, and his refusal to draw red lines when it comes to Iran's aspirations to get nuclear weapons, to me, those disqualify him for the job of secretary of defense.
We should not have a secretary of defense that says it's OK for Iran to get a nuclear weapon and we can contain them when we can't and when it will cause a lot of increased instability and national security issues for us and our friends, when saying that we ought to conduct face-to-face negotiations with State Department sponsored terrorist organizations like Hamas, to me, that's a profoundly irresponsible statement and one that, again, disqualifies that person for being the principal representative of the United States on national security issues at the Pentagon.
BLITZER: Senator Cornyn, thanks once again for joining us.
CORNYN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president's pick to head the CIA also comes with a little bit of controversy.
Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence takes a closer look at John Brennan.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Brennan is the White House's point man for targeting terrorists. He's got an office in the West Wing and the ear of President Obama. Moving to Langley would be a big change.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Going to the CIA, you are further away from the West Wing of the White House and immediate access to the president.
LAWRENCE: But in a way, Brennan would be coming home. He joined the CIA after reading a want ad in the newspaper. Learned Arabic, he became a station chief in Saudi Arabia.
JOHN BRENNAN, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: Al Qaeda is on the ropes. LAWRENCE: Brennan was a candidate for CIA director four years ago, but he pulled out of contention when critics slammed his involvement in Bush-era interrogations. The job went to Leon Panetta and later David Petraeus. But the former general had a culture clash with some career CIA analysts. Following outsiders, Panetta and Petraeus, may be easier for Brennan.
BILL HARLOW, FORMER CIA CHIEF SPOKESMAN: They'll think here's a guy who understands us and will have our backs and defend us.
LAWRENCE: Brennan was intimately involved in the run-up to the assault on Osama bin Laden.
BERGEN: At one point, the analysts came back in, they said, well, you know, whoever is living in this compound has a dog, and, of course, very observant, Muslims don't have dogs. But Brennan had been on the bin Laden account for -- himself for 15 years, and he remembered that, in fact, bin Laden had a dog when he was living in Sudan.
LAWRENCE: Brennan supported the raid, but afterwards he initially implied that bin Laden was armed when he wasn't. Brennan suggested bin Laden cowardly used a human shield when he did not.
BRENNAN: There was a female who was, in fact, in the line of fire that reportedly was used as a shield to shield bin Laden from the incoming fire.
LAWRENCE: Brennan broke new ground last year.
BRENNAN: We can be more transparent and still ensure our nation's security.
LAWRENCE: He became the first official to publicly explain how the government uses drones to target terrorists.
BERGEN: John Brennan is somebody who's -- was in the room when all these decisions was made and is one of the principal architects of this campaign. This is surely going to come up in his confirmation hearing.
LAWRENCE: So will accusations Brennan helped manipulate leaks to boost the administration's national security credentials. And unlike the adviser job, which does not need Congress' approval, this time Brennan will have to face his critics head on.
Chris Lawrence, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Forced to flee their homes, now living in dire circumstances. Winter compounds the misery of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.
And his patterns are known around the world. Now there's a desperate search, though, for a famous designer.
BLITZER: This cargo plane delivered Patriot missiles to Syria's neighbor Turkey. Today NATO has approved the Patriots to help defend against Syrian rockets and missiles. And defiant new remarks by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad are dashing hopes that the fighting will end anytime soon.
CNN's Nick Payton Walsh is in Beirut with more.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, France today echoed Western condemnation of Assad's speech on Sunday, saying he was, quote, "in denial" of reality, and, quote, "not fooling anyone."
I think what we can really take away from his very defiant tone in front of loyal crowds in a theater in Damascus is really the end of all efforts for a peaceful settlement by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and even by Moscow's diplomats. There had been such high hopes that diplomatic shuttling of the past few weeks would result in some sort of nudge towards Assad giving political concession or finding some kind of settlement.
The way ahead, many fear now, is the escalation in violence as we edge into the military end game here. Assad clear he's simply not going to give up power.
And as that violence escalates, of course the concern is for the humanitarian situation. Half a million refugees registered in Syria's neighbors. Fears that will mount by hundreds of thousands if the violence escalates. And of course the larger fear now in the months ahead, the bitter chill of winter hitting these people right when they're most vulnerable.
WALSH (voice-over): They fled this far, almost to safety in Turkey but still they dig. To these boys, dragged fast into manhood, it's not really a game. It's an air raid shelter.
"We make kids so if the jets come and bomb us," he says, "we put children here to hide them. But of course we'll make it much bigger for 20 to 30 people."
The holes are so they could see outside when the bombs come, although they've already seen so much.
"We were sitting suddenly and the rocket comes, making this noise," he says. "A big explosion, an artillery shell."
Here in Bab al-Salam, 8,000 of them fled everything they had hoping for something but finding the new free Syria could give them little. A hundred yards from Turkey, they're not allowed into its bustling camps.
"Of course 80 percent of those here," he says, "came hoping to cross into Turkey but the Turkish government stopped hosting over six weeks ago. People are furious and we can't provide a loss of their daily needs."
What was temporary in summer is now looking permanent in frost. The distant thought of shelling a reason to endure even this.
(On camera): Even though these people are just about 100 yards from the Turkish border, they still have to bring what little plastic tent shelter they have under cover because of the intense cold approaching. You can still hear sometimes the shells in the distance reverberate inside this open, concrete hang-up. But the real enemy in the months ahead is going to be that bitter winter cold.
(Voice-over): For Abdul Qadr al-Hasan's daughter, Siham, the cold came too fast.
"She wasn't sick," he says. "She didn't have any problems at all. We were up late that night and playing with her. We woke the next morning and her mother checked on her. She was curled into a ball from the cold. We buried her in the village. Her sister is afraid now of the cold."
Now he burns plastic to keep warm. Wood is in short supply and expensive. In fact, they've stripped nature almost bare here. Even these plants cut down for food. Trashed plastic gathered hungrily. Its acrid, poisonous smoke cluttering a dense, wretched world.
After 21 months of this war, this is the best the world has done for them.
Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Bab al-Salam, Syria.
BLITZER: March will mark, by the way, two years since the start of the civil war in Syria. More than 60,000 people have died there according to the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands of people have been made refugees.
I asked the Egyptian president yesterday, Mohammed Morsy, I asked him to talk about the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, during our exclusive interview at the presidential palace in Cairo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. MOHAMED MORSY, EGYPT (Through Translator): It is not I who want this but the Syrian people who want this. This phase is a phase of the people. Similar to what the Egyptian people wanted. The Syrian people want it. And we support the Syrian people. And they're going to win and they have the will to win.
BLITZER: So you say the Syrian people want Bashar al-Assad to be tried for war crimes?
MORSY (Through Translator): The Syrian people through their revolution and through the movement will when the blood shed stops move to a new stage where they will have an independent parliament and the government of their choosing, and then they will decide what they want to do against those who committed crimes against them. It is the Syrian people who decide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Morsy told me flatly Bashar al-Assad must go, he must go right now, and he says he supports all of those Syrians who want Bashar al-Assad to be tried for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
Much more of my exclusive interview with President Morsy coming up tomorrow and throughout this week.
Officials say it may be the worst flu outbreak the country has seen in a decade. Up next, we're going to tell you how emergency rooms are handing the dramatic surge in patients and what you need to know to protect yourself.
BLITZER: A dramatic surge in flu cases sweeping the country as doctors concerned that some emergency rooms are now struggling to handle patients.
Our Mary Snow is working this story for us. She has details.
How bad is it, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, there are a couple of things concerning doctors right now. One is the number of people getting sick and being hospitalized. The second is the fact that this may be the earliest start to the flu season in a decade.
SNOW (voice-over): Flu cases have jumped so dramatically at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The hospital plans to open an additional unit for patients. Bracing for winter weeks still to come, doctors are considering other actions.
DR. KENNETH E. SANDS, BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER: We are evaluating whether we are going to need to take other special measures, such as screening visitors to the institution, screening employees as measures to try and control the -- or better understand the volume of influenza in the hospital.
SNOW: Massachusetts is just one of 41 states reporting widespread flu cases. Health officials report a higher number of people needing to be hospitalized with symptoms ranging from fever and coughing to muscle aches. So far, the CDC has tracked at least 2200 hospitalizations and 18 deaths among children linked to the flu. The death of a 17-year-old Texas boy has prompted family and friends to urge others to get flu shots.
MICHELLE SCHWOLERT, RELATIVE OF FLU VICTIM: I'm the first one to say my family doesn't get the flu shot but we will and we will advocate that from now on. SNOW: The push to get vaccinated is one echoed by Dr. Robert Glatter at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital. He says the emergency room there is seeing an uptick in flu cases but he warns it includes some people who did get the flu shot.
(On camera): The fact that some people are getting sick even though they've gotten vaccinated, does that mean that the vaccine isn't working?
DR. ROBERT GLATTER, NEW YORK'S LENOX HILL HOSPITAL: No, it doesn't mean that at all. Generally in the proportion of -- or in the population, a number of people will still contract the flu virus even though they've been vaccinated.
SNOW: Doctors also know that it takes two weeks for a flu shot to take full effect. The Centers for Disease Control is suggesting those who have severe flu symptoms or are at risk of serious flu-related symptoms could also take anti-viral medication. As for why this year the flu is so much stronger, officials can't say for sure.
DR. MICHAEL JHUNG, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: One possible is because one of the viruses that is circulating in the United States is this H3N2 virus. This influenza virus has been linked to seasons in the past that have been severe so we think that they -- that may be one of the reasons why we're seeing so much activity right now.
SNOW: Now medical experts say it's impossible to predict just how severe this flu season may get. But on a typical year, doctors say they see cases peak in late January and early February. They're worried to see this sharp increase so early and of course hoping the numbers don't continue to climb -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And it's still not too late, as you say, to get a flu shot even right now.
Thanks very much, Mary, for that.
A massive search under way for the head of a world famous fashion house. We have details next.
BLITZER: A massive search is under way off the coast of Venezuela for a missing plane carrying the head of the internationally known fashion house. The plane disappeared on Friday.
Lisa Sylvester is joining us now with the latest information.
What are we learning?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the plane carrying the heir of a prominent Italian fashion house Missoni has vanished. About 300 people now are taking part in the search but it's been four days and nothing has turned up and it still remains a mystery.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Les Roques Islands off the coast of Venezuela, its beaches and coral reefs attracts wealthy visitors from around the world. It is among these islands where the plane carrying fashion executive Vittorio Missoni disappeared.
Also on the plane, his wife, two other Italian nations, a pilot and co-pilot. The small twin engine aircraft left Les Roques headed for Caracas on Friday but never made it. Venezuelans search and rescue crews searched by boat and by air for the missing plane. Scanning the waters and the coast line.
Vittorio Missoni is the director of the Missoni Fashion House known for its bold and zigzag patterns. A favorite brand among celebrities. He runs the company along with his two siblings. The Missoni name reached a mass audience when the label made a deal with Target in 2011 to offer consumers affordable versions of their iconic lines. It was so popular that when first introduced Target's Web site crashed.
The Missoni company's Web site acknowledged the plane is missing and asked the press to kindly respect the family's privacy at this time.
Family members have launched a Twitter campaign under the hash tag "Find Vittorio Missoni." They're asking anyone with information to contact the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
CNN national correspondent Elena Cho who covers fashion has spoken to friends of the Missoni family. They confirmed Vittorio's brother Luca who is a pilot has joined the search and rescue efforts.
ALINA CHO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The family is extremely close- knit. Three generations often spent time together. You see magazines spreads with them all the time in their homes in Italy. This is a family that is beloved in fashion and, of course, everyone in fashion is hoping for the best.
SYLVESTER: Outside one of the New York stores, Missoni's customer pray the passengers would be found alive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a brand like no other brand. It's just -- he has his signature on it. And you know when something is Missoni and the sense of design is beautiful. The sense of design, the way he blends the colors and everything.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just really tragic and mysterious but I don't know. It's very sad.
SYLVESTER: Now Vittorio Missoni is the director of the fashion house and it's very much, though, a family operation. Vittorio's sister, for example, she is the creative director. So this is a brand that is going to continue one way or the other but it would be such a tragic loss for the fashion community -- Wolf. BLITZER: It certainly would. Lisa, thank you.