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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Senator John McCain; Alleged Colorado Gunman in Court; Gabby Giffords Pushes for Gun Control; Dreamliners Suffer Fire, Fuel Leak; McCain's 'Serious Concerns' About Hagel
Aired January 8, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will Congress push the economy to the brink? I will ask Senator John McCain.
And a lottery winner poisoned with cyanide.
Plus, the terrifying end to a hot air balloon ride this wedding party will never forget.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But, first, guns. The push for new gun laws in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting has a powerful new voice, the former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She was gravely wounded in a mass shooting exactly two years ago today.
Lisa Sylvester is here with more on what's going on -- Lisa.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, leaders from both the private and public sectors are starting to offer specific proposals on gun control, all sides aware how politically sensitive this issue has become. And the leading voice today comes from someone with the political and personal experience that is sure to command attention here in Washington.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): On the two-year anniversary of the Tucson shooting and a week after a visit to Newtown, Gabby Giffords wants to send a wakeup call to Washington when it comes to gun violence.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: When it can happen to children in a classroom, it's time to say...
GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Enough.
SYLVESTER: Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, have launched Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group that will raise money and lobby lawmakers on gun legislation, a sort of counter to the National Rifle Association.
In "USA Today," the couple wrote -- quote -- "We saw from the NRA leadership's defiant and unsympathetic response to the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre that winning even the most commonsense reforms will require a fight."
But they are trying to navigate a political balance. Kelly explains why in an interview with ABC.
MARK KELLY, HUSBAND OF GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: I have a gun. Gabby and I are both gun owners. We are strong supporters of the Second Amendment. But we have got to do something to keep the guns from getting into the wrong hands.
SYLVESTER: Gun owners are a powerful organized group the White House wants to reach as well. The working group led by Vice President Joe Biden will talk to a number of gun rights advocates Thursday.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We look forward to hearing from a variety of organizations and civic groups and others who have insights into this problem.
SYLVESTER: Both the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the two largest groups in the country, confirmed to CNN that they would attend. But until the Biden task force makes their recommendations at the end of January, there will be a policy and public relations battle with the White House getting the backing of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I think what we have got to do first is try to everything we can to help Joe Biden.
SYLVESTER: His group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, launched their own campaign demanding action on Capitol Hill.
ROXANNA GREEN, MOTHER OF MURDER VICTIM: My 9-year-old daughter was murdered in the Tucson shooting. I have one question for our political leaders. When will you find the courage to stand up to the gun lobby?
SYLVESTER: And these ads are just the beginning of what promises to be an intense few weeks of political outreach in anticipation of specifics from the White House, but already the rhetoric is heated and it's quite emotional, Wolf.
BLITZER: Not every day the White House, the Obama White House invites somebody from the NRA to come over, participate in a meeting. Any more specifics?
SYLVESTER: We are told that James J. Baker, who is with the group's Institute of Legislative Action, will be representing the NRA. He's been with the NRA in leadership roles off and on since the 1980s and he was also a high-level campaign volunteer to Senator John McCain during his 2008 failed bid for the presidency.
And the Baker we are talking about, of course, is not the former secretary of state, just to clarify that.
BLITZER: But it's a common name. SYLVESTER: That's right, Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very, very much.
Kate Bolduan has got more on what's going on with guns in the country.
What are you seeing over there, Kate?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, Wolf.
Well, in Colorado, emotional testimony and a chilling description of the elaborate booby trap laid out by accused theater gunman James Holmes. We remember this story so well. New details emerged at his preliminary hearing today about how he rigged his apartment to create a massive explosion that would have left even more people dead in Aurora.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Centennial, Colorado, for us.
Ed, the details are absolutely chilling. What's the latest you're picking up?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, remember, what prosecutors are trying to do in this preliminary hearing is lay out the evidence against James Holmes, but also more importantly from their perspective is to show that this wasn't the actions of someone who just snapped one day and decided to go kill people in a movie theater, that this was a well-thought-out and a well-planned-attack.
911 OPERATOR: Shooting at Century Theaters. They are saying somebody is shooting in the auditorium.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): The first 911 call came from inside theater nine just 18 minutes after the start of "The Dark Knight Rises." The call lasted just 27 seconds, the caller's words drowned out by the sounds of constant boom, boom, boom; 30 gunshots could be heard in that one call alone.
Six minutes later, the shots have stopped. A teenage relative of 6- year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan calls 911. In tears, the girl struggles to explain how Veronica can't breathe. The dispatcher tells her to start CPR and the girl can only respond: "I can't hear you. It's too loud. I'm sorry."
Veronica would be the youngest victim to die in the theater that night. It's an excruciating four-minute phone call and it left many watching the James Holmes preliminary hearing in tears. The family members of the some of the victims wish James Holmes would simply plead guilty.
TOM TEVES, FATHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: What I would really like to see, honestly, I would to see him throw him in a room with a toilet and nothing else, a window that he can at least see that the day is passing, and that's it, no bed, nothing, and let him just sit with his thoughts.
LAVANDERA: Even more stunning was the most descriptive explanation yet of the explosive booby-trap James Holmes left in his apartment. According to an FBI bomb technician, Holmes mixed and created the explosive chemicals himself, including explosive powders and live ammunition and homemade napalm and thermite.
He then saturated his carpet in gasoline and oil and rigged an elaborate system of containers to explode.
(on camera): James Holmes' apartment is on the top floor at the end of this red brick building and according to an FBI bomb technician who spoke with James Holmes, he says that Holmes told him that he had taken a boom box and a remote control car and placed it in a white trash bag just outside a dumpster by his apartment.
Now, inside that boom box was a C.D. that Holmes says he had made. The first 40 minutes, silent, it was timed out to then start playing really loud music. And according to that FBI bomb technician, Holmes hoped that somebody would come over to that trash bag and then see the remote control car and start playing with it, except that remote control was not triggered to move the car. It was triggered to set off a pyrotechnic device inside the apartment and that would trigger a much larger explosion.
(voice-over): According to the FBI bomb technician, James Holmes planned to have his apartment explode to distract and overwhelm first- responders and he would walk into the theater just a few miles away and start shooting.
It's the kind of elaborate diabolical plot that always seems to work for villains in a Batman movie, but in real life this part of the diabolical plan didn't work.
LAVANDERA: James Holmes' attorneys have focused a lot of their questioning on James Holmes' demeanor once he had been taken into custody.
And one of the Aurora police detectives, the lead detective on the case, talked about how when Holmes was brought to police headquarters for questioning, they put paper bags over his hand to preserve any evidence that might be on his fingertips, and that at one point, Holmes started after his hands talking back and forth to each other, as if those paper bags were puppets.
And he also tried to remove a staple from a table and put it into an electrical socket. Those are the kind of things that defense attorneys are focusing on, but there are many victims' families and relatives and survivors around here who will tell you that they believe that James Holmes is simply just putting on an act -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: It's just amazing when you lay out what they say, everything he had set up and what a horrifying plot it was, Ed. Thank you so much. We will definitely check back in with you as the days continue. You can believe how elaborate the plot was, Wolf, and how much worse it could be.
BLITZER: The gruesome details, horrible.
The whole debate, the heated debate over gun control certainly boiled over on CNN's "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." Piers called for a ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Newtown Connecticut school massacre, and in response, radio host Alex Jones started a petition on the White House Web site to have Piers deported from the United States. Take a look at this heated exchange that's now going viral.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX JONES, HOST, "THE ALEX JONES SHOW": I have FBI crime statistics that come out a year late, 2011, 20-plus percent crime drop in the last nine years. Real violent crime because more guns means less crime. Britain took the guns 15, 16 years ago. Tripling of your overall violent crime. True we have a higher gun violence level, but overall, muggings, stabbings, deaths, you -- those men raped that woman in India to death with an iron rod four feet long.
You can't ban the iron rods. The guns -- the iron rods, Piers, didn't do it, the tyrants did it. Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns. Fidel Castro took the guns.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": OK. How many --
JONES: Hugo Chavez took the guns, and I'm here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms. It doesn't matter how many lemmings you get out there on the street begging for them to have their guns taken. We will not relinquish them. Do you understand?
That why you're going to fail and the establishment knows no matter how much propaganda, the republic will rise again when you attempt to take our gun. My family in the Texas revolution in Santa Ana. My family was at the core on both sides starting that, because Santa Ana came to take the guns at Gonzalez, Texas.
Piers, don't try what your ancestors did before. Why don't you come to America, I will take you out shooting. You can become an American and join the republic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Piers is joining us now live from New York.
Piers, did you have -- were you comfortable giving this guy all this airtime, this publicity on your show?
MORGAN: You know, Wolf, I think it's one of those cases where I had a few gun rights activists on before the holiday. And I was accused of being rude with them and slightly overbearing, because I found them very frustrating. I got angry. I was so very passionate, following what happened at Sandy Hook, as we all were. And my position on what should be done about gun control, I have been advocating for a long time. So this to me was a tipping point. And to hear them continue to espouse this you cannot touch any guns philosophy, I found very frustrating.
With Alex Jones, I took a different tact. My tact was to try and show that I could be a listener, that I would give him the time to explain, articulate his position, but instead, he didn't want to know. He don't want to debate anything or discuss it. But I found it illuminating that during his rant, you got a real sense of what an element of the more extreme gun activists in this country genuinely believe.
They believe that their government will perform as a sort of tyranny and overthrow them or try to, and that is why they all need to be heavily armed. And that's what he believes. That's what his followers to his pretty well-listened to show believe. And I think sometimes, you have to give people just enough rope to tie themselves into a large, pretty unedifying not. And that's what happened last night.
BOLDUAN: So, Piers, what do you make of this petition? While you brought this man on your show, he did also draw a lot of attention to himself with that petition on the White House Web site that went viral in and of itself, all on its own. So what do you make of this petition that they have out there?
MORGAN: Well, you see, look, the petition is obviously, I think, a bit ridiculous. I was operating my right under the First Amendment. So for them to criticize me for attacking the Second Amendment, but wanting to deport me for expressing a view protected by the First Amendment is plainly hypocritical and ridiculous.
And I don't anticipate that President Obama is going to order my deportation. The White House made a statement last night saying they will say something about this, they will have a verdict, but they also said that we want to remind people about the right to freedom of expression, which I think is very important.
But I thought last night was a very illuminating insight, as I say, into what the more extreme elements of the gun rights lobby really believe. And it's pretty terrifying. This guy owns 50 guns and I would say 90 percent of all the people who have seen this interview on social media today have been pretty appalled by what he was saying and the way he said it.
It sort of exemplified, I think, the really violent rhetoric which has poisoned so much of the political discourse in this country. And for that reason, I was pleased to have him on, pleased to let him have his say, please to say very little. Let him say what he and many people in his little following believe. And it's pretty scary.
BOLDUAN: To be fair, there are millions of gun owners who are not like this Alex Jones, who still do not agree with your position on gun control, but that's a different part of the conversation. MORGAN: Well, I think you have to understand exactly what I'm calling for. I have an absolute respect for an American's right to bear an arm under the Second Amendment, to protect themselves or their family in their home. I get that.
That is a cultural thing, different to my country, but I have total respect for it. I have no wish to go and grab the 300 million guns in circulation in America or to stop an American from defending themselves. But where I have a real problem is the last four or five mass shootings in America -- and they have been increasing in scale -- we had the worst ever single shooting in Aurora and the worst ever school shooting at Sandy Hook -- they have all been using the same type of weapon, these AR-15 style military assault weapons.
And there is just no conceivable reason to me why any civilian needs one of these, particularly when they load them with these magazines with 100 bullets. They are mass killing machines and they should be removed from civilian circulation and kept where they belong, on the battlefield of the American military.
And I think a lot of people watched last night and thought, you know what, if that is the voice of people who want to keep AR-15s in civilian hands, then this is a pretty terrifying moment for America and it's time that everybody woke up and thought, something has to give, something has to change. You can't allow 20 schoolchildren from the ages of 6 to 7 to get slaughtered in an elementary school and do nothing. That is not an option.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Piers, are you going to invite Alex Jones back on your show?
MORGAN: Yes, I wouldn't mind having him back. I wouldn't mind talking to any of these gun rights at lengthy in a much more calm and reasonable matter. I want this debate to be at the forefront of the American political and social debate this year, because, Wolf, I have been at CNN nearly two years now, be next week the second anniversary.
There have been so many outrages, from Gabby Giffords from a week before I started, to Sandy Hook. Nothing ever changes and I don't get it. We had a Sandy Hook-style disaster, massacre in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996 in my country and everything changed, a national ban on handguns, a national ban on assault rifles, and guess what? There hasn't been a single shooting in a school since. There's only been one or two what you would even describe as a near mass shooting since in our country.
The same in Australia. This is not rocket science. Take these assault rifles and weapons off the streets.
BLITZER: Piers is going to have a lot more on this story later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Piers, thanks very much for joining us.
MORGAN: Thanks, Wolf. Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Still ahead, incredible good fortune followed by a grisly death. Authorities say a big lottery winner was poisoned. The mystery ahead.
BLITZER: Police now suspect that one man's good fortune may have been a motive for murder.
BOLDUAN: It's an amazing story. They're investigating the death of a Chicago man, who died of cyanide poisoning just days after winning a huge lottery jackpot.
CNN's Mary Snow is working the story for us.
What are you finding out, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if it hadn't been for a tip from a family member to the medical examiner's office in Chicago, this case might never have come to light. But police are now treating it as a homicide and the medical examiner is moving to exhume the body of a lottery winner who came forward as a winner in June.
SNOW (voice-over): It was supposed to have been the start of better times for 46-year-old Urooj Khan and his wife and daughter. He won a $1 million jackpot after buying a ticket at a 7-11 in Chicago and hoped to pay off his bills, invest in his dry cleaning business and donate money to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was speechless and just like running around and not knowing what to do, shaking hands.
SNOW: In July, just as his one-time payment of $424,000 was mailed out, Khan died suddenly. That evening, he had gone home, ate dinner, and went to bed. According to a police document obtained by the "Chicago Tribune," it reports his family heard him screaming, took him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
At that time, Khan's death was determined to be from natural causes a few days later the medical examiner says a relative of Khan called to suggest there may be more to the story. More tests were done and Cyanide was found in his blood.
DR. STEPHEN CINA, COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS MEDICAL EXAMINER: Once we found that it was qualitatively present, clearly that raises flags because it shouldn't be detected at all. Once that was in the mix, I wasn't that surprised that eventually we had a lethal level. It doesn't take all that much cyanide to kill a person.
SNOW: And now Chicago police are investigating it as a murder.
DR. LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, PROFESSOR OF FORENSIC SCIENCE, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: If you're going to try to commit the perfect murder, this is a good way to do it.
SNOW: Lawrence Kobilinsky is a professor of forensic science at John Jay College. He says cyanide is not easily detected on drug screenings and a small amount can kill a person quickly. And he said labs are only one place to find it.
KOBILINSKY: It's usually kept under lock and key. Again, if you work in the photographic industry, if you worked in a metal processing plant, or you worked in a plant with -- where they work with insecticides, those are places you would find cyanide. SNOW (on camera): So it's not all that difficult to obtain?
KOBILINSKY: It's really not that difficult. If somebody wants to get it, they can get it.
SNOW: Now, the only thing the Chicago Police Department would say on the record is that they're investigating Khan's death as a murder and working closely with the medical examiner.
As for that lottery check that was mailed out, an official with the Illinois lottery says records show it was paid several weeks after Khan's death -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much for that report. We will stay on top of it -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: A record year for heat. 2012 goes down in history -- details of just how hot it was.
Plus, a hot air balloon goes out of control, taking a wedding party -- look at this -- on a terrifying ride.
BLITZER: First a fire, now a fuel leak all raising serious new concerns about the world's newest airliner, the Dreamliner.
We have new information.
Plus, he has serious concerns about the nominee for defense secretary, so what will John McCain ask former Senator Chuck Hagel when he goes before Congress? Senator McCain standing by to join us live.
BLITZER: There are serious concerns now about one of the world's most anticipated new passenger jets, Boeing's 787, the Dreamliner. Two nightmarish incidents are now under investigation.
CNN's Sandra Endo is joining us. She's got details -- Sandy. SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a fire and leaking fuel on two of Boeing's 787 Dreamliners in as many days, it's the latest in a series of black eyes for the manufacturer's much-heralded marquee plane that recently debuted.
ENDO (voice-over): Fuel leaking from a Japan Airline 787 Dreamliner, as it was preparing to fly from Boston's Logan Airport to Tokyo with 181 passengers. An alert crew in another plane saw the leak and notified the control tower.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, that Japan Air may know it, but they've got fuel or something spewing out the outboard left wing there quite a bit.
ENDO: Then the control tower contacted the unsuspecting JAL pilot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Japan Air 7 heavy, we're going to send a fire engine truck out to your aircraft to make sure everything's OK, but it appears that there is fuel coming from your left wing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean a fuel leak from left wing?
ENDO: It's the second of Boeing's marquee aircraft to face trouble in two days. On Monday, at the same Boston Airport, a different Japan Airline Boeing 787 Dreamliner caught fire. It involved batteries located in the belly of the plane, which provides electricity to the plane while on the ground.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the fire, and in a statement, Boeing says it's working with investigators, adding, "Nothing we've seen in this case indicates a relationship with any previous 787 power system events."
Last month, a United Airlines Dreamliner flying from Houston to Newark diverted to New Orleans after the crew reported an electrical problem. In September, after federal inspectors forced inspections on all 787s in the air, inspectors found engine cracks on two different 787s.
United Airlines tells CNN they inspected their 787s overnight but were not willing to discuss what, if anything, they found.
ENDO: A Boston Airport official says the plane that was spewing fuel, well, it was checked out and cleared to fly again, but the problems are affecting Boeing's shares. They fell today 3.6 percent -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sandra Endo, thanks very much for that report.
And Richard Quest is joining us from New York right now. Richard, how serious, how bad are these problems involving the Dreamliner right now?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the problems of the last 48 hours are more serious than some that we've seen earlier. The ones we've seen earlier are problems with the power generators. There have been some electrical problems on a United plane, on a Qatar Airways plane.
But the last 48 hours are different. We have an explosion of some batteries, which leads to a fire onboard the aircraft, although there were no passengers. And now, we have the same airline, but different plane taxiing out from Boston, and as it's taxiing out, there's a fuel leak.
Now, a fuel leak is always a serious matter. And that's why the NTSB is now starting to look at exactly the air worthiness issues, what was behind it. They've got investigation teams that are on their way to Boston.
And they're going to be -- they're going to be asking the tough questions, Wolf. They're going to want to know why brand-new aircraft seemingly have recurring problems, albeit of a different nature.
Are these the little glitches that Boeing says they are, that happen with all new major complicated planes, or is there something else that's happening? There are lots of rumors, Wolf, about whether the wiring has been done properly, whether this has been done properly or the other. So that's the issue at the moment.
BLITZER: I assume, Richard, there's been a backlash already, from the airlines that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase these Dreamliners from Boeing?
QUEST: Yes. The -- and the serious part about that is the airlines are used to glitches. So it's not like you or me. The airlines expect a certain amount of headache, toothache, pain and misery with a new plane, a new model. But they don't expect it to be of this level.
AOG is the phrase they use, aircraft on the ground.
Now, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar al-Baker, he had a program go tech on its delivery flight from Seattle to Doha. Not surprisingly, he was pretty much steaming about it all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AKBAR AL-BAKER, CEO, QATAR AIRWAYS: We are not happy with what happened to us. We pay a lot of money to get our airplanes. We have waited three years, and when we get an aircraft that from day one has a technical problem, regardless if it is a new program or not, it is unacceptable.
They have a quality problem. And this quality problem should be resolved. I think they had three long years to resolve quality problems. This should not continue this quality problem.
I know that it is a very sophisticated airplane. It is state-of-the- art airplane. It is a completely brand-new technology in this airplane, but they had enough time to sort it out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUEST: And that is the problem. It is new technology with the carbon fibers of the body. It has got new wiring systems. It has got new avionics. This aircraft is a quantum leap in aviation.
But the fear, Wolf, is that, because of the way Boeing's been making it, the subcontracting out, all the different ways of doing it, the fear is something's gone wrong into the systems, the way it's been done. And that's what the NTSB will be looking into.
BLITZER: You've actually flown, Richard, on a Dreamliner. Is it all it's supposedly cracked up to be?
QUEST: Unbelievably quiet. The big windows are fantastic to look out of. And you know, because of this magnificent wing, if you come back to me -- the wing has this extraordinary thing, where the wing will lift itself up. You can actually see the wing lift as the plane takes off, and when it lands, the wings fall back down again.
So it's a very different aircraft. The feel of it, the way it's on board.
But frankly, the airlines will say that plane is for putting butts (ph) of passengers on board to make money, and it doesn't make money when it's sitting on the ground being repaired.
BLITZER: Richard Quest with an excellent explanation, as usual. Thanks very much.
BOLDUAN: The president has nominated his next defense secretary as well as director of the CIA, but Senator John McCain of Arizona, he may have some issues there. We're going to talk to the senator, coming up next.
BLITZER: Some of his former Senate colleagues and former Republicans -- or even fellow Republicans, I should say -- are raising serious concerns about Chuck Hagel's nomination to be the nation's next secretary of defense. Among them, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking member of the armed services committee, which will hold the confirmation hearings.
The senator is joining us now from Arizona. Senator McCain, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's get to Chuck Hagel, first of all. You released a pretty strong statement. Among other things, you wrote this: "I have serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a range of national security issues in recent years, which we will fully consider in the course of his confirmation process."
So you get a chance to question him. What's your biggest concern? MCCAIN: Well, my biggest concern is his overall attitude about the United States, our role in the world, particularly in the Middle East and whether we should reduce the Pentagon further, but mainly, his general overall world view.
Chuck Hagel and I are friends. I appreciate and honor his service in the Vietnam conflict, and we have worked together on a number of issues. I've noticed over the years that our views on the United States of America and what we should be doing in the world has diverged rather dramatically, and I guess the best example of that is the surge in Iraq.
We both knew that we were losing the war in Iraq. Lindsey Graham and I and Joe Lieberman and others said we need a surge, and -- and the president somewhat reluctantly adopted that -- the surge, and it succeeded. Now, what the president did afterwards is another discussion.
But Chuck Hagel, at the time, made a rather unusual statement, at least to me, and said that the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, and then, somehow, in his statement if the foreign relations committee, compared it to the invasion of Cambodia. Now, that -- that, to me is -- and I've never heard him contradict that statement or change his position about the surge.
We lost over 2,000 young Americans in Iraq, and we could have succeeded there. As you noticed, it's unraveling now, because the president decided to get out without a residual force. But the surge did succeed, and Senator Hagel, obviously, said it couldn't, and he called it the biggest blunder since the Vietnam War. That is a really -- a gross misconception of America's roles there and in the world.
BLITZER: And in defense of the president, he got out because the Iraqi government wouldn't allow U.S. troops to remain there after withdrawal, to have immunity from Iraqi prosecution. And he said, "We're not leaving troops there if they're going to be potentially arrested by the Iraqis," Senator.
MCCAIN: Wolf, now, you know, that's one of the great myths perpetrated by the Obama administration. Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman and I were there. They were ready to deal. They would not tell the Iraqis how many troops they wanted there. They could have stayed. They cut it way, way back down to around 3,000 troops, where they couldn't have been protected, and the Iraqis said, no deal.
But it was because the president wanted out. He never gave them a chance to accept a reasonable number. And it is a huge failure, and we are paying a very heavy price for it.
Don't believe that about what the Iraqis said. I was there. I was there and looked Maliki in the eye, and he said," How many troops do you want? I will agree."
And he turned our ambassador and General Austin. They said, "We're still working on it." I came back and asked Mr. Donilon, the national security adviser, "How many?" And she -- he would not give a number. They wanted out; they got out. Now we're paying a very heavy price for it.
BOLDUAN: And back to Chuck Hagel, Senator, take a look back, he and you did seem pretty good friends. I want you to listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: My fellow Americans, I introduce you to a great Republican, a great American leader, my friend, John McCain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: That was from the 2000 national Republican convention. And then in 2006, you're quoted as telling "New York Times," "I'd be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity. He'd make a great secretary of state."
So Senator McCain, what happened to the friendship?
MCCAIN: The friendship, I hope, is still there. I mean, just our views began to diverge rather dramatically about the role of the United States in the world, as I just explained. Not only as far as Iraq was concerned; Iran, sanctions on Iran, which he voted against, blocked in one set of sanctions. Basically took a view of the Iranian threat, which I don't think has been justified by events that followed. And several other areas on -- in national security policy.
I respect, admire, and call him a friend, but I have very serious questions about whether -- whether he will serve in the way that I think serve America's best national interests, but I want to have the hearings. I'd like to hear him make his case, and I will reserve judgment.
BLITZER: You also have serious questions about John Brennan to become the next director of the CIA. In the statement you released on his nomination, you say, "I have many questions and concerns about his nomination to be director of the CIA, especially what role he played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programs, while serving at the CIA during the last administration."
What do you think? Are you going to be -- what are you going to ask him about that? He seems to have answered a lot of those questions already.
MCCAIN: Well, I've never heard anyone say that at the time, they heard Mr. Brennan object to the waterboarding and the other techniques, which were in violation of the Geneva conventions, which the United States is a signatory to.
Second of all, there are some instance that took place on his watch which have still not fully been investigated. And I also believe that there's also serious questions about the information that Mr. Brennan gave from the White House after the bin Laden raid, such as the identification of SEAL Team 6, a story about how they believed that bin Laden had reached for a gun or -- a number of statements that he made.
So there was supposed to be an investigation of the leaks concerning the bin Laden raid, and is he still subject to that investigation? Is that -- that investigation is still going on, as far as I know.
BOLDUAN: And your friend, Senator Lindsey Graham, came out today, basically in a statement, threatening to put a hold on Brennan's nomination until he gets better answers or more satisfactory answers on the attack in Benghazi. Specifically, Susan Rice's talking points, when she went on the Sunday morning talk shows.
Do you stand with Senator Graham on that? Do you think that his nomination should be held?
MCCAIN: Well, I'm not sure about that, but I do believe that it should be of great interest to the American people, that we still haven't gotten an accurate depiction of how the talking points in a classified fashion then went to an unclassified talking points, which took out the words "terrorist," "al Qaeda," any reference of that and to a terrorist attack and completely changed the impression that people got concerning the narrative of what happened when we lost four brave Americans.
So I think Lindsey's point is very well made. We still haven't found out these many months later, who changed the talking points and why? I think that's a legitimate question.
BLITZER: One final question, Senator, before we let you go. North Korea. You tweeted this yesterday. It jumped out at me. You're talking about Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., former New Mexico governor; Eric Schmidt, the Google chairman. You said, "Richardson and Schmidt arrive in North Korea today. Lenin used to call them, quote, 'useful idiots'."
All right, explain.
MCCAIN: Well, you know, he would have people over to the Soviet Union, and they'd take them on the tour, you know, of the model farm and all of that, and they would -- people would come back and say, "Gee, it's wonderful." What was "The New York times" guy -- you'd probably remember, Wolf -- that said, "I've seen the revolution in the future, and it's there in Russia." And they were all fooled.
Now, you know, the North Koreans just launched a missile that could have the potential, if they develop a nuclear weapon of the right size, that could hit the United States of America. There are 250,000 people in their gulag. Do you think that -- that the North Koreans are going to take Governor Richardson and Mr. Schmidt to see one of those gulags? I don't think so.
And so what this does, it provides a propaganda kind of success for this young four-star general, with his people: "See, the Americans have come to see us."
And finally, how many trips has Mr. Richardson taken to North Korea, and what have been the results of it?
BLITZER: Well, I actually went with him two years ago. I covered that trip, and there seemed to have been an immediate effort -- it was a very tense time, in the aftermath of that trip, a little easing of the military tensions between North and South Korea. The North Koreans have just destroyed a South Korean ship. There is a potential for fighting, and it seemed to ease a little bit as a result of that trip.
He's also trying to bring home an American citizen, who's being held captive in North Korea right now. So hopefully, he'll achieve something on that trip, but you obviously disagree.
MCCAIN: Look, Wolf, I think that it's important to recognize what a big propaganda thing this is for North Korean leaders, especially this young man who hasn't proven himself. They have just -- even our State Department has said that they did not think it was a good thing to do at this time.
And again, this is the most repressive, brutal regime on earth. Two hundred and fifty-thousand people are dying in the gulag. We just got a book from a guy that escaped from there. The most horrific conditions. Shouldn't we be condemning this kind of thing, rather than sending -- people going over there and providing them with some kind of propaganda?
To me, it's not appropriate. I think it's a job for our government and our State Department.
And again, I think that maybe it eased the tensions a little bit. You may have a point there. But did it deter the North Koreans from the path that they're on, which is to develop a missile which will hit the United States of America, and their continued transfer of this technology to countries like Iran and others?
BLITZER: Look, I don't disagree with you. It's a brutal regime, and we were really restricted in what we could see, obviously. They didn't show us any gulags -- gulags, to be sure.
I do think in defense of Richardson, he's going with his eyes wide open. He's not going to come back and be a propagandist, to be sure, for North Korea.
But you know what? We're out of time, Senator. We'll continue this. We'll hear what he says when he comes back, and hopefully, he'll say the right thing. I suspect he will. But we'll see.
Senator, as usual, thanks very much.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: Take a look at this. Winter thaw and relentless rain and a landslide sent a chunk of forest onto the road. This amateur video captures the moment a geologist says cracking could be heard repeatedly before it all slid down. Scary, scary stuff.
And also take a look at this. Whale watchers off of California got a rare view of what's being called a dolphin stampede. Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari posted the video. The dolphins could be seen frolicking, but suddenly they started swimming directly toward the boat. Beautiful but would be a little scary if it was coming right at me.
Still ahead, one man takes a precarious stand at the Jersey shore.
BLITZER: It's become an iconic image of Hurricane Sandy. Now a damaged roller coaster has a new feature. CNN's Jeanne Moos has more.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's a surfer and a climber, and above the surf he climbed to place a flag on the top of this roller coaster, partly submerged by Superstorm Sandy. Thirty- eight-year-old Chris Angelo took photos of himself and the flag, then sent them to News 12 New Jersey. He called into a local radio station's magic morning show.
CHRIS ANGELO, SURFER/CLIMBER: Today I decided to come up here and put a flag up. It looks so bare without a flag.
MOOS: Angelo paddled out in a canoe. Soon helicopters hovered, and police boats approached.
ANGELO: I have no weapons or nothing like that, if the police are going to get involved.
MOOS: The Star Jet roller coaster became a star, a monument to the destruction of the storm. It was visited by everyone from the vice president to New Jersey's governor. President Obama flew over it and now this.
(on camera) Angelo planned to stay on top of the coaster for a couple of days. He packed food, clothing, a wet suit and even a sleeping bag.
(voice-over) He had a little camera on his helmet. Officers tried to coax him down over his cell phone. According to the police chief of Seaside Heights...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think the kid's got a bad bone in his body. I just think he's a little misplaced.
MOOS: Angelo called the surf pier his backyard. His mom said he was motivated by...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A love for something gone and lost, I guess. And you know, he's displaced, as many others are. Tired of living hand to mouth.
MOOS: Within an hour or so, police coaxed him down. He was handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct. As they walked him ashore, his helmet with a camera got dunked. And when officers first tried to drive him away, the SUV kept getting stuck so they had to transfer Angelo to another vehicle.
(on camera) So what are you guys going to do about the flag up there? Leave it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's a United States flag, and we're going to take it down -- we're going to take it down eventually.
MOOS (voice-over): As for the roller coaster itself...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as the insurance company can drag it out of the water, we're going to get it out of there.
MOOS: Police got Angelo to a psychiatric exam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did it for the Marine Corps. The roller coaster needed a flag.
MOOS: A roller coaster that lately has had more downs than ups.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: That's it for us today. Thanks very much for watching. Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Here's what you need to do. You need to tweet @WolfBlitzer or...
BOLDUAN: You can tweet me, @KateBolduan.
BLITZER: Or you can tweet both of us, @WolfBlitzer, @KateBolduan, if that's what you'd like to do.
BOLDUAN: You can have a tweeting fest.
BLITZER: Follow us, we'll follow you. That's it. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.