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THE SITUATION ROOM
Chuck Hagel Under Fire; Senator Denies Hiring Prostitutes; Threat of Escalation in Middle East; Menendez Won't Step Down from Post; New Jersey Senate Race Closely Watched; Hagel Flounders in Senate Hearing; Oil Money Payout for Al Gore?; Bracing for Super Bowl Sibling Rivalry; Chinese Hackers Hit U.S. Newspapers
Aired January 31, 2013 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a very tough day for defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel. Is his nomination in serious trouble?
Also, an unfolding scandal involving a United States senator denying allegations of prostitution and free plane trips.
And "The New York Times" reveals it's been under attacks for months by hackers in China.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We were bracing for fireworks at today's confirmation hearing for defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, but it actually turned out to be even a lot tougher than many of us expected. Republicans grilled Hagel, raising serious questions about his past statements and positions, especially about Israel and Iran.
At times, Hagel seemed to struggle to answer some of those tough questions. At other times, he gave answers he later had to clarify.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
Jessica, it was a tough, tough day for Chuck Hagel?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So far, it has been, Wolf. Chuck was battered by Republicans, forcing some stumbles and bruising. So far, no knockout blow, but the day of questioning is not over yet.
YELLIN (voice-over): Former Senator Chuck Hagel sat at the table alone fielding intense, sometimes hostile questions from his former Senate colleagues, including one-time close friend John McCain.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I want to know if you were right or wrong. That's a direct question. I expect a direct answer.
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: Well, I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer.
YELLIN: That exchange centered on Hagel's past opposition to the Iraq surge, a surge Senator McCain championed.
In his opening remarks, Hagel tried to pivot away from controversy over his past statements.
HAGEL: No one individual vote, no one individual quote, no one individual statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record.
YELLIN: He insisted he will lead, not follow at the Pentagon and around the world.
HAGEL: We must use all our tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests. Americans must engage in the world, not retreat from the world.
YELLIN: For hours, one Republican after another accused the former two-term Nebraska senator of shading his true beliefs. Among their concerns, past statements criticizing Israel.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Do you think it's right that Israel was committing a -- quote -- "sickening slaughter," as you said on the floor of the Senate?
YELLIN: And complaining about intimidation by the pro-Israel lobby.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Name one person, in your opinion, who is intimidated by the Israel lobby in the United States Senate.
HAGEL: The use of intimidation -- I should have used influence.
YELLIN: More questions centered on this report he co-authored which supports the elimination of all nuclear weapons, even if the U.S. goes first. He said he doesn't agree with all its findings.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Why would you ever put your name on a report that is inherently inconsistent with what you're telling us today.
YELLIN: And, Wolf, the biggest flash point now has to do with Iran. At one point, the former senator says he supports the president's policy of containment, then later had to correct himself to say he meant the opposite, not containment.
Later, he stumbled over another basic premise of U.S. policy, saying that he believes Iran is a legitimate and elected government. It took a Democratic senator to follow up. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do not see Iran or the Iranian government a legitimate government and I would like your thoughts on that.
HAGEL: Thank you, Senator. What I meant to say, should have said, it's recognizable. It's been recognized, is recognized at the United Nations. Most of our allies have embassies there. That's what I should have said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Now, Democrats who are close to Senator Hagel call all of this a lot of gotcha questions, Wolf, and they think that he will still prevail, but as you can see, it's been some tough going and they are now back after a lunch break for even more questions -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica, is there any immediate reaction from the White House, from officials where you are right now to the first rounds of questioning, how Hagel is doing?
YELLIN: They have been very careful not to comment on the record, saying only here officially that they believe this is an important process. But again, what I'm saying is that people who are -- Democrats who are close to Senator Hagel believe this is a lot of gotcha and he will ultimately -- nothing that has happened so far today convinces them that he will not be confirmed at the end.
They still feel OK about this process -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much.
At one point this afternoon, the centrist Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia complained the Hagel confirmation had become, and I'm quoting him now, "a toxic process in" a city where there is -- once again quoting -- "guilt by conversation."
I'm joined by our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, up on Capitol Hill, our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
Gloria, it was a tough, tough day for Chuck Hagel and some people think he didn't necessarily help himself.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I think he didn't quell any of the skepticism about him and in talking to a couple of Republican senators on the Hill, I think the response that I got was that he seemed unsteady in many of his answers, even on the most predictable questions, as Jessica pointed out.
He was clearly going to get a question from John McCain on the Iraq surge. He didn't answer that to McCain's liking. And later, you know, on that issue of Iran, which we knew was going to be a flash point for him, he seemed to confuse the president's policy. Let's take a listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAGEL: I have just been handed a note that I misspoke and said I supported the president's position on containment. If I said that, it meant to say that -- obviously, his position on containment -- we don't have a position on containment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: Well, we do have a position on containment, as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, had to point out, and that is that we are opposed to containment. We are for the prevention of Iran getting nuclear weapons. So that was...
BLITZER: The president himself says there will be no containing a nuclear Iran. It will be preventing Iran from getting that nuclear capability.
BORGER: Basic question.
BLITZER: Let me bring Dana up from Capitol Hill.
Dana, what's been the reaction up there? You were watching these several hours of hearings.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They actually took a break for an hour and during that break, senators were on the floor voting and as senators like to do, they were gossiping a lot on the Senate floor.
I talked to many of them and what they were saying is that it was all the buzz on the floor, that they were very surprised that Senator Hagel, from their point of view, many people, Democrats and Republicans, is simply not doing as well as many people thought he would.
In fact, one senator told me that it is all the talk, I mean, all the talk that the senators are shocked about how ill-prepared he is on some of the most basic controversial comments that he made that he and everyone knew were going to be coming at him from the likes of Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others.
Even a Democrat who is on this committee who I spoke to who is supporting Hagel sort of shaking his head in disbelief saying he's surprised that he's not more forceful. And another undecided senator on this committee said that he had three different ways to answer the question on the surge, that he simply got into it on with John McCain.
So simply put, there is, as I said, disbelief, primarily not just because as Jessica reported he had three murder board to prepare for this, but because he has been on the other side of the dais. He knows how this works and so that's why there's a lot of people who were perplexed here. The obvious next question, Wolf, is what will that mean for his confirmation?
Because those senators gossiping on the floor, they hold his fate in their hands. The answer is unclear. There are still a number of undecided Republicans, most importantly, and if somebody actually does block this filibuster, five Republicans are going to have to join Democrats, assuming they all vote for him.
BLITZER: Gloria, what are you hearing? Because right now there are 55 Democrats, 45 Republicans. If there is a filibuster, you need 60 to break a filibuster. What are you hearing about that?
BORGER: Right. If they decide to filibuster, if one Republican senator decided to filibuster, one Republican senator said to me today, that would be a declaration of war on this president. And this senator said it's one thing to vote no. It's another thing to block a president's nomination.
If you look at the recent history, you see what happened with Susan Rice, who was forced to withdraw her nomination because of Republican opposition. The question that I have is would Republicans do that again? Does the president have a presumption that he gets his nominees, except in the most extreme circumstances?
If they did it once, would they try and do it again? Don't forget, they have to work with this president on an issue like immigration, for example. I think at this point, it's very hard to know.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, we will watch very closely. I was pretty surprised, I must say, watching Senator McCain grill Hagel, then Lindsey Graham grill Hagel, how tough they were on a former Republican colleague in the Senate. I knew there would be some tough questions. But it got pretty tough, even nasty.
BORGER: There were some Democrats asking tough questions, too, about Israel.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, Gloria, thanks very much.
We will have much more on this story coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're also following a scandal that may engulf a powerful Senate Democrat, New Jersey's Robert Menendez denying allegations that he dealt with prostitutes or took inappropriate free plane trips. We will have the latest on the investigation and the political fallout.
Later, one-time Vice President Al Gore right now on the spot.
BLITZER: An unfolding scandal involving an FBI investigation and a U.S. senator may have some huge political repercussions.
Today, both the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are sort of distancing themselves from Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta is following this story here in Washington. Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is following the investigation in New York.
Susan, let's go to you first. What's going on?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Menendez acknowledges taking three trips on the private jet of his friend, West Palm Beach, Florida, eye doctor Salomon Melgen, two for personal reasons in 2010 and one for business.
The senator's office says he paid back the doctor's corporation for the two personal trips to the tune of more than $58,000. That check was written a few weeks ago, more than two years after the trips took place and two months after an Ethics Committee complaint was submitted.
Why the delay? Menendez's office calls it a -- quote -- "oversight," but the story, Wolf, goes deeper than that.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): A Florida eye doctor and Menendez campaign contributor with whom the senator stayed is now under scrutiny by the FBI. Dr. Salomon Melgen's West Palm Beach, Florida, office was raided this week.
Medicare and Medicaid fraud investigators and FBI agents carried out several books of material. The FBI will only say it was conducting -- quote -- "law enforcement activity."
Melgen's attorney says in an e-mailed statement to CNN -- quote -- "The government has not informed Dr. Melgen what concerns it may have. We are confident that Dr. Melgen has acted appropriately at all times."
Menendez acknowledges in a statement that he's flown on Dr. Melgen's corporate jet, a 13-seater similar to this one. The doctor has a vacation home at a lush seaside resort called Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic.
Last fall, the Ethics Committee was sent this email complaint from a New Jersey Republican state senator asking for an investigation into those Caribbean trips. The complaint questions whether Menendez violated the ethics code by, quote, "Repeatedly flying on a private jet to the Dominican Republic and other locations and soliciting prostitution."
Last April, a Washington, D.C. watchdog group received an allegation that Senator Menendez was partying with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. After being unable to substantiate the claims, the group referred allegation to the FBI.
More recently, a conservative blog, "The Daily Caller", published links to videos of alleged prostitutes making claims against Senator Menendez. It also shows e-mails that suggest the FBI is investigating, but the FBI isn't commenting.
The senator says, quote, "Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog and are false."
BLITZER: Susan, what else do we know about this relationship between Senator Menendez and Dr. Melgen?
CANDIOTTI: Well, Wolf, Senator Menendez issued a statement calling the doctor a friend and a political supporter. Federal Election Commission documents show Melgen and his family have contributed more than $30,000 to Senator Menendez alone. His office says the senator is under no obligation to publicly disclose reimbursements or, frankly, details of those two personal trips to the Dominican Republic.
BLITZER: All right. Susan Candiotti, investigation for us -- thanks very much.
Let's consider the political fallout right now of this Menendez story. Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I know you were trying to catch up with Senator Menendez today. Did you find him?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He showed up a couple of times on the Senate floor today, Wolf. But he was very difficult to track down. It appears he did not show up for a policy lunch with Vice President Biden earlier this afternoon. He appears to be keeping a low profile these days and that's about it, just those two appearances on the Senate floor.
But the political fallout of these allegations swirling around Senator Menendez is unclear at this point. It does appear that both ends of Pennsylvania, at least for the moment, are backing away from the man who is now the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cautioned reporters to be wary of the Menendez story because of the source of where these allegations came from.
However, that was before a Menendez spokesperson confirmed late last night that the New Jersey senator had reimbursed Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, $58,000 for those charter flights down to the Dominican Republic back in 2010. I asked Senator Reid if he knew about those reimbursements and here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: First of all, Bob Menendez is my friend. He's an outstanding senator. He's now the new chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Any questions in this regard directing him, I don't know anything about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And so, that's all he had to say there. CNN has learned, though, that Senator Reid was aware of those reimbursements when he made that statement to reporters on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, another top Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, also had little to say about these allegations when asked about the impact they might have on immigration reform, as Menendez is part of that so- called gang of eight that's been working on the issue.
Over at the White House, Wolf, there is also no comment. The press secretary Jay Carney was pressed a couple of times on this, did not have a comment on it. Obviously, all of this stems from a story published in the conservative blog, "The Daily Caller".
But, Wolf, I had a chance to talk with folks at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. They learned about this -- before that story was published in "The Daily Caller", they learned about these allegations last July, turned them over to the FBI.
I talked to the director of CREW earlier this afternoon. We'll have more on that at 6:00. She does believe that it's possible that Senator Menendez violated Senate ethics rules by taking these trips and making these reimbursements so late in the day two years after he took those flights might suggest that he knew that he violated those ethics rules but didn't want to basically fess up to them.
But at the same time, she cautions that you have to be careful about these allegations because they first came out in "The Daily Caller" in November just before the election last fall when Senator Menendez was up for re-election. As you know, Wolf, he was re-elected.
BLITZER: Yes, he was. All right. We'll look forward to your report at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jim Acosta, thank you.
As politicians seek to end school shootings, we have to absorb a new incident, this time at a middle school in Atlanta. That's straight ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Senate has just followed the House of Representatives in its past legislation extending the nation's debt ceiling, this time at least until May 19th. But for practical purposes, probably a few months longer than that. The vote in the Senate, 64-34. The bill passed the House last week. It now goes to the president. He will sign it into law.
So, there will be an increase in the nation's debt limit, at least for the next few months. They'll battle over this later down the road.
Other news we're following, three stories involving high-profile shootings at a time when the nation is struggling with the issue of guns.
Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Lisa, what's the latest?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at least one person has been shot at a middle school in Atlanta. Police say the victim was conscious and breathing when they were taken to a local hospital. The suspected gunman is believed to be a student and is in custody. Police outside of Dallas are investigating the shooting of a prosecutor. Kaufman County assistant district attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down this morning outside the county courthouse. Police aren't sure whether Hasse was targeted or not.
And in Mesa, Arizona, police have found the body of the man sought for a fatal shooting Wednesday in Phoenix. Arthur Harmon appears to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
And at least two people were killed in a massive pile-up in Detroit. A chain reaction accident unfolded this morning on the Rouge River Bridge. Police salted that bridge, but officials say the salt doesn't always work when it's windy. At least 15 people were hurt in the accident. It was snowing at the time of the crash but officials say that it was a typical winter morning.
And in other news, David Beckham is moving back to Paris, signing with the soccer club in the French capital. The former L.A. Galaxy star says he will donate his wages to a Paris children's charity. He spent six years in the U.S. winning two titles while playing major league soccer. His new club is trying to win its French league title in almost 20 years.
And I've got to admit, every time I hear his name, I still think of that movie, "Bend It Like Beckham".
BLITZER: Good movie. Thank you. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.
Safe to say, New Jersey's Senate race could be the most watched in the country in 2014. Now a famous television personality actually could join the race. Here's a clue: Geraldo.
And Al Gore rebounded from his presidential disappointment as a climate change evangelist, then sold his biggest venture to a new station actually funded by oil money. Hypocrisy? I'll ask one of his closest former aides.
BLITZER: Israel is used to threats from Iran. But even so, the most recent warning is very, very troubling. It comes after an air strike by Israeli jets on Syria, one where no one quite agrees on what exactly happened.
Let's bring in CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us from Beirut right now.
Nick, there are clearly conflicting stories of what actually happened in that air strike. The U.S. is weighing in. What's going on? What's the latest that you're learning?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Israel is saying nothing about this. As you mentioned, a U.S. official is saying that they believe that a convoy moving from Syria into Lebanon, perhaps bound to Hezbollah, was carrying Russian-made SA-17 surface-to-air missiles, and that was what Israeli air strike hit late on Tuesday. Syrian state television offering a quite different version of events, saying that a scientific research facility, northwest of Damascus, Jamraya, was in fact hit. They are also suggesting it was under attack for some months by terrorists. Perhaps integrity compromised maybe that's why Israel attacked it, if you listen to the Syrian state version.
Not at all clear what happened, but with we still heard threats. Iran saying serious consequences for the city of Tel-Aviv, Hezbollah according to barbaric assault and Syria complaining to the United Nations, dragging in the U.N. representative to the area between Israel and Syria to express their anger and even saying they may have the capacity for some type of retaliation. People are waiting to see what happened -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this clearly would have an enormous potential in what is already a horrible, horrible situation if Iran and Syria, Hezbollah and Lebanon if they were to retaliate against Israel, that would dramatically escalate what is already going on.
WALSH: Certainly. Very dangerous to make a prediction in this part of the world and of course, everybody here given what is happening inside Syria, particularly Damascus on their back foot and perhaps prone to irrational responses. But as we're seeing at the moment, most observers think that an over retaliation is perhaps unlikely.
Of course, Syria, its military heavily stretched by this civil war particularly given how Israel now denying any real involvement, Hezbollah and a very delicate balance here. Of course their military allied to the Assad regime, but they have a very cautious political role to play here.
They don't want to lose popularity by getting into a lengthy military issue with the Israelis and, of course, Iran, its economy in dire issues too and certainly its leadership driven by division. Many not quite sure what they could do.
Concerns about perhaps some sort of covert retaliation, however that may play out, but people are waiting to see if this is vague and at times in the past 24 hours, if that means something else could possibly happen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut watching this very, very delicate situation unfold. Thank you.
The "New York Times" is not the only major U.S. newspaper that says it's been under attack by Chinese hackers. "The Wall Street Journal" says its computers were infiltrated as well.
BLITZER: Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta, you just saw him reporting on Senator Menendez of New Jersey. He just got a statement from the spokeswoman for the senator here in Washington saying that the New Jersey Democrat will stay on as chairman as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's been under ethical investigating reimbursing from some plane trips to Honduras. He has denied any wrongdoing saying it was simply a lapse. He has also denied any involvement with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. We'll have more on this story later.
But a spokeswoman for the senator saying the senator will stay on as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He will succeed John Kerry who is now going to be the next U.S. secretary of state.
Let's talk about what is going on in our "Strategy Session." Joining us is the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile and David Frum, the contributing editor at the "Daily Beast" and "Newsweek," both CNN contributors.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Big deal, little deal based on what we know about Senator Menendez? What do you think?
DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think a spokesman denied involvement with prostitutes or even underage prostitutes is the kind thing you want to have said about the chairman of the committee that deals with the world. It's a nervous making moment for him and let's hope he has some good answers. He better hope he has some good answers.
BLITZER: I assume you agree?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the timing, my God. I mean, he's about to take on a very important job as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But, you know, I know Bob Menendez. He's a man of incredible and impeccable character and I hope that he can get this behind him.
BLITZER: Were you watching the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings today?
FRUM: I was.
BLITZER: -- before the Senate Armed Services Committee. They were -- several Republicans, Senator McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, and others, they were pretty rough with him.
FRUM: Well, it's not so much what the senators that questioned him do that was the news, but what Senator Hagel did. I have to imagine a lot of people watching this hearing at the White House looking at each other saying, why did we think this was a good idea?
This man seems unprepared, he seems not very nimble. I mean, the most appalling moment, the most troubling moment was the one where he said, about that question of me talking to the Jewish lobby, I only said that on the record once. Raising the question, how many times did you say it off the record, maybe it slipped your mind?
He put in a poor performance. Now, the Democrats still have the votes, but the question about this hearing is, the intensity of Republican opposition. Do they feel that they can get away with what they need to filibuster him? To date the feeling has been, they will give him a vote, some number in the 40s, some number in the 50s, I think suddenly he a lot weaker today.
BLITZER: You know, he did rehearse a lot and we knew that for weeks he had been preparing. None of these questions, Donna, were surprised kind of questions. I'm sure he was bracing for all of them, but it looks like he wasn't really as well-prepared as David Frum said he should have been.
BRAZILE: I thought he was trying to be conciliatory, trying to get along and not upset the apple cart. He's somebody known as a maverick when he was in the United States Senate. I think Republicans are making a lot to do about nothing.
To challenge him as Senator McCain did today on whether or not he was wrong or right about the surge, come on. Why don't you challenge him about what we're going to do about Tunisia and Syria and Libya and keeping America's military strong? I thought it was a lot of nonsense.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, a very popular governor up for re-election, a Republican. George Will quotes, let me read from a column in the "Washington Post," the columnist.
The presidency is the most personal vote people cast. He's quoting Christie. Candidates matter. He calls the GOP's decision to lengthen the nominating process the stupidest thing the Republican Party ever did. You wind up with a good candidate who's damaged. Do you agree with Christie?
FRUM: I think all of the parties would do better with -- took less money and took less time and gave fewer veto points to small groups and more opportunity to be heard within the parties.
BRAZILE: Our democracy is already under attack. These super pacs and in some cases delegates, we should get all 50 states other territories the opportunity to meet the candidates and to size them up and vote on them. I disagree that we should have a shortened process.
BLITZER: You were a campaign manager for Al Gore. You came very close. Al Gore recently made $100 million selling his Current TV -- $500 million sale. He got $100 million out of it to Al Jazeera, which is owned by the government of Qatar. Listen to this exchange he had on the "Daily Show" with Jon Stewart last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can mogul Al Gore who has Current TV and sells it to Qatar, which is an oil-based economy, can mogul Al Gore co-exist with activist Al Gore?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is not sustainable about it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A non-fossil fuel-based buyer.
AL GORE, AUTHOR, "THE FUTURE": Look, they have the highest quality, most extensive best climate coverage of any network in the world. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He was defending Al Jazeera, which bought his Current TV. In his book, he was blasting the other major U.S. networks getting this big money from oil, carbon-based companies. But Al Jazeera is owned by Qatar, which gets most of its money from oil and carbon-based products. Is he being hypocritical?
BRAZILE: Look, I understand the criticism. This is the transaction between two media companies. Al Gore as one of the investors, of course, had to weigh the decision very strongly, but I don't think he's being hypocritical. He's one of, I guess, a lot of investors in Current TV.
BLITZER: He's defending Al Jazeera saying it's a great incredible qualitative news organization. I thought the people are suggesting that's being hypocritical, given where Al Jazeera is giving most of its money.
FRUM: I think the most interesting was Matt Lauer on the "Today" show and Al Gore kept saying, I hear what you're saying, but I disagree. I recommend this to everybody with an impossible PR situation. Senator Menendez, this could be his answer. I hear what you're saying, but the allegations of the underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, I disagree.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about that Republican -- the potential of a Republican candidate in New Jersey challenging Frank Lautenberg, the incumbent Democratic senator in New Jersey or Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark who is thinking of running against Lautenberg if Lautenberg decides to run. Geraldo Rivera all of a sudden saying he is thinking of running as a Republican against one of those Democrats. Listen to this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALDO RIVERA, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I have been in touch with some people in the Republican Party in New Jersey. I am truly contemplating running for Senate against Frank Lautenberg or Cory Booker in New Jersey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, give me your reaction.
FRUM: It's a great country. Anybody can aspire to be anything, apparently. There has -- when you have weak parties that they become very bold and make their careers in non-political ways, this is just one more example of this.
We've seen this in a lot of other weak parties. This is a real call that we need stronger Republicans, Republican Party in the northeast that can begin with people who succeed at the county level and town level and make their way through the political process.
BLITZER: What do you think? BRAZILE: I welcome, I mean, more the better. If Booker chooses to be a candidate, Frank Lautenberg, who is a wonderful United States senator, I think they could beat Geraldo any day, with or without my help.
BLITZER: I've known Geraldo for a long time. He could be a formidable candidate. Let's see if he decides to do it. If he does it, let's say Lautenberg retires or decides to stay in, a contest between Lautenberg and Cory Booker. Lautenberg is getting close to 90 years old, but he's very smart, very popular so is Cory Booker, but that could be quite an interesting matchup if it happens.
BRAZILE: Geraldo has name recognition.
BLITZER: I would say he has pretty good name recognition.
BRAZILE: And maybe deep pockets too.
BLITZER: Let's see. We're getting new information about major U.S. companies targeted by Chinese hackers. We have details on two big ones. That's coming up.
Also, there's been a lot of focus on changes at CNN. That's right, at CNN recently. Now Dave Letterman adds his own suggestions. You're going to want to see the top ten.
BLITZER: They are all bracing for serious sibling rivalry at the Super Bowl. Only three days from now between their two sons, one the coach of the San Francisco 49ers and the other coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Here is CNN's John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Wolf, it is brother against brother this Sunday. What everyone is calling the Har-bowl. Obviously nothing like this has ever happened before the Super Bowl so how will it turn out for them? Well, maybe there are some lessons. We decided to look back at pretty much all of the famous brothers in history.
BERMAN (voice-over): One night, one game, one name, coach, coach, Jim, John Harbaugh, Harbaugh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had a few fights, a few arguments, just like all brothers.
BERMAN: Like first brothers, meet Cain, meet Abel, see Cain, kill Abel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justice is a team sport.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does that mean?
BERMAN: It means sports, football brothers, football brothers, hoops brothers, winkle brothers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm 6'5", 220, and there's two of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does that mean?
BERMAN: It means jokes, Morris brothers, Stooge brothers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does that mean?
BERMAN: It means power. Emanuel brothers, Castro brothers, Castro brothers, Bush brothers, Kennedy brothers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be remembered simply as a good and decent man. We saw wrong and tried to right it. Saw suffering and tried to heal it.
BERMAN: It means genius, story brothers, flight brothers, circus brothers, blues brothers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you the police?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, ma'am. We're musicians.
BERMAN: Someone say, musicians, Jackson brothers, Gibb brothers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had a few fights. We've had a few arguments just like all brothers.
BERMAN: Like Romans brothers. Crime brothers, Car brothers, Champ brothers, Dr. Joyce brothers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a blessing and a curse.
BERMAN: Jim, john, Coach, Coach, Harbaugh, Harbaugh. After the big game, will they be good brothers, bad brothers? They won't be step brothers. No, no matter what happens, Jim and John will always be super brothers.
BERMAN: Jim Harbaugh has said it's too bad the brother theme is taking away the attention from the players. Still how could they possibly avoid it. The brothers who are so close in age will hold a news conference in New Orleans on Friday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: John Berman, thank you, that terrific, terrific brotherly report. John Berman, excellent reporting. CNN's special coverage of Super Bowl XLVII kicks off this Saturday in New Orleans 4 p.m. Eastern. We're breaking down the big event, what it means for the city and a lot more only here on CNN.
BLITZER: Between 40 and 50 cars and semis piled up on Interstate 70 outside Indianapolis closing the highways in both directions. CNN affiliate WISH reports at least seven people are injured, some of them seriously, all are expected to survive. Meteorologists in the area say it was snowing when the first crash happened, but about 20 semis are just piled up. As you can imagine, the interstate is expected to be closed into the night.
BLITZER: Today both the "New York Times" and "Wall Street Journal" reveal they've been under attack by hackers in China that's been linked to China's military. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York with the latest. What's going on?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, "The Wall Street Journal" just released a statement saying that the infiltration of computer networks related to coverage China is an ongoing issue. It says it just finished a complete overhaul of its systems to strengthen it network. The "New York Times" says the attacks were persistent and lasted four months with specific targets.
SNOW (voice-over): It's a story that hits home, the "New York Times" reporting on a cyber attack on its own computers. The attack coincided with an investigative piece the paper had done on china's prime minister, published in October. Security experts working with "The Times" quickly concluded the hackers were from China and that some of the techniques were ones they've seen used by China's military in the past.
NICOLE PERLROTH, "NEW YORK TIMES": This is very serious. This is a persistent, active -- increasingly active campaign that has targeted U.S. defense companies and media organizations and activist groups and Chinese dissidents.
SNOW: All employee passwords were stolen and used says "The Times" to gain access to personal computers of 53 employees. "The Time" says hackers were looking for sources in the investigative story, but the paper says the information for the article was based on public records and the paper believes the hackers entered through a spear fishing attack.
PERLROTH: All it takes is one e-mail, one cleverly worded employee, set to an employee or sometimes their boss or payroll intended them to click on a malicious link or open an attachment and once you click on that link, they are inside our network.
SNOW: Security company hired by the "New York Times" to secure its systems, they say it's all too common. It identifies the hackers as APT 12, advanced, persistent threat.
KEVIN MANDIA, CEO, MANDIANT: Compromising universities at mom and pop shops, I call them, small organizations without a big cyber security program and those computers are being used as the beach head to hack blue chip American companies.
SNOW: He says companies are coming under constant attack, but they just don't talk about it. China foreign ministry is denying any involvement with a spokesman saying all such alleged attacks are groundless, irresponsible accusations lacking solid proof or reliable research results. As news broke of the hacking, Chinese television sensors black out CNN's reporting of the story.
SNOW: Now the "New York Times" says it has secured its systems, but the security firm they hired says the probability of being attacked more than once by the same group is very high -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So where do we go from here, Mary? What are you hearing from experts? What are they saying?
SNOW: What they are saying, you know, just the fact that people are being educated about this is a big help, that while companies are constantly trying to secure their networks, they say often employees knowing what to look for in those phishing schemes that we're talking about is really crucial.
As the reporter noted from the "New York Times," all it takes is one employee clicking on a link and that exposes the network to all this kind of software that infiltrates the system.
So they are hoping that he had education will really help but this is a constant threat and the security spokesperson we spoke to is that companies are constantly coming under attack, but they haven't gone public with it.
BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York, thanks very much.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a latest threat reported from a Jihadist group. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Mike Rogers, is standing by live this hour.
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We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.