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Cruise Ship Fire; John McCain Visits Syria; Controversial Figures Get Government Paychecks; Dole: Close GOP 'For Repairs'; Brooklyn Bridge Shut Down

Aired May 27, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I will talk to a Syrian official who helped plan that trip.

And anti-Muslim anger surges after the crew gruesome meat cleaver attack on a British soldier. Are there similarities to the Boston bombing?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our guests from the United States and around the world.


Up first this hour: scary images of a scorched cruise ship after a fire forced thousands of passengers to rush on deck for their safety. One person described panic on board with people crying and fainting. The National Transportation Safety Board is joining the investigation into the fire. It's the latest in a string of dangerous problems plaguing cruise lines.

CNN's Erin McPike is in Baltimore, where the Royal Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas began.

What do we know, Erin?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Royal Caribbean canceled the remainder of the cruise this afternoon and all of the passengers will return to Baltimore tomorrow, but it was still a long and hectic morning for more than 2,000 vacationers.


MCPIKE (voice-over): The entire back end of a massive ship scorched. More than 2,200 passengers aboard a Bahamas-bound cruise were roused by a terrifying wakeup call overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The emergency lifeboats have been lowered (INAUDIBLE) and our life jackets. This is not a drill, not a joke. Everyone's freaking out.

MCPIKE: For the third time this year, mechanical problems caused a major cruise ship to upend a Caribbean vacation for thousands of passengers. This time, it was a fire aboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas.

Passenger Katie Coleman (ph) told CNN:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was honestly the most terrifying thing in my life.

MCPIKE: In February, it was an engine room fire on the Carnival triumph, shutting down power and the ship's sewage system for days. One month later, Carnival's Dream lost power from a generator failure while in port.

And now rival Royal Caribbean has its own set of problems. Royal Caribbean said in a statement: "At approximately 2:50 a.m., Grandeur of the Seas experienced a fire on the mooring area of deck three. The fire has since been extinguished. But, in an abundance of caution, the captain deemed it necessary to muster all guests at their assembly stations."

All passengers were found and safe, but some took to message board of Cruise Critic and complained there was fainting and vomiting as they waited for hours. The Grandeur of the Seas was just renovated last year. This morning, it was rerouted to Freeport for evaluation and Royal Caribbean's CEO, Adam Goldstein, is already surveying the damage. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard will investigate.


MCPIKE: And this afternoon in a statement, Royal Caribbean said that they are deeply sorry for the unexpected development and they understand that it was probably a very stressful time for their guests, Wolf.

BLITZER: Will the passengers, Erin, get their money back?

MCPIKE: They will, Wolf. They will get a full refund and they will also get a voucher for another cruise to go on in the future.

BLITZER: Erin McPike in Baltimore for us watching this they, thank you.

Another scare for travelers this holiday weekend. Alaska Airlines says a passenger tried to open a plane's emergency door in flight this morning.

CNN's Brian Todd is watching this story for us.

What do we know here, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, pretty scary incident aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 132. This was from Anchorage, Alaska, to Portland, Oregon, early this morning, about 5:20 a.m. Pacific time, 8:20 Eastern time.

It's about 10 minutes before the flight was scheduled to land. A passenger seated in row 17 tried to open the emergency door of the flight. Passengers and crew then restrained him. Nobody was hurt. The flight landed safely. A federal official says that this passenger has been detained and charged with interfering with a flight crew.

According to the FBI, the FBI identifies him as 23-year-old Alexander Michael Herrera. Again, he is detained in Portland tonight, charged with interfering with a flight crew. He is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate in Portland on Tuesday, Wolf.

BLITZER: Was the passenger, Brian, exhibiting any unusual behavior before he tried to open that door?

TODD: Well, according to the FBI, Wolf, it seems that he was. An FBI spokeswoman said that he was heard making what she termed unusual statements in the moments before this incident, but she did not characterize the nature of those statements. Hopefully, we will get some more information on that in the coming days.

BLITZER: Brian Todd over at Reagan National Airport here in Washington, Brian, thanks very much.

All right, this just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. Take a look at this. These are live pictures you're seeing courtesy of our affiliate there, WABC in New York. An unattended suspicious vehicle in the right lane of the Manhattan-bound lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge mid-span has shut down all traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, this according to an NYPD spokesman.

You're looking at pictures. Now we will get a wide shot. You can see the traffic is really shut down on the Brooklyn Bridge because this unattended vehicle has clearly -- unattended vehicle is right in the middle of the bridge. You can see cars being diverted from going on to the Brooklyn Bridge, which, obviously, connects Manhattan to the borough of Brooklyn, a very, very busy time in New York, culminating the end of this Memorial Day weekend.

A lot of people want to get between Brooklyn and Manhattan now, but this is going to delay a lot as they try to figure out what this vehicle is all about. Why is an unattended vehicle right in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge? And then you can see these chopper pictures coming in.

From -- you can, obviously, see the chopper trying to get a better shot of that vehicle. There it is, right there. Is that the vehicle? No, those are police vehicles that are monitoring what's going on. They want to, obviously, deal with this information. There it is. That looks like that unattended vehicle right there. I assume that's the unattended vehicle. The police are trying to investigate what it is, want to make sure there's nothing suspicious or untoward.

Why would anyone drive vehicle on to the Brooklyn Bridge and leave it there unattended? What's going on? Obviously causing some serious traffic delays between Brooklyn and Manhattan. We will continue to update what's going on. As soon as we get more information on this developing story out of New York, we will share it with you, but an unattended and what's described as suspicious vehicle in the right lane of the Manhattan-bound lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge shutting down all traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, at least for now. Stand by. We will get more information, let you know what we know. Meanwhile, other news we're following, including a significant new development in Syria's civil war. Senator John McCain visited Syria today and met with rebel forces. The Arizona Republican is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria since the war began more than two years ago.

Joining us now on the phone, one of the people who planned Senator McCain's trip. He's Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force. He's joining us.

I believe you're in Turkey, Mr. Moustafa, is that right?

MOUAZ MOUSTAFA, SYRIAN EMERGENCY TASK FORCE: Yes, sir, on the border with Syria.

BLITZER: On the border with Syria. All right, tell us how this came about. You helped plan Senator McCain's trip inside Syria. What happened?

MOUSTAFA: Well, it was actually a very interesting trip. He came. The senator met with a total of about 18 commanders from the Free Syria Army under the supreme commander, General Idris.

He had two meetings (INAUDIBLE) The first meeting included 10 commanders. The second meeting was four, and the third meeting, which was inside Syrian territory, had five commanders, all of which were attended by the General Idris, the supreme commander of the Free Syria Army.

BLITZER: So, how many hours was Senator McCain inside Syria proper?

MOUSTAFA: About an hour.

BLITZER: About one hour. Was there any -- ever any danger to the start?

MOUSTAFA: No, actually, not at all.

And I think it's testament to the Free Syria Army, which with very limited weapons and capabilities has been able to secure and liberate large swathes of area in the north. The senator did not go too far deep in Syria. It was less than one kilometer in. And the meeting, again, took about 45 minutes to an hour.

And then there was -- the Free Syria Army was incredibly cooperative. They didn't even stop the convoy. They let us come back to the door for the room where the meeting took place. And it was incredibly productive.

BLITZER: What was the senator's message to the Free Syrian Army?

MOUSTAFA: The senator, first of all, I think, wanted to assure the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army that the people of the United States in general support their strive for freedom, support their revolution, which for seven and eight -- or eight months was completely peaceful, and they were forced into taking up arms to defend against the Assad regime's massacres that were occurring against innocent people.

He also discussed with them a few major issues. One was his concern about the increasing numbers of Hezbollah fighters that have been entering Syria and taking part in aiding Assad and oppressing its people, also, the Revolutionary Guard from Iran that are also operating and taking part in combat operations inside of Syria.

He also discussed briefly the use of chemical weapons, as well as what were the needs of the Free Syria Army. He also discussed the aspects of extremism that may have sort of popped up in certain parts of Syria and to what extent that was and what ways we could take to be able to marginalize any extremist groups that may have entered due to the lack of international intervention or aid.

BLITZER: What was the main message to Senator McCain from the Free Syrian Army, the rebels who are opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad?

MOUSTAFA: The Free Syrian Army really wanted to -- first of all, were incredibly appreciative.

Some of these commanders came from places as far away as Homs, Qusayr, Aleppo, Idlib, and other provinces all over Syria just to meet the senator. And we were helping coordinate them coming out.

And what they wanted to say is, first of all, thank you very much for taking the time and for coming to see them. One major thing that they realize is that many in the West, in the United States, specifically, are afraid to arm the rebels, because they don't know who they are or they're afraid that the weapons would fall in the wrong hands, and their message was that they are confident that if the weapons are given to General Idris and the Supreme Military Council, that it would not fall in the wrong hands.

They also assured him that even serial numbers for weapons would be written down and personal guarantees that such weapons would be returned once Assad is deposed, but also that if the United States does not act and take greater leadership in supporting the rebels in a more serious manner, that the threats of increased extremism in the country will be realized and that the disintegration of Syrian institutions and the country as we know it and the spillover all the over the region would greatly increase.

So, their main message was that we are desperate for ammunition, we are desperate for weapons through a hierarchy of a Free Syria Army that is willing to be under civilian command, that is merely defending their people and wanting to insure that their greatest fear, more than anybody else, is extremism, and that they want to fight against Hezbollah, Iran, and all these other countries that are intervening.

And, finally, they wanted to mention that the president had mentioned the red line on different issues, including the chemical weapons. And they had provided, they said, to the State Department previously evidence of the use of chemical weapons. And yet when these red lines are placed, it's more of a green light for Bashar Assad to continue to ferociously attack his people. And that was the main message, to go back to the United States, to go back to Congress and ask for true help.

BLITZER: Mouaz Moustafa, hold on for a minute, because there's a developing story that's just coming in and I want to get your quick reaction. Hold on for one second.

All right, this just coming in. The European Union has now agreed, yes, agreed, to lift its embargo on arming the Syrian rebels. Diplomats in The Hague, they say there's no immediate decision by European governments for any delivery of weapons for the rebels. Other sanctions, they say, remain in place.

Mouaz, Mouaz Moustafa, your quick reaction to the E.U. decision?

MOUSTAFA: We really welcome this decision.

This is something that I believe the French and the British and meetings with the French ambassador, Eric Chevallier, and the British ambassador, envoy to Syria, John Wilkes, they have both been adamant about pushing the European Union to lift the arms embargo.

Now, as you say, this is not a decision to arm the Free Syria Army, but it is a very welcome development, just as the visit of Senator McCain is a very welcome development. And we hope that this will result in aiding and ammunition and weapons for the Free Syria Army to be able to defend Assad regime before we -- before it's too late, before we lose the country.

BLITZER: Mouaz Moustafa from the Syrian Emergency Task Force, thanks so much for joining us. We will stay in close touch with you.

MOUSTAFA: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Up next, are there similarities between the bloody attack on a British soldier in London and the Boston Marathon bombing?

And who's behind a deadly new wave of bombings in Iraq?


BLITZER: Take a look at this, not something you see every day, empty, the Brooklyn Bridge empty right now. They have shut off traffic in both directions between Brooklyn and Manhattan after an unattended suspicious vehicle in the right lane of the Manhattan-bound lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge was discovered, unattended suspicious vehicle. That's what an NYPD spokesman is describing that vehicle.

You see one of the police vans now heading, trucks heading towards that area, but they have diverted all traffic going on the Brooklyn Bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn right now. These are pictures coming in from our affiliate WABC.

We're trying to get more information, checking with NYPD, checking with other sources as well, but this at the end of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, nothing on that Brooklyn Bridge except maybe a few police vehicles and an unattended, suspicious looking vehicle in the middle of the bridge. Maybe that's that vehicle right there where you see on the upper part of the screen. Well, maybe not.

In any case, we're watching the Brooklyn Bridge. We will update you on what we know, if this is a serious issue. Right now, it's still pretty serious for all the people who wanted to go between Brooklyn and Manhattan right now at a minimum. We will let you know if we get some more information, let you know what we know about what's going on, on the Brooklyn Bridge right now.

Meantime, another arrest today in connection with that bloody hacking death of a British soldier in London. A 50-year-old man was taken into custody in southeastern England on suspicion of conspiracy to murder. The gruesome attack with a meat cleaver is raising a lot of questions about global efforts to track Muslim extremists.

And Paul Cruickshank, our CNN terrorism analyst, is joining us now from London.

Paul, we're learning that back in 2010, Kenyan authorities arrested one of the suspects in last week's murder on suspicion of links to Somalia's Al-Shabab terrorist group. Here's the question. How similar is this plot, potentially, to what happened here in the United States in Boston?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there are, indeed, similarities with the Boston plot.

You will recall with the Boston plot, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the bombers, tried to travel to Dagestan in 2012 and actually failed to connect with jihadist groups there, so he decided to come back to the United States and launch an attack there. And now we're learning with this plot in the U.K., one of the killers tried to join Al-Shabab in Somalia, but was arrested in Kenya on the way there in 2010 and after that, subsequently, then launched this murder here in the United Kingdom.

So, similarities in both cases, and I think one of the reasons why we're seeing more Lone Wolf cases is that it's become more difficult for Islamic militants in the West to connect with jihadist groups overseas because of drone strikes, because of counterterrorism operations, and so on.

BLITZER: Paul, just yesterday, the British Prime Minister David Cameron's office announced they are forming a task force that will examine what they call the dynamics behind these extremist groups in the country. You have been talking to some Muslim community groups in Britain. What are they saying to you?

CRUICKSHANK: I have indeed, and what they are saying to me, and these are groups which are really on the cutting edge of de- radicalization -- number one, give us the tools necessary. Empower us to take on this violent ideology on Britain streets. We need more resources to do that, they are telling me, Wolf. And, number two, find every way possible to actually shut down some of these extremist preachers who are peddling al Qaeda's ideology on the streets of the U.K. And in this case, Michael Adebolajo, one of the alleged killers, he was actually a follower of one of those pro-al Qaeda groupings in the U.K. for more than a decade.

So, they are saying, you need to find ways to shut these extremist preachers down. They're also saying that more needs to be done to combat violent extremism, online magazines, like "Inspire," which are putting out this message for people to launch attacks like back in the West, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, as you know, the backlash seems to be growing in Britain. The anti-Muslim Group what is called the English Defense League has been launching protests in different parts of the country in the wake of the murder, so how big of a problem is Islamophobia after these attacks? I suspect there's a delicate situation in the country right now.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, there's real, real concern about some of these rallies, the violence against the Muslim community.

Everybody's worst nightmare is a sort of vicious cycle of violence with these extremist groups on the Islamist side, but also the far-right nationalist side feeding off each other. That's really everybody's nightmare, and British authorities want to do everything possible for that not to be the case, Wolf.

BLITZER: Big picture, let's wrap it up with this question. What does this attack, this most recent murder on the streets of London tell us about the future of self-radicalization and al Qaeda's support in the West?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, I think it shows that lone wolf terrorism is here to stay. This is something that al Qaeda has been encouraging. It's under pressure from drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen, so it's telling its followers in the West, stay home, don't come and travel to us. Stay home and launch attacks.

And these sorts of attacks much more difficult to stop, because it's just two or three or four people, sometimes even just one person just discussing amongst themselves, not having those overseas connections, so causing a lot of concern in the West, Wolf, but there's still, obviously, concern that al Qaeda affiliates like al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen may also be able to launch sort of larger scale attacks still as well. So, this threat is just coming from a lot of different fronts right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's seems to be growing. All right, Paul, thanks very Paul Cruickshank joining us from London.

Up next, former Senator Bob Dole's powerful criticism of his own political party. He says the GOP should close for repairs.

And more evidence that New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is making some fellow Democrats pretty uncomfortable. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now; Memorial Day rituals for the commander in chief, but he's not getting a holiday from some controversies and scandals.

Plus, snow in May isn't that unusual. What happened in Vermont sure is. We're going to show you what happened.

And a school bomb plot foiled. Wait until you hear what police say they found inside a teenager's home.

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

President Obama heads to his hometown of Chicago this week to help fellow Democrats raise money for next year's midterm election, but some members of his party may be feeling a little anxious right now, given a series of controversies weighing on the president right now, including the IRS targeting of some conservative groups, the Justice Department surveillance of journalists, and lingering questions about the Benghazi, Libya, attack.

We're joined now by our CNN contributor Ryan Lizza. He's the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine.

Are these controversies going to get some new life this week, or are we basically moving beyond them?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think if you have investigations going on in Congress, when Congress starts subpoenaing stuff, they find something out. They find stuff out. So, yes, the IRS scandal is not going to go away.

I feel like if these were stocks, I would probably buy a little IRS, I would buy a little James Rosen scandal. I may sell a little bit of the Benghazi. I feel like Republicans banked a lot on the talking points being the center of some kind of conspiracy, and, you know, I think that that's sort of fizzled out. Having said that, investigations will continue. We will find new facts.

BLITZER: James Rosen being the FOX News correspondent who was being investigated, really, by the Justice Department for a leak he received from an official at the State Department.

LIZZA: Yes. That case took an interesting turn this weekend, Wolf. And I have been making some calls on this today. The Justice Department said they told FOX about these phone records, these subpoenas.

At first, News Corp., the parent company of FOX, says, OK, yes, we did, but we didn't tell the information to FOX. Well, then it turns out the general counsel at the time went out publicly, former FOX general counsel went out publicly and said, no, I was there. We didn't get this notification. And News Corp. Clarified its statement.

So, there was a lot of mystery about what was going on behind the scenes that caused News Corp. to originally agree with the Justice Department and then back off. And I think one of the interesting side issues here is the Justice Department has been looking into News Corp. related to the hacking scandal.

Remember the hacking scandal? News Corp. was accused of hacking. And there are some people wondering whether the Justice Department and News Corp.'s ongoing negotiations over what is going to happen with that hacking scandal is now interfering with how FOX News and the Justice Department are dealing the Rosen case.

So, you have got Justice Department investigating two things here and they are starting to intersect.

BLITZER: That's an intriguing development. All right.

LIZZA: So, I'm going to be writing about this tonight. It will be on

BLITZER: When? Tomorrow.


BLITZER: OK. We are going to look forward to that.

Let's get back to the -- some of the other stuff that's going on, including Lois Lerner. She was put on administrative leave, the IRS official, but she's still drawing a salary. So are three State Department employees named in the Benghazi report for failing to do what they were supposed to do.

And take a look at this. Major Nidal Hasan, the man charged with killing 13 people in cold blood in Ft. Hood, Texas, he's still making his military salary, as well, an estimated $280,000 so far since the shooting. Still collecting all that taxpayer money.

You hear these kinds of things. Lois Lerner, she's basically getting paid vacation right now while she pleads the fifth. Nidal Hasan is collecting nearly $300,000. State Department officials who screwed up, they're still collecting their salaries. What's going on?

LIZZA: Look, government employees have pretty -- have pretty good benefits and have pretty good protections, and it's cases like this that really undercut support for those kinds of protections.

And, you know, it seems this has been an issue that Republicans have been on for a while, and I wouldn't be shocked if Republicans start to look at some of the -- some of the laws that guide these things and whether it should be easier to either take away salary or to fire government employees when they're under suspicion.

The question is, if they're -- if charges haven't been brought, then what do you do in that case, right? You are innocent until proven guilty, as outrageous as it is, to see people, you know, on the government Dole when clouds are hanging over their heads.

BLITZER: Especially someone like Nidal Hasan. He's gotten $300,000 in paychecks from U.S. taxpayers since what happened.

LIZZA: That case is more outrageous. Lois Lerner it's a little -- it's a little bit trickier.

BLITZER: Talking about senator -- the late -- excuse me, Bob Dole. He's a great guy, Bob Dole. Let's talk about the former Republican presidential nominee, the senator from Kansas, who was on FOX News over the weekend. And he had some choice words for his fellow -- fellow Republicans, suggesting maybe they are out of touch right now. He said that maybe they need -- they need to -- that he himself and maybe even Ronald Reagan wouldn't make it in today's Republican Party.

LIZZA: He's actually saying this. It's sort of a funny time. Because I feel like since the election, we had both the Republican National Committee issue a very soul-searching report pointing out that the Republican Party, essentially what they said is they needed to modernize.

And now you have immigration reform moving through the Senate with at least five Republicans voting it out of committee. And I feel like Dole's comments are a few months behind. I think you're actually seeing a little bit of a turn, seeing some of the forces in moderations trying to yank -- yank the party forward.

On the other hand, you have some very, very strong conservatives like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz in the Senate, who are pulling from the other direction.

But I at least think that the debate has now been joined. That the Republican Party has enough voices where there is a debate. It's not like it was in 2010, '11, and '12 where it was really just going in one direction.

BLITZER: Yes. I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says, "Closed for repairs until New Year's Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas." Senator Dole saying that; he's 90 years old. He's a great man.

LIZZA: You get to a point in politics where you just speak your mind. I think Senator Dole is definitely at that point.

BLITZER: Yes, he is. Always enjoyed listening to Senator Dole. All right. Thanks very much for that. Thank you, Ryan.

Still ahead, it doesn't look like the unofficial start of summer. Stand by for the latest on the strange weather across the nation.

And the dramatic rescue of a boy who went swimming in a river and got stranded in raging water.


BLITZER: Story's getting more mysterious right now. You're looking at police now. They're getting ready to approach this vehicle on the Brooklyn Bridge right now. These are live pictures you're seeing courtesy of our affiliate, WABC.

The suspicious vehicle on the Brooklyn Bridge, we are now told, has no license plates or any vehicle identification number, any VIN number, according to the New York City Office of Emergency Management. A spokesman, Christopher Miller, telling us the suspicious vehicle on the Brooklyn Bridge right now has no plates or VIN number.

So, we don't know what's going on. What we do know is that traffic in both directions on the Brooklyn Bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn has been suspended. All cars being diverted away from the Brooklyn Bridge right now. We're trying to figure out what's going on.

So the NYPD and other emergency personnel, if you look at live pictures. Once we reconnect with our affiliate, some of the aerial pictures we're getting in, you'll see empty on the Brooklyn Bridge right now except for that vehicle and a couple of police vehicles. They're going to get closer and try to figure out what's going on with this suspicious, unattended vehicle.

Meantime, Brianna is now, she's checking some of the other top stories of the day. Brianna, what's going on?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, more than 50 people have been killed and more than three times that many injured today, most of those attacks happening in Shiite neighborhoods in and around Baghdad. That's what Iraq's interior ministry is telling us. It's been a tense and violent month in the country as Sunnis clash with Shiites and the Shiite-led government. More than 300 people have been killed across Iraq since the beginning of May.

And a 13-year-old boy in southwest China had a brush with death after he fell into a fast and furious river. You can see in those pictures there, he fell off of that dike, he was trapped in the water. It took several rescuers, possibly risking their own lives, to get him out of there. And the boy is said to have just minor injuries. So, good news there.

The Oklahoma tornado stole Tom Bridges's home like it did so many others in Moore. So what were the chances, do you think, that it would spare the envelope filled with $2,000 in cash? He had left it on a windowsill before the storm. You'd think the bills just would have blown clear to Kansas, but after a lot of prayer and a whole lot of looking, the envelope turned up under five feet of rubble with all of the money inside.


TOM BRIDGES, HOME DESTROYED BY TORNADO: And when I found it, I just sat down and started crying, and they all got around me and prayed for me that I found it. But they said 20 minutes before that, a vehicle come by -- that they was praying that we'd find that. And the prayers was answered.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: And that is not the only treasure the tornado spared at the Bridges' place, Wolf. He also found his wife's diamond rings, which of course, I'm sure, were valuable, but they had a lot of sentimental value, as well.

BLITZER: Certainly did. All right. Brianna, thanks very much for that.

Just ahead, President Obama's Memorial Day salute to troops, those who have died and some who are finally coming home.


BLITZER: We're watching the breaking news. This is the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge right now.

Look at that, that emergency response. Of course, full protective gear going into this mysterious, unattended vehicle right on the Brooklyn Bridge. There's no license plate on that car, no VIN number, no vehicle identification number on that vehicle right there.

Traffic in both directions between Brooklyn and Manhattan now has come to a halt. No one is going onto the bridge or coming off of the bridge right now. All traffic being diverted. They're going through this vehicle very, very closely right now to see if anything, anything untoward is on -- on this vehicle. Why would someone leave an unattended vehicle with no license plates, with no VIN number, right in the middle of the bridge?

Ross Levitt is our New York producer who's joining us on the phone right now. What else are you learning, Ross?

ROSS LEVITT, CNN PRODUCER (via phone): Hi, Wolf.

I'm down at the mouth right now of the Brooklyn Bridge. I can see onto it. And as you describe, no vehicles coming in either direction.

Now, obviously, it's Memorial Day here, so actually this is quieter than usual, so it's not creating quite the jam that it might have at rush hour on a typical Monday afternoon. But, you know, it's -- the vehicle itself is on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, heading in toward Manhattan. And, obviously, it's unusual, as you mentioned, for it to be abandoned and for it not to have a VIN number or for it to have plates on it. So, that's, obviously, creating a lot of suspicion.

Now, we saw emergency service vehicles pass by it three times slowly. And we've seen in other situations like this that they typically X-ray those vehicles, so that might have been what was going on there. And now it appears that they're going to send somebody in for a closer look, someone from the bomb squad, and that's probably what you're seeing as they get suited up in that -- in that green suit that we've seen so many times.

BLITZER: Yes, that's clearly someone from the bomb squad going through the rear of this vehicle right now, fully protected. I haven't seen any dogs sniffing around yet. Maybe that has already occurred, we missed that, but I see that -- that responder there removing all sorts of stuff from the rear of that vehicle.

Once again, this is the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn, right at the end of this Memorial Day weekend. Normally, there would be a lot of traffic going back and forth, especially on a beautiful day like today, but right now, looks like they're trying to figure out what's going on.

When we say it's a mysterious vehicle, the New York City Office of Emergency Management says there's no license plate on that vehicle or any vehicle identification number, VIN number, on that vehicle, raising all sorts of fears, all sorts of suspicions in New York right now at the end of this Memorial Day weekend.

Ross, all -- all the traffic being diverted, so I guess it's causing some congestion at the bottom of Manhattan there and also in Brooklyn.

LEVITT: Absolutely. Lots of traffic headaches for folks today. They've closed off not just the bridge itself, but some of the onramps onto it. So yes, we're seeing traffic backed up quite a bit.

I also see a -- what appears to be a police helicopter hovering very close to the bridge itself, apparently, giving them an aerial look. And then, of course, you have the news choppers around, as well. Much higher up than that, but the police helicopter is just above the span there giving them an aerial look, as well.

Quite a scene for folks here. Lots of people, you know, stopping and taking a look. It's also, by the way, the bridge is very popular on a day like this for walking across it. Folks go across and take pictures, have a picnic and that sort of thing. And so we're seeing people just at a standstill, looking at it and hoping that they can cross shortly.

BLITZER: But nobody's being allowed to walk across that bridge either, right?

LEVITT: No, they can't walk across it. They can't bike across it, and that's a very popular activity this time of year. And yes, not allowed to do that right now at all. A complete standstill.

BLITZER: Bomb-sniffing dogs, you haven't heard that any of them have been on the scene yet, have you?

LEVITT: No. No, I haven't. I haven't heard that at all, Wolf. And so I don't know. But that may not be unusual, that they would instead use some sort of X-raying equipment instead and perhaps also, you know, a human element, a person who's in full bomb gear who can go in and really take a closer look and see exactly what's going on with this vehicle.

BLITZER: Well, you can see now that individual, fully protected in all that protective bomb-related gear is now about to be debriefed, I assume, by fellow officers on the Brooklyn Bridge to see what, if anything, he saw that would further cause concern or potentially, hopefully, give an all clear that just some random individual left the vehicle in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge without a license plate or a VIN, vehicle identification number.

In order to lose that vehicle identification number, you've got to go through some work and either scrape it off or remove it somehow so that there would be no trace. But I'm sure police are going to want to go through this vehicle, get fingerprints, get all sorts of evidence to see what, if anything, they can learn.

Now we see another officer going there without any protective gear. So I assume they've received some sort of all clear. Otherwise that officer wouldn't have walked that closely without any of the protective gear that we just saw the -- the other person fully protected go forward.

Here comes a dog right now. So that's what I suspected would happen. So that dog will probably be able to do what we humans can't do, and go ahead and sniff and see if there's any explosive material, anything left over, any lingering danger there. We'll watch this dog do what it does and does very, very well.

So, we'll see what, if anything, this dog determines and if we see what's happening. There's the dog jumping around a little bit. I'm surprised they haven't opened up the front hood of that vehicle yet. Here's the dog going through the front, the back seat right now. And then going to go through the rear right there, as you can see.

LEVITT: Wolf...

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ross.

LEVITT: Yes, a few years back, there was a vehicle that was suspicious and was on the Tri-Borough Bridge. And that in fact turned out to be, I believe, just a stolen vehicle that someone decided to abandon. So these things do happen from time to time where they -- you know, there's no sort of nexus to any terrorism or anything like that. And that's, of course, what we're hoping for in this situation But...

BLITZER: Yes, a and that in fact turned out to be, I believe, a storing vehicle that someone decided to band on. So these things do happen from time to time where they -- you know, there's no sort of connection to any terrorism or anything to that. And that's, of course, what we're hoping for in this situation.

But, you know, when they strip the VIN number and the license plate off, that could just as easily be a stolen vehicle if anything else. It certainly raises a lot of suspicions. And that's why you're seeing this kind of response right now.

BLITZER: That's -- it looks like since that police officer went there without any protective gear, just the dog sniffing around, maybe that's what it was. Simply -- simply a -- simply a stolen vehicle. And if you look carefully, it looked like that police officer with the dog just gave a thumbs up, meaning that no sign of any explosives. I assume that was what the thumb up would suggest. And it would be, if it's just a stolen vehicle, someone panicked, maybe that individual ran out of gas, didn't want to stick around and deal with what was going on. Then obviously that will be -- it will be good news, relatively speaking.

But the bridge still remains shut down, at least for now. They're going to -- if it's just a stolen vehicle, they'll tow that vehicle away and then things along the Brooklyn Bridge will get back to business as usual.

Ross, hold on for a moment. We're going to continue to watch what's going on on the Brooklyn Bridge. But I'm very encouraged by that thumbs up that we just got from that one police officer with the dog, the bomb-sniffing dog that just left that vehicle.

We'll take a quick break, resume our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: These are live pictures you're seeing from the Brooklyn Bridge right now. We did see a thumbs up from the police officer, indicating that the bomb-sniffing dog did not find anything suspicious there. We saw earlier an individual, emergency, police officer with full protective gear, through the vehicle.

The Brooklyn Bridge has now been shut down for a while. There it is right there, the dark car, what you saw. It does not have a license plate or a VIN number, a vehicle identification number, raising all sorts of suspicions.

No traffic has been allowed on the Brooklyn Bridge going in either direction as a result of this suspicious vehicle, and it looks -- it looks like these police officers have been reassured.

Ross Levitt, our New York producer, is on the phone.

Ross, this has happened before, you pointed out, where it was a stolen vehicle. Someone may have just run out of gas and ran away to avoid being arrested?

LEVITT: That is possible. But we still have traffic completely shut down where I am, Wolf. So no all clear at least given at this point.

We are seeing a police helicopter right now circling the bridge very, very closely. So I imagine they are going to check out every inch of that vehicle. As we know all too well from the Boston bombings, that something as small as a backpack can cause quite a bit of damage. And so they're going to check every inch of that vehicle. And I think they're probably also scoping some of the rest of the bridge, too, to just make sure that nothing else seems out of place.

BLITZER: We'll watch it very closely, Ross. Stand by. We'll take a quick break.

When we come back, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" will resume our coverage.