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THE SITUATION ROOM
Wildfire Scorches More than Fifteen Square Miles; Malaria Vaccine Breakthrough; Interview with Admiral Dennis Blair; Amber Alert Suspect May Have Explosives; Republicans at Risk?; Truth about Weed
Aired August 8, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, it's one of the world's biggest killers. A million people a year die from malaria. Two hundred million people a year become sick. There's been no vaccine -- until now. Researchers announce a promising breakthrough. Fifteen square miles of Southern California go up in flames. A thousand firefighters battle a huge wildfire. We're going to the front lines.
And CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been working on a special report on marijuana. And he's had what he calls a change of heart about weed. He'll join us to explain.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But let's begin this hour with a fast-moving wildfire raging out of control in Southern California. It's already scorched more than 10,000 acres. That's more than 15 square miles. And it's forced at least 1,500 people to evacuate from their homes.
Hundreds of firefighters are on the scene. They are now back by airborne units.
Let's go live to the scene.
CNN's Dan Simon is in Riverside County -- Dan, what's going on?
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can see some of that smoke behind me. The concern, as always, is the wind. That's what's causing this fire to spread. As you said, it's impacted, now, about 10,000 acres and 15 structures have been lost. We don't know how many of those are homes.
As you said, hundreds of firefighters on the scene. About 1,000 firefighters on the scene. We've seen a number of aircraft dropping water. You have planes dropping retardant, fire crews taking this fire very seriously. That's why they have so many crews on hand.
We can tell you that there have been some injuries, Wolf. Four firefighters have been injured, along with one civilian. We don't know the extent of those injuries. Hopefully, they're going to be doing just fine, though. But as we said, this is impacting several communities. There are a lot of mandatory evacuation orders in place and fire crews just trying to get this fire contained as quickly as possible. At this point, Wolf, it's 10 percent contained.
BLITZER: Ten percent. So they still have a lot of work to do.
Do they have any estimate at all, when they think they can get the job done, get this fire under control?
SIMON: At this point, it really depends on the wind, Wolf. If the winds die down, then fire crews, hopefully, can get the upper hand. But we should say, once again, that they do have a lot of resources in place. So hopefully, Mother Nature will cooperate -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.
Dan Simon on the scene.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. A thousand firefighters there battling this ferocious blaze. Dozens of fire engines and close to 20 aircraft already have been deployed.
Joining us now on the phone is the Cal Fire Battalion Chief, Julie Hutchinson.
Chief, thanks very much for coming in.
What's the latest you can tell us?
JULIE HUTCHINSON, CAL FIRE BATTALION CHIEF: He had that information correct. It is 10,000 acres. And what's significant is it's a bit hotter today. Those winds are really pushing and it's moving east into the desert area, so we're getting a lot more activity to the east of here and have some additional communities that are now threatened.
How much progress would you say you've made today, Chief?
HUTCHINSON: You know, the firefighters are doing an outstanding job on the ground trying to get that all-important perimeter and containment line in. We're hoping to have higher numbers on that. But as the fire grows, those numbers tend to diminish a little bit. It's just been a challenging day out here with the winds and the hot, dry temperatures.
BLITZER: Are residents safe?
How have the evacuations gone?
HUTCHINSON: You know, the evacuations have gone very well. The communities that were impacted yesterday were hit very quickly very early on in the fire. They barely had time to get out of there. Many of them had to shelter in place with the deputies that were there to help evacuate them because the highway was cut off and they were not able to exit in either direction.
Today, we have got some orders, warnings -- orders and warnings for evacuation in place for some new communities closer to Palm Springs. And, again, that pushes to the east and to the north into the wilder -- or the south into the wilderness with the San Bernardino National Forest.
BLITZER: So have homes already been burnt to the ground?
HUTCHINSON: There have been some homes and out buildings. We're estimating about 15 total structures at this point. We are not able to tell which ones are homes and which ones are out buildings yet. And we've got assessment teams in there trying to determine that while the fire fight is still going.
BLITZER: Based on your experience, Chief, how long before this fire is contained?
HUTCHINSON: It depends on the weather conditions. We do have one more day when we're going to have this very strong on shore flow out of the west. That's going to push the fire to the east. If that transition comes on Saturday and we don't get too much of high temperatures and low humidity and another wind that pushes in a different direction, and we've got that all-important containment, probably a couple more days. But we have to remember, on this fire, we've got about an eight or nine mile front on the sides that is burning toward the east.
BLITZER: Do you have enough firefighters in place, enough equipment ready to do the job?
HUTCHINSON: We do. We've had resources come in as far as Sacramento to assist. The one thing in California, our ability to move federal, state and local (INAUDIBLE) mutual aid resources is unmatched anywhere else in the country. And we implement that early and move these forces around to assist communities in need when wildfires are out of control.
BLITZER: Julie Hutchinson, the California fire battalion chief.
Chief, thanks very much for joining us.
And good luck to all the men and women trying to contain this fire.
HUTCHINSON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Amid more fallout from the NSA leak still, the White House now defending President Obama's decision to cancel his summit with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. But other high level talks between the two countries are about to go ahead as planned.
CNN's Jim Acosta is over at the White House.
He's got the very latest for us.
What's going on --Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. These meetings that will be going on between secretary of State John Kerry and secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and their Russian counterparts, those meetings are still going to happen tomorrow despite the president's decision to cancel his upcoming summit with Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
At a White House briefing earlier today, the press secretary, Jay Carney, did defend that decision. But he also went on to say that the president will likely still meet with Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg at the upcoming G20 Summit next month. There won't be a bilateral summit, but the two men are expected to have some sort of pull-aside meeting during that summit.
But Carney went on to say that relations between the U.S. and Russia have gotten worse because of Vladimir Putin.
And as for NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, who was a big reason for these damaged U.S.-Russian relations, Carney said that the U.S. does want Snowden back, but it's not the highest priority of this administration.
Here's what Carney had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a lot of fish to fry, if you will, with the Russians. We have a lot of issues to engage with the Russians over. And there and is a two plus two ministerial meeting tomorrow here in Washington. And, you know, there will be a host of topics.
So this is not the focus of our engagement with Russia, but it is not something that we're dropping, by any means.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, as for some of those programs that Snowden apparently leaked, the "New York Times" had a story out this morning, Wolf, as you know, that says that the United States might be sweeping up and sifting through more e-mails from people in the United States to people overseas than what was previously acknowledged.
Carney said, during the briefing, that the NSA tries to keep that to a minimum. We tried to press him on what he meant by that and here's how he answered that question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: If Joe Schmoe (ph) from Kokomoe (ph) wants to know if when he sends an e-mail overseas, is it being read, what would you say?
CARNEY: It's not being read. The information that's co -- that is targeted has to do with terrorist threats, or potential terrorist threats, emanating from foreign persons and foreign areas. And, you know, there are procedures in place, as I just described. And I'm sure ODNI and others can -- NSA can explain to you in greater detail -- that ensure that inadvertently collected information, you know, is minimized and dealt with appropriately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, reporters tried to shout questions to President Obama at the end of his bilateral meeting with the Greek prime minister here at the White House earlier today. The president waved off those questions and said, you can save those questions for a news conference that is happening tomorrow.
So the president is holding a news conference. And he is heading off to Martha's Vineyard for a family vacation this weekend, Wolf. And Jay Carney, during the news conference, joked that President Obama might just name his next federal chairman, chairman of Federal Reserve, I should say. We should point out that President Obama almost did just that in 2009. He renominated Ben Bernanke to that position back then.
So you can't rule out any news when the president is on vacation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll, of course, have live coverage of the president's news conference tomorrow here on CNN.
All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that report.
Coming up, it's been almost a week since the global terror alert was sounded.
Is the threat over?
Do those warnings do more harm than good?
I'm going to speak about it live.
The former director of National Intelligence, retired U.S. Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, though, researchers say they've scored a major breakthrough in the battle against one of the world's most devastating diseases, malaria.
BLITZER: It's one of the world's biggest killers. About a million people a year die from malaria. Another 200 million a year are sickened.
Now U.S. Navy researchers and others say they have successfully tested a vaccine.
Our Pentagon correspondent, has the details -- Barbara, what do we know?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a very small scale test, but so important. The U.S. Navy and the National Institute of Health, along with a pharmaceutical company, announced today 100 percent coverage in protection from malaria from a test they did on a small number of subjects. They believe they have a malaria vaccine that provides, for the first time, 100 percent protection.
Why is this so important, Wolf?
Well, just the statistics alone will make your jaw drop -- 3.3 billion people live at risk in malaria areas of the world. There were 219 cases of malaria in 2010. And as you point out, about 660,000 people a year die of this disease.
So any help is most needed.
A lot of people are working on this, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation working on it. But this latest work by the Navy and the NIH, again, a small sample. They have a lot left to do. But they achieved 100 percent protection against malaria in this test they did -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And explain why the Navy was involved in this test.
STARR: Yes, it's so interesting, you know, because, of course, the Navy and the rest of the military moves around the world all the time. They encounter places in the world where malaria is rampant. Even in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops now have been going for so many years, the troops have to take malaria pills when they go there. It can devastate a unit -- a military unit -- if they are not protected against malaria.
So for the Navy, for other military services, and for militaries in other country, it's just really a vital step forward.
BLITZER: An important step, indeed.
All right, Barbara, thanks very much.
Let's get a little more now on this breakthrough effort to deal with this devastating disease.
Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is joining us -- Sanjay, explain in a little bit more detail why this, potentially, could be so significant, although I'm told by experts we're not there yet.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it's still very much in the early stages. It was a small study, too, that Barbara was talking about. To give you a little bit of context, I think there were just around three dozen -- a little bit more than three dozen people who were part of the study, and the six people who got five doses of this vaccine, five shots of the vaccine, none of them got malaria, even after being exposed.
And in 12 people who did not get any of the vaccine, 11 of them did get malaria. So, it works pretty well, but these are early studies to your point. But look, I mean, the numbers are pretty staggering in terms of the number of deaths that this can cause. You probably taken these other medications, Wolf, to prevent malaria. You take the pills, you start ahead of time, you take them afterward.
They can have some pretty significant side effects. There was an FDA report that just came out on Lariam (ph), Wolf, I don't know if you heard this, but that it can cause permanent neurological damage. So, there's some concern about that.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I remember, I've been to parts of Africa elsewhere where I had to take those malaria pills 30 days before I left the United States, then continue taking them while you're them, then another 30 days when you come back. It's by no means pleasant, but it's obviously a lot better than getting malaria, which can kill you.
It's going to be a while before this particular test proves to be useful. How long could it take before they really create a vaccine?
GUPTA: I would say at least five years, maybe up to ten years. So, this is not happening anytime soon. And there's a big hurdle here as well, Wolf, as compared to other vaccines. When you typically think of vaccines, you think about them to vaccinate against the virus or vaccinate against the bacteria.
As you know, Wolf, malaria is caused by a parasite. So, actually, creating a vaccine against the parasite. That's never been done before. So, again, we're in early stages, doing something that's never been done before. It's all going to take a little bit of time.
BLITZER: And explain this to me because I'm not fully up to speed on what it means that in this particular test, the people, those who were given the vaccine were given it intravenously as opposed to a shot, shall we say. That makes it a little bit more complicated on a massive scale, right?
GUPTA: Yes. It's quite a process to get this vaccine. Instead of having a shot under the skin or into the muscle, there's not just one, but five intravenous shots essentially given, and I think it's once a week for five weeks. Again, a very small study, but that was the protocol that they use. So, this is a difficult vaccine to get.
I mean, Once you have it, you presumably going to be protected for a long time, but it is quite a process to get that protection in the first place.
BLITZER: Quick question, you say five years potentially. Let's say they injected a whole lot more money into this process. Could it be done more quickly?
GUPTA: That's a great question. I think part of the issue is that you really need to follow these patients out over time. You really need to find out, "A," is there any side effects months down the line, years down the line, but also, does it continue to be protected further stone (ph) of anti-bodies, if you will, against the parasites?
So, money probably always helps in these types of studies, but you really need the longer term data before you're going to start to make this thing more widely available and that just takes time.
BLITZER: Well, let's hope they come up with this. That would be brilliant. That would be great. A million people a year die from malaria. Sanjay, thanks, very much. And this important note to our viewers, Sanjay will be back with us here in the SITUATION ROOM a little bit later. He's going to explain why he has now completely changed his mind about medical marijuana. My interview with Sanjay on this important subject. That's coming up as well.
Also, an insider's view of the scary threats to U.S. security. The former director of National Intelligence, retired U.S. Navy Admiral Dennis Blair is here live in the Situation Room.
BLITZER: More indictments today related to the Boston marathon bombing. Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, two friends of bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, face charges of obstructs justice and conspiracy. The federal grand jury's indictment says they've removed items from Tsarnaev's dorm after the bombings hoping to keep they away from investigators. The obstruction charge is the most serious. If convicted, the two 19-year-olds could be sent to prison for 20 years.
Rescuers in Illinois are looking for a priest who they say appeared out of nowhere while they were trying to pry an accident victim out of a car wreck. The trapped woman had just asked the rescue crew to pray with her when the priest walked up even though the road had been blocked. After he prayed with them, new equipment arrived and they were able to save the woman, but the priest was nowhere to be found.
And there are at least three winning tickets out there for the Powerball lottery. The jackpot was $448 million, making each winning ticket worth about $149 million. Now, two were sold in New Jersey. Paul White (ph) bought the third in Minnesota. He says he came forward right away because he wants to be, quote, "yesterday's news as soon as possible." He is quite a character. And you'll hear from him in our next hour.
Another Powerball (ph), Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people --
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Mary, for that.
Up next, almost a week after the worldwide terror alert was posted, how big is the threat? I'll ask the former director of National Intelligence, retired U.S. Navy Admiral Dennis Blair. He's live here in the Situation Room.
Also, Dr. Sanjay Gupta on why he's changed his mind about medical marijuana. He'll be back to explain.
But first, a preview of this weekend's "Next List."
GUPTA: This week on the "Next List."
(voice-over) A space age archaeologist, Sarah Parcak (ph), she's been called a real life Indiana Jones.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd take him on on a search for archaeological sites and I'd win.
GUPTA: Armed with the latest infrared satellite technology, she's shedding new light on ancient Egypt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just completely invisible world comes to light when you're processing the satellite data.
GUPTA: And in Guatemala, fashion designer, Suzanah Haysa (ph) is transforming her community with trash.
Their remarkable stories on "The Next List."
BLITZER: Happening now, when should the United States turn off its latest worldwide terror alert?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER (voice-over): We'll ask the former director of National Intelligence.
Also, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here. He'll explain why he has now changed his mind about medical marijuana. He says it has very legitimate medical applications.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER (on-camera): So, the world wide alert went up almost a week ago for Americans in North Africa, in the Middle East, in South Asia. U.S. embassies in those areas, they've now been closed for several days. Here's the question, how real is the threat? Joining us now, retired U.S. Navy Admiral Dennis Blair. He's the former director of National Intelligence. Admiral, thanks very much for coming in.
Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, it's been almost a week. What's your sense? Is there still a real credible threat out there from al Qaeda or al Qaeda associates?
ADM. DENNIS BLAIR, (RET) FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The way these things usually work is that the al Qaeda or one of its groups plans an attack. So, if we get some notion of it, if we have specific intelligence, we, of course, would go try to take out the people who are doing it. If it's more general, then we have to take these intensive measures, including evacuations that you've heard about.
But with the action that have been taken by the Yemeni security forces and by other force, my guess would be that the -- whatever threat there was has decided to go back and fight another day. The terrorists always have the option of postponing their attack, and I imagine they're taking it at this time.
BLITZER: So maybe all the publicity that the U.S. put out there about an imminent terrorist attack convinced them to say never mind.
BLAIR: I would say that's true.
BLITZER: Do you think that was maybe one of the objectives as well?
BLAIR: I'd say there's a two-part objective role (ph) as announcement. One is to deter and let people know that we are watching and the other is actually to be in a better position to be able to deal with if they decided to go ahead anyway.
BLITZER: But doesn't it also -- you say we've learned about a potential terrorist attack. And so, they wonder how did they learn and couldn't this potentially compromise sources and methods if, in fact, the U.S. was intercepting communications from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda. Now, he knows whatever way he was communicating with al-Qaeda types in Yemen, that communication's link has been compromised by the U.S.
BLAIR: Well, the thing is, you need to leave some ambiguity about your sources and methods. I mean, maybe, maybe there's a traitor within al Qaeda who is feeding us information, maybe there is somebody --
BLITZER: But isn't he now in danger, that traitor or that spy who might be helping the U.S.?
BLAIR: I'm sure that the -- that the al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula is going through its own counterintelligence thing, how did the American find out about it and they're probably looking at -- looking at everything so we don't want them to know exactly how we -- how we know. We want them to be worried that their security is not -- is not good. And that all slows them down.
BLITZER: What does it say to you, though, that Ayman al- Zawahiri, all these years later after 9/11, he's still capable of hiding out somewhere, let's say along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and giving orders to al Qaeda operatives in Yemen to take action? BLAIR: Remember how Osama bin Laden was communicating when he was holed up --
BLITZER: With a courier.
BLAIR: Take two to three weeks.
BLAIR: And so Zawahiri could be doing the same -- could be taking the same method. I don't think that the -- I don't think that he is tactically controlling operations in places like Yemen. He's issuing general guidance and more higher level guidance and leaving the tactics up to the local units.
BLITZER: You tried to get him, obviously, when you were head of National Intelligence. I assume the U.S. is still trying to get him. Why is it so hard to get Ayman al-Zawahiri?
BLAIR: Well, I -- to try to make people understand it, I imagine that the -- if you think of -- who is that guy in North Carolina? Richard Jewell, who was in our country. We looked for for seven years before finding him. If you want to be -- if you want to disappear in a country you have sympathetic people helping you, it's possible. It's hard to break.
BLITZER: The outgoing number two at the CIA, Mike Morell, you probably know him. The deputy director of the CIA. He gave an interview to the "Wall Street Journal" in which he said Syria is probably the most important issue in the world today because of where it is currently heading. He's deeply concerned about chemical weapon stockpiles, other weapons in Syria getting into the hands of al Qaeda and others.
Is this the biggest national security threat the U.S. faces right now?
BLAIR: I would say as far as the geopolitical situation, I would agree with Mike Morell. And it's not just the chemical weapon. But if you look at the place that Syria occupies, the funnel for Iranian aid going to Hezbollah, so it's a life line for Hezbollah, it's Iran's beach head, south of the Persian Gulf. It has a border with Israel which is still unsettled, so it has an ally of Russia, who is poking a stick in the eye for the United States.
So for all those -- all those reasons, and the final thing is the spillover into Iraq, which we spent a great deal of blood and treasure trying to stabilize and eject a dictator there, and Syria is right on its border. So it's got lots of tentacles that reach out, all of which can turn out either well for the United States or badly.
BLITZER: You meant Eric Rudolph before, by the way, not Richard Jewell.
BLAIR: Eric Rudolph. Yes. I'm --
BLITZER: Yes, Eric. Let's make sure we correct it.
BLITZER: Richard Jewell --
BLAIR: Richard Jewell was the Atlanta --
BLITZER: The Olympic bomber.
BLAIR: Yes. I'm sorry. Yes. Yes.
BLITZER: The suspected --
BLAIR: Thank you. Thank you for that correction.
BLITZER: Had nothing to do with it but Eric Rudolph.
BLITZER: All right. I just want to make sure we get that right.
You know, it was a curious development today. And I'm curious that -- anxious to get your thoughts. The Israeli southern town of Eilat, right along Sinai, near Aqaba in Jordan. A very popular tourist destination, about two hours, the Israelis shut down the airport today. And I was told that they were concerned about al Qaeda potential, al Qaeda elements in Sinai right now. And maybe if they got their hands on weapons that could endanger that airport.
For the Israelis to shut down an airport like that for a couple of hours, what did that say to you?
BLAIR: It says to me that the Sinai area is still not controlled by Egypt or international forces that there units out there that are capable of causing trouble. And, as you say, it's right across the narrow strait. You can hit airplanes with weapons coming from -- off the Egyptian side and I'm sure that the Israelis were concerned about that.
BLITZER: Yes. Shoulder-fired missile. But I am also told, by the way, that the Egyptian military's past month, since the takeover -- the removal of Morsy, they've done a much better job trying to clean up Sinai from al Qaeda elements there than was going on before. I assume you've heard the same thing.
BLAIR: Yes. If you remember, that was -- it was the losses in Sinai that caused the replacement of the entire upper tier of the Egyptian military leadership back a couple of months, several months back.
BLITZER: While I have you, quick question on the NSA, the surveillance program. You saw the story in the "New York Times" today.
BLITZER: And I'm going to play a clip. This is the president of the United States on Tuesday. Then I want to discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't have a domestic spying program. What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an e-mail address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat. And, you know, that information is useful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So the "New York Times" is saying the NSA is still searching through vast amounts of Americans' e-mails. And you hear that, you think that's a real violation of Americans' privacy.
BLAIR: Right. And I -- I back up what the president says. Of course with my experience when I was the NIS --
BLITZER: So what was your experience?
BLAIR: My experience is that when there is an American person, company or address that is involved in communications, whether they be e-mail or phone or anything, then for the NSA to read that intelligence or even to access the metadata, the number and the timing, requires specific permission from the -- from the FISA court. So it's rare, it's given carefully and the rules are followed well.
BLITZER: So you could -- from your perspective, Americans should not be concerned that their privacy is being violated.
BLITZER: That's right. That's right. And I would -- I would add to that, Wolf, that, you know, despite everything you've read about this, I have yet to see an instance in which harm has come to an American. You know, we're not talking about the McCarthy era of people knocking on doors and losing jobs and all of that.
This is following a terrorist threat, being respectful of -- in fact extremely respectful of American involvement and then sticking to -- on the threat to the United States with court orders and congressional authorization. So it's complicated. Numbers are vast because vast communications out there. But it's been very careful in my -- in my observation.
BLITZER: Admiral, thanks very much for coming in.
BLAIR: Nice to see you.
BLITZER: Dennis Blair is the former director of National Intelligence. Appreciate it.
Just ahead, a chilling new development in the national manhunt for a kidnapping and murder suspect. Also our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta has had a major change of heart about medical marijuana. He'll be back (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: We have some breaking news on that abduction of two California children, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department now says Amber alert suspect Jim DiMaggio may have explosives with him.
Let's go straight to CNN's Paul Vercammen. He's in San Diego watching the story unfold.
What is the latest?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Wolf, just a short time ago San Diego County authorities telling me that they believe that DiMaggio may be in the possession of improvised explosive devices, and they are warning both civilians and law enforcement officers to stay away from the suspect's vehicle because they believe there's a point where he may abandon it and that vehicle could be rigged with explosive devices.
When I pressed on to ask what type of devices, they would not be specific. But as we well know, it was DiMaggio's house that burned to the ground on Sunday night and that, Wolf, is what touched off this massive manhunt.
BLITZER: And they think he used perhaps an explosive device to torch that house?
VERCAMMEN: All of this being considered right now. As I said before they believe right now that he might be in possession of those devices. We should also note that there were two possible DiMaggio sightings yesterday in extreme northeastern California and just over the border in Oregon. That was Modoc County and Lake County, Oregon.
I talked to the sheriff of Modoc County, Wolf, and he was telling me that it was an 18-year-old maid that saw something that looked very much like the suspect's vehicle. She wrote down the license plate number. He said she was credible and it matched but there were some other problems with her story that they are now trying to check out.
And also we should note that he said there's just plenty of room for someone to hide in that county. And as we know, DiMaggio is a camper, a survivalist type -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Paul, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of the story. Paul Vercammen in San Diego.
In the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM, by the way, we'll have new details on the case of a teenager who died after being tasered by police.
Also coming up, a new warning for anyone looking for an app to help toddlers and young children get ready for school.
BLITZER: So are the sharp divisions among Republicans putting their party's fortunes at risk? Let's discuss with our panel. Joining us, our CNN political analyst Hilary Rosen, Reihan Salam, along with "TIME" magazine senior correspondent Michael Crowley -- Michael Crowley.
BLITZER: I shouldn't say Candy Crowley. Michael Crowley. All right. We're going to get that right.
Listen to Ted Cruz. I'm going to read to you what he said in the new issue of "TIME" magazine, our sister publication. He said a conservative is either -- a conservative is either stupid, too dumb to know the right answer, and even worse, if they actually know the right answer, then they're evil. They want people to suffer. I suppose I feel mildly complimented in that they have recently invented a third category, which is crazy.
Reihan, what do you think about this bitter fight that's emerging amongst Republicans? Ted Cruz, let's say on one hand -- on the one hand, Chris Christie on the other.
REIHAN SALAM, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it's a very healthy debate. Because the truth is that the conservative base is very -- has certain views, you know, when you -- there was a recent Pew survey which found that many base conservatives believe the Republican Party is not sufficiently conservative.
On the other hand you have swing voters who increasingly find the Republican Party less attractive. Particularly during national presidential elections. So, in, you know, midterms, you have folks like -- you know, who do very well. You have Tea Party candidates doing very well because you have a very different electorate. But in those general presidential elections, you have this real liability. So it's important to have this debate and I think it's a mostly healthy and constructive thing.
BLITZER: But you know, Hilary, forever, Republicans in seeking the Republican presidential nomination, they run to the right. But if they get that nomination, they immediately run to the center.
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And Ted Cruz is trying to argue that in fact the more conservative the nominee that the Republicans nominate, the better off Republicans are going to do. The numbers I just think don't bear that out. But Reihan raises a good point, which is, does this help Republicans in the midterm elections? Does it help them keep control of the House?
I think the answer is probably yes. But it -- all it does is cement the people who are there. It doesn't grow the party. It doesn't help them for presidential. And frankly it just doesn't I think represent the broader views of where America is right now. Let them as a Democrat just keep arguing, just keep going right, more right, more right. BLITZER: Because if Republicans are going to win a presidential contest, they've got to get more women, they've got to get more young people, they've got to get more Hispanics, more minorities, African- Americans. They got to broaden that base.
MICHAEL CROWLEY, TIME SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, although there is a school of thought that says you could get more white voters, you know, the white male vote isn't coming out in the numbers it could for the Republican Party. And so there are some conservatives who say more conservatism, don't try to be more like the Democrats, differentiate and increase our turnout.
You know, I think there's a really good argument that's not the winning strategy but there is still that energy on the far right. And for the moderates of the party who do want to steer to the center, who do want the direction that you just described, they slap their foreheads when they see people like Cruz and Rand Paul out there because they know what that means. In the primaries the nominee is going to have to tack hard right.
And you saw what happened in Mitt Romney. When he tried to go back to the left, it was very hard for him to do it because he had spent so much -- so much time trying to impress the far right. So if they do have a very conservative candidate, fine. They'll see how that works out. But if they wind up with a moderate candidate, he's going to have a lot of baggage from the primaries. And that's the headache for the primary.
BLITZER: Take a look at this, Reihan. This is the new WMUR poll of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire, and New Hampshire, obviously, an important state. Chris Christie 21 percent, Rand Paul 16 percent, Jeb Bush 10 percent, Paul Ryan 8 percent, Marco Rubio 6 percent.
Are you surprised Chris Christie does best?
SALAM: I'm not surprised at all. He has a very high national profile. New Hampshire is a northeastern state, you know, that has gone for John McCain in the past. So Chris Christie is a very good fit for that state.
One thing I will point out, however, is the fact that Rand Paul does as well as he does in New Hampshire is also very telling, and I think it's important to note that this is not really a right versus left battle within the Republican Party. You have many people, you have many Tea Party conservatives, a guy like Mike Lee, for example, who is saying that we actually need a party that is more responsive to the interests of working and middle class voters.
So it's really not right versus left. There are folks like Rand Paul, for example, you know, sure, on some issues he seems to be very, quote-unquote, "far right." On other issues, however, he's really trying to broaden the Republican Party, he's talking about civil liberties, he's talking about a new direction for foreign policy.
Now however you feel about that, that is broadening the tent, potentially, in a different direction. So I don't think -- I think that it's very important not to oversimplify the conflicts within the Republican Party.
ROSEN: Here's the other thing that's obvious, is that people overestimate how much voters actually really parse politicians' positions on issues. What they're really doing is sort of looking on the big picture when they're voting for a president. They're looking for leadership, they're looking for those things.
Democrats, I think, would make a mistake in ignoring Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, because those guys actually seem authentic. They seem to believe what they -- what they're saying. That's what Barack Obama was successful at.
CROWLEY: And that jumps out in his interview with "TIME" where he's speaking very candidly about how the media treats conservatives very blunt, very outspoken.
BLITZER: The political conversation only just beginning.
The new issue of "TIME" magazine, they've got a good cover, "A World Without Bees." There it is right there.
Coming up in our next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, frantic rescues. Floodwaters catching people by surprise.
Also, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's next. He'll join us once again to explain why he's now changed his mind about medical marijuana.
BLITZER: Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been working on a very important CNN documentary about medical marijuana, and it's called "Weed." It debuts this weekend, but the headline is so big, it can't wait.
In a commentary you can read right now on CNN.com, Sanjay explains in an article he entitles, "Why I Changed My Mind on Weed." In it, he writes, and I'm quoting, "I apologize because I didn't look hard enough until now. I didn't look far enough. I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis."
Sanjay is back here in THE SITUATION ROOM to tell us why.
You're referring to an article you wrote back in 2009 for "TIME" magazine, Sanjay, which was entitled, "Why I Would Vote No on Pot." So tell us briefly why did you change your mind?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think a lot of it was in that quote. I -- when you look at the literature surrounding marijuana, if you do a search through the medical journals, you know, some 20,000 papers will pop up. And I was keeping up steadily on the scientific literature, but what I was realizing was that the vast majority of these studies talked about the harm, the perils, the problems with marijuana. A very small percentage, less than 10 percent, close to 6 percent actually evaluated benefit.
So when you looked at all these studies in aggregate, Wolf, you would think that there was a -- it was a distorted picture, you would think there was a lot more harm with marijuana than potential benefit, but it wasn't until I started looking at laboratories outside the United States, smaller laboratories that were doing amazing work, listening to the chorus of legitimate patients for whom not only did marijuana work, it was the only thing that worked.
And that was quite stunning to me. I also looked closely at the DEA's scheduling policy. They classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, saying it's in the category of the most dangerous substances out there. And when I looked carefully at that, I found there was really no scientific evidence to say it was that dangerous, that it had high abuse potential and that it had no medical applications.
I believe it does have medical applications, and that's I just thought was an important message to get out there.
BLITZER: And you also conclude, Sanjay -- and I read your excellent article -- you conclude that in certain cases, medical marijuana is even more effective than various pharmaceutical drugs, right?
GUPTA: Absolutely. And this is, again, I think very important for people to hear the medical community is starting to understand this better, but this idea that, for example, neuropathic pain. That's this terrible sort of burning, lancinating pain patients have described to me. Oftentimes, these patients are miserable. They get in narcotics, on morphine, Oxycontin, Dilaudid.
These types of medications don't work, maybe at all, but certainly not after a few months. People can develop tolerance to them. And you come to find that marijuana in a percentage of patients, not only does it work better than these narcotics, it's much safer, because on those narcotics, Wolf, you and I have talked about this, there is a death, an accidental overdose death from prescription medications every 19 minutes in this country.
Those are dangerous medications. You know, they have a role, but they can be dangerous. Whereas with marijuana, I couldn't find a confirmed, a single confirmed overdose death. So you have something that works better, may work when other things don't and probably much safer.
And again, I think that's important for both patients and the medical community to hear.
BLITZER: All right, so medical marijuana serves a useful purpose, you conclude. What about recreational marijuana? What are the pros and cons?
GUPTA: Well, you know, I do make a distinction between these things, and I think it's important. I mean, I really am approaching the medical marijuana angle of this in many ways because I've seen so many legitimate patients with legitimate problems not be able to get the treatment they needed. But -- so I do make a distinction. But look, if you want to talk about, if you want to raise the issue of moral equivalence with recreational marijuana and other substances that are out there, again, marijuana is considered a drug of high abuse, the highest abuse.
Dependence rates are around 9 percent, as compared to alcohol, which is closer to 15, heroin 23, 25 percent, cocaine 20 percent. So it's probably not as problematic as those other types of -- those other types of drugs.
I'm concerned about it as far as its use for young people, people with a developing brain still, up to age mid-20s. But you know, again from a moral equivalent standpoint, you'd be hard pressed to find additional harm from this in adults as compared to some of the other things.
BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, thank you very much.
And this important note to our viewers, don't miss Sanjay's groundbreaking, new documentary entitled "Weed." You can see it this Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
Happening now, deadly flooding and dangerous rescues. We're going to show you dramatic escapes with just seconds to spare.
Plus a teenager accused of spray-painting graffiti gets chased by police and winds up dead.