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Chuck Hagel Felt Pressured on Gitmo Detainess; Romney Out of the Race; Multitude of Sins Exposed at Vatican Bank; Super Bowl Surrounded by Controversy

Aired January 31, 2015 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Welcome to the program.

A stunning admission from outgoing defense secretary Chuck Hagel. In an exclusive interview with CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, Hagel admits he felt pressure from the White House to release terror suspects faster from Gitmo. Those comments come after reports surfaced that a Gitmo detainee released as part of the deal that freed American P.O.W. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl may have made contact with suspected Taliban associates. Let's get more details on this now from Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I began by asking defense secretary Chuck Hagel about the deal to release five detainees from Gitmo in exchange for getting Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl back. And then an extraordinary moment of candor.


CHUCK HAGEL, OUTGOING DEFENSE SECRETARY: Not everyone at White House agreed with me.

STARR (on camera): On what part of this?

HAGEL: Probably on the pace of releases.

STARR: Because you've been cautious?

HAGEL: Because I had the responsibility and I play my own game here, and that is because by law I am the one, the one official in government charged with certification of release of detainees.

STARR: Have you had pressure?

HAGEL: We've had a lot of conversations.


STARR: What he is talking about is the pressure he felt to sign off on releasing more detainees and releasing them faster. Secretary Hagel made clear he was never willing to sign anything he wasn't comfortable with.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

SMERCONISH: For more on this let's bring in former U.S. delta force commander Lieutenant Colonel James Reese.

Col. Reese, I think there is a big picture question here that needs answering. What do we do when our guys or those of our allies end up in enemy hands? As you well know, right now, Jordan may be making a swap for an Iraqi would-be suicide bomber, the female, but to answer that underlying question, we first need to determine are we dealing with terrorists or are we dealing with an enemy that's akin to, say, the axis powers of World War II, the North Vietnamese of that conflict, the North Koreans in the Korean conflict, you understand the question I'm raising?

COL. JAMES REESE, FMR. U.S. DELTA FORCE: Michael, I do. Good morning. I think first off, we spend an enormous amount of time trying to decide what box to put these people in. I personally think we're wasting our time. The bottom line is they are enemy. Whether they are the Taliban, which the White House called an insurgent group, and then whether it's ISIS that they called a terrorist group.

I understand there's policies and all these type of things that folks in Washington kind of get around and sit around the table and discuss. But the end of the day does it really matter? My point is no, it should not. They're our enemy, we should treat them as our enemy.

And then your second part there, Jordanians, one thing we have got to stop doing is pushing our values, U.S. values, on top of some of our partners such as the Jordanians, who have their own issues, they know how to do this and we need to just sit back and let them as they are a major part of the coalition against ISIS.

SMERCONISH: Well, it's interesting that you say that because last weekend on "State of the Union," I had the opportunity to ask White House chief of staff Denis McDonough whether the White House believes the Jordanians should go ahead with that kind of a swap. Watch what he had to say to me.


SMERCONISH (on camera): Should that exchange be made? Should that kind of a swap be entertained with terrorists?

DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: You know our policy on that, Michael. We don't either negotiate or make exchanges or pay ransoms. We think that results in more cash floating around with these very hateful characters who will just have more ability to ply their trade.


SMERCONISH: You see, Colonel, therein lies the distinction, right? We don't negotiate with terrorists, at least that's what we say, but we do entertain P.O.W. swaps, in fact, in that interview with Barbara Starr, Chuck Hagel, Secretary Hagel says that he regarded Bergdahl as a P.O.W. swap. That's why I ask the question into which category do these individuals fall? Because that seems to govern how we're going to respond.

REESE: Michael, you're right. The problem is we get ever everyone - we got to get out of the box. Terrorism is an act. It's an act. So when we start out we go my goodness, ISIS, they are terrorists. But now after a year, year and a half, we have got to have the mental capacity to pull ourselves away from this what I would call a dramatic aspect of throwing terrorism out and saying OK, they are conducting terrorists acts but they are acting as a nation state. Now they are enemy, now there's other thing we have to take a look at and maybe help coach, teach and mentor the Jordanians into doing this to get their people back if need be.

SMERCONISH: You know it's interesting is when you say that they are like a nation state it occurs to me, Colonel, then they are the caliphate, then they are the caliphate that they are seeking to establish and it's almost as if we're justifying that stature if we treat them thusly.

REESE: Well Michael, I'll disagree there. I don't think we justify that they are the caliphate. I think everyone understands that Saudi Arabia is the true caliphate in the Middle East. But they are attempting to do it. The bottom line is they are an enemy, but if you look at it parallel with the Taliban, all right, the Taliban, they have - it's a political aspect, the White House said the other day the reason they discuss with the Taliban is they wanted to leave the opportunity open to bring them to the table for discussion.

At the end of the day, we have to have diplomatic discussions or throw out diplomatic, just throw discussions with these enemy states because if we just continue in this bombing, fighting, bombing, fighting, you know, it's that gerbil we're all going round and round.

SMERCONISH: Colonel, Reese, thank you so much for your commentary.

When Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was swapped for Taliban prisoners critics said it was a bad deal, saying it would put militants back on the battlefield. Now U.S. military and intelligence officials suspect that one of those five freed prisoners has made contact with suspected Taliban associates.

At the time the Obama administration praised Bergdahl for serving the U.S. with honor and distinction. But members of Bergdahl's platoon, the people who served along side him, are painting a very different picture. They say he is a deserter and should face consequences for his actions. I spoke with one of Bergdahl's platoonmates in June. This is what he had to say.


SMERCONISH: Desertion is a pretty strong charge. What's the basis for you using that to label this situation?

SGT. MATTHEW VIENKANT, FMR. MEMBER OF BERGDAHL'S PLATOON: Basis is I believe it was premeditated. I believe before he went out on the mission he had planned to do exactly what he did, walk off.


SMERCONISH: My next guest is a former Army ranger sniper who became one of the greatest special ops snipers in history. Nicolas Irving is the author of the new book "The Reaper." He has strong feelings about what should happen to Bowe Bergdahl.

Nicolas, thanks for joining me. What do you think should happen to Bowe Bergdahl?

NICOLAS IRVING, AUTHOR: Well, TUCMJ is pretty clear about what it says and it's punishable by death.

SMERCONISH: Right. Presuming of course that there is a finding. Right? As far as we know there's not been any such finding with regard to Bergdahl. You're saying if in fact he is convicted in a military tribunal.

IRVING: Exactly. Yes. If he is convicted then yes, he is punishable by death. A lot of his teammates died and a lot of good men were wounded looking for Bowe Bergdahl.

SMERCONISH: A lot of folks you know, rightfully so, say we've got to support our troops. You see bumper stickers, you see yard signs, you hear it said publicly in whatever the town square might be. Doesn't support our troops mean that a guy like Bowe Bergdahl until we know what the circumstance really is should have been negotiated for his release; in other words that the administration did the right thing in bringing him back?

IRVING: I don't think they did the right thing by one, negotiating with terrorists. Especially like when you trade five known high value targets essentially for a deserter, his platoon mates called him a deserter. Guys who were with him. I don't think that is supporting the troops when it comes from the White House. I don't think that is supporting us at all.

SMERCONISH: Secretary Hagel as you heard referenced earlier in this program, told Barbara Starr that he regarded Bergdahl as a P.O.W., in fact he was saying he was under pressure from the White House to speed up the pace of Gitmo releases. When it comes to Bergdahl he has no regrets about the swap because he regarded him as a prisoner of war. Do you think he was not a prisoner of war?

IRVING: I don't think he was a prisoner of war. He left his post in the time of combat. And I don't think that his platoon mates would go on TV and make public appearances stating that he walked off the post. Why would they lie about that?

SMERCONISH: I read your book and I learned that in a span of four months in mid 2009 you tallied 33 kills as a master sniper. Of course because of "American Sniper" and Chris Kyle there's a lot of talk in this country about snipers. Here's the question I wanted to ask. Is each of those 33 kills engrained in your mind, part of your memory that you relive and have difficulty separating from? IRVING: No, it's not. I don't think about anything as far as the targets. I think about the one man I could not save, Corporal Benjamin Kopp. I don't think about any bodies. I can't remember a face.

SMERCONISH: What do you make of the controversy that has surrounded "American Sniper." It's setting box office records but you know that some folks have questioned the role of snipers.

IRVING: Well, the controversy comes from people who were never on the ground, who were never in Iraq or Afghanistan. So their controversy or what they say I take - I don't really have anything to say about that. Why would I listen to people who not been in that position.

SMERCONISH: Nicolas Irving, thank you for your service.

IRVING: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: We're going to take a short break. When we come back he was back and now he's not. The inside story on Mitt Romney's sudden decision not to run again.

And Deflategate. The NFL commissioner faced reporters with tough questions. I'll talk to the reporter who asked him the toughest one.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back. Count me among those who were stunned yesterday when Mitt Romney opted out of the 2016 race for the White House. I was convinced that he was jumping in, not out.

Today, the back story emerging over what led to his decision. Kevin Madden was Romney's senior communication strategist in both his 2008 and his 2012 campaigns.

Kevin, thanks for being back in the program. Ashley Parker and Jonathan Martin have a pretty good analysis in the "Times" today.

It paints a picture of Jeb having outmaneuvered Mitt Romney both among political organizers and financial donors. Is that your impression of what transpired?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, one of the reasons that Governor Romney went through this third course of consideration of a third run was that he did worry I think that somebody with a general election profile, somebody who wouldn't be able to bring the party together, wasn't going to emerge as part of that process.

And so he started to get more active and considering it. What we saw was the second Mitt Romney got active thinking about a Romney 3.0, Jeb Bush got much more active and he got more active in recruiting donors, he got more active in recruiting the grassroots activists that are so important this early primary states and he got very active recruiting some of the key operatives that are crucial to a winning campaign. So I think you put all that together and I think that did have an impact on Governor Romney's decision not to run. SMERCONISH: The statement seemed to exude confidence at least that he could capture the nomination but seemed to say -- you know him far better than I -- it seemed to be between the lines saying "I think I'd end this primary process so bloodied that I'm not convinced I would be the strongest guy to win the general election."

MADDEN: That's right. The way I looked at it, Michael, was that it felt like Governor Romney was going through this tug and pull between the heart and the head. And in his heart I think he feels that he would be a great president. So many of those who are close to him, those of us who are close to him also believe he'd be a great president.

But there is this reality. This recognition just how brutal that primary process is and how divisive it could be if you have two very big campaigns with maybe $50 to $80 million shooting at each other all the way through a calendar, ultimately that could hurt the party's position and the one thing that's really driving Governor Romney is this desire to see a Republican president come January 2017. So he knew this was much bigger than him and I think that's one of the reasons why he dropped out.

SMERCONISH: Kevin, I want to zabruder the tape as I like to say. There are two elements of things that he said yesterday that I'd love to hear your expertise on. Roll the first if you would, Catherine.


MITT ROMNEY, FMR. MASACHUSSETTS GOVERNOR: I've been asked and will certainly be asked again if there are any circumstances whatsoever that might develop that could change my mind. That seems unlikely.


SMERCONISH: Unlikely. This is like the Clintonian what does is mean. What does unlikely mean? That's not a definitive answer, is it?

MADDEN: Yes, I don't like when that door is not all the way 100 percent shut. Look, I think that is a nod to one of the elements that had Governor Romney considering this again. That somebody may emerge he didn't think has the credentials to be a good general election nominee, may emerge in that primary process. And then there would be this need for maybe someone like him to bring together all of the different factions of the Republican party and actually beat Hillary Clinton in a prospective 2016 match-up.

But again, I think this round of consideration that he's gone through, we have crossed a rubicon to a certain extent. I think it's very little chance that he can go back after having looked at this thing three times and then said no.

SMERCONISH: Well, I was eating crow yesterday because I went on "New Day" and boldly predicted he was about to formally announce he is getting into this thing. So now I'm telling people, you know, he did say unlikely. One other aspect of what he said that I want Kevin Madden's opinion on, play that tape please. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge.


MADDEN: Kevin, he said one who may not be as well known as I am today. That doesn't sound to me like a reference to the Bush family. What's the relationship between he and Jeb?

MADDEN: Well look, I think there is a very good relationship. I think they have a mutual admiration and respect for each other. I was somewhat caught offguard by that statement as well. It did seem to me the wrong type of statement to make because so many folks are going to scrutinize every single element of a statement that he would make like that. And maybe take it the wrong way about Governor Bush.

Look, I think you could make a case that Governor Bush is not as well known as Mitt Romney and that he would represent a new level of leadership inside the Republican Party. But it did seem like that was an opening for someone like a Marco Rubio or someone like a Governor Walker to really capitalize on something like that and again, further make the argument inside of a Republican primary.

SMERCONISH: Yes, I read it as a slight to Jeb but maybe I'm scrutinizing too closely. Final thought. Just a quick reaction from you. The big winner yesterday is Chris Christie. I mean, obviously Jeb but Christie now, there is enough oxygen meaning money in the room for him, presumably, to take a serious shot.

MADDEN: I would agree with you there. I think Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, I think those are the folks with more fully developed national profiles that donors are going to look for. But remember this, it's not always about donors. It's about voters. And some of those early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, folks like Governor Walker or Marco Rubio they have an opportunity to really build a profile nationally one handshake at a time, town hall by town hall.

So it may help a little bit but there's still a long way to go. Like - Michael, I'm not a betting man. I would have bet too so don't feel bad.

SMERCONISH: I'm in good company. Thank you, Kevin. Good stuff.

MADDEN: Good to be with you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, Israel's prime minister Netanyahu coming to Washington, the White House fighting mad. Is this visit threatening the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel?

When we come back, big money, and the Vatican. Will Pope Francis end his reforms reach into the Vatican Bank amid new allegations of ties to Nazis, murder, even corruption.


SMERCONISH: We've all been following the consternation at the White House over the speaking invitation House Speaker john Boehner has extended to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Speaker Boehner didn't consult the president about the invitation and the White House is furious and now the criticism of Boehner's actions is growing.

"The New York Times" is reporting that a top White House official is also criticizing Israel's ambassador to the U.N. calling him undiplomatic. To dig into this, I'm joined by Jeremy Benamy, the president of J Street, a democrat aligned pro-Israel group who feels the U.S. should be tougher with Mr. Netanyahu and his policies and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox rabbi, a supporter of Netanyahu.

Gentlemen, welcome to both of you. Rabbi Shmuley, let me start with you. The way in which this invitation was extended, to me, it seemed to signify that the partisanship that has been so much a part of the domestic narrative now has spilled over into foreign affairs. That can't be good for the United States. Am I wrong?

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, ORTHODOX RABBI: I don't see it that way. I attended Mr. Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress about three years ago. It has lot of precedence. There are many foreign heads of state who addressed the special session of congress. This is a nation we the Jewish people who experienced a genocide just 70 years ago. We just had last week the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. When one out of three of your numbers is gassed and cremated and turned into lamp shades and soap, you have a moral responsibility and the sacred duty to get the message out that Iran is a genocidal power that has repeatedly threatened the annihilation of Israel.

What don't we get? Now the president of the United States is not an emperor, god bless him. He is our head of state but we throughout the divine right of kings a quarter of a millennium ago, we don't go about our lives day and night afraid that we're going to offend the president when there are three branches of government and the speaker of the House can invite who he wishes.

SMERCONISH: I don't know that's the argument though that I'm making. I'm saying that I think that we're all looking at this, the three of us, right now are looking at this in terms of what's best for Israel, Israel has enjoyed unanimity in terms of support from both parties in this country.

The Iron Dome when it came up for funding I think it was last August, it was by unanimous consent of the Senate. I'm suggesting to you that Israel now risks the bipartisan support that it has enjoyed because now this becomes a political football. Take another shot at that rabbi, then I'll go to Jeremy.

BOTEACH: Well, he is addressing both Democrats and Republicans. Why is this partisan? On the contrary, Israel does enjoy bipartisan support. Now you mention Iron Dome. Iron Dome, the missiles being fired by genocidal Hamas into Israel cities represent a threat to individual citizens and civilians. It's very serious. Iran however is an existential threat to Israel's survival period.

There are six million Jews now gathers in that tiny land. One nuclear bomb can kill millions of them. Iran has said repeatedly that their purpose is that annihilation. So the prime minister of Israel is coming to speak as one of the foremost experts in the entire world about the Iranian nuclear program of which they have lied for more than a decade according to the IAEA about how the American plan to engage them and negotiations for two years has not really borne a lot of fruit. That's indisputable. That's undeniable.

SMERCONISH: But Jeremy, in this country you know if Obama's for it, I'm against it. If Obama's against it I'm for it. All of a sudden now Israel becomes an issue like so many others where people dig in and in a partisan realm. That's what I'm trying to express.

JEREMY BEN-AMI, PRESIDENT J STREET: Right and I think you're exactly right, Michael. I think that's exactly the problem here. This is a cynical political ploy that was manufactured by Israeli's ambassador to the United State Ron Dermer in order to provide political advantage to the Prime Minister of Israel two weeks before his election and to kneecap the president of the United States in a domestic political sense here in the United States.

And it doesn't play to Israel's long term interests, in the face of all of the threats that Rabbi Boteach is correct are out there, whether it's Iran, whether it's the Islamic State, whether it's other forms of Islamic extremism, Israel is under threat and its greatest ally and its greatest security interest is maintaining the U.S.-Israel relationship on a bipartisan basis and playing politics like this here in the United States undercuts that very interest.

SMERCONISH: This very week I read Ari Shavits's book "My Promised Land." And gentlemen, I was reminded of the fact that there is more dissent in Israel about Israeli politics than there is in the United States. Rabbi Shmuley, I think Israel runs the risk of losing some of that unanimous support if in fact an issue like this is perceived as becoming a political football.

BOTEACH: Respectfully, Michael, I disagree. The American people support Israel not because they are aligned with any party, they support Israel because of American values. Israel is the only western style liberal democracy promoting American values in the Middle East. The rights of women, the rights of gays, the rights of all people to protest their government without fear, you don't see that in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, especially Iran, that's why the American people support Israel so we're not at risk of that.

Now the fact is Jeremy Ben-Ami -- Jeremy, with all due respect, you know, Ron Dermer was my former student at Oxford, my student president along with Cory Booker also student president. Are you a mind reader? You said that he organized this, orchestrated this, do you have any evidence of that because I discussed it with him. Can you tell us what evidence you have, please?

BEN-AMI: Well, certainly all of the reporting has been that this was the initiative of and instigated by -

BOTEACH: The reporting. Do you have evidence? You made an allegation against Israel's ambassador. Where is your evidence?

BEN-AMI: I am repeating back all of the conventional wisdom that has been written about this.

BOTEACH: Then why don't you quote it in the name of others. Why did you say it yourself. You owe him apology on air on this national TV show, unless you can produce any evidence.

SMERCONISH: Let mime respond, rabbi.

BEN-AMI: All we know is Speaker Boehner did invite the prime minister of Israel, the ambassador to the United States from Israel did know about the invitation. He did not tell the administration, he did not tell the secretary of state. Despite being on the phone with him for an hour long conversation the day before that is not the way to represent the state of Israel to the United States.

BOTEACH: So you're backtracking. Now you're saying -

BEN-AMI: It is not in the best interest of the state of Israel for this kind of debate to be happening on CNN. Precisely what has happened -

BOTEACH: You said organized the lecture, now you're backtracking. Do you stand by what you said or will you apologize to him?

BEN-SMI: The issue isn't whether I apologize or not. The issue here to discuss is whether or not this is good for the state of Israel and for U.S.-Israel relationship.

BOTEACH: I know it's pain (ph) finally caught red-handed with misrepresentation. But a gentleman would stay I'm sorry.

BEN-AMI: I am sorry if I did misstate that.

BOTEACH: Thank you, thank you.

BEN-AMI: But the point is that this is not good for the state of Israel. It's not good for the U.S.-Israel relationship.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Jeremy, we're short on time. Can I just say this -- isn't this indicative of the family squabble that you're concerned about?

BEN-AMI: It's exactly the point. We shouldn't be on CNN in this kind of debate. This politicization of the issue that is risking that bipartisan support you talked about earlier, and that's exactly why it would be better for the speaker and for the prime minister to delay the speech until after the election, until after the Congress has considered the Iran sanctions bill, and take it out of the political fight and put it back on a solid bipartisan basis.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you both so much. I wish we had more time.

BOTEACH: Thank you.

BEN-AMI: Thank you very much.

SMERCONISH: Coming up next, corruption, murder and the mob. There are just some of the scandalous revelations in a book that uncovers the dark side of the Vatican Bank. The author of the expose joins me to give a rare look into the Vatican's finances.

And all eyes are on Arizona for the Super Bowl but there's still controversy swirling around the big game. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answering some tough questions.


SMERCONISH: Americans are looking forward to the first visit to the United States by the immensely popular Pope Francis later this year. Among the pontiff's responsibilities, he is the titular head of his own bank, the Vatican Bank, founded in the midst of World War II.

Well, next week, a highly anticipated book will be released, the result of a nine-year investigation by the author Gerald Posner. It reads like Robert Ludlum fiction. The book is more than 700 pages, it includes 200 pages of footnotes, and it paints a picture of murder, double-dealing and fraud surrounding the bank.

Gerald Posner joins us now from Miami.

Gerald, I'm fascinated by how you got into this subject matter. Here you are, an accomplished author, yourself educated by Jesuits, you previously wrote a bestseller on Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, and you became intrigued by the idea that his path to South America had been paved by the Vatican.

What did you find out in that regard?

GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR, "GOD'S BANKERS": You are right, it actually came to me when I was down in Buenos Aires in 1984. I sort of got into my way into the federal police files there, the secret files that hid the Argentinian past with Nazi criminals. And in those files when I was researching the story of Josef Mengele, I saw that some of the fugitives that arrived in South America with wanted tags on their head for mass murder in Europe were held with Vatican passports or by priests or bishops in Rome.

That seemed something to me that I wanted to look at. And for years, I slowly got involved with it and then I finally found the publisher willing to do a book on it. But I discovered when I got into it, the story was much bigger just than the church and a few Nazis. It became a story of money that extended both before World War II and afterwards.

SMERCONISH: Why does the Vatican have its own bank?

POSNER: You ask a question a lot of people ask all the time, which is why does it have it at all? It has it because we forget that it's not just one of the world's largest religions, but it's a sovereign country, and as a sovereign country uses a bank both as a central bank, but as a combination sort of almost as an offshore bank. It didn't have a bank until the middle of World War II.

And why then it created then, it created it because the Americans and the British were looking to make sure that no country even so-called neutrals like the Vatican were doing business with the Nazis. And one of the top money men inside Vatican City said, you know what, if we have our own bank, we'll be able to stay off the radar of all these people looking to see how we move money around. And that's how it was started.

SMERCONISH: But, Gerald, if you say to me the word "bank", I think of an institution that pays taxes, I think of an institution that is -- has obligations to shareholders, I think of an institution that is committed to turning a profit. And from reading your book, I think I learned that the Vatican Bank is none of the above.

POSNER: No. It's remarkable that it has only one shareholder. It's the vicar of Christ on Earth, which is the pope. The pope runs the Vatican Bank at his direction. It has no direction to turn a profit and files as you realize always been closed and secret. They used to destroy the files every 10 years.

The thing about the Vatican Bank that is unusual is that it's a bank sitting in Vatican City that's really sitting in the middle of a foreign country Italy. It's this own sovereign nation in the middle of Rome, so that wealthy Italians, money launderers, mobsters, all they have to do is find a friendly priest or cleric inside Vatican City to take literally pallets of cash across the street when the light turns green, deposit it inside the Vatican Bank, there's no wall around it and it's free from Italian tax authorities, investigators, drug investigators or anybody else.

It's a wonderful safe haven. For too often, it's abused because of that.

SMERCONISH: You and others have written of collusion between the Nazis and the leaders of the church. But in this book, you take it a step further. You actually make the case that the founder of the bank was a Nazi spy, make that case.

POSNER: I found a document in the national archives the first time it's public disclosed in the book, it's an instance in which American intelligence has an interrogation with a top Nazi spy inside of Italy who ran all of their recruitment and he draws up a chart who was running the Nazi intelligence system inside of Italy. There is the name Nugaro (ph) right underneath Milan. It's the name of the person running the Vatican Bank.

It raises the question, was the top money man inside the Vatican during the war actually a spy for the Nazis, was he a double agent dealing with the Nazis in order to turn intelligence over to us?

The reason you can't answer that question 100 percent, I can only raise the question, is, Michael, the Vatican stiff-armed me in nine years of research. I applied to get into the Secret Archives, they rejected me. I asked to talk to dozens of people they turned me down or they ignored those requests all the time.

And I'm asking through you, here on CNN, with an international audience, on Pope Francis if he is serious about reform with all due respect, to open those files up. Release the Holocaust files inside the Secret Archives, release the Vatican's World War II files about Pius XII, the pope at the time, so all historians can look at it, and determine who or who was not helping the Nazis.

SMERCONISH: Final question, the book reads like fiction. Money launderer, mobsters, political slush funds. You mentioned Pope Francis. Has he taken steps to clean up the Vatican Bank that you described?

POSNER: Yes, he's the new sheriff in town, there's no question about that. He is arrived with a lot of vigor and he has taken steps that really are shaking it up. But I know this from the history of studying this bank, it takes more than just one person coming in and passing tough rules. The bureaucracy itself is the system that's corrupt underneath it.

And unless, he makes those changes permanent, unless he has people to follow up once he passes away and a new pope comes in, it will revert, as it has in the past, when reformer popes came in back to its bad old ways. He really has to stay the course and I hope he does.

SMERCONISH: Gerald Posner, thank you. Good luck with the book release.

POSNER: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Super Bowl is tomorrow, but for the NFL, there's still plenty of controversy around the New England Patriots. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell heard all about it at a press conference. That's next.


SMERCONISH: It's Super Bowl weekend. And when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took to the podium yesterday to talk about the state of the NFL, the questions were more about investigations than championship plays. Everybody wanting to know if Goodell would drop the hammer on the New England Patriots for so called deflate-gate. All he said was that the investigation is ongoing and no decision has been made.

The question still lingers whether Goodell will even punish the Patriots considering his close ties to team owner Robert Kraft.

CNN's Rachel Nichols posed a tough and direct question to the commissioner. Let's take a listen.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Rachel Nichols from CNN. Roger, you guys have faced a lot of problems over the past year that have a really wide range. But a lot of issues have in common is a conflict of interest. When you do something like hire an outside investigator like Ted Wells into the Patriots investigation, you're still paying him and Robert Kraft who owns the Patriots is still paying you.

So, even when you do everything right in one of those situations, it opens you guys up to a credibility gap with some of the public and even with some of your most high-profile players.

What steps can you guys take in the future to mitigate some of those conflict of issues -- conflict of interest issues?

ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: Well, Rachel, I don't agree with you in a lot of the assumptions you make in your question. I think we have had people that have uncompromising integrity. Robert Mueller is an example who -- I think you asked me the same question last fall about a conflict of interest.

Their integrity is impeccable. Ted Wells' integrity is impeccable. These are professionals. They bring outside expertise and outside perspective. And their conclusions are drawn only by the evidence and only by the attempt to try and to identify that truth.

So, I think we have done an excellent job of bringing outside consultants in. Somebody has to pay them, Rachel. So, unless you're volunteering, which I don't think you are, we will do that.

But we have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the league, whether we have an owner that's being investigated or whether we have a commissioner that's being investigated. They're done at the highest level of integrity and quality.


SMERCONISH: Rachel Nichols is in Arizona and joins us now by phone.

Rachel, everybody's parsing that answer. What did you make of it?

NICHOLS (via telephone): You know, look, I think it's a missed opportunity. You know, there were a lot of questions about this perceived conflict of interest that the NFL has had. And, frankly, multiple issues. And this Super Bowl week started with Richard Sherman from the Seattle Seahawks, arguably, one of the most high profile players in the league, questioning a conflict of interest between Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, and Roger Goodell.

So, to pretend that that issue doesn't exist seems like a shame. The question was, how do you mitigate those perceptions. How do you prevent the idea if you do everything right, if you do a thorough and complete and fair investigation, not to have the public trust and not to have the trust of your players, as your question mark, how do you take other steps to make sure that those investigations and those results feel more solid to people. And I think there are a lot of fans and some players who have spoken

out, saying they are looking for that. And so the NFL will explore that down the road.

SMERCONISH: I had a bar room debate earlier in the week with a buddy of mine, talking about the impact of deflate-gate and I said it's going to be great for the Super Bowl. And now, I'm looking on line and I'm seeing the tickets are going for 8 grand a piece. Do you think deflate-gate has actually contributed to the hype and interest and ticket prices?

NICHOLS: I certainly don't think it's hurt. I mean, look, you have two great teams in the Super Bowl, with high profile fan bases, and big name players. So, you can't discount those issues as well. But sure, the NFL has been on major newscasts for weeks. It led the evening news deflate-gate did on all three major networks when all three networks TV one night, cable TV has been all over it.

I mean, I think that anything that keeps the NFL in the news is generally good for the NFL and everyone has an opinion on it, right?

SMERCONISH: I have to submit my prop bets today. Do you have insight on the color of the Gatorade that will be spilled at the end?

NICHOLS: Well, I hear that purple is a long shot and orange is the favorite. Is that right?

SMERCONISH: You know, I have to tell you I love that stuff. I love like wagering on it. I probably shouldn't say this. How long will it be over or under for the anthem at the beginning of the game. All that stuff just contributes to the fun and excitement. Anyway, have a terrific day tomorrow.

NICHOLS: Thanks so much. I'll see you guys soon.

SMERCONISH: All right. Rachel Nichols.

Hey, up next, snow day after snow day in the Northeast. And to add insult to injury, the East Coast is bracing for another big storm. We'll have the latest on the storm's path, next.


SMERCONISH: Many of us just dug out and now we'll get whacked again.

Here is meteorologist Ivan Cabrera in Atlanta with the very latest -- Ivan.

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Michael, and I think this time we're going to share the misery here with folks across the Midwest, that have yet to see a big snow storm so far this season. So, this is going to be a widespread event.

Let's take you through the storm hour by hour. It's headed out of the southwestern U.S., already snowing as we head Saturday night from Nebraska, heading up into Iowa and, yes, Chicago, this one is for you as well, anywhere from six to 12 inches of snowfall, if not a little more. The latest runs are indicating a little bit of higher totals here. So, we'll have to watch that in Chicago.

Sunday night, still snowing, and then the storm heads off to the East Coast. New York is going to start off with snow and mix a little bit. That's going to keep the totals down anywhere from three to six inches. But to the north of that, we've got the piles of snow from the last winter storm, the blizzard really. Well, Boston is now looking at 12 to 18 additional inches of snowfall. You can imagine that.

There are the winter storm warnings posted for the Midwest. And then we head east where the winter storm watches are flying as well. Let's take you to what we think will happen as far as the totals. There you see the swath of eight to 12 inches that extends from Chicago and then that moves into the Northeast.

Maybe you want to go to the Super Bowl. That's where it's going to be nice, 67 there. But big time snow once again, Michael, across the Northeast.

SMERCONISH: I just saw my house under the five to 10-inch mark. So, I'll get ready. Ivan Cabrera, thank you.

Just ahead, high drama on Capitol Hill. Why Senator John McCain got fighting mad with protesters targeting who are Henry Kissinger.


SMERCONISH: Some drama at the U.S. Capitol this week. It looked like a rerun of the 1960s.

A small group of demonstrators berated Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting. They're from a group called Code Pink. They were calling for his arrest for war crimes.

Kissinger sat there stoically. If you don't remember, or too young, he negotiated the end of that unpopular war, but not before he ordered heavy bombing to bring North Vietnam to the table.

All the noise didn't sit well with the new committee chair, John McCain, himself a veteran and former POW of that conflict. He lashed out at the protesters after he ordered them removed by Capitol police.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I've been a member of this committee for many years, and I've never seen anything as disgraceful and outrageous and despicable as the last demonstration that just took place about -- you know, you're going to have to shut up or I'm going to have you arrested. If we can't get the Capitol Hill police in here immediately -- get out of here, you low life scum.


(END VIDEO CLIP) SMERCONISH: The whole scene was appalling. Henry Kissinger served

this nation with distinction. And the man is 91 years old. I say the statute of limitations has run out on protesting against him. I don't care if you say it was 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, even 40 years. At a certain point, you have to give him a break.

And, Senator McCain, I was thinking the same thing, but that doesn't mean you should have said it.

Thank you so much for joining me. Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish. See you next week.