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The Situation Room

Terror Plot Foiled; President Obama vs. Ex-Vice President Cheney; A New Tactic Against Pelosi

Aired May 21, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: We'll get the latest on the investigation from the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly. He's standing by live.

Also, President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney -- their dueling speeches laying out dueling views on national security. We're going to hear what both of them had to say.

And imagine being a passenger on a plane, looking out your window and seeing this -- jet fuel spewing out of the wing. We're going to talk to the man who made this video.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Prosecutors portray it as a domestic terror plot intending to "bring death to Jews" and possibly shoot down U.S. military planes. The four suspects in a New York court today, where new details of their alleged plot and how it was busted were revealed.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, and CNN's Mary Snow, they're both working the story for us.

Let's go to Susan first to see what happened -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in court today, it was revealed that one of the suspects apparently suffers from a form of schizophrenia, according to his attorney. However, at that point, the prosecutor shot up and said to the judge: "Your honor, in our surveillance video, this man was clearly a participant in this alleged terror plot" -- a plot that, Wolf, frightened some members of two synagogues.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Outside one of the targeted synagogues today, a mix of terror and relief.

SHOSANA GREEN, PARENT: I was very surprised. I mean, especially two shuls, you know, so close together. You know, it's very scary.

CANDIOTTI: In court, three of the suspects, handcuffs shackled to a chain around their waists, shook their heads repeatedly as if in disbelief when the prosecutor summed up the charges: "These are men who are eager to bring death to Jews," said Prosecutor Eric Snyder. He told the court when the alleged leader, James Cromitie, talked about a potential target, Cromitie told the FBI informant: "I hate those mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I would like to get a synagogue."

Court papers say the alleged plot started last June, after an FBI informant convicted of fraud met one of the four suspects in a mosque. Defendant James Cromitie said his parents lived in Afghanistan. Cromitie spoke of: "doing something to America."

Last December, Cromitie allegedly asked the informant to supply him with surface to air missiles and explosives. Soon after, the criminal complaint says, they began to conduct surveillance of potential targets. Authorities say the group got its hands on a gun, four cell phones and what they thought were explosives and a missile. But the explosives were dummies made to look like the real thing by the FBI.

Last night, as the plot was allegedly going down and with the bogus C-4 planted, police broke it up -- smashing the tinted windows of the vehicle and arresting four suspects.

Outside court, one defense attorney had nothing to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miss. Candiotti, I have no comment.


CANDIOTTI: All four suspects are being held without bail. They'll next appear in court next month -- and, Wolf, the arrests are for real, the bombs apparently fake.

Back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Susan, stand by.

Mary Snow is taking a closer look at these four suspects -- Mary, who are they?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're getting some details about these four suspects. Three of them had criminal pasts. At least two of them worship here at this mosque in Newburgh, New York. And these men stand accused of being homegrown terrorists willing to commit jihad.

But people here are in disbelief.


SNOW (voice-over): It is at this mosque in Newburgh, New York, just a few miles from Stewart Air Force Base, where prosecutors claim James Cromitie planted the seeds of a terror plot. A court complaint says Cromitie talked about his parents living in Afghanistan before he was born. Neighbors knew only about things much closer to home, like his overnight shifts working at Wal-Mart.

WHYOLA PRADO, NEIGHBOR OF CROMITIE: A very family oriented man, very friendly. He would give the shirt off his back if you needed it.

SNOW: The head imam at the mosque says he recognizes Cromitie.

SALAHUDDIN MUHAMMAD, IMAM: I've seen him a couple of times at the mosque.

SNOW: But he says he doesn't know him well.

MUHAMMAD: I was shocked, again -- shocked because I know the kinds of things that we do in our mosque in terms of being involved with interfaith cooperation, all kinds of dialogue with Christians and Jews.

SNOW: Records show Cromitie spent three separate terms in prison on drug charges.

Laguerre Payen, another suspect, also served prison time on attempted assault charges.

HAMIN RASHADA, ASSISTANT IMAM: I see him almost every day.

SNOW: An assistant imam who works with ex-convicts says Payen converted to Islam in prison and had distorted Islamic beliefs. He says Payen was from Haiti and lived in a former crack spot that was cleaned up for parolees, was living on food stamps and was paranoid.

RASHADA: He lived like a bum. He was very un -- unkempt.

SNOW: Hamin Rashada says he noticed one odd thing about Payen -- he acquired three cell phones in recent weeks and couldn't explain why.

Also alleged to be involved in the plot, 32-year-old suspect Onta Williams. He served a few months in prison on drug charges six years ago. He is said not to be related to a fourth suspect named David Williams.

We knocked at the door of a home that was raided Wednesday night. Neighbors say they saw David Williams there yesterday. A woman behind the door says she was in a days and did not know why police raided her home -- a home only yards away from where James Cromitie lives.


SNOW: And, Wolf, just a minute ago, Susan Candiotti mentioned that a lawyer in court said that Laguerre Payen, the fourth suspect, suffered some psychological problems. That is something, also, that one of the imams here is saying -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary, for that.

What a story.

Remember, we're going to be speaking with the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly. He's standing by. We'll get the latest from him, as well. In the meantime, let's check in with Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The best police department in the world right here.

President Obama had a lot of success early in his term, but it could be even better.

Democrats control the House. If Al Franken becomes the 60th Democratic Senator, they will have a filibuster-proof majority there. They already enjoy a majority in the Senate.

But as usual, when it comes to the Democrats, all is not well. And the problems begin with the leadership in both chambers in Congress.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a paltry 39 percent approval rating. Forty-eight percent think she's doing a terrible job.

Pelosi is not doing herself any favors, either, by the way she's handling this torture debate.

There's reason to believe that Pelosi knew about waterboarding as early as 2002, but she refuses to admit it and instead accuses the CIA of lying to the Congress.

We also understand she's going to hold another news conference tomorrow. That should be interesting.

A Mason-Dixon poll taken in Nevada for the "Las Vegas Review- Journal" shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's approval rating in his home state is even worse -- 38 About half of Nevada's voters have a negative view of Harry Reid. In fact, there's a real question whether he'll even be reelected. Forty-five percent of those polled say they definitely will vote for another candidate next year.

So here's the question -- would President Obama be better off with Congressional leaders other than Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi?

Here's a hint -- yes.

Go to CNN...


CAFFERTY: Go to and post a comment on my blog.

When the questions are hard, Wolf, I like to try and help the folks along a little bit.

BLITZER: Help with your (INAUDIBLE).

CAFFERTY: Give them a little insight.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what the folks out there have to say.

All right, Jack.

Thank you.

It's a sight that would frighten any passenger -- thousands of pounds of jet fuel spewing from the wing of a passenger plane in flight. And there's a shocking coincidence involving the man who discovered it.

Plus, President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney giving back to back speeches on national security -- what they said, why they said it and how it was received. We get expert analysis from the best political team on television.


BLITZER: The president of the United States delivers a major speech on national security and within a few moments, the former vice president of the United States does exactly the same thing.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here.

You were over there at the American Enterprise Institute when the former vice president spoke.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And he didn't speak until after everyone in the room had watched President Obama's speech and then he came out.

You know, on this, the two men agree. President Obama says he doesn't want to re-litigate the past. And former Vice President Dick Cheney said his intent isn't to look back.

Then they both did precisely did that.


CROWLEY (voice-over): It was the present...


CROWLEY: ...colliding with the past.


CROWLEY: ...over keeping America safe in the future.

On shutting down Guantanamo, the president said he was left with a legal mess on what to do with detainees.

OBAMA: We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security. Nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. CROWLEY: But absent a clear plan from the administration on what it intends to do with GITMO's detainees, Congress just yesterday balked at funding the shutdown -- duly noted across town.

CHENEY: The administration has found that it's easy to receive applause in Europe for closing Guantanamo, but it's tricky to come up with an alternative that will serve the interests of justice and America's national security.

CROWLEY: And on enhanced interrogation techniques...

OBAMA: Those who argued for these tactics were on the wrong side of the debate and the wrong side of history. That's why we must leave these methods where they belong -- in the past. They are not who we are and they are not America.

CROWLEY: The Obama administration has banned these harsh forms of interrogation -- a decision the former vice president called unwise in the extreme.

CHENEY: It's recklessness cloaked in righteousness and it would make the American people less safe.

CROWLEY: Both speeches were as serious in tone as they were often brutal in their assessments. Standing in front of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the president essentially accused the Bush administration of abandoning American values and bungling the war on terror.

OBAMA: All too often, our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight. And all too often, our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.

CROWLEY: The former vice president suggested this administration is trying too hard to please in a war that requires often unpopular decisions.

CHENEY: If liberals are unhappy about some decisions and conservatives are unhappy about other decisions, then it may seem to them that the president is on the path of sensible compromise. But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground.

CROWLEY: This was not a tale of two cities, it was a tale of two universes.


CROWLEY: In the end, Wolf, neither one of these men actually moved the ball forward. There was not a lot of news in either one of these speeches. But, boy, quite a story just seeing them going up against the other.

BLITZER: Maybe not a lot of news, but a lot of drama.


BLITZER: There's no doubt about that.

Candy, don't go away.

John King, our chief national correspondent, the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," is with us; Jeff Toobin, our senior legal analyst, as well -- Jeff, the president made it clear that his biggest problem is what to do with those detainees who you can't bring to a court because the evidence may have been tainted or whatever, but he's convinced they really represent a major threat and he doesn't know what to do with them.

What do -- what does the United States do, legally, with these kinds of suspected terrorists?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what he plans to do is not that different from what the Bush administration planned to do with them, which is to revive the idea of military commissions, which are hybrid trials where the defendant has fewer rights. And this was an idea that was criticized by many on the Democratic side during -- during the Bush administration.

Obama wants to change some of the practices of the military commissions. But he is a lot closer to the Bush position than, certainly, he let on he would be during the campaign.

BLITZER: And I was under the impression that he wants to do those military commissions for others, but there's a certain category that are -- that you can't even do a military commission for, that he simply wants to hold without any charges being filed.

TOOBIN: Well, it's the military commissions and what some are calling preventive detention, which is essentially where the Obama -- where the Guantanamo inmates have been all this time, which is without any sort of legal proceedings at all.

That's the most controversial, what Obama called the hardest cases. And he wants to try to keep that number as small as possible, but he's not ruling out that there will be some people held in the same kind of legal limbo that the Bush prisoners were held in for an indefinite period of time.

BLITZER: And that's why there was a negative reaction, John, from the ACLU, among others, to the president's speech today.

Let's talk a little bit about the former vice president. You, to a large extent, kicked off -- kicked this off with that interview you did a couple of months ago with the former vice president, in which he said the U.S. is now less safe because of President Obama's policies.

What's his motive?

What do you see as his motive for keeping this going, the speech today, for example, that he delivered?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In talking to him in person when he was on "STATE OF THE UNION," and talking to others very close to him, including who helped him write the speech, they say, number one, he thinks he's right. He thinks reversing these interrogation tactics, closing GITMO, will make the American people less safe, more susceptible to terrorism. He believes it. Whether you agree with him or not is the debate we're all having, but he believes it.

And number two, of course, he is in an administration that days, minutes after leaving office, was repudiated and rebuked by this president in a number of ways, including the executive order closing down Guantanamo Bay; including the steps taken to outlaw these interrogation tactics.

And he is fighting to say, we were right, you were wrong. It's a short-term tactical debate. It's a bigger legacy question.

One quick point. You know, two weeks ago, a lot of Republicans were saying, oh, do we really want Dick Cheney there?

On the big question today, (INAUDIBLE) 2012, probably not.

On this debate, they think that he is scoring points and succeeding.

CROWLEY: And one of the reasons that he can be so good on this -- and he mentioned it in his speech -- it's like that Janis Joplin song, "freedom is another just another word for nothing left to lose." He said, look, I'm -- I am a free man. I come to you as -- just as a fellow countryman. I am not in office and I'm not running for anything.

And that -- that (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Is Dick Cheney going to be, to Barack Obama, what Al Gore, the former vice president, turned out to be to George W. Bush?

KING: There's a question, I think, as to how long this goes on. But I thought it was fascinating today listening to President Obama. There's a lot of balls he's trying to juggle here and the speech was very complicated. It wasn't just about GITMO.

But when he talks about the economy, he says it's a mess I inherited from George W. Bush. Well, he used that about Guantanamo Bay today. He used "a mess I inherited from George W. Bush."

As long as that goes on, the pointing at the Bush administration, I think you will see a rather animated vice president, especially on these national security questions, out there, because, number one, again, he thinks he's right and they were right. And, number two, he looks around the leadership of the Republican Party and doesn't see anybody either willing or able to step up and make the same argument.


BLITZER: In contrast to the former vice president, there's a thunderous silence coming from the former president.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And that, really, is the difference between the two men.

KING: Right.

CROWLEY: You know, President Bush went away saying -- you know, I mean he got a lot of grief. He knows what it's like to get a lot of grief. He knows what it's like to be second-guessed. And he said from the get go -- I mean, even before he left office -- I am going to go, I'm going to fade away.

This is not something that is in the nature of Dick Cheney.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, do you have any doubt that the president will be able to live up to his pledge to shut down that prison by January 22nd of next year and have those 240 detainees moved out someplace?

TOOBIN: I have plenty of doubt that he's going to be able to make this promise. He has no plan at this moment. And the plans that he has outlined in a general way have real legal questions about them that might get tied up in the courts just the way the Bush administration plans got tied up in the courts.

So I think it is very far from clear that President Obama can keep this promise. They are nowhere near a resolution. Now, they have seven, eight, nine months to go. But they are not near a solution. They don't have a plan. They don't have approval from the courts.

So it is far from clear that Guantanamo will be closed come January 21st, 2010.

CROWLEY: And you notice he did not mention a date today. That may be reading too much into it, but you never heard him say January.

BLITZER: It would be pretty embarrassing, John, if they had to back away from that commitment.

KING: It would be, Wolf, but they need a place to put them and they need a -- they need an agreement in the United States to put them somewhere and they need agreements from allies around the world to take some of them. They have no plan, as Jeff just said.

And you can see, the outrage right now is from Democrats, as well as Republicans. This is not a bipartisan debate. There is a bipartisan message to this White House -- come back to us when you have a plan.

BLITZER: OK, guys. Thanks very much.

We'll continue our conversation.

A potentially dangerous situation all caught on camera in mid- flight -- a plane carrying 300 passengers leaks fuel at 30,000 feet.

And Michael Vick out of prison after serving time for his involvement in dog fighting. What's next for the suspended NFL quarterback?

Stick around.



BLITZER: Fredericka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?

WHITFIELD: Hello again, Wolf.

Well, the chairman and chief executive officer of AIG is stepping down. Edward Liddy says he'll leave office once the company's board finds a replacement for him. Liddy was appointed to head the troubled insurance company after it received federal aid last fall.

Baghdad is reeling from a series of deadly bombings. Iraqi authorities say a bombing attack on a U.S. military patrol today killed three American soldiers and a dozen Iraqi civilians. The U.S. military says the blast was caused by an IED. Today's violence comes after a restaurant bombing Wednesday that killed at least 40 people. Authorities say it was the worst attack in nearly a month.

And the faces of the refugees -- the United Nations says children and women make up more than half of the two million people who have escaped Pakistan's battle zone. A military spokesman says the fight with the Taliban has uprooted about 90 percent of the population in Pakistan's Swat Valley. U.N. workers are trying to provide food and water to those living in camps, as well as an education -- trying to extend that to children.

Older people may be better at fighting off the swine flu. The CDC says tests show that people in their 60s and older have a greater immunity to the virus, possibly from exposure to similar viruses. Swine flu is now associated with 10 deaths in the U.S. A 21-year-old chronically ill Utah man is the latest victim. The World Health Organization says there are more than 11,000 cases worldwide and at least 85 deaths.

And suspended NFL star Michael Vick is out of prison, but not quite free. The former Atlanta Falcons quarterback arrived at his Virginia home today, where he will serve two months under home confinement. Vick spent 19 months in prison for bankrolling a dog fighting ring. His lawyers say that he is set to work a $10 an hour construction job. He could return to professional football in September if he is reinstated by the NFL -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see if he is.

Thanks very much, Fred, for that.

Republicans taking on Nancy Pelosi over her controversial comments about the CIA. Arianna Huffington and Tony Blankley -- they're standing by live to join us in our Strategy Session to discuss whether the House speaker should actually step down or at least consider it.

And imagine looking out of the window of a plane and seeing fuel leaking from the aircraft in mid-air. One passenger did his part to try and prevent what was a potentially very dangerous situation.

And the French president's Facebook page gets a facelift -- what Nicolas Sarkozy is now sharing with his friends.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, violent scenes that have to stop -- that's the word from the man in charge of America's transportation. The new drive to ban texting while driving -- no excuses.

Secrets of the past now online -- evidence of KGB espionage inside the United States.

Documents just being released -- what are they revealing?

And a stumble on Wall Street today -- the Dow dropping 130 points. Analysts say investors saw bad signals from the job market.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


House Republicans are trying some new tactics against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her allegation that the CIA misled Congress on the abuse of detainees.

Our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is working the story for us.

What's going on -- Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: House Republicans, today, Wolf, they offered a resolution on the House floor. They knew full well that it would never get past the Democratic majority, but that wasn't really the point. It was all about keeping this controversy in the headlines.


KEILAR (voice-over): House Republicans are calling out Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- on the House floor this time.

REP. ROB BISHOP (R), UTAH: A select committee of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence shall be established to review and verify the accuracy of the speaker's aforementioned public statements.

KEILAR: They pushed for a House investigation into Pelosi's allegation the CIA lied to her about the use of waterboarding on terror suspects.

But Democrats swiftly blocked the resolution -- the latest attempt by Republicans to keep political pressure on the speaker.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: I would have hoped that the speaker would have come forward by now and either put documents out there supporting her claim or retracted her statement and apologized to our intelligence professionals.

KEILAR: Pelosi was able to stay out of the spotlight -- delivering a long planned commencement address at Johns Hopkins University. But a Pelosi spokesman called the move by Republicans "nothing more than partisan politics and the height of hypocrisy."

And number two Democrat, Steny Hoyer, also pushed back.

REP. STENY HOYER, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: This was a distraction. A distraction because the minority party does not want to look at what George Bush did. George bush, of course, President Bush said, "We do not torture." That is a quote. That is the question.


BLITZER: The republican leader, the minority leader of the House Brianna, is you know John Boehner, he reiterated today that the Speaker Nancy Pelosi should back up her allegations about the CIA misleading members of Congress with proof. But that would be pretty difficult, if not impossible.

KEILAR: Yes, because Nancy Pelosi, she's actually asked the CIA of course to release these documents that have to do with the briefings in question but they're classified. So they haven't been released yet. There is no indication they will be released and that means it's a good tactic for republicans because they can paint her into a box since her options are limited here. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much Brianna Keilar.

Let's assess what we've just heard and more with Arianna Huffington, she's editor-in-chief of the "Huffington Post" and republican strategist Tony Blankley, he's former secretary to the then House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Tony, Newt Gingrich often found himself on the ropes. If you had to help him get off the ropes, how does Nancy Pelosi get off of this and get back to the business she really wants to do?

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's interesting because Newt started having real troubles about the fall of 1995. He'd been speaker about eight or 10 months. He didn't leave the speakership until December of '98. But he was steadily weakened and his relationship with his members weakened as he became less popular. If you look at the Gallup poll this week, it shows that there's a 20- point gap between Pelosi's approval on how she's performing on this issue and how the democratic Congress is performing. She has a 20- point drag on fellow democrats. They're going to hear stuff back home and this is when the nasty process begins. She's not going to be out of office any time soon. But she's going to become more of a drag. The rest of the leadership will work less and less well together. They're not going to stop working together, but you already saw Steny Hoyer two times say some negative things and then back pedal. One on she should be under oath, two on he believed the CIA. And so that's the danger that they're in now beginning a process.

BLITZER: Do you believe she's in real trouble, Arianna?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Not at all, Wolf. Let's put this in perspective. When Newt Gingrich was in trouble, he lost the confidence of his caucus. Nancy Pelosi had a lousy press conference, no question about that. She equivocated. She wasn't clear. But there's absolutely no evidence at all that there is any problem with the caucus. Not a single democrat has called on her to resign. So I think this is slightly manufactured by the media and of course that's exactly what republicans want because it is a major distraction.

BLANKLEY: Arianna you remember because back in the old days when we got to know each other back in the Newt days, Newt initially, even when he is in trouble, had his members supporting him. I don't think anyone called for him to step down for a number of years. But quietly the muttering began because they got tired of having to cover for him in public when he became less popular than they were back home. That's the challenge that Pelosi has. She's still very valuable to them because she's a very effective inside player. But she's now a less effective outside player and as that damage increases, then she simply has less effectiveness. That crosses over into issues other than this, which will go away eventually.

HUFFINGTON: But Tony I don't want to underestimate the importance of muttering, but here what is happening is that unfortunately for the republicans, they are asking for documents. They're asking for information about what Nancy Pelosi knew and exactly when she knew it. And as a result, they're opening up exactly what they want to avoid, which is any investigation into torture. Because ultimately this is not just about the torture briefing, it's about the torture methods.

BLANKLEY: The republicans are doing now exactly what the democrats did with Newt. They would throw out any charge, they'd call for ethics hearings, they'd call for motions that they would defeat. And any individual one didn't make a lot of difference. But over time, it's kind of like a picador with a bull, it's just kind of little bits of blood trickling out.

BLITZER: I want to move on and talk about the former Vice President Arianna Dick Cheney. He delivered a speech and he said this, listen carefully to these words.


DICK CHENEY: The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work, proud of the results. Because they prevented the violent death of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wow! That's an amazing development if it's true. Do you believe that it's true, the enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, prevented the violent deaths of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people?

HUFFINGTON: Wolf, it's not really a question of what I believe. There isn't a single fact, there isn't a scrap of evidence to back up what the vice president said. He's utterly delusional and that is really the problem. That he's being presented as someone giving a legitimate contrary view to what the president gave us today. But in fact it's the same delusional stuff that he believed when he was the vice president, that he built a distracted foreign policy on and we're still paying a price for that.

BLANKLEY: Delusional is I guess in the mind of the beholder. I agree with everybody that Cheney is not a popular man. But a lot of people, majority of people see him as a serious man. His total national number is now 37 percent approval, which is much higher than it was. Even though he's not a pretty face and not a popular person, if he can deliver a message that people find serious, not Arianna's millions of readers and my thousands of readers don't need to be convinced, it's the people in the middle who are going to be listening, if they think there is some credibility to that. If I were the president, I wouldn't like the match-up of the sitting president being paired with the previous vice president. You sort of like to fight above your weight category, not below it.

HUFFINGTON: But this was completely manufactured. And my problem Tony is not about the messenger, I don't really care how popular or unpopular he is, it's about the message.

BLANKLEY: I agree.

HUFFINGTON: The message is wrong. And even if Oprah was delivering that message, it would be wrong. Because basically he's saying that in order to keep the country secure, we have to sacrifice our values. And again, there is no evidence for that.

BLANKLEY: He's not saying that. What he's saying is that we have to use waterboarding from time to time. For that, there is a small majority, depending on the poll you look at, it's either split or it's slightly in favor of that because they don't think it's torture, they think it's a useful device in an extreme situation.

BLITZER: Tony Blankley and Arianna Huffington, a good discussion. We're going to definitely have both of you back. Thanks very much.

BLANKLEY: Thank you.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's go to Paducah, Kentucky right now. Deborah Feyerick is standing by, apparently there has been a decision or has there been a decision in this trial of this U.S. army soldier?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is, Wolf. We just got out of court moments ago. Steven Green will not die for the murders of an Iraqi family in March of 2006. Though some jurors did vote for the death penalty, they were unable to reach a unanimous decision. They were in that jury room for about 10 and a half hours deliberating this over the course of two days. But when the verdict was read by the judge, one member of the defense team, a paralegal broke down in and sobbed. The tension was so great, Steven Green was sitting at the table, seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and a small smile crossed his face.

Now I spoke to his dad immediately after. The father said, "It is the best of two bad choices." His brother said, "I'm just relieved." Now we did get a statement from his defense team as well. Let me just open that. They said, "They're not celebrating tonight on this. That it is a tragic case on many levels. At the end of the day, we truly hope the U.S. military will take a hard look at the resources they provide our service members dealing with combat stress issues." They had argued all along that Steven Green was trying to seek help. That he was on the verge when he committed these crimes.

It may be something that resonated with some of the jury members. Again, he will serve life in prison. One of the attorneys on the case did say that he was pleased that the jury did not bow to the political pressures of this case. The judge decided not to send the jury back because they had not reached a unanimous decision. He said, "If you can't agree, well then that is your decision and he will get life in prison." Wolf?

BLITZER: Just to reiterate Deb, the jury found him guilty of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl then killing her, setting her body on fire to destroy the evidence. They also found him guilty of killing the girl's parents and six-year-old sister. These are really, really horrendous charges that he was convicted on. All right Deb Feyerick, in Paducah, Kentucky. He'll spend the rest of his life in prison but will not be executed. Thank you.

New insight into a domestic terror investigation. New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly standing by live to join us. We'll talk about the alleged plot targeting synagogues in New York and possibly U.S. military planes as well.

Plus, this is what you don't want to see, especially on a transpacific flight. A jumbo jet spewing jet fuel at an alarming rate. Details of who discovered it and what happened next.


BLITZER: Imagine this. You're on a plane in flight and you notice the aircraft is leaking fuel. That's exactly what happened to one passenger who decided to take action. Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's been working this story. It's a pretty amazing story Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf. We spoke with this passenger today from Japan. He makes it clear, he is not some hero who saved more than 300 people. But he is a good samaritan who worked with the flight crew to address an alarming situation.


TODD (voice-over): You're looking at a serious problem at 30,000 feet, jet fuel spewing out the wing of a huge passenger jet. Not a standard fuel drop, this is a big leak. It happened on a flight from Chicago to Tokyo last month. More than 300 people on board. A concerned passenger named Bartek Bachleda took this video and took action. First trying to alert a flight attendant.

VOICE OF BARTEK BACHLEDA, PASSENGER (via telephone): When I initially hit the call button, she thought maybe I wanted something and she said, sir, we're getting out drinks, I'll be right back with you.

TODD: He waited, realized this wasn't going to stop on its own and got her attention again. This time he says...

BACHLEDA (via telephone): She took me very seriously, she listened to what I had to say, she took the camera and she proceeded to go up front. Within minutes, I believe, I think it was the first officer or the captain came down.

TODD: After the pilot surveyed the leak, he made a left turn somewhere over either the north-central U.S. or Canada and headed for San Francisco where the plane landed safely. Bachleda calculated they were losing about 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour.

BACHLEDA (via telephone): I decided to like, you know, hey, if the captain does not know this, before the oceanic meeting, once we fly over the ocean, that we'll leaking and losing a massive amount of fuel, this is going to be a bad day.

TODD: How'd he know all this? Bartek Bachleda happens to be an air force staff sergeant stationed at Cadina Air Base in Japan. He also happens to be a refueling specialist. Bachleda was reluctant to name the airline in question, but we were able to independently verify that it was a United Airlines flight. Contacted by CNN, a United spokesman issued a statement saying, "Our captain was aware of the situation." And he told us, "The crew would have identified the problem and gotten the plane to safety in any event."


TODD: Could this plane have run out of fuel? Let's look at the flight path. From Chicago to Tokyo, it's over 6,000 miles. United tells us this plane was a 747 400, which holds about 372,000 pounds of fuel. If it leaked 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour as Bachleda says it did, it would have lost only about 20 percent of its entire fuel capacity over the entire nearly 13 hour flight. A former NTSB official tells us the plane still probably would have had to divert because they have to have enough extra fuel to be able to divert anywhere in the Pacific Region, which could conceivably cover great distances, or it has to have enough fuel to circle at its destination. United says this was never an issue because the pilot was aware they were losing fuel and there was no way this plane would have continued over the Pacific. Wolf?

BLITZER: Could the pilot actually have seen the leak with the naked eye from the cockpit?

TODD: Bachleda says he might not have been able to in some stretches because he says he was looking at it from right over the wing and he says there were some stretches, even though the leak was continuous where you could not see it from the naked eye, like when they were climbing through clouds, it would disappear and then it would reappear. So the pilot may not have been able to see it but he probably had it in his gauges of the cockpit.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's get back to our top story right now. A hearing today for four men accused of plotting to bomb New York City synagogues. We're joined now by the New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Commissioner, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Were these guys really serious? Some are already beginning to suspect, maybe they were just a bunch of losers who got entangled in something way over their heads.

KELLY: We always hear that when we successfully stop a plot. I mean, clearly their intention was to kill people, to cause mayhem. They couldn't do it because the bombs were inert. The stinger missile was not operational. But there is no question about it, they wanted to kill a lot of people. If you look at the complaint from the court, it says -- talks about an awful lot of anti-Semitic talk. They said they wanted to do something against America. They were upset they said because of Muslims being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were serious.

BLITZER: Because you know defense attorneys will suggest that the informant sort of egged them on and got them going to areas where they perhaps wouldn't have normally gone. You're convinced that these guys were sincere and they wanted to kill Jews?

KELLY: Absolutely, no question about it. You know, entrapment is always going to be a defense but you have to be not otherwise disposed to do it. That's something in every trial, certainly in the terrorist area you're going to hear when there's an informant involved. I don't think that's the case here.

BLITZER: Have you -- is there any indications that the four of them, these suspects, were part of any broader conspiracy?

KELLY: We don't believe so. The FBI, Bill Demerest, the head of the New York office, and our investigators, we don't believe that's the case. We believe we got everyone here, these four individuals. They did not have any contact with international organizations though they thought so. They thought that the informant had a link to a very radical Islamic group in Pakistan. But obviously that was not the case.

BLITZER: Which group was that, they thought the informant had a link to?

KELLY: It's a group called "Jaheesh Eve Mohammad." It's again a violent group from Pakistan. One of the many, what you might say are al Qaeda affiliates or surrogates in the area.

BLITZER: All are these are U.S. citizens, although one of the complaints says that one of them, his parents actually lived in Afghanistan before he was born. Is that right?

KELLY: That's what he says. We don't believe that right now to be the case. There's some shifting information in that area but that's what he told the informant. That one of his parents was born in Afghanistan. That simply may not be the case. We stayed away from doing much -- an in depth investigation of their backgrounds because we didn't want to tip them off, we didn't want to do anything to undermine the case.

BLITZER: In these court papers, two very different plots were described. One to bomb these two synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, but another to get these stinger shoulder-fired missiles and to try to shoot down U.S. air force military jets flying in upstate New York. One was car bombings and another was stinger missiles. Is that right?

KELLY: That's correct. And these are the ideas, the concepts of the plan that they came forward with. And they asked the informant to get them the material to do both of these things. Of course, that's what happened, that's how this case went forward.

BLITZER: This was a joint NYPD/FBI investigation, is that right?

KELLY: NYPD, FBI, we work very well together here. New York State Police investigators were also involved. The Joint Terror Task Force, I know you are very familiar with that entity. And it worked extremely well in this case. We have tremendous cooperation. We're working together better now than ever.

BLITZER: I know in New York City, that there's an excellent reputation that you guys have this joint cooperation with this task force. Thanks very much, commissioner, for coming in.

KELLY: Thank you Wolf, good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

It's become an increasing danger on the roads, texting while driving. It's a bigger danger and now that the federal government is stepping in to try to stop it, we're going to explain what's going on.

And signs of recovery. How the Obama administration wants you to see what projects in your town are being funded by the economic stimulus plan. Stick around. We'll explain that and more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, "Would President Obama be better off with congressional leaders other than Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi?" Based on your e-mails there apparently is some room for improvement here. Matt writes, "Yes, Pelosi and Reid are the most incompetent leaders I have ever seen. I'm a staunch democrat and liberal, but these two make me sick. If they can't even get their own people in the House and Senate to vote the way the democrats want, what's the use of being in charge?"

Kelby in Houston, Texas, "No, but they're not helping either. Reid really needs to get his troops in line. The people want Obama's agenda to move forward. The Senate Democrats look weak and fearful in a time where they should not be. The democrats hold the majority for a reason and they need to act accordingly." Marlene in Michigan, "Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi are not necessarily the problem for President Obama. The democrats in Congress represent diverse constituents and can't be expected to move in a block or in lock-step. That is what is great about the Democratic Party, really." Sue writes, "I speak with great authority. I lived in Nevada for 10 years, lived in San Francisco for 40 years. These two lily-livered untalented, incapable, malcontents are a disgrace to Congress and the country. Obama deserves much more capable people to help him bring our country back up to snuff. So let's snuff these two out in the 2010 elections if not sooner. I fear they'll be a drag on Obama for his entire time in office and we cannot afford that."

Phil in Georgia says, "Reid and Pelosi have been doing a stellar job. They are in very close lock-step with the president. You won't agree on everything but they should be able to find ways to get most things done." And Karen in Nashville writes, "Would the president be better off? The entire country would be better off." If you didn't see your e-mail here you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others. There's not a lot of cheering going on for these two, at least not in my blog.

BLITZER: Strong views indeed. All right Jack, thank you.

A makeover for the French president's Facebook page. A look at what Nicholas Sarkozy is sharing with his online friends.


BLITZER: The French President Nicholas Sarkozy recently revamped his Facebook page, it now includes romantic videos. Let's bring in our internet reporter Abbie Tatton to show us some of these videos, what's going on here?

ABBIE TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, how better than to make your Facebook page more attractive than by putting Carla Bruni on it. This is what used to greet you when you got to President Sarkozy's Facebook page, now you've got a smiling suntanned Sarkozy. And a few videos now featuring his wife, especially this one that has been causing quite a stir and getting a lot of hits in France in the last few days. Domestic bliss with Carla Bruni. If you can stomach this as he drops into an interview with his wife, I'll play it for you.

Here he is, a roomful of women, he comes in unannounced, tells her that he's about to have a visit from the Iraqi prime minister. Lovely, she says, says that he just worked out, so he's a little bit hot and sweaty. Then she touches his face, possibly wiping the sweat over. Tender moments here. Some people calling it nauseating, but Sarkozy' online fans seem to love it. These are the women's comments, "I love you Sarkozy, I adore you." And then the men, it's pretty similar, same kind of thing. He's got 100,000 Facebook friends, not quite President Obama, but since this video, the numbers have been climbing. Wolf?

BLITZER: Saw the comment. OK, thanks very much for that Abbie. And to our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, President Obama tries to convince Americans he can close Guantanamo Bay's prison camp and still keep them safe. But the former Vice President Dick Cheney warns the president doesn't have a real plan at all. This hour, could dangerous terror suspects wind up in your backyard?