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Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings Begin; Was Michael Jackson Murdered?

Aired July 13, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

After day one of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, one Senate Republican predicts she has a clear path to the Supreme Court, barring any -- quote -- "meltdown."

No meltdowns today, but this round may be remembered most for questions about whether Sotomayor would make decisions as a wise Latina or based on empathy.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She watched the opening statements unfold today -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Today, Senators laid the groundwork for the questioning that will begin tomorrow. Republicans on the panel wavered all day between praising the judge on the one hand for her accomplishments and worrying over her judicial views.


YELLIN (voice-over): To anyone who worries she'll make law from the bench, Judge Sonia Sotomayor says think again.

SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Many senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy. It's simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make law. It is to apply the law.

YELLIN: And for all the talk of empathy, the judge had a one- line reply.

SOTOMAYOR: My personal and professional experiences help me to listen and understand with the law always commanding the result in every case.

YELLIN: But before senators heard from the judge, they first heard from one another with about three hours of statements.

There was praise from the Democrats...

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: She was a judge in which all Americans can have confidence.

YELLIN: ... concern from the Republicans. SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Judge Sotomayor clearly rejected the notion that judges should strive for an impartial brand of justice.

YELLIN: Key to the Republican opposition are comments Sotomayor made off the bench that a judge's empathy and that race, class, and gender play a role in deciding cases.

The committee's lead Republican openly worried that Judge Sotomayor would be the kind of justice...

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: ... who believe it is acceptable for a judge to allow their personal background, gender, prejudices or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of or against parties before the court.

YELLIN: But Democrats defended her, saying she'd bring a breadth of experience to the court.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: If confirmed, you will join the Supreme Court with more federal judicial experience than any justice in the past 100 years.

YELLIN: The lightest moment of the day came from a Republican who offered this prediction...

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, that does seem to be the conventional wisdom.

I should note that one of the two women who sits on this committee went out of her way to make a point that she sees an irony in the fact that Judge Sotomayor is being challenged on the relevance of race and gender by a panel that is largely made up of white men.

And all that grilling again begins tomorrow with a session starting at 9:30 in the morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will have live coverage here on CNN, 9:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. The confirmation hearings continue with the questions and the answers.

President Obama's taking the role of health care reform drill sergeant today, vowing to whip the forces of change into shape here in Washington.

He used the announcement of his new surgeon general nominee to put the nation on notice that inaction is simply not an option.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

Got a little tougher tone from the president fresh from his overseas trip, Dan. DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, turning up the volume a bit on his tone here at the White House, the White House saying that this push by the president is part of an effort to fulfill a campaign promise, and that is to offer affordable health insurance to all Americans.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Tough talk from President Obama on the state of health care reform.

First, a guarantee.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to put everybody on notice, because there was a lot of chatter during the week that I was gone. We are going to get this done.

LOTHIAN: Then came a stern rebuke.

OBAMA: For those naysayers and cynics who think that this is not going to happen, don't bet against us.

LOTHIAN: President Obama used the announcement of his surgeon general nominee, Dr. Regina Benjamin, to push what is now his top domestic priority, but there is heated debate even among Democrats over what health care reform will look like. The White House wants a public health insurance option, but another idea is a nonprofit co-op with less government involvement.

The president has stated he wants to see a bill before the August recess, but reality may be setting in. When asked if that deadline was in jeopardy, this is how spokesman Robert Gibbs responded...


LOTHIAN: Despite the president's challenge to his critics and a private White House meeting with key congressional Democrats, including Pelosi, Reid, Baucus and Rangel, to discuss, among other things, paying for the health care overhaul, the White House says don't take any of that as a sign of desperation.

GIBBS: I think there's always the tendency for the focus on the negative, not on the positive.


LOTHIAN: Gibbs says that progress is being made up on Capitol Hill, but, with August approaching quickly, he did leave the door open to the possibility that the president could ask Congress to stay in session in order to -- quote -- "do what needs to be done" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that report, Dan Lothian at the White House.

Let's get more now on the president's choice for surgeon general of the United States. Dr. Regina Benjamin is a 52-year-old family practice physician who spent most of her career caring for poor patients at a clinic she founded in Alabama. She was the first African-American woman board member of the American Medical Association. The president calls her a relentless promoter of programs to fight preventable illness.

Here's something that could complicate health care reform. The Treasury Department reports today that the federal budget deficit has climbed to almost $1.1 trillion for the fiscal year that started in October. That's the first time ever that the deficit has topped $1 trillion, and the year is by no means over.

It's being pushed up by the big money spent to combat recession and the financial crisis, costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. At the same time, tax revenues given the horrible economy out there right now, tax revenues going down and down.

Houston, we could have a problem. We're either minutes away from an important space shuttle launch or minutes away from yet another delay. The astronauts are on board right now, but will the weather cooperate?

And is Governor Sarah Palin resigning so she can -- quote -- "take the money and run"? The father of Palin's grandchild is making some shocking claims.


BLITZER: Some 40 minutes and counting. You're looking at live pictures of the space shuttle Endeavour. It's fueled up. The crew is on board. All systems are ready to go. Now all it needs is for nature to cooperate. Bad weather could still scrub this important launch once again.

Let's get the latest from CNN's John Zarrella. He's over at the Kennedy Space Center for us.

Look up in the sky, John. Is it clear, not clear? What's going on?


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Well, it's overcast, Wolf. There's a big thunderstorm to the south, and now they're looking at another one to the north of us that may impact that landing facility, just in case there were an emergency and they had to come back here.

So they're by no means out of the woods with the weather yet. As soon as they clear one storm, it seems like another one pops up, but about two hours ago, the crew, all smiling again, went out to the launch pad, got on board the space shuttle. They left the operations and checkout building led by Commander Mark Polansky, making his -- veteran of two shuttle flights -- making his third shuttle flight, Julie Payette on board as well, Canadian Space Agency astronaut. And they're certainly ready to go. Endeavour is going on a 16-day mission once they get off the ground to the International Space Station. You know what's interesting, Wolf? When they get up there, between the seven astronauts on the shuttle and the six on board the International Space Station, there are going to be 13 people in space, the most ever, five different nationalities, a real international crew, Russian, Belgian, Canadian, U.S. and Japanese astronauts, so, a real international cooperative mission, once they get Endeavour off the ground.

The only issue that could possibly at this point hold them up, the weather, and that is still iffy at best. But the vehicle is performing well. There are no issues with the shuttle Endeavour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's an amazing thing. And no matter how many times you have seen that launch, you can just see it. And we will have live coverage, obviously if, in fact, it takes off, and we're hoping that the weather cooperates.

You know exactly one week from today, John, what we're all going to be remembering?

ZARRELLA: Yes, it's going to be the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first two human beings to set foot on another world, 40 years, Wolf. It is awfully hard to believe.

And they are going to have a big celebration here this week on the 16th to mark the date of the launch, and then, in Washington, up at the Air and Space Museum, another big celebration on the 20th of the month, next Monday, so some big festivities planned. Hard to believe, 40 years since the first moon landing.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to have extensive coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM one week from today, because we will mark that exact second that man actually landed on the moon. I want you to stand by, John, because we are going to see if this shuttle Endeavour actually takes off.

We're going to check in with our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, who's taking a closer look at the weather. They have only got a few minutes to make their mind up, Chad.


BLITZER: What are we seeing?

MYERS: It's a lot better than I thought it would be this time of year. There's no guarantee trying to launch a shuttle in the summer in Florida. And you could pick a drier place, like maybe Arizona or something. But here, 39A, 39B, the shuttle is right there. The closest showers is about 20 miles north of there. So, at least that's some good news.

We have been watching showers pop up all day long, especially south and east of it, but those storms have been moving into the ocean, and so has that cell been moving to the ocean. The spot we're looking for, right there. And, so far, we're between storms. So far, so good. They are on a hold. They won't even get out of the hold for another about 40 minutes or so, maybe 35 minutes. And we will be here when it happens -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will watch. Let's hope for the best.

All right, Chad, thanks very much.

President Obama and the words that may come back to haunt him -- why some are saying if the Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor rises up to the president's standards, she should not necessarily be confirmed.

Plus, the president can't catch a break with the teleprompter -- why his remarks came crashing to a halt.

And the situation Hillary Clinton calls ridiculous -- what she had to explain to government workers today.



BLITZER: He used to be a family insider, and now he's offering his insight on why Sarah Palin is stepping down as the governor of Alaska.

We're talking about Levi Johnston. He's the father of Palin's grandchild. He says money, lots of money, is a big motivator.

Let's go to Mary Snow. She's in New York following these developments for us -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just to refresh people's memories, Levi Johnston is the former fiance of Bristol Palin and fathered a child with her.

Now he is volunteering his own theory about money and pressure that he claims played a factor in the governor's decision.


SNOW (voice-over): Nineteen-year-old Levi Johnston isn't holding back with his views on why Governor Sarah Palin, his son's grandmother, is resigning.

LEVI JOHNSTON, EX-FIANCE OF BRISTOL PALIN: I think it's because she -- she got a few offers, and she decided to take the money, and she was a little stressed out at the same time.

SNOW: Johnston had just emerged from an interview in New York in which he talked about the time he lived with the Palins before he and Bristol Palin broke off their engagement. He told NBC's "Today Show" that there were tons of offers coming in, after Palin lost her GOP vice presidential bid. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

JOHNSTON: Well, there's been talk about it would be nice to just take the money and run or do...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what she said?



JOHNSTON: Yes. That's what -- and do -- make a reality show, maybe, or just something easier.


SNOW: Johnston claims the kids weren't interested in doing a show.

Palin has said one of the reasons she's stepping down is because of what she called frivolous ethics complaints by political operatives descending on Alaska.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: Todd and I, we're looking at more than half-a-million dollars in legal bills just in order to set the record straight.

SNOW: Johnston told NBC's "Today Show' that he believes fame went to her head.


JOHNSTON: She speaks her mind. She's an incredible lady. And -- but there are times, you know, where she's -- she's not up front with everybody. But, for the most part, she is.


SNOW: Johnston, who was asked about cashing in on his own Palin connection, says he's been getting offers for movies and reality shows, and he even posed for "GQ" magazine.

A spokeswoman for Palin declined comment, but did say last week, "It is interesting to learn Levi is working on a piece of fiction while honing his acting skills."

As for what's next for Palin, in a "Washington Times" interview, she said she's not quitting politics. Instead, she plans to campaign for conservative issues, and would even campaign for conservative Democrats.


SNOW: And after Palin leaves office July 26, she has at least one speaking event already lined up. A group of Republican women in Simi Valley in California says Palin will be a guest speaker at an event they are holding the Reagan Presidential Library on August 8 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I assume -- I assume she's going to be on the speaking service -- circuit a lot.

How is her political fund-raising coming along?

SNOW: We got some new numbers today into her political action committee. That was formed back in January, reports of raising about $730,000 in the first six months of the year. Now, this political action committee was -- the goal is to help support candidates for federal, state office, and it also shows that she has about $450,000 in cash still on hand -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you.

LaToya Jackson, she is making a very powerful claim that her brother Michael was murdered. Does she have evidence to back that up? Stand by for what we know.

This was supposed to be the opening night of Michael Jackson's comeback tour in London. We will show you how some loyal fans marked the occasion.

And you're looking at these live pictures from the launch pad -- the space shuttle Endeavour scheduled to lift off any moment now. We are keeping a close eye on the weather and the countdown clock.



Happening now: President Obama's own tough standard for Supreme Court nominees, he laid it down when he was a U.S. senator. Could his own words, though, come back to haunt him and Sonia Sotomayor right now?

Also, Michael Jackson's family raising new questions about the singer's death, and his sister now saying she believes he was murdered.

And a very unusual tribute to Michael Jackson, the eternal moonwalk -- how thousands of people are taking part.

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

Only moments away from the launch of the shuttle Endeavour. You're looking at these live pictures from the launch site.

CNN's John Zarrella is keeping one eye on the shuttle, another eye on the weather.

How much time is there before they have to make a decision to either go or no go, John? ZARRELLA: Well, they will come out of this built-in hold in about 15, 16 minutes. And, by then, they will have to make a decision on whether they're going to continue with the countdown or go ahead and scrub for the day.

And, you know, everybody's probably asking, well, it looks great down out there behind me. The weather looks pretty good, the shuttle Endeavour behind me there. But if Dominic Swann, our cameraman, can pan off here to my right, you can see that's a big active thunderstorm. That's the corner of the vehicle assembly building you see there.

And it is an active storm with lightning and thunder. And it is well within the range that is no go. So, at this point, they are red for violating the launch commit criteria. And they're saying that that storm is moving so slowly, Wolf, it may not clear the area in time for them to launch today.

And no decision has yet been made on whether they will go again tomorrow, try again tomorrow. A couple reasons. The weather's not expected to be much better tomorrow, and they have already tanked that giant external tank two days in a row, and they don't like to do it three days in a row.

They like to take a day off to replenish that liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. So, it's a question mark whether they would even try to go tomorrow, Wolf. If they don't go tomorrow, they can't go until the 27th of the month. So, they have to stand down for a couple more weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, basically, what I hear you saying, John, is we should know very, very soon whether this is a launch or no launch.

ZARRELLA: Yes, I would think, in the next 10, 15 -- 10 minutes or so, at the most, we should know whether they're going to continue with this countdown or call it a day.

BLITZER: All right, well, the launch is -- you see the 22 minutes and five seconds, four seconds, three seconds. We will watch it together with you. Stay in close touch with us. John Zarrella is on the scene. And we will get back to him.

Let's move on to the top story of the day here in Washington, Sonia Sotomayor and whether or not she should be confirmed as the next U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Let's discuss this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, David Frum, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington, and our CNN senior legal analyst, the authority on the Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin, the author of "The Nine," one of the great books ever written on the Supreme Court.

Gloria, you flagged this sound bite from then Senator Barack Obama. This was back in January of 2006. He was describing the criteria he looked at in whether to vote to confirm or reject a Supreme Court nominee.


OBAMA: There are some who believe that the president, having won the election, should have complete authority to appoint his nominee, and the Senate should only examine whether or not the justice is intellectually capable and an all-around good guy, that, once you get beyond intellect and personal character, there should be no further questions as to whether the judge should be confirmed.

I disagree with this view. I believe firmly that the Constitution calls for the Senate to advise and consent. I believe that it calls for meaningful advice and consent that includes an examination of a judge's philosophy, ideology and record.


BLITZER: That was Senator Barack Obama back in 2006. He went on to vote against the Samuel Alito confirmation -- not necessarily because he wasn't qualified, because he didn't like, as he says, his philosophy, ideology and record.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. And you heard a lot of Republicans at the hearing today, Wolf, saying exactly the same thing, talking about the Obama standard, if you will, which they say is an ideological standard -- that if they were to apply it to Judge Sotomayor, they might decide to vote against her.

And I think it's a little way of kind of winking at the president and saying, gee, don't you wish you hadn't said that?

BLITZER: Because you did hear Lindsey Graham of South Carolina say he didn't like the senator -- Senator Obama's criteria for deciding whether to confirm or not to confirm. Having said that, he says he's not necessarily going to be going with what he called the Obama standard.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, it doesn't matter, because there are 60 judges who would find that Soto -- Sonia Sotomayor is just terrific by the Obama standards...

BLITZER: And those would all be Democrats...

FRUM: They all...

BLITZER: ...or Independents who vote with the Democrats.

FRUM: They all agree with her.

But that does not remove the opportunity to use these days for some serious questioning -- not just the kind of statements that we heard today, but real questions.

And here's something that I -- I hope. There's going to be a real temptation for Republicans to focus on Sonia Sotomayor's controversial racial views, especially in light of the affirmative action case. And that's important.

But one of the greatest legal questions before the country right now is President Obama has used his moral power as president to sway executives at AIG, bondholders at Chrysler from using -- exercising Constitutionally protected rights. He's intimidated people into surrendering those.

What does the judge think about that?

Because business law, settled and secured rights -- that's going to be a major theme of the next couple years.

BLITZER: It certainly will be -- and, Jeff Toobin, I want to play for you what Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said, because he raised an issue that will no doubt be at the forefront of the questioning tomorrow.


SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Of course, every person should have empathy. And in certain situations, such as sentencing, it may not be wrong for judges to be empathetic. The problem arises when empathy and other biases or prejudices that are in the judge's heart become the critical ingredient to deciding cases.


BLITZER: Now, she tried, in her own way, to respond to that with this statement.


SOTOMAYOR: In the past month, many Senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy. Simple -- fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make law, it is to apply the law.


BLITZER: All right.

Is that line going to work?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think so. And I don't think it should work. Applying the law is only the beginning of what these justices do. They make conscientious efforts and they often come out 5-4.

What's the difference?

It's not that one side's applying the law and one side isn't. The difference is judicial philosophy. The difference is ideology.

Barack Obama was right when he testi -- when he was a senator and said you have to look at ideology.

But the Republicans, like Jon Kyl, are right today, too, to say, look, let's find out your ideology. Applying the law, fidelity to the law, sure. But that doesn't tell you everything.

BLITZER: If the testimony of Alito and Roberts is any indication, we're not going to hear her volunteer any of her ideology.

BORGER: No. She played it safe today in her statement, I believe. And she'll play it safe throughout these hearings. But...

BLITZER: Because the argument she'll make is, you know, these issues will come before me if I'm a justice and I can't prejudge them.

BORGER: Right. And she will -- she will be pressed. But I think there is a -- there is a question here about empathy versus ideology.

Can you be impartial or are you so empathetic to a certain point of view that you can't be impartial?

That's a difference from having a judicial philosophy, which I think is something they ought to pursue in these hearings.

But I agree with you, Wolf. They -- they're not going to get very far.

BLITZER: Now, let me press you on one point, David, that you made. I think you said something along her controversial or extreme views on racial issues, that would be a legitimate source of discussion.


BLITZER: I want you to elaborate what you meant.

FRUM: I didn't call them extreme.

BLITZER: Well, whatever you called them.

FRUM: Alas, they are not extreme.


FRUM: Alas, they are probably all too characteristic of American life. The United States operates a very elaborate system of racial preferences, where it is part of the law of the land.

BLITZER: It's called affirmative action.

FRUM: It's called all kinds -- we are in constant search of new euphemisms for it.

It's called diversity.

But what it means is that in hiring, in contracting, in employment, promotions, people do not encounter the same set of rules when dealing with the public sector. That is just a fact about American life. As the number of people who are eligible for these preferences expands with the growth of the Latino population, in particular, this whole system becomes ever more conflictual, ever more cumbersome, with groups pitted against one another.

Can this system last?

She is a devout believer in it and that is why it is controversial, although not extreme, because it's the rule. It's the way the (INAUDIBLE)...

TOOBIN: And this is exactly what the senators should be asking about, because this is the hot issue at the Supreme Court right now. Chief Justice John Roberts has made it very clear he wants to do away with this system. He wants to establish what is known as a colorblind Constitution.

Justice Breyer, Justice Stevens, Justice Ginsburg, they don't want to. They like the system. They think diversity is a value that the law can protect. This is a debate we should have.

BORGER: OK. So you're a lawyer. If you were advising Sotomayor about how to answer these questions in the committee, when somebody says to her, do you believe that racial preferences are useful in the future of this country, how would you advise her to answer that question if she wants to get confirmed?

TOOBIN: I advise her to duck the question. And as...


TOOBIN: As Arlen Specter has often said, the -- the senators -- the nominees will say as little as it takes to get confirmed. But that doesn't mean the system is a good one.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We're going to watch these hearings tomorrow, 930 a.m. Eastern. We'll have live coverage right here on CNN; indeed, throughout the week.

Michael Jackson's sister -- now she says she thinks he was murdered. And separately, his father is raising new questions, as well. There are new twists in the investigation.

And we're counting down to the lift off of the space shuttle Endeavour. Only minutes away from a decision -- weather could still scrub it or we could see the launch.


BLITZER: Breaking news involving the space shuttle Endeavour.

Let's go to our man on the scene, John Zarrella.

They've just made a decision.

ZARRELLA: That's right, Wolf. It is no go today due to the weather here at the Kennedy Space Center. They thought they'd get a break. The big storm to the south cleared. But then this big thunderstorm over here -- we'll swing around and show you -- popped up -- anvil clouds, ceilings too high, cloud to ground lightning, too much lightning in the area.

So based on the constraints with this weather, the launch director made the decision. After polling the team, he said, look, we made a valiant effort, we got everything ready the vehicle, was ready to go, but the weather didn't again cooperate.

So this, again, another delay in the launch of the shuttle Endeavour. No decision yet on whether they will try tomorrow.

I heard them also mention that they might even try Wednesday, although I had heard that that was not an option earlier.

But at this point, we are still waiting to see what the decision is on when they will go again. If they do go tomorrow, it would be a 6:25 p.m. Eastern time attempt to lift off, Wolf.

But again today, the news here not good at the Kennedy Space Center. The shuttle Endeavour once again stuck on the ground due to weather -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, stand by for a moment, John.

Chad Myers is our severe weather expert -- can you look ahead 24 hours, Chad, and give us an assessment whether it looks like more of the same, better, worse?

MYERS: Doesn't your mom still live in Florida, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, she does.

MYERS: Can she tell you that it rains almost every afternoon in Florida in the summer?


MYERS: Yes, it does. And that's -- that's what we're (INAUDIBLE) with today here.

This is the storm -- one small storm less than 10 miles away. It was 116 lightning strikes in the past hour for that storm. I think tomorrow is a better day, I truly do.

But you're asking yourself, maybe, why can't they just wait an hour?

Because the shuttle takes off from here and the Space Station catches it. If you wait too long, the Space Station's far, far away. The shuttle would never be able to get there. And so that's why these small, small windows -- it's like playing catch with a ball -- one person has got to be there and the glove has got to be there before the ball gets there, as well, so. BLITZER: Let me ask John Zarrella a quick question.

Chad, thank you.

John, why is it so dangerous for a shuttle -- a huge -- a huge -- Endeavour mission like this one to take off with a little rain and a little clouds?

Why is that such a big deal?

ZARRELLA: You know what, Wolf?

There's something they call trigger lightning. And I've seen it actually hit a couple expendable rockets that took off from here. In fact, Apollo 12 was hit twice by lightning on the way into orbit. They survived those lightning strikes, but it was awful scary. And now -- and I did see an expendable rocket that actually blew up after it was hit by lightning.

They do not want to literally induce a lightning strike when you lift off with a massive vehicle like this. It can induce what's called trigger lightning and that is not a good thing. So anywhere within 10 miles of the launch pad, they will not launch if there's active lightning.

And then you've got the larger circumference -- 20 miles, within 20 miles of that landing site, in case they would have to come back here. They don't want to have to fly back into a thunderstorm in case of an emergency -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. An excellent explanation, as usual.

John Zarrella on the scene for us.

Chad Myers, thanks very much.

If it does take off tomorrow, the launch across the world 6:25 p.m. Eastern. You'll see it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Michael Jackson's sister dropping a bombshell -- she now says she believes her brother was murdered and she thinks she knows why.


BLITZER: We're expecting in a week or two to get the official word on the cause of death of Michael Jackson. But now, some members of the Jackson family are making their own claims, including the father, Joe Jackson.

Let's bring back Brian Todd -- Brian, what are you hearing?

What are they saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Michael Jackson's father, Joe, has now voiced some very detailed concerns about his son's treatment around the time of his death. In an interview with ABC News excerpted on "Good Morning America," Joe Jackson had this criticism of Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson's personal physician, regarding what happened the day of Jackson's death.


JOE JACKSON, FATHER OF MICHAEL JACKSON: Michael probably had been dead a long time before they started taking him to the hospital. And you don't revive a person in a soft bed, you know. They (INAUDIBLE) and they couldn't find him in three days or something. That's what made me believe something was wrong.


TODD: Contacted by CNN, representatives for Dr. Murray's attorneys would not comment on Joe Jackson's remarks, but did refer to a statement issued Saturday by Attorney Edward Chernoff, that said, in part: "Dr. Conrad Murray continues to be fully cooperative with the Los Angeles Police Department and the medical examiner's office."

Dr. Murray's attorneys had previously said that investigators told them that Murray was a witness, not a suspect, in this investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Michael Jackson's sister, La Toya -- she's come out with startling accusations, as well.

TODD: Right. Separate from all that, La Toya Jackson says that she believes her brother was murdered. She told "The Daily Mail" that her brother was worth more than a billion dollars.

And here's a quote from her: "He was surrendered by people who didn't have his best interests at heart."

Later on, she goes on to say: "He was worth more dead than alive."

But she never mentioned who she thought was behind Michael Jackson's death or what motive and what they would have benefited from by his death. And CNN has since learned that La Toya Jackson was paid for at least one of those interviews.

BLITZER: Those are British tabloids.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks, Brian, very much.

These are certainly strong claims from Jackson's father and sister.

Could they be potential bombshells?

Joining us now, our CNN contributor Bryan Monroe.

He's joining us from Chicago.

He's the last journalist to have interviewed Michael Jackson -- how credible, Bryan, do you think, first of all, the father, Joe Jackson, is?

BRYAN MONROE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, he has had -- he came out shortly after the death and, as you saw, mentioned to CNN's Don Lemon that he had concerns. And then with La Toya coming out this weekend, you know, oddly enough, it would be hard not to at least give this some thought and some -- to see if there's evidence there.

What I've heard through talking with those close to the family is that there, indeed, had been concerns amongst several family members about the circumstances around Michael's death. Some folks have hesitated to go as far as saying it was murder. But there -- there's going to be questions that are still going to be out there about what happened in the days and weeks leading up to his death, as well as the investigation afterwards.

I was told that, for instance, as you reported earlier, when Michael first found out that he had, indeed, been obligated for 50 shows, he "flipped out," as I was told and that he did not realize nor want to do 50 shows. He thought he was going to do about a dozen or so initially and that there was concern about that.

But over the days leading into the concert series, there was a series of concerns about his energy and, also, those he was surrounding himself with because if he...

MONROE: ...more than that, we're going to have to...

BLITZER: I was going to say...

MONROE: More than that, I think the LAPD...



BLITZER: If you do some of the math, Bryan, just for 50 concerts, assuming they could have an intake of maybe $10 million per concert, which is not out of the question, by any means, you're talking half a billion dollars for 50 -- 50 shows. That's obviously a lot of money.

La Toya Jackson -- we know the father's relationship with Michael was strained. He himself had said publicly he was beaten by his father as a boy.

But what about the relationship between Michael Jackson and La Toya Jackson?

What kind of relationship did they have?

MONROE: Well, it was similar to the rest of the family in that Michael was always close to all of his brothers and sisters, but that closeness would ebb and flow. You know, there would be days, weeks and months where he would be in constant conversation and then days, weeks and months would go by where he wouldn't have any conversation. It was sort of like that throughout much of his adult -- his later -- later years in his life.


BLITZER: Bryan Monroe reporting for us, helping us better appreciate what's going on.

Hundreds of Michael Jackson fans gathered today in London for an impromptu vigil on what was supposed to be opening night of Michael Jackson's London tour.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is watching what's going on online -- Abbi, where did this all take place?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it took place right at the O2 Arena -- the very place where right now Michael Jackson should have been finishing up opening night of the This Is It Tour. And the fans who had tickets, they went there anyway -- organizing this impromptu gathering on sites like Facebook and showing up, sharing their pictures through Twitter.

I'm showing you all these pictures now from this afternoon through the Web site PicFog.

CNN spoke to people there who had traveled in from New York, from Italy, from Finland, who said that they just wanted to be there. That the fans are organizing this themselves is in the absence of any kind of official commemoration for Jackson in London. There's been a huge amount of buzz about a possible tribute concert sometime at the end of next month. But the concert promoter saying, at this point, there's nothing to confirm -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf.

Coming up, complete coverage of the first day of the Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Judge Sotomayor strongly defended her record in opening remarks, brief though they were. Some of the country's best legal and political analysts join us to assess what is happening in political theater in Washington, D.C.

Also, we'll have the latest on whether the Obama administration will appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate some of the former Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies and officials. Republicans are accusing Democrats of politicizing intelligence and threatening national security. Also tonight, important new developments in the hunt for the suspected murderers of a Florida couple who had 16 children. We'll have a live report for you on the latest in this murder investigation from Pensacola, Florida.

Join us for all of that, all the day's news and more, at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lou.

See you in a few moments.

Michael Jackson may be gone, but he left behind a huge library of music and a signature move. Now, fans worldwide are participating in one breathtaking moonwalk. Jeanne Moos will show us.


BLITZER: Here's a look at today's "Hot Shots."

In China, the basketball star Shaquille O'Neal stands next to a Buddhist follower in a temple.

In Bolivia, soldiers on horseback surround President Evo Morales during an Independence Day parade.

In England, 600 drummers tried to break a record for drumming while raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

And here in Washington, the nephews of Judge Sotomayor appear to doze off on day one of her confirmation hearing.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Before there was Michael Jackson, there was no moonwalk. The entertainer may be gone, but his signature step certainly lives on and on.

CNN's Jeanne Moos found a Web site that gives Jackson fans a "Moost Unusual" way to pay tribute to the king of pop.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was the real moonwalk...


MOOS: ...which begat the Michael Jackson moonwalk...


MOOS: ...which begat the latest moonwalk, the Eternal Moonwalk.

(VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: To pay tribute to Michael Jackson, a Belgian radio station, Studio Brussel, invited listeners to submit their own moonwalks...


MOOS: ...some good...


MOOS: ...some weird...


MOOS: ...some very weird...


MOOS: Old.


MOOS: Young.


MOOS: And lots of animals...


MOOS: ...from cockroaches to cats...


MOOS: ...from fish to rabbits...


MOOS: ...even stuffed animals. Seven thousand or so videos have been submitted. About half have made it onto Eternal Moonwalk, including lots of moonwalking fingers.


MOOS: Even fingers with shoes.

The station manager at Studio Brussel says the station's ad agency dreamed up Eternal Moonwalk.

JAN VAN BIESEN, STUDIO BRUSSEL: A simple idea -- a tribute to Michael Jackson. It became this big. It's amazing.

MOOS: There are moon dancing microphones, even moon dancing beer.

(VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: People dance up steps, across car dealerships, into swimming pools.


MOOS: There's a moon dancing Jesus, moon dancing puppets. And if you want, you can add little Michael Jackson type screams.


MOOS: And since Michael was so fond of grabbing himself, there's a lot of that -- even a baby crotch grab.


MOOS: Michael liked the wind blown look, so one guy is pushing a fan.


MOOS: But is the repetitive beat driving you nuts yet?


MOOS: If you don't know how to moonwalk, the Web site links to an instructional video.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The toes of both feet should never come off the floor.

MOOS: Tell that to the gingerbread man or the invisible man.


MOOS: The only problem is that some folks don't follow the instructions and go the wrong direction.

(on camera): So remember, right to left, right to left, and keep it to 10 seconds or less.


MOOS (voice-over): At least no one mooned the moonwalk.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ...New York.


BLITZER: Don't forget, 9:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, our coverage of the confirmation hearings continues.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.