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The Situation Room

Finding Osama bin Laden; Playing by the Rules?; President Obama on Foreign Policy; Safety Regulators Overwhelmed; Protests in East Jerusalem

Aired March 16, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a top administration official predicts Osama bin Laden will never be caught alive, this hour the U.S. military strategy for dealing with the al Qaeda fugitive, if and when he's found.

Republicans accuse House Democrats of using smoke and mirrors to try to pass health care reform. We'll have a reality check on whether the president's party is playing by the rules.

And we'll hear from the Vatican's chief exorcist, yes, you heard that right. He's talking about the devil, temptation and the church's sexual abuse scandal.

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

Years after President Bush vowed to get Osama bin Laden dead or alive, a top U.S. official is predicting how the hunt for the al Qaeda leader will end. We're talking about the attorney general, Eric Holder. He said bin Laden will never be caught alive, and so he'll never stand trial in the United States. Holder's surprise comments today came during questioning by members of Congress about trying terror suspects in federal civilian courts. Listen to this.


REP. JOHN CULBERSON (R), TEXAS: Granting Osama bin Laden the right to appear in a U.S. courtroom, you are clothing Osama bin Laden with the protections of the U.S. Constitution, that's unavoidable and something that you skipped right past --


CULBERSON: -- and it's giving constitutional rights to enemy soldiers that is the profound problem, sir.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let me -- you are talking about a hypothetical that will never occur. The reality is that we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden.


BLITZER: All right let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. The attorney general's comments, Barbara, how does that square with the U.S. military strategy in trying to find or capture or kill bin Laden?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think the attorney general finally is publicly saying what is the worst-kept secret inside the U.S. military and the CIA, no one has expected for years to get bin Laden alive. Think of it this way, Wolf. This is the debate over the last 100 yards to Osama bin Laden.

You have Delta Force outside the door, they're going to kick the door down, they know bin Laden's on the other side, is he going wait to be taken, absolutely not. The general thinking for years, Wolf, has been that he either carries poison on him, a cyanide pill, a weapon to shoot himself or the guards who surround him at all times have taken a vow to the death to shoot him so he would never be taken alive. That has been the thinking for years now -- Attorney General Holder simply saying it out loud -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Having covered the Pentagon myself, I know that there are contingency plans that the U.S. military has for everything. Let's say they find -- they kill bin Laden. Then what?

STARR: Well, if they have the dead body on their hands that may not be anything but a new set of problems. They have to have -- they know they have to have a recognizable body to show the world. And, still, many people, in many parts of the world, may not believe it, but they've got to have that recognizable dead body, that dead face of Osama bin Laden, to show the world that he has been killed once and for all.

It may be a very difficult thing for them to achieve, and even if they have it, their biggest concern, of course, is that a dead Osama bin Laden will simply become a martyr figure for further jihadist movements. And, of course, there's another reality, Wolf, Osama bin Laden may well die of the kidney disease that the CIA believes he suffers from. He could be buried. They could never find him, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting. Good work, Barbara, thanks very much.

Over on capitol hill here in Washington, today plenty of fresh anger over health care reform. Members of the Tea Party movement joined with conservative activists in protesting the Democrats' bill. They got a little help on the radio as well from Rush Limbaugh who urged callers to complain to Congress.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I have given out the Capitol Hill switchboard number, and I'm urging everybody to call and ramp it up. Ratchet up the pressure.


BLITZER: On the House floor, Republicans took direct aim at the way Democratic leaders are hoping to pass reform. They say it perverts the basic rules of Congress many Americans learned by watching "Schoolhouse Rock". In a nutshell, House Democrats could pass a special rule that would allow them to avoid a direct vote on the Senate version of health care reform, a bill so many of them hate.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I guess what I would call it is Nancy Pelosi is trying to come up with an immaculate conception. Somehow she's going to try to claim that they didn't vote on the Senate health care bill when, in fact, that's necessary under the Constitution before it can be signed into law, and then the reconciliation process moved forward.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: News flash -- people in the real world don't care about self-executing rules or reconciliation and don't even know what it is. What they do care about process is the process of the insurance companies, the process of refusing a child who has asthma, the process of raising prices 39 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent, for your insurance policy.


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, you spoke to the chair of the House Rules Committee, Louise Slaughter, Democratic congresswoman, and she made it clear she's got this; I guess we could call it a little convoluted way of getting two passed for the price of one.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's true. It's called a self-executing rule. It deems this Senate bill passed by just voting on a one -- the rule for it, which is really a procedural vote. And Louise Slaughter (ph), she not only defended it, she really explained why Democratic leaders want to do this, and she was very candid, Wolf. She said that it's because they want to protect the Democrats in the House who don't like the Senate bill on its substance and are concerned politically, specifically, about the issue we've heard so much about, the deal to Senator Ben Nelson and his state of Nebraska to give money for Medicaid and no other states. Listen to what she said.


REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (D), NEW YORK: It's used often. It's been used by both parties. And there's nothing unconstitutional about it. It's perfectly legitimate and a legal procedure.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why not just take a vote on it?

SLAUGHTER: Because we don't want to have to take a vote on some -- on Mr. Nelson's projects and other things. We see no necessity in our needing to do that when we have this procedure at hand.


BASH: And, Wolf, I've spoken to many rank-and-file Democrats, some of whom are being protected, or at least they're the people who the House Democratic leaders want to protect, because they're in politically dicey situations, and they say, look, if we're going to take a vote on something that our constituents don't like or more specifically our Republican opponents know that they can hit us with, they're going to do it anyway.

BLITZER: But Democrats point out that Republicans have used this procedure themselves.

BASH: And they're right, Republicans have used this procedure. This is something, one of those things that's so far in the weeds we don't generally talk about it, but it is the way that both parties when they have been in the majority in the House have tried to protect their members from taking tough votes politically. Republicans have done it in years past on issues like immigration, which of course is a big tough political issue and line-item veto, so it has been done by both parties.

BLITZER: You know the magic number in the House is 216 to get this passed. The Democrats don't have that number yet, but they're working on so many members to try to convince them, especially those who voted nay the last time to get them to vote yea (ph) this time, and you spoke with one of them.

BASH: That's right. They are working these members hard. We decided to see what it's like to be one of these undecided members, so we visited a congressman from Ohio, he is somebody who is a freshman, somebody who voted no last time and is considering voting yes this time, and watch the scene of what was going on in his office.


REP. JOHN BOCCIERI (D), OHIO: The decision I'm faced with is voting on an imperfect bill or doing nothing. And we just had calls from constituents, my chief of staff, his wife works for a small business and understands that they just had an increase in premiums. I'm not afraid to stand up and take a tough vote, and even if it means taking on, you know, our leadership, and it was a very difficult decision to come to, you know, on the first -- on the first version. Our office is under siege right now. We're getting calls from not only in the district but all over the country.

BASH: Look at this. I mean the phones have not stopped ringing.

BOCCIERI: You should see our district office. I answer my calls from time to time and hear what folks have to say. This is Congressman Boccieri, we can agree on this, that the system does need to be reformed and we need to do it in a way that allows folks to have better choices. Would you agree?

BASH: You're a freshman. This is a very tough vote. This could be a make it or break it vote, maybe decide whether you come back or not.

BOCCIERI: And, like I said, I -- whether I serve two terms or 20, we want to make the right decision for the people of our district and Ohio and the country.


BASH: Now, Congressman Boccieri, just like many other undecided Democrats say that they can't really decide until they actually see the legislative language of this bill, and that is specifically how they're going to fix the Senate bill. And we won't see that for a while, because we are still waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to tell the Democratic leaders how much it's going to cost, and more specifically, I'm told by Democratic sources, what they're working on, is what the deficit reduction will be as a result of this bill.

So, they're going back and forth with the Congressional Budget Office. Once they get those numbers, we're likely to see what this bill actually looks like, and from there the House is likely to try to push for a vote pretty fast, they say still possibly by this weekend.

BLITZER: Well, because Nancy Pelosi has said it will be at least 72 hours that they'll be able to digest the CBO scoring, as it's called, the numbers, right?

BASH: To digest the numbers and, more specifically, to digest the actual legislation to read the legislation of what they're going to be voting on, right.

BLITZER: Seventy-two hours from tomorrow would be Saturday and we'll see if they can get it done by then. All right, thanks very much for that.

A just-released poll, by the way, drives home the politics of health care reform for the president and his Democratic Party, in the new "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News survey, 48 percent of Americans call the Democrats plan a bad idea. That's in line with other surveys in recent weeks and months.

Opposition to reform continues to be a drag on the president's popularity. Look at this, the new poll puts the president's approval rating at 48 percent right now. It's been hovering under the important 50 percent mark since a steep drop over the summer. It's gone down about 20 points since he's taken office.

How close might Iran be to an actual nuclear weapon? And is someone helping al Qaeda get its hands on a nuclear weapon? I'll ask a top expert on the world's secret nuclear trade.

Plus, long before Toyota's problem with sudden acceleration, the problem appeared in American cars as well. Where were the government regulators?

And the first lady asks the food industry to make healthier things to eat. We'll have details right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- falls at the intersection of these two issues.



BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, when Barack Obama was elected, there was a hope that he would improve America's standing on the world stage. More than a year later, tensions are rising between the United States and several key nations. In the Middle East, U.S./Israeli relations are strained, to say the least. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is defiant when it comes to defending construction in East Jerusalem, despite pressure from the United States to stop it.

This will probably throw a wrench into the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks and that ultimately only hurts America's image in the Arab countries. Israel announced the construction during Vice President Biden's visit to Israel and that was a big-time diplomatic slap in the face. Meanwhile, Hamas called for a day of rage today, rioting at the reopening of a synagogue in Jerusalem. Then there's China, some suggest the communist nation is manipulating its currency and trying to take advantage of America's credit crisis.

For its part, China accuses the United States of pursuing hegemony in the world and trampling on the sovereignty of other countries and trespassing on their human rights. Isn't that the stuff we used to say about China? Things don't sound too good in that relationship either. President Obama's been unable to do anything about Iran's nuclear program, despite making that a priority early in his term.

And lastly, ahead of President Obama's scheduled trip to Asia, thousands of people protested in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country. The followers of a conservative Islamic sect say that even though Mr. Obama spent his childhood in Indonesia, as president he's following the policies of George W. Bush in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, here's the question: When it comes to foreign policy, how would you rate President Obama? Go to, and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a great question. It's not that easy being president of the United States. I think the president has discovered that over the past year.

CAFFERTY: I don't know why anybody in his right mind would want that job, do you?

BLITZER: What a job.

CAFFERTY: Tough stuff.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

Runaway cars, Toyota isn't the only automaker to deal with sudden acceleration problems. The issue first surfaced decades ago in American cars. That's triggering accusations government regulators are asleep at the wheel. CNN's Brian Todd is investigating. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, fresh concern tonight that the agency charged with ensuring the safety of our cars, the agency that is holding Toyota's feet to the fire may be a bit overwhelmed. This is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA; an investigation by the Bloomberg News Agency found that unintended acceleration is certainly not a new problem.

That NHTSA has been tracking this for years and that it's found more deaths due to that problem in vehicles made by Ford, Chrysler, and other companies combined than it's found in Toyotas over the past decade. NHTSA sent us figures that back that up -- a total of 59 fatalities due to unintended acceleration in vehicles other than Toyotas over the past 10 years.

The companies with the most; Ford with 19; Chrysler, with 12. They still pale in comparison to Toyota, which had more than 50 deaths, Wolf, but it does illustrate that NHTSA has been struggling with this problem now for years, and really decades.

BLITZER: I knew you checked with the automakers. What are they saying?

TODD: Well that's very interesting. Ford says it has not identified any major safety problems in its vehicles. A Chrysler spokesman told us in most of its cases the problem was identified as driver error. But safety advocates say that's the major problem here. They say NHTSA over the years has been way too quick to close the doors, close the books on these investigations, and blame driver error.

NHTSA confirms to us that since 1980, it's run 141 investigations into unintended acceleration and closed 112 of them without taking any corrective action. I spoke today with Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator, who is now president emeritus of the Safety Watchdog Public Citizen.


JOAN CLAYBROOK, PUBLIC CITIZEN: They found sort of an easy out in my view of this by just blaming the driver, but any driver who puts their foot on the accelerator by mistake, will take their foot off the accelerator instead of jamming it to the floor and keeping it there until they have a crash. I mean, that's just not reasonable.


TODD: Now we contacted NHTSA about this charge, a spokeswoman there issued us a statement, quote, "safety is our top priority and we are committed to getting to the bottom of these unintended acceleration issues. That's why we're undertaking a new comprehensive review that will look at a wide range of possible causes of possible unintended acceleration, including potential electronics problems." Wolf, we know that that's been the charge against Toyota, electronics problem which Toyota has vehemently denied.

BLITZER: There's also the issue, Brian, of NHTSA's resources which are limited.

TODD: That's right. Joan Claybrook says this agency is vastly under-funded and understaffed, that they don't have enough investigators into that one department that investigates defects. Now NHTSA's administrator, David Strickland (ph), was asked about that recently at a congressional hearing. He didn't come right out and complain about the lack of resources and staffing but he did say that the Obama administration has given them enough money now to hire about 60 new people for some of those key posts that investigate these problems, but you can make a case that NHTSA has not had the resources that it needs. This is the agency that has to basically oversee the safety of all the American cars on the road right now.

BLITZER: But there are cases of somebody, an elderly driver or some other kind of driver who inadvertently thinks --

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- think that the gas pedal is the brake --

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: -- and inadvertently pushes the gas pedal down thinking that's the brake.

TODD: Absolutely. In many, many of these cases where NHTSA has concluded driver error, that's exactly what it was, and you know what experts will tell you is you can't blame NHTSA for all of this. A lot of these cases, even the Toyota cases are going to be found to be driver error.

BLITZER: Brian thanks very much.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: Honda is recalling more than 400,000 Odyssey minivans and Element small trucks because of brake pedal problems. The vehicles in question are from the 2007/2008 model years. Honda says potentially defective brake pedals could make stopping the vehicle much harder. The automaker says it will start contacting affected customers at the end of the month.

Rocks and rubber bullets flying as Palestinians clash with Israeli police. You're going to find out what was behind today's violent confrontation in Jerusalem.

Plus, some wonder if the devil is at work inside the Catholic Church, playing a role in the child abuse scandal sweeping across Europe right now. We're going to hear from the Vatican's chief exorcist.


BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Deb, what's going on?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, an apparent U.S. missile attack has killed 10 people in northwestern Pakistan. Pakistani intelligence officials say the target was a suspected militant hideout. Since December suicide bombing in neighboring Pakistan killed seven CIA employees, the U.S. has reportedly stepped up strikes on militants in Pakistan's tribal region. U.S. authorities, however, will not discuss the attacks, which apparently use unmanned drone.

Well it sounds like something from a movie, thieves in Connecticut have made off with $75 million worth of prescription drugs. Authorities say the heist appears well planned. The thieves scaled the side of an Eli Lilly (ph) drug warehouse, cut a hole in the roof, rappelled inside then deactivated the alarm. It apparently took place early Sunday during a rainstorm.

And the Federal Reserve says it will continue to hold interest rates at record lows for what it calls an extended period. It's doing so to help the flagging economy and high unemployment, attempt to bounce back. But the Fed's economic assessment today was a bit more upbeat, it said the job market is stabilizing and that business spending on things like equipment and software has risen significantly.

And the first lady is urging the country's largest food companies not to just chew the fat on plans for healthier food choices in her campaign against childhood obesity. This was the first time that Mrs. Obama directly addressed the food industry. Speaking at a meeting of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, she asked for swift and sweeping changes with products, nutritional information and marketing campaigns directed at children. So, that could make a big difference apparently in what children eat.

BLITZER: That could make a huge difference and let's hope it does.

FEYERICK: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Deb, thank you.

The nuclear trade -- the secret nuclear trade issue, I should call it, how close is Iran to getting a nuclear weapon and is someone helping al Qaeda get the capability for mass destruction? I'll ask a leading expert.

Plus, Tiger Woods announces a return to golf and it's not just any tournament, but the most prestigious event of them all, and it will take place in a couple of weeks.


BLITZER: In East Jerusalem today, hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli police who answered with tear gas and rubber bullets. The protests were incited by Hamas militants over the reopening of a synagogue blown up by Arab forces back in the 1948 War. The tensions were already high over Israel's plans to add housing in a disputed part of the city. Here's CNN's Paula Hancocks.



PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hamas called for a day of rage.


HANCOCKS: It wasn't far off.


HANCOCKS: Tires burning in the streets of East Jerusalem, Palestinian anger over a perceived Israeli attempt to make East Jerusalem more Jewish.

(on camera): There have been five days of clashes in and around Jerusalem. This is day five and this is certainly the most significant clashes that we've seen in the city so far. This is shafat (ph) refugee camp, and you can see just behind that barricade, down at the bottom there are tens of Palestinians standing, throwing stones. In return, the Israeli military and police there have been firing many rubber bullets. There have been injuries, we understand, and there could just have been an injury because there's another ambulance going in now.

(voice-over): Close to 100 Palestinians were injured and close to 50 arrested, more than a dozen Israeli (INAUDIBLE) also suffered injuries. And in Zawabi (ph), an Israeli Arab member of Parliament (ph) is worried tensions will remain high.

HANEEN ZOABI, ISRAELI KNESSET: The (INAUDIBLE) is worse than before the second (INAUDIBLE). As you said, it's very tense and people cannot -- cannot just continue living in this oppressive and under these (INAUDIBLE).


HANCOCKS: The reopening of a synagogue in the Old City that was destroyed in 1948 has been accused by some of raising the the temperature. But tensions were already high. Last week's announcement of 1,600 more units in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim is the capital of their future state, adding to simmering anger here to say nothing of creating a diplomatic spat with the U.S. U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell may have postponed his visit to the region, but judging on the violence from the streets on Tuesday, few were in the mood to talk peace.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, East Jerusalem.


BLITZER: And joining us now, David Albright, he's the author of a brand new book entitled, "Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America's Enemies." He's been a frequent guest here in "THE SITUATION ROOM." David, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I want you to listen to this exchange of Lindsey Graham had with General David Petraeus, the Head of U.S. Military Central Command up on Capitol Hill.


SEN. LIDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: From your point of view how much time is available to the world before Iran gets a nuclear weapon, given what they're doing today?


GRAHAM: Got you.

PETRAEUS: But, I mean, it has thankfully slid to the right a bit. And it is not this calendar year, I don't think.


BLITZER: All right. So not 2010, but he doesn't think -- and that leaves open 2011. That's not very reassuring, is it?

ALBRIGHT: No, it's not. Because it really what -- one thing it's saying is that Iran probably can muster the capability to make nuclear weapons now, but is probably not going to do so in the immediate future. I mean, they were caught building this secret enrichment plant. It would be hard for them right now to take their material, their low-enriched uranium, that would allow them to rapidly produce weapons-grade uranium.

BLITZER: Do you have any doubt that they are attempting to build a nuclear weapon?

ALBRIGHT: Less doubt than ever before. I mean, with the discovery of the secret enrichment plant, with more and more information coming out about Iran may be continuing to work on nuclear weapons, the CIA established that they stopped in 2003, but the evidence increasingly is that they restarted and they just appear determined to rebuff every U.S. initiative to try to settle this problem.

BLITZER: If they did get a nuclear weapon, do you believe the Iranians would share it with a terrorist organization?

ALBRIGHT: No, I don't. But, unfortunately when you look at how countries have gotten nuclear weapons in the last couple decades, often they have actually shared. It may be a renegade element, but it -- but unfortunately the newer -- newer nuclear countries tend to share.

BLITZER: Because the nightmare scenario for the U.S. and the west indeed is that Al-Qaeda or some other terrorist organization gets its hand on some sort of nuclear device. How worried should we be about that possibility?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we have to worry about it a great deal. I mean, it's hard for terrorists to get it, but, again, if Iran goes nuclear, it's another source of both fissile material, the nuclear explosive materials you need for a bomb and the wherewithal, the knowledge that you need, to make a bomb.

BLITZER: The father of the Pakistani bomb, you write extensively in the book, "Peddling Peril" he's a free man right now, right?

ALBRIGHT: That's right.

BLITZER: Is he under any restrictions whatsoever?

ALBRIGHT: No. He's actually launched a media campaign to try to say he didn't do any of this. And so, it's almost outrageous that he want us becoming free mounting a media campaign to clear his name supposedly, and ironically when he's in court, he actually says he has no contact with western media, so he's trying to have it all ways, and I think it's a travesty in justice.

BLITZER: Because he was involved in helping not only the Iranians but the Iraqis and others, Libya, right?

ALBRIGHT: That's right.

BLITZER: You write extensively about that in the book.

ALBRIGHT: That's right.

BLITZER: And then he was under house arrest by the Pakistanis, but no law even under house arrest.

ALBRIGHT: That's right.

BLITZER: And the U.S. has never really had an access to questioning directly.

ALBRIGHT: That's right. No one has. And the Pakistani government served as questioners for all, including the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency and other countries. It was very unsatisfactory.

BLITZER: Because, my nightmare, you know, and I think a lot of experts' nightmare is that Al-Qaeda, the Bin Laden Al-Qaeda, they want to do something even more spectacular against the U.S. The next time, more spectacular than 9/11, and that raises fears of a nuclear device.

ALBRIGHT: No, that's right. And a nuclear weapon, that it would be something that would -- would kill lots of people and then have quite an explosive yield. And so you have to worry, and you have to worry that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, if Pakistan's government isn't -- doesn't become more stable, that the controls over the scientists don't remain firm and if khan goes free, it's a pretty bad sign. In a sense you can get away with it is the sign. And that if we could be faced with a very dangerous future.

BLITZER: David Albright's book is entitled "Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America's Enemies." It's chilling stuff we have in here. David, thanks for writing this book.

ALBRIGHT: OK. Well, thank you.

BLITZER: A big announcement today from Tiger Woods, he says, he is ready to return to the world of golf. We're going to tell you when and where he'll be making his big comeback.

And the Vatican's chief exorcist says the devil is at work inside the church and played a role in the child abuse scandal that's sweeping across Europe right now. That fascinating one-on-one interview just ahead.

And the surprising end to a police chase in Arizona. We'll have details right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A messy scandal sent him into seclusion and rehab. Now, Tiger Woods announces his return to golf, and what a choice for a comeback. He'll play in the Masters Tournament next month. That's golf's premier event. Mary Snow has been working the story. She's joining us now. Mary, TV networks getting excited about huge ratings.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly are. And certainly many people are seeing dollar signs. Woods made it official today, announcing he'll play in the masters in early April, and it comes nearly four weeks after Woods held a press conference making a public apology for what he called irresponsible and selfish behavior that included affairs. Now, at the time he said he'd return to golf, but didn't know when. In a statement today Woods said, "I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy and I'm continuing my treatment. Although I'm returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life." With that announcement, Fortune Senior Editor Kurt Badenhausen started tallying the winners who stand to gain big bucks from Tiger Woods' comeback.


KURT BADENHAUSEN, SENIOR EDITOR, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Certainly Nike. You know, they've built an entire golf division around him, $650 million in sales. EA sports, they've got a new video game coming out this summer featuring Tiger Woods. Now they can move forward and advertise with him and it's not so uncomfortable. And certainly, the PGA Tour, they're the biggest winners in this.


SNOW: Wolf, certainly the PGA is one of the organizations showing belief they have both with Woods returning. He should help them get sponsors, since its had difficulty ling them up, besides an obvious boost to ratings. And speaking of ratings, ESPN and CBS are no doubt celebrating the return of Tiger Woods. The president of CBS News Sports told "Sports Illustrated" that he expected Tiger Woods first tournament to be the biggest media event in the past 10 to 15 years other than the Obama inauguration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bigger than the Super Bowl? Is that what he's saying as well?

SNOW: He's saying that other than the inauguration of President Obama, he believes it's going to be the biggest media event in the last 10 or 15 years.

BLITZER: He's not just talking sports, he's talking about the entire world of media. We'll see how big it is, I'm sure it will be huge. But I'm wondering if it's going to be bigger than the Super Bowl itself. We'll see.

SNOW: Yes, hard to imagine.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what he does. I'm sure people will tune in briefly just to see him. The real golfing fans will stay and watch for a long time, but others just want to get a glimpse of Tiger back in action. All right, thanks very much, Mary, for that.

Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. Right now, what else's is going on, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a police chase in West Phoenix ends with a big surprise. Officers lift up a sheet of plywood in the back of this pickup. They find nine undocumented immigrants underneath, three more in the extended cab, two were up front. Authority said, the pickup arrived into the U.S. from Mexico, this morning, all 14 people were taken into custody, two of them, the truck's owner and driver, are charged with human smuggling.

And it looks like they cut it close. Watch this. The cranes on this barge actually still had about ten feet of clearance when they passed under the golden gate bridge in San Francisco today. The 253- foot cranes are on the way from Shanghai, China, to the port of Oakland. Those cranes also had to pass under the bay bridge, which was reportedly an even tighter squeeze, glad they didn't get stuck.

Well, a heavy-duty helicopter airlifted this Mustang off a river sandbar in Arizona today. A strong river current stranded the horse there for five days, with little to graze on. To prepare for takeoff, a veterinarian injected the 900-pound animal with a tranquilizer and covered his eyes up with blinders. And who ponied up for this elaborate rescue? Well, anonymous donors covered the cost.

And the government's new rule that airlines cannot keep travelers on a tarmac more than three hours may not apply to many passengers in New York. A runway closed for repairs at JFK airport now has three carriers asking the Department of Transportation to be exempted. Today American airlines joined Jet Blue and Delta in filing for a temporary exemption rather than face more than $27,000 in fines, per passenger, if a plane exceeds the tarmac time limit. Just another challenge for fliers coming in and out of New York -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I flew from Atlanta to Washington Reagan National today on Delta. It was very smooth. Very much on time. I can't complain.

FEYERICK: Well, there you go.

BLITZER: A lot of other people can complaint but...

FEYERICK: You're the one.

BLITZER: I'm sure there will be other times I will complain, but not today. Thanks very much, Deb, for that.

FEYERICK: Of course.

BLITZER: For one man, it's nothing less than the battle between good and the evil. The Vatican's chief exorcist offers his thoughts on the latest sex abuse scandal within the church.


BLITZER: The Vatican's chief exorcist has an explanation for the latest sex abuse scandal confronting the Catholic Church in New York. He says, the devil is in the Vatican waging a war and the scandal is just one of the consequences. Our Morgan Neill is in Rome and he has the details -- Morgan.

MORGAN NEILL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Reverend Gabriele Amorth made headlines around the world recently when he said the devil was present in the Vatican. As the Vatican's chief exorcist, Amorth says, he's performed more than 70,000 exorcisms in his life. We had a chance today to sit down with him and ask him about the sex scandals plaguing the church.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. I'd like to begin with something that you've said in your book, and that is that the devil is lodging in the Vatican. With all of the allegations we've seen recently of sexual abuse involving priests, do you believe that is the devil's work?

REVEREND GABRIELE AMORTH, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND CHIEF EXORCIST, DIOCESE OF ROME (through a translator): Well, yes. The devil tempts everyone. He tempts everyone in every environment. In particular, he tempts those on top. In politics and economics and sports. And naturally, he tempts above all the religious leaders, so you shouldn't be surprised if the devil tempts those in the Vatican. That's his job.

NEILL: Have you ever performed an exorcism on a priest accused of molesting a child?

AMORTH: No. It's never happened. Now, pedophiles are not possessed by the devil. They are tempted by the devil. They don't need exorcism. They need to be converted, to be converted to God. That's what they need. They need to confess. They need true penance, true repentance, that's what they need. They're not possessed.

NEILL: All right, you said we shouldn't be surprised that the devil is present in the Vatican because the devil is present in all the spheres of life. With all of the scandals we've seen recently, do you think the devil's presence is stronger today?

AMORTH: No, I'm not surprised. The world has always been like that. The devil attacks everyone. He also attacks people who are in the Vatican. If you look at history, if we know our history, we see how many of those in the hierarchy have been attacked by the devil. It's always been that way. The devil is just doing his job.

NEILL: Now, some people in the church when they talk about the devil, when they talk about Satan, they use it as a metaphor for the weakness of human beings, but you're talking about something very real, aren't you?

AMORTH: Absolutely. Very real. I'm saying that if you believe in the gospel, you believe in the existence of the devil. The devil's power to possess people, the power that he has to take possession of people.

NEILL: Reverend Amorth says, most of the people who have come to him seeking help don't need exorcism, just faith and prayer. As for the devil's presence in the Vatican, he says, that's no surprise. He once had to perform an exorcism on another exorcist -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Morgan Neill, in Rome, watching the story. Thanks Morgan, fascinating.

BLITZER: When it comes to foreign policy, how would you rate president Obama? Jack Cafferty reading your e-mail, it's coming up.

And President Obama does some judging of his own, predicting who will win the NAACP championships.


BLITZER: Programming note. John King, USA premiers next Monday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. Looking forward to that.

Let's go to Jack, once again for the Cafferty file -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: It means we get off an hour earlier,

BLITZER: It means we can leave at 7:00.

CAFFERTY: So, let's go, John. I hope you have a huge hit on your hands. The question: When it comes to foreign policy, how would you rate President Obama?

Steve in Canada writes: "I think it's going the right way. The Israel dust-up last week is a proper reaction to that stunt they pulled on your Vice President when he was visiting the country. In the Middle East, nuance and appearances are everything. And Israel gave the United States the finger in front of all."

Keith writes: "The president appears to have been overcome by what Theologian Robert Jewitt (ph) calls the Captain America complex. He has been playing to the machismo American image and he has not seized the opportunity to normalize relationships with Cuba or behave civilly with Iran. His refusal to enter into an honest relationship with Israel, one that calls them out for their factious policy has also hurt his credibility. I still support our president, but I want to see him use some common bridge-building sense. Rather than cave into patriotic protectionist American sensibilities."

Andrew writes: "I agree President Obama has not had the most successful year, but I disagree with the way you presented the information. You're setting up the public to go against Obama by focusing on his failures we're not able to move on. There is a reason why he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He inspires hope in people. And if we cannot believe that anything good can happen, then that's exactly what is going to happen."

Darryl writes: "President Obama should be applauded for his foreign policy. It's a balm to our souls that we finally have an intellectually blessed-leader with an ability to see all sides who actually puts diplomacy above war."

Michael from Nevada writes: "We all had high hopes for him, but he has done little. I suppose it's hard to hold it against him seeing he has been tied up in the health care imbroglio for months on end."

Chip writes: "Much like every other promise that Candidate Obama made, too much talk coupled with too little real action equals a red- penned F. And Ron writes about two notches below Billy Carter. That's right, Billy Carter. The Rock makes his brother Jimmy Carter look like Adlai Stevenson. Pathetic!"

If you want to read more on the subject, go to my blog, file --Wolf.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow Jack, thank you. Jack Cafferty with the Cafferty file.

The basketball fan on chief has caught up in March Madness like so many of us. We're getting a sneak peek at his final four picks.


BLITZER: Check in with Campbell to see what is coming up right at the top of the hour. Campbell, what are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Wolf. Well, for the last few weeks, we've been focusing on our nation's schools, the ones that work and the ones that we believe are failing our children. And tonight we're going to talk to a charter school pioneer whose solution for some of these failing schools is pretty controversial.

Also, you may have heard about that 16-hour flight from hell, complete with screaming flight attendants. Well, this time passengers got revenge by using the plane's Wi-Fi to send tweets and video while it was all going down. We're going talk to one of the passengers coming up as well.

BLITZER: See you in a couple of minutes, Campbell, thank you. On our political ticker, when it comes to March Madness, the Commander in Chief is just another guy filling out his brackets, like so many of us. Except, he revealed his picks on national television. The president is set to reveal his full predictions for the college basketball tournament on ESPN tomorrow, including his choice to win it all. But we have already learned who has made his final four. Check it out. Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, and Villanova. This year the president is also filling out a bracket for the women's NCAA tournament, putting Connecticut, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Tennessee in his Final Four.

A republican who just announced his U.S. senate campaign in New York has a link to one of the biggest contest right now. That would be the hit show "American Idol." He is former Congressman Joe DioGuardi, the father -- Idol Judge Kara DioGuardi. CNN asked her to put her famous songwriting skills to use it, come up with the slogan for her dad bid to anti democrat --, the "Idol" judge kept it simple. "Vote for Joe." That is simple. Remember, for latest political news any time, you can always check out

Remember, you can also follow what is going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on twitter. You can get my tweets. Go to, that's all one word. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, Campbell Brown.