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The Situation Room

Interview With George Clooney; Navy Investigates Crude Videos; GOP Targets Health Care

Aired January 03, 2011 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: raunchy videos shown to thousands of crew members aboard the USS Enterprise. We're digging deeper into whether this is just a sign of reality aboard a warship at sea.

Also, House Republicans flexing their muscles even before the new Congress is sworn in this week. They're already taking aim at health care reform law, but, if they can't actually repeal it, what's the point?

And award-winning actor and peace activist George Clooney, he is watching one of the poorest and most violent places on Earth. He's joining us this hour to talk about what he's trying to do to keep an eye on Sudan.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A series of raunchy videos could end the career of the captain of the USS Enterprise. The Navy now investigating how and why the videos featuring sexual innuendo, anti-gay remarks and four-letter words were shown to the crew of the aircraft carrier.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been digging of her own into this story.

Barbara, what are you finding out?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was first said that the Navy videos were humorous skits about training. But when you see this material, it's hard to think what anybody was training for.



CAPT. OWEN HONORS, U.S. NAVY: This evening, all of you bleeding hearts and you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) boy, why don't you just go ahead and hug yourselves for the next 20 minutes or so, because there's a really good chance you're going to be offended tonight.

STARR: This is Captain Owen Honors in 2006 and 2007, when he was second in command on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. He made several lewd videos with anti-gay slurs, as well as slowing simulated sex acts and repeatedly used the F-word.

HONORS: Finally, let's get to my favorite topic and something foreign to the gay kid over there: chicks in the shower.

This is certainly the most popular video of any of the X.O. movie videos. It's also the one that has landed me with the most complaints.

STARR: Honors was verbally reprimanded when the tapes were made, but now, after watching the videos, top Navy brass has launched an investigation in part to find out how the videos were made and shown to the ship's crew of 6,000 without senior officers speaking up and stopping it all.

The "Virginian-Pilot" newspaper recently got the videos from an unidentified source. While some sailors told the paper they thought the videos were funny, others said they were offended.

MEREDITH KRUSE, "THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT": And the people that we talked to did not want to be identified. They were worried about possible repercussions to their careers.

STARR: Several months ago, Honors talked openly about the videos to a reporter.

PHILIP EWING, POLITICO: I got the sense from him and other crew members that this was kind of an admittedly or acknowledged silly thing, kind of goofing off, being funny as a way to wile away the weeks under way on a big ship at sea, but nothing like what we have ended up seeing.

STARR: One of the many supporters of Honors said on Facebook: "I served on Enterprise for the last three years of my 21-year Navy career. I would love to go to sea with a man like this."


STARR: Now, Honors says on the video that top commanders on the ship didn't know what he was up to and shouldn't be held responsible.

Honors has now been promoted to be commander of the Enterprise, which is scheduled to leave for another tour of the war zone in just a few days. And the Navy is going to have to decide very quickly whether it wants him to remain in command, what to do about any of this, if anything -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, you will let us know, Barbara, when you find out. Thank you.

Let's get a closer look at the kind of material that was shown to the Enterprise crew members and a look at the culture on board these warships during long missions at sea.

Brian Todd is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, former Navy personnel have told us the majority of time, the atmosphere on board these vessels is very professional. But they say if you have been out at sea a long time, and it's sometimes several months at a time for these carrier groups, the humor, the practical jokes can get lewd.

We have to tell you, some viewers might find the descriptions of behavior in this story fairly graphic.


HONORS: There's a really good chance you're going to be offended tonight.

TODD (voice-over): Are these scenes an aberration or symbolic of a culture of service men and women at sea?

We asked former Navy personnel what they thought of the lewd video featuring Navy Captain Owen Honors, then the executive officer of the aircraft carrier Enterprise.

Retired Petty Officer John Powers was in the Navy for 20 years and served long deployments on two carriers. He says the atmosphere is usually professional, but sometimes the jokes get out of hand. He describes one practical joke he saw on someone who the crew believed was a devil worshiper.

PETTY OFFICER JOHN POWERS (RET.), U.S. NAVY: They ended up taking him down to one of the DFM pump rooms, hung him upside-down, tied. They pissed on him, urinated on him, stuck a bolt up his butt, greased him down, then let him go, and performed an exorcism on him.

TODD: But Powers says that was the worst thing he saw. Most of the jokes he says were more innocuous, like fraternity initiations.

(on camera): The former Navy officers who we spoke to outside the Navy Yard here in Washington say that, in these long deployments, practical jokes and raunchy humor are certainly not uncommon, but this kind of video is something they hadn't seen before.

Retired Navy Reserve Captain Greg Horne, who served on two destroyers and would spend several months away from home at a time, says loneliness and tension often increase when a ship has been at sea for a long period, but:

CAPT. GREG HORNE (RET.), U.S. NAVY: I would not try to paint any X.O. of being responsible for coming up with something like that to improve morale of the troops. I just don't see it. I don't see that kind of behavior. It's unbecoming.


TODD: In the videos, Captain Honors says the commander of the carrier does not know anything about the content of the film. We got mixed opinions from former Navy personnel on whether they buy that or not. Some said, with everything going on, on board a carrier 24 hours a day, it's possible the captain didn't know.

Others said if this video was broadcast to 6,000 people on board, as the newspaper "The Virginian-Pilot" reported, it's hard to believe Honors' superiors didn't know something was up there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I have spent a lot of time on aircraft carriers. I know you recently did as well during the coverage of what was going on in the Gulf of Mexico. Is that right?

TODD: It was actually after the Haiti earthquake.

BLITZER: The Haiti earthquake.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: But it's an incredible operation, when you think about the -- not just the aircraft carrier, but the entire battle group that these commanders oversee.

TODD: That's right. And the X.O., the ex-officer, he's one of the most impressive people on a vessel full of impressive people.

To keep that thing going -- these carriers have 6,000 people on them sometimes -- is amazing. It's 24/7. The X.O. has to keep on top of all of this. Some people said they were surprised that, if this guy made these videos, that he even has time to do it. There's so much responsibility that an X.O. has to carry out on board these carriers. It's unbelievable.

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to see what happens to this one. And I guess they only have a few days, as Barbara just noted, to make a decision whether he goes forward. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: From ships at sea to rocking the boat on Capitol Hill. Within the past hour, we have learned that Republicans will, in fact, launch an effort to repeal the health care reform law almost immediately after taking control of the House this week.

House GOP sources telling us they will unveil the legislation tonight. Then on Friday, just two days after claiming the majority, Republicans will hold a critical procedural vote, with a final vote likely next week. And that sets up an early showdown with President Obama.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who has been working this story for us. She's joining us with our White House correspondent Dan Lothian, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger as well.

It's a bold move on the part of the Republicans, Dana, and a bit risky, I should say as well. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is risky just in the fact that when you look at what matters to Americans, there are some Republicans who we talk to who say, you know, look, it is still jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. And the Democrats made a mistake many people feel -- even Democrats feel -- that they spent too much time on health care when people are so in bad shape with regard to joblessness.

But, look, the bottom line is that this was if you went on to any race, any congressional race across the country, as I did, and as my colleagues did, this was top, top, top of the issues that Republicans campaigned on and now House Republicans feel that this is incredibly important to do very, very soon, especially for the base of their party.

BLITZER: Dan, what is the White House saying about this?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House realizes that in the short term this is probably not going anywhere as Dana was reporting early. The votes simply are not there to make this move forward in the Senate, if indeed the House does vote to repeal this.

But, nonetheless, one White House aide told me that the president will be defending health care reform, will be talking about all the benefits that are being put in place. And then in a broader sense, Democrats will be talking about the downside, what would happen if health care reform were repealed, that there would be more people uninsured out there, that perhaps this would add to the federal deficit in a negative way.

And so you will see a push from the White House to this push from the Republicans up on the Hill, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Republicans do have the ability in the House certainly, maybe even in the Senate, to chip away at the funding, at the regulation for this new health care law.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Wolf, there's sort of the big, symbolic vote that Dana is talking about that the House Republicans want to have, which is to say to their constituents, OK, we tried to repeal health care.

But what they can do in reality is they can refuse to fund parts of health care. For example, you need IRS agents to enforce the insurance mandate, if people are going to get penalized on their taxes. You can say, OK, I'm not going to fund the extra IRS agents that we might need, and on and on and on.

And so there are ways for Republicans to continue to make their point and make their point over and over again in all different committees to say, OK, if we can't end it right away, we can certainly chip away at it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, is that what the Republicans are going to do? Assuming the Senate does not follow the House's lead and formally repeal the entire law, will they start chipping away at it?

BASH: Absolutely. That is the Republicans' long-term strategy. As we talked about before, it's from their perspective death by a thousand cuts, using the power of the purse, which is what Congress does have, to try to stop this or at least make it much more difficult for the administration to implement.

But one thing I should note is that Republicans do understand that there are some parts of this health care law that people do like, for example, banning the preexisting condition issue, making sure that people with preexisting conditions are able to get health care.

So, as part of this package that they're going to put forward, I'm told by House Republican sources that they're going to say that this should immediately go to committees of jurisdictions so that they can start talking about what to replace this health care law with.

Again, this will be a lot of talk because ultimately it will not be repealed, but the fact is that they understand that there are some parts of this law...


BORGER: And, Wolf, rhetorically, they're talking about health care as they did during the campaign as a job-killing bill, so they're able to say we're saving jobs by killing health care reform.

BLITZER: We will watch it.

All right, guys, thanks very, very much. Stand by because we're obviously going to have a busy week here in Washington.

She's the secretary of state of the United States. He's a perennial thorn in Washington's side. So what really happened when Hillary Clinton ran into the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez? Did it include a hug? The story behind the controversial meeting -- stand by for that.

And, in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is gone. Jerry Brown is back in as governor. But his inauguration wasn't all about the state's serious budget problems.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That I take this obligation freely...

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), California: That I take this obligation freely...

WOMAN: ... without any mental reservation...

BROWN: ... without any mental reservation.


WOMAN: ... or... BROWN: Really, no mental reservation.





BLITZER: A lot of us use cell phones, a lot of us.

Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Not all of us, however.

The year we stopped talking to one another, that's what USA Today dubs the year 2010, in light of the unprecedented use of technology.

We are awash in technology -- 93 percent of Americans now use cell phones or wireless devices. And a third of those people are using so-called smartphones. That means the users can browse the Web, check their e-mail, text people, do all kind of stuff on their phone.

According to an industry trade group, from June 2009 to June 2010, cell phone subscribers sent 1.8 trillion text messages. That was up 33 percent from the year before.

In other words, most of us spend our days walking around with our noses buried in our cell phones, BlackBerrys, iPhones, or what have you.

And while we're doing that, we could be tuning out the people who are actually in the same room as us. We seem to have long ago crossed the line as to where doing this stuff is appropriate. People take calls while they're out to dinner, using sitting next to me in the restaurant. They text or check e-mail while on a date. You name it.

Some experts say it's time to take a step back and reassess. They remind people that technology can be turned off, too, and that it's important to connect with people in person. They worry that kids won't know what it's like to share a story or actually look someone in the eyes and develop the social skills they will need later in life.

But others point out the benefits of all this technology, saying staying in touch with friends and family, efficiently using time once spent doing nothing and being able to check in from anywhere.

Here's the question this hour: At what cost has technology replaced personal interactions?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: It's amazing. I spent six days in North Korea without any cell phone, without any technology. And, you know, parts of me actually liked that. But that was me.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but you survived just fine, didn't you?

BLITZER: I survived. I had about 950 e-mail when I got back, but that's all right. I went through those. But it was relaxing.

CAFFERTY: Yes, it's good. Take a break once in a while.


CAFFERTY: You don't have to go to North Korea to do it.


All right, Jack, thanks very much -- Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

We're standing by. We are going to be speak with George Clooney. He's got a new idea to try to prevent genocide in Darfur and Sudan. Stand by -- George Clooney this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Twenty-eight years to the day, 28 years to the day after leaving office, Jerry Brown once again is California's governor. But the state he's now leading is very different from the one nearly three decades ago.

And Jerry Brown is facing some huge hurdles in the coming weeks.

CNN's Casey Wian has more from Los Angeles.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jerry Brown stumbled on his way to being sworn in. Then, while taking the oath, he became quintessential Brown, quirky and off-the-cuff.

WOMAN: ... without any mental reservation...

BROWN: ... without any mental reservation.


WOMAN: ... or...

BROWN: Really, no mental reservation.


WIAN: It's often said half-jokingly that only a crazy person would take the top job in California, land of bitter partisan gridlock and a projected $28 billion budget deficit over the next 18 months. BROWN: The year ahead will demand courage and sacrifice. The budget I propose will assume that each of us who are elected to do the people's business will rise above ideology and partisan interests and find what's required for the good of California.


WIAN: Californians have heard that before. It's the same platform outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger employed to unseat predecessor Gray Davis in a recall election in 2003.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: We have no choice but to cut spending, which is what caused this crisis in the first place.

WIAN: Schwarzenegger also used Hollywood imagery.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Conan's sword could not have cleaved our political system in two as cleanly as our own political parties have done.

WIAN: Tough talk.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Don't be an economic girly men.


WIAN: Twisted logic.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Whenever they agree with me, they're right.


SCHWARZENEGGER: It's very simple. And then, when they don't agree me, they're wrong and they're interfering with our governing of the state. OK?


WIAN: And when all that failed, humor.

SCHWARZENEGGER: You know, you send a governor to Sacramento, not El Stiffo, like some of the past were, but you send someone that's a little bit more entertaining.

WIAN: He even posted a video of himself leaving his office on Twitter.

Brown also can be funny and sobering.

BROWN: Thank you. I don't know if you will be cheering after the budget comes out, but...


WIAN: Brown's first budget is set to be released next week. He promises deep spending cuts. Likely targets include health care, college funding and money for local government. The Democrat also vows no new taxes unless people vote for them.


WIAN: Perhaps the toughest of Brown's promises to keep will be no more smoke and mirrors. For years, California has relied on unrealistic assumptions, gimmicks and questionable legal strategies to balance its budget. And they have just passed the problems on to the next governor. The next governor now is Jerry Brown again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Casey, thanks very much.

Jerry Brown, by the way, is one of five new governors taking office today. In neighboring Nevada, Republican Brian Sandoval becomes that state's first Hispanic governor. He's Nevada's former attorney general. Republican attorney and rancher Matt Mead becomes Wyoming's 32nd governor. Mark Dayton is Minnesota's first Democratic governor in two decades. His race was the last gubernatorial contest in the country to be decided. And Republican and Tea Party favorite Scott Walker is Wisconsin's new governor.


BLITZER: Standing by, George Clooney -- the actor and peace activist is joining us this hour. We will talk about the action he's taking to keep an eye on a major vote in a critical world hot spot. Stand by.

And the Afghan women, they are speaking out about oppression. We will show you why they're wearing masks to appear on television.


BLITZER: The Academy Award-winning actor and peace activist George Clooney is standing by to talk to us about his efforts to keep an eye on a region long gripped by fighting, famine and mass atrocities.

Sudan is Africa's biggest country, a quarter of the size of the United States, but it may soon be split in two. Sudan's Darfur region is the scene of what the United Nations has called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Hundreds of thousands have died. Millions have been displaced.

Now there is some hope that a national vote could turn a framework peace agreement into a permanent solution. Ballots are being distributed for Sunday's referendum, which will give people in mostly Christian Southern Sudan the choice to break away from the Muslim North.

Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, says he will accept the referendum results, but he's wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

And the world will be watching all of this unfold from space, thanks to the Satellite Sentinel Project. It's being spearheaded by the actor George Clooney, who is joining us now from Los Angeles. Here in Washington, also joining us is the human rights activist John Prendergast. He's the co-founder of the Enough Project.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

And, George, let me start with you. What's the point of the satellite project?

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: Well, we want to get some -- some actual view of what we're doing.

The problem is, over the period of time, what we have learned specifically from Darfur, in particular in the Sudan, there's a bit of deniability of their own involvement. They can say that they're rebel groups that have nothing to do with the government, when we know in fact they are. So we want to have some proof, not just to try and stop this, but also in case we are unable to, in case something goes forward, to be able to take it to the ICC as evidence.

BLITZER: Because the embassy of the Republic of Sudan, you probably saw the statement they issued going after you, saying: "George Clooney, in a typical Hollywood fashion, is advocating for installing watchful cameras on Sudan. Not withstanding the legality of the matter, it is baffling what such an action will accomplish. This action reeks of an ulterior motive that has nothing to do with peace."

Go ahead and respond to that.

CLOONEY: Well, I would say that any time a government that's been charged with genocide by the ICC says bad things about you, I don't really consider that a scarlet letter.

I feel perfectly fine. And they seem to be pretty upset about it, to write such a long piece and put it up on their own Web site.

BLITZER: Yes, I read that whole long statement, really going after you and a lot of others who have been trying to do something about this genocide that has been going on.

John, the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, he said this about the referendum that's scheduled for Sunday. Let me play this sound bite.


P.J. CROWLEY, SPOKESMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: I would say at this point that we are optimistic about the referendum this coming weekend. Sudan and Southern Sudan have come a long way over the past few months. But we also, you know, are very sober, in that depending on the choice made by the people of south Sudan this weekend, we know there's still a long way to go.


BLITZER: Do you share that optimism?

PRENDERGAST: Well, I think P.J. is rightly -- right to be balanced in his assessment. On the one hand, the world has invested a lot in having a peaceful referendum really determines what the Southern Sudanese people want for their future, whether they want a free Southern Sudan or whether they want to stay within the united Sudan.

But they also -- but he also said there are tremendous dangers, some real snakes in the grass. And we've got to keep our eyes -- that's part of the reason why we've got the satellite project. We've got to keep our eyes on those potential spoilers who will undermine, who will attempt to undermine the process and the aftermath of the process in order to keep the Sudan united and keep the oil flowing from Southern Sudan into the coffers of Northern Sudan.

BLITZER: Because George, what really intrigued me was what you've been saying about this satellite project, because a lot of us only after the fact knew what was going on in Rwanda, in Burundi back in the '90s or in Cambodia, or during the Holocaust, for that matter. And you're now saying what, that the world will no longer have an excuse to say, "We didn't know"?

CLOONEY: We can't say we didn't know. That's an important part of this. You know, people say, well, there's a lot of other atrocities that go on, and we'll see it on camera. And we've seen it in the -- on lens.

It's not necessarily true. Not -- certainly not at this level. They have been very good at keeping this sort of on the back burner and out of the press. Particularly keeping all the press out. There's a reason why you keep the press out. And so we're going to make it much more public. And that's -- I think it's much harder to commit any sort of atrocities if everyone is watching.

BLITZER: John, are these atrocities, specifically genocide, is that still going on in Darfur right now?

PRENDERGAST: What we've seen over the last couple of weeks: attacks on villages. We've seen burning villages. We've seen aerial bombardments. You know, it's not at the scale and scope that we saw in 2004, '05, and '06 when full-blown genocide was occurring, when -- when ethnic cleansing was, those 3 million refugees that are sitting in camps now were all displaced from their homes.

But in areas where there are pockets of resistance, you see the same kind of tactics, using the militias and using the aerial bombardments, the very tactics that earned the government a genocidal arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.

BLITZER: George, yesterday you suggested that the Obama administration, the president was doing enough. I know you met with the president on this issue back in October.

Nicholas Kristof, who writes a lot about this in the "New York Times," he wrote back in August, he said these words. I know it was painful, I'm sure, for some in the Obama administration to hear. He says, "These days Mr. Obama is presiding over an incoherent, contradictory and apparently failing Sudan policy."

A, was Nicholas Kristof right then? And is he right now if he's -- I don't know what he believes right now, but it he still believes that?

CLOONEY: I think that -- I think that Nicholas was right, that it was not working. That was in August.

By September, I think everyone looked around in the administration and said, this is going to -- there's a referendum coming, and this could become a big problem.

Since then, they've been incredibly active, sending John Kerry, really stepping it up considerably. And, you know, from what we've seen and from the meetings we've had, it feels very much like they have a real grasp of the issues now and are really involved.

BLITZER: Because back in April, John, you said this. And I'll put it up on the screen. "Each time the Obama administration does not stand on principle and build international consequences for further abuses of human and civil rights, a powerful signal is sent to the Sudanese parties. The stakes continue to get higher in Sudan, and the administration's bar for moving forward continues to get lower."

That's what you said in April. Do you still believe that now?

PRENDERGAST: Absolutely. You know, you have to establish clear consequences, clear costs for committing horrible human rights abuses. And if, indeed, the government of Sudan, over the next six months and during the referendum and its aftermath, attempts to undermine its peace there, and if it steps up its campaign of attacks against civilian populations in Darfur, there need to be consequences.

And if we don't act in that manner, if we aren't clear about what those consequences are to the government of Sudan, why should they change their behavior if it's worked in the past?

BLITZER: Well, tell us, John, what you want the president of the United States to do right now to help those people.

PRENDERGAST: Well, as George said, they've initiated a fairly robust diplomatic effort. And it's been very important. By sending John Kerry and other U.S. diplomats to the region to help support a peace deal between the north and the south. Because there's all kinds of issues that are still dividing those two peoples.

But now, we need additional -- a stand on human rights issues. When there are attacks in Darfur, for example, we need to see the president, the secretary of state, the White House speak out against those terrible human rights abuses.

And when there are -- if, indeed, we see actions that undermine the peace in the south, then escalating sanctions need to be placed on the parties who are responsible, whether they're from the south or whether they're from the north.

BLITZER: Well, they're watching you at the State Department, the White House, George, right now. Is there anything you want to add? What would you like the president and his top aides to be doing to help?

CLOONEY: Well, I think John's point is the most important point, which is that not only -- when you say a robust diplomacy, it means we're now in the process of actually negotiating with people that aren't very nice. That's part of what this kind of diplomacy requires. That means giving in on things. That's a very difficult thing to do when you're talking about making deals with someone like Bashir.

On the other hand, there have to be -- there have to be substantial sticks. There has to be a real punishment for not fulfilling the things -- you know, Bashir said yesterday that he would support this Sudan -- Sudanese -- the south. He says a lot of things. He never sticks to them. We need to make sure we hold him to it.

BLITZER: You're heading back to the region, George. Is that right?

CLOONEY: Tomorrow, yes.

BLITZER: And tell us what you hope to accomplish.

CLOONEY: Well, you know, we're going to be there. There's going to be a lot of news coverage there at that point. We're going to be there to -- to try and make sure that -- that we can keep the attention on it. This is a very important time. For the -- not just now.

What's also important about this is that this doesn't just, you know, stop and everybody go home on the 9th. This is going to be an ongoing thing for months and probably years to -- to make sure these people are safe. We have a long, long journey.

BLITZER: How dangerous is this -- how dangerous is this for you to go, George?

CLOONEY: Probably a lot less dangerous than the times we go when there isn't any press there. Probably a lot less dangerous now. It's a...

BLITZER: But do you -- do you have security? And do you have -- because a lot of our viewers are probably worried about you going over there now.

CLOONEY: I have John, and John is a very, very athletic man.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, John. You better take care of George Clooney. Because we need him, as you know.

PRENDERGAST: Next movie is going to really suffer if he's not in it. BLITZER: Yes, I know.

PRENDERGAST: We'll have to get Brad Pitt on this -- on the case.

BLITZER: We don't only need him for the movies. We need him...

CLOONEY: Wait a minute, wait a minute.

BLITZER: ... for what he's doing on these other issues, as well.

And good luck to both of you. We'll talk -- we'll talk with you guys when you get back. We really appreciate, obviously, all that you're doing. And the world hopefully will never again have an excuse to say, "We will not -- we did not know what was going on and that's why we allowed it to go on."

Thanks very much. I know you're going to be speaking when you get back with Anderson Cooper. Is that right, George?

CLOONEY: That's right.

BLITZER: That's going to be Friday night. Is that Friday night here on CNN?

CLOONEY: I'm not quite sure about that, because I'm sort of confused about the days we get back, but I think so.

BLITZER: All right. Well, I'm told Friday night you'll be back. You'll be here on CNN.


BLITZER: You'll speak with Anderson. John, I know you'll be with George, as well. Be careful over there, and good luck. Because not only will the whole world be watching, but they'll be counting on you guys to do some good, as I know you'll probably do. Appreciate it very much.

PRENDERGAST: Thank you, Wolf.

CLOONEY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're getting new information into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. A new short list for the next White House chief of staff. A former cabinet secretary, a member of a famous political family reportedly on the list. Stand by.


BLITZER: We're getting word here in THE SITUATION ROOM that President Obama may be closing in on a choice for the White House chief of staff. A name that keeps coming up, the former Clinton commerce secretary, William Daley. Let's talk about that with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, and on the phone, our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

Ed, what are you learning?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, Wolf -- well, as you know, Bloomberg is now reporting tonight that Bill Daley is under consideration to be White House chief of staff. And as Gloria will tell you, we actually had three senior Democratic officials early in December telling CNN that Daley was under some consideration to be White House chief of staff. But we held the story at the time, because a senior White House aide as well as a source close to Daley insisted to us that this was not true and that he was not under consideration and it was going nowhere.

So what we're trying to sort out now is, is this for real? Has something changed over the holidays? The president, we know from senior White House aides, has been considering a lot of different staff moves and some changes.

And what we do know from our sources, three senior Democratic sources told me over the last few weeks that basically the president is happy with Pete Rouse as the interim chief of staff who replaced Rahm Emanuel, but Pete Rouse himself has never believed that he would stay on long-term and has been looking at this, along with other aides like Valerie Jarrett and others inside the White House, and they're giving serious consideration to bringing in someone from the outside, a new voice, someone very prominent like Bill Daley, who will be kind of more of a heavy hitter in terms of going on television, being a strong advocate.

And you know Bill Daley was the commerce secretary in the Clinton administration, former Gore campaign chairman. He's somebody who sort of weaves together both, you know, the policy, the politics; comes from the Daley family, of course. Got politics in the veins.

And then also, now, you know, having worked at JPMorgan and being the Midwest chairman, he's somebody with Wall Street ties, business ties. Something this administration desperately needs right now.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Gloria. What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ed is saying everything that I'm hearing. I think one thing that's interesting about Bill Daley is, if you'll recall, he was the man who led the charge for NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. And that had to bring together Republicans and Democrats and moderate Democrats, and he had to cajole some liberal Democrats to vote to pass NAFTA.

So Bill Daley is known as somebody who can bring together both sides of the aisle. So it sort of gives you a clue that if, indeed, he does become chief of staff, that the president is looking for somebody who knows how to reach across the aisle.

BLITZER: He's a very smart guy, too. We all know him very well. Thanks very much, Gloria.

Ed Henry, thank you. Hillary Clinton bumps into Hugo Chavez. What's the State Department saying that -- about what actually happened at the impromptu meeting?


BLITZER: A television revolution in Afghanistan. An unprecedented program revealing the plight of many women in that country. The show is called "The Mask." And it features masked women telling their stories of forced and abusive marriages. The man behind the show says he was inspired by the plight of his own mother.


SAMI MAHDI, CREATOR AND PRODUCER, "THE MASK": I'm not sure we can make some difference for the victims, you know. But we can use the life of these individuals as an example. And I'm sure we can make some changes in the life of other women.


BLITZER: A recent survey shows at least 59 percent of Afghan women are forced to marry.

A developing story. We're getting new information now on a deadly pipeline explosion in California. Lisa Sylvester is back. She's following that and the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have new urgent recommendations just announced following this wild and deadly scene in California last September. You'll recall a pipeline explosion killed eight people and destroyed 37 homes.

Well, the National Transportation Safety Board today recommended seven safety changes, calling six of them urgent. Among them, ensuring all records for U.S. pipeline systems accurately reflect what pipes are made of, which was a problem in this California incident.

A float honoring Ronald Reagan won an award in this weekend's Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, for depicting life in the United States. It shows 11 scenes from the former president's life, chosen with the help of Nancy Reagan and made of poppy seeds and rice. The float is the kick-off to the celebration of Mr. Reagan's 100th birthday on February 5.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she ran into U.S. nemesis Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president Saturday that inauguration of Brazil's new president. Chavez calls it a pleasant moment and says they discussed some specific issues. The State Department is a little more vague, except on the question of a hug.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there anything of substance then? Did they talk about ambassadors, that kind of thing?

CROWLEY: It was very brief. I actually don't know, you know, what -- what was talked about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they shake hands? Was it a hand shake, a bear hug?

CROWLEY: It has been described as a hand shake. I have no reason to -- I'm sure it was not a hug.


SYLVESTER: A little pressing there. So no hug. That's pretty interesting, the two of them in the same room, exchanged a few pleasantries.

BLITZER: You meet him, you shake hands, and you say, "Good bye."

SYLVESTER: Yes, exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Texting, tweeting and e-mailing. Are they replacing all human interaction? Jack is back with your answers.

And the day the birds fell like rain. Jeanne Moos finding it "Most Unusual."


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is based on a piece that was in "USA Today." "At what cost has technology replaced personal interactions?"

Dave writes in Orlando, "The cost is great. But the problem is much of it's invisible. Kids today have no idea how to interact, actually read someone's face. You can't do that on Facebook. They think nothing of ripping somebody in an e-mail or blogging with little or no idea of the consequences. People say things over the Internet that would get them punched out in person."

David in Las Vegas: "The cost, Jack, is America's future. Look at the international test scores in reading, math and science. Our kids spend more time strengthening their thumbs than learning the skills to be competitive on the world stage."

Sheila writes, "I think we need to have good technology etiquette while in public, but I think that technology does keep me in touch with people I wouldn't necessarily have time to meet with on a face- to-face regular basis."

Jed writes from New York, "There are times at work when the elevator doors open and I see four or five people all staring into their phones and typing with their thumbs. I have a smart phone, but I'm really not so sure I like it. It's like a tiny version of the desk I already spend so much time at."

Brian in Boise writes, "Jack, seriously, what a load of crap. What does 'USA Today' think we're doing with all the technology? Baking pies? No, we're talking to each other. Just because it's not the way old people talk to each other doesn't make it any less valid a form of communication."

And Stephen in L.A. says, "I was watching your show on my iPhone while typing this comment. This will be short, because I need to update my status on Facebook from 'in a relationship' to 'single.' I need to let my partner know how I feel, so I'll text him before I submit the change. Isn't technology cool?" As in cold.

If you want to read more on this, you'll find it on the blog: Technology is what allows us to do this, from New York and Washington.

BLITZER: They say Facebook is now worth because of technology?

CAFFERTY: Billions. Fifty billion.

BLITZER: Fifty billion. More than our parent company, Time Warner. Can you believe it? Facebook.

CAFFERTY: Not to me it isn't.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you. See you tomorrow.

What suddenly caused thousands and thousands of birds to simply fall dead from the sky? CNN's Jeanne Moos taking a closer look at some Most Unusual theories.


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

In India, a man cleans a 500-year-old temple.

In Pakistan, travelers struggle to drive through dense fog.

In Australia, treacherous waters flood an airport runway.

And in Tokyo, check it out: an 8-year-old sea lion writes the word "rabbit" in Chinese. Wow.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

Thousands of birds falling from the sky but why? CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the kind of birds-eye view you don't want to see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is like beyond nuts. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Birds are falling out of the sky, dead.

MOOS: Four to 5,000 dead birds in Bebe, Arkansas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was horrible. You could not even get down the road without running over hundreds.

MOOS: But at least they were on the road, not raining onto windshields like the falling frogs in the movie "Magnolia."

What the dead black birds brought out of the woodwork were oddball theories: run, the end is near.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen to me. Right (EXPLETIVE DELETED) now. If you have a gun, load that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.

MOOS: There were conspiracy theories involving government testing and airplanes spraying bad stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A flock of these birds got a direct blast of the chem trails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Magnetics, you know, the earth's magnetic fields.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They could have got a hold of some bad food. Like they could have flew in and it was like, "Hey, let's eat this food."

MOOS: Everyone kept saying it was like a Hitchcock film, but in Hitchcock's film the birds weren't dying; the people were.

The Arkansas bird flap caused some to raise the specter of religious retribution.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get ready. Get ready. Well, I guess you can't get ready.

MOOS (on camera): And then, to make matters worse, another dead bird story started winging its way around the Web.

(voice-over) Web sites like Rapture Watch spread a similar story through South America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is too much of a coincidence for dead birds to be falling out of the sky in Argentina.

MOOS: Except the birds actually washed up on beaches dead from starvation back in July.

Autopsies Monday on the Arkansas black birds pointed to massive trauma.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of trauma in the breast tissue. There were blood clots in the body cavity.

MOOS: The prevailing official theory is that New Year's Eve fireworks or thunder startled the huge flock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be very easy for them to fly into each other, fly into a tree, into a house.

MOOS: Skeptics scoff at that.

(on camera) For now, the ones who really know what happened aren't talking.

(voice-over) From the survivors, not a peep.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

PAUL MCCARTNEY, MUSICIAN (singing): Black bird singing in the dead of night.

MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at or head to to become a fan.

That's it for me for today. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.