Return to Transcripts main page


Shooting Rampage, Hostage Crisis

Aired April 3, 2009 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news -- a gunman opens fire at a center where immigrants study to become citizens. At least 12 people plus the shooter are dead. We'll get the very latest from authorities in Binghamton, New York.

Flattery instead of friction -- President Obama was supposed to butt heads with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. But now they sound like best friends. Wait until you hear them crank out the compliments.

And she calls Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni the dueling divas of fashion. Tina Brown of TheDailyBeast -- she tells us about two very stylish first ladies.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: But let's begin with the breaking news out of Binghamton, New York. A bloody rampage at a center where immigrants learn to become citizens. We're told 13 people are dead, including the gunman. We're awaiting a news conference. We should be hearing from the mayor of Binghamton, New York and others.

Let's go straight to CNN's national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.

She's in Binghamton with the latest -- Susan.


BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, Susan may be having trouble hearing me right now.

We're going to get back to Susan as soon as clear up our technical problem.

Susan Candiotti is on the streets of Binghamton, New York -- Upstate New York. It's about 120 miles or so upstate from New York City.

Once again, we're standing by for that news conference with all the latest details. Thirteen people are dead.

Tom Fuentes is a former assistant director of the FBI. He's joining us. He's watching all of this unfold.

It looks, Tom, and it's preliminary. It's very early. A lone gunman walks in, heavily armed and starts simply killing people in this civics center.

TOM FUENTES, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: It appears so, Wolf. But again, the investigation will be continuing to make sure of that fact, that there weren't other accomplices who may have helped him plan the attack, maybe went in and, for whatever reason, changed their mind and fled. So the investigation is not going to be just along with this particular gunman, but who he may have been calling, e-mailing and in communication with in the past days and weeks to -- to see for sure that he's alone.

BLITZER: Because I'm sure the investigation will be very, very thorough -- very complete.

The most immediate thing they need to do, obviously, is take care of those who are wounded. They've searched the facility. It doesn't look like there are any more hostages or any more people stranded inside.

FUENTES: Right. And in terms of the victims and the witnesses, you know, many are at that center because they're new to the United States. So they may be still citizens of other countries through the world and their families watching you on CNN International, realizing that something tragic took place here in Binghamton, may be calling the State Department or the FBI or their embassies here in Washington.

So there will be a tremendous effort to coordinate the information going to the families, going to the relatives here in the U.S. and around the world, of the victims in this tragedy.

BLITZER: Stand by, Tom.

I want to bring your colleague, Chris Voss, in, a 24 year veteran of the FBI himself, a former FBI hostage negotiator.

We're not identifying here on CNN -- at least not yet, Chris, the name of this suspect who is now dead. But it sounds like this individual was himself an immigrant.

CHRIS VOSS, FORMER FBI KIDNAPPING NEGOTIATOR: Yes, that's the information that I'm hearing, as well, is that he was Vietnamese, possibly. And it's an indicator of someone who really feels in a desperate situation and finally becomes eventual (ph) in his actions.

BLITZER: Hold on one second, because I want to bring in Mary Snow.

Mary Snow has got some more information on exactly what happened -- and, Mary, we're waiting for this news conference to begin.

But for viewers who may just be tuning in, give us a little bit more background. MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you know, Wolf, the details have been very sketchy. This whole incident extended about over a four hour period. And what reports have said is that gunman had entered this immigrant support center in Binghamton at around 10:30 this morning. And reports have said that he had a rifle with him, that he had apparently parked his car in the back of the building and then approached through the front of the building. This is from various newspaper reports and television reports.

And I believe the mayor of Binghamton is just getting ready to speak right now. But as we do know, law enforcement sources have confirmed 13 people dead, five people injured and the gunman was found, according to sources, dead.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go to this news conference and hear what he -- what they're saying.

MAYOR MATTHEW RYAN, BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK: ...we felt sorrow and compassion for all the victims, their families and their friends. I've had assurances from both state and federal officials, including a call just a few minutes ago from Vice President Joe Biden on Air Force Two, that any resources necessary to help during this time of crisis will be made available to our community. And I want to thank them for that.

I want to thank the Binghamton police and those -- all those other seven agencies that responded to this crisis today. It was a truly incredible example of how all the training that goes into SWAT teams and all the sorts of things that had to be done today truly pays off for the community. And it was a tremendous example of -- of working together in this community.

Just a few words of caution. This investigation is going to be a long -- a fairly lengthy process. We need to go through identification procedures for the victims. That takes some time. And we would ask the press to be very respectful of all those -- of this time that's needed to identify the victims.

I also want to make sure that everybody understands there was some people seen in flex cuffs today walked out near the building. None of those people are considered suspects at this time.

I also want to express that we are setting up ways for people who think they might have a victim involved, because like I said, the identification is going to take some time. It took a long time to clear that building safely today -- not until late -- late in the afternoon did we really have that done.

So now people are working feverishly to make sure we can identify the victims as soon as possible. Anybody who wants to call about that procedure -- about thinking that you might have somebody, a friend or a family member, please call the detective bureau at 772-7080 or 772- 7081.

And any other assistance that's needed from other agencies will be given through those numbers. So we can have all the people funneled into those two numbers. Again, I want to thank everybody -- all the agencies that responded. This is a community that comes together in a time of crisis. And you can certainly see that that's happening already here in this community. I want to thank all our state and federal officials who are here today and our local officials -- everybody who understands the severity of this crisis.

We want to, again, reiterate that this is -- this is going to be tough on those families who have victims. Many of them are originally not from this country. And we want to make sure that that process goes out in a way that's fair to those families. So please respect the families.

And now I would like to have Governor David Paterson speak to you.

GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: At 3:00 this afternoon, as well, I received a telephone call from Vice President Biden expressing his condolences and the prayers of President Obama, who he spoke to just moments before from Europe, and his wife, Michelle Obama, and that their prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives today; with the victims and the families of the victims and those who were traumatized by the incident who mercifully were able to escape.

I'm accompanied today by Congressman Hinchey and Senator Tom Libous, who was in Albany today. We came down to be here to express, on behalf of all the citizens of the state and people around America, our profound outrage at a senseless act of violence in which innocent people were killed, injured and probably traumatized for some period of time.

On March 11th, in Alabama, a man killed nine people -- four of them members of his family.

On March 22nd in Oakland, California, four police officers were slain in the same day by a suspect.

And now here in Binghamton, we probably have the worst tragedy and senseless crime in the history of this city.

When are we going to be able to curb the kind of violence that is so fraught and so rapid that we can't even keep track of the incidents?

I am hopeful that this case will be brought to immediate resolution and that the citizens of Binghamton feel safe tonight. But we all just have a profound sadness and sorrow over what so many of our neighbors have had to go through today.

I want to thank the Binghamton Police Department, the New York State Police for backing them up, the state Office of Emergency Management, the Office of Mental Health, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and all the other agencies of Binghamton and of New York State who have coordinated and worked so effectively today.

And I would also like to repeat the mayor's call that we be very careful about the information. There have been a variety of erroneous reports and inaccurate information floating around that only exacerbates an already tension-filled situation.

We in the state will provide any assistance to those who are in need and to the board and employees of the American Civic Association Cultural Center, that provides services to -- to people and were actually conducting classes for those who wanted to become citizens of the United States of America -- who wanted to be a part of the American dream and so tragically may have had that hope thwarted today.

But there still is an American dream. And all of us who are Americans will try to heal this very, very deep wound in the City of Binghamton. And we'll come around and the people here and the leaders here and provide them with any assistance that we can.

RYAN: Thank you, Governor.

Next, I'd like to introduce Congressman Maurice Hinchey.

REP. MAURICE HINCHEY (D), NEW YORK: Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor.

And I'm just here primarily to express my deep respect and appreciation to the people that I am very proud to represent here from the City of Binghamton. And to convey that whatever it is that we can do to help deal with this situation, through the federal government, we will be in the process of doing so.

As the mayor and the governor mentioned, we've had communication directly from the executive branch, directly from the vice president, but also indirectly from the president, giving their deep concern about the situation and their sympathy and everything that can be done with the federal government or through the federal government to deal with this situation will be forthcoming.

I also want to express my very deep respect and appreciation to the Binghamton Police Department and the New York State Police for the way in which they stepped into this very dangerous, difficult set of circumstances and dealt with it -- and to all the others here who were involved in this and who did everything that they could to address this very tragic set of circumstances.

RYAN: Thank you, Congressman.

And next, Chief Joe Zikuski will speak.


I'm going to start out with what we do know. And there's a lot of work to be done. And there's a lot of misinformation that's been reported in the media already.

So what we do know is at 10:31 this morning, there was a 911 call to the emergency services center -- a woman saying she had been shot, there was a man with a handgun who fired several more shots and that there was hostages.

The police response was less than two minutes. I myself was at the scene in less than three minutes. I heard the call go out and responded from here in the station.

All the gunfire had ceased by that time. There was no more shots fired. We do not know, at this point -- the woman is in surgery -- how much time lapsed after she had been shot that she was able to call us.

Once we got there, it was determined that -- determined that a suspect had put a car against the back door, blocking any possible exit by possible victims. And he entered through the front door.

It took the SWAT several hours to clear the place. The information kept coming in about the possibility that the shooter may still be in the building.

Once that was all done and talking -- and as this was all evolving, talking to our original caller prior to her going into surgery, said that a lone gunman entered the building, immediately shot her and another receptionist. Unfortunately, that other receptionist is decreased. He then went to a room immediately off the reception area and shot several more people.

What is of all of our concerns is the safety of the Binghamton -- the City of Binghamton's residents and the community. And we have reason to believe -- but not 100 percent -- that among the dead is the shooter.

And I'm going to tell you why we believe that, but by no means are we 100 percent sure.

The vehicle, we believe -- we spoke to the registered owner of the vehicle. We know the person that borrowed that vehicle. He -- it's our understanding he has some ties to the Civic Association.

Among the dead, there is a male victim that has a satchel around his neck or arms and there is ammunition in there. Our original information was that the shooter was using handguns and we did recover two handguns at the scene.

So at this point, we're not 100 percent, but we have very good reason to believe that the shooter is among the dead.

It's going to be some time-consuming -- a lot of work by -- on our part, to -- to get to that point.

But the residents of the City of Binghamton are safe. And that we have -- we have no idea what the motive is. As I said, we did not secure the building -- this started at 10:31 this morning -- until approximately 2:33 this afternoon.

And I'd like to thank all the agencies who responded and primarily, right from the start, the Broome County Sheriff's Department and the New York State Police responded in full force without even a call. They were at my side from the start to the end. And as the day went on, ins, ATF, the Marshals Service -- every agency, without calls from us, responded on their own. So the outpouring of cooperation was terrific. I can't say enough for the assistance that we received under these very trying times.

So I'm willing to take a few questions. I don't have a lot to give you, but we'll take a few.

QUESTION: Sir, do you know how many shots (INAUDIBLE) were fired and how long the gunman was in the building (INAUDIBLE)?

ZIKUSKI: OK. We removed safely 37 people. Four people we removed are wounded. And all four of them are listed in critical condition. So it's 37 survived, four critical condition.

As far as how many shots were fired, no idea. And how long, as I said, we were unable to determine from her how long it took her to make that 911 call once she had been shot.

What she did is she pretended she was dead. After he shot her, she went down on the ground. He went into a room off that reception area, shot several people. And as he exited and went down the hallway in the building, she crawled underneath the desk and sometime after that, she called us.

There's 14 confirmed dead in the building.

QUESTION: Is that including the person you think is the shooter?

ZIKUSKI: If he's in there, yes. There's a total of 14 deceased.


ZIKUSKI: No. These people were there trying to better themselves, trying to become citizens, as the governor said. They were in classrooms. There was two receptionists right inside the door. The lone survivor, as far as we know, she's the only one who got a look at him.

But once again, we don't know that for sure. We have 37 people to talk to. Twenty-six people took refuge in the boiler room in the basement. It was a very trying time for them. We had to repeatedly reassure them over a matter of a few hours, do not come out. We will come and get you.

They were antsy. They saw nothing. They heard the shots. And so we know 26 of them immediately sought refuge in the basement.

So we don't know if anybody except the -- the receptionist that survived actually saw the shooter.

QUESTION: Can you identify the person (INAUDIBLE)?

ZIKUSKI: No one. No. I'm not going to identify who we believe the shooter is. And there is some information that the shooter, if it is who we believe it is, borrowed a vehicle to -- apparently to attend a class there or -- it's, at this point, preliminary. He's no stranger to the Civic Center. That's all we have. I'm not trying to withhold information from you, but this just got settled down about 3:00 and the information is just pouring in. And I have what I have.

QUESTION: Because there's a name that's out there.

ZIKUSKI: I understand that. And I'm not going to confirm anything. It wouldn't be fair if he's the -- if he's just an innocent victim.

If that person is, in fact, there and he's a victim -- an innocent victim -- it wouldn't be fair to portray him as a suspect at this point.


ZIKUSKI: Once again, the mayor talked about this. It's standard police procedure. We had a description from a victim who had been shot what the assailant looked like. So any SWAT team that enters and clears a building or a location, anybody that vaguely fits that description is going to be secured.

Those people were suspects at the time until we cleared them otherwise -- anybody. And it just wasn't that two. That's the two you saw. There was other males that were -- so those people have been cleared. And I want to make it very clear that it no -- other than for initial safety purposes, they were secured until we could determine that they were, in fact, not the shooter.


ZIKUSKI: It's my understanding that most of the people there were there attending classes, yes.


ZIKUSKI: I have no idea.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) how long was it before you (INAUDIBLE)?

ZIKUSKI: I'm going to say upwards of over three hours. And there were several reasons for that. Once we spoke with the -- the victim that survived, she said he went down the hallway and she heard several more shots.

Thank God, for a long period of time, we assumed we were going to find more bodies down the hall. We never did. And she could have heard -- we don't know. But, so the SWAT teams are very methodical. And so they took that long to get to them. They were safe. We were in communication with them all the time. Once somebody's cell phone died, they dialed us up on another phone.

They -- we instructed them how to barricade the doors. And so if the point came where we thought the shooter was down there, we would have moved on him.



ZIKUSKI: Absolutely not. There's no -- at this point, there's absolutely no indication whatsoever that any rifle was used.


ZIKUSKI: There's a lot of work to do. And, as I said, we have some -- some very good information that would lead us to believe who that is. There is a person there that we -- we believe among the deceased. He has -- our I.D. people are there, with the assistance of the State Police identification. And we will be running -- that will be our first step, to run those fingerprints to see if the person we believe drove the vehicle there, is he, in fact, among the deceased.

So it's going to be a time consuming thing. We don't want to put anybody's name out there that unfairly. And we've got a lot of work to do.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) besides the receptionist in that one room?

ZIKUSKI: Besides the receptionist that was killed...



ZIKUSKI: All the other 13 were in that room, yes.



ZIKUSKI: As soon as you walk in the door, right in the...



ZIKUSKI: . No. No, there was not. No, there wasn't.



ZIKUSKI: I would say actually not, because we debriefed the victim who survived as much possible on the way to the hospital. And she estimated there could be up to 100 people. And it actually was more around 50. So it was...


(INAUDIBLE). ZIKUSKI: No. No. And, actually, it was fewer people than she -- she said ordinarily it wasn't unusual to have about 100 people in there. It ended up in the range of 50 if you do the math. There was 60. It wasn't 100.

QUESTION: This was a classroom that he went into (INAUDIBLE).

ZIKUSKI: I can't answer that. I saw the scene. And I don't know if it was a classroom or not. They were all there. I don't know. It would be -- it's likely, but I don't know that for sure.



ZIKUSKI: It appeared to be, yes.


(INAUDIBLE) the surrounding area?

What steps (INAUDIBLE) how quickly after you responded did you realize you had something bigger that required an alert?

ZIKUSKI: I'm not sure -- alert who?

As I said, the overwhelming support from the Sheriff's Department and the State Police was overwhelming. I was there quickly and although this is Binghamton and we don't have these tragedies, we're very well-trained. And we immediately started evacuating the street as soon as we got a call that there was shots fired, that a victim was on (INAUDIBLE) shots was a man from a handgun, the patrol captain, Captain Shea (ph), was on the scene. Immediately, we started evacuating any surrounding buildings.


(INAUDIBLE) broadcast over a -- a radio system?

ZIKUSKI: Not that I'm aware of. No. No.

QUESTION: The surviving receptionist, did she say that the shooter came in saying anything, screaming anything?

ZIKUSKI: All we know -- what I know is -- that's what I'm telling you is what I know, that he just came in and shot her. I don't think there was any conversation.


ZIKUSKI: This is Greg Chellis (ph).

He's the director of Emergency Services, who oversees the 911 dispatch center.

GREG CHELLIS: Thank you, Chief. After a period of time, checking in with the command post, we did offer a message to the New York alert system, which we use in this county for emergency public notification, to request citizens to stay away from the area, to secure in house if they were close to the location and to limit the use of cell phones to allow emergency responders to use phones from the scene.

That was the first alert that went through on the emergency notification system.



ZIKUSKI: No. And we don't know that. We may now, since I've been here, because I left the scene about 4:00. But, as a matter of fact, you know, the receptionist who survived was shot in the stomach. I know one of the victims that's in the hospital in critical condition was shot in the leg and arm. So that's not -- that's not true.



ZIKUSKI: Not to my knowledge. But I don't know that. I don't know that.


ZIKUSKI: Most of them, as they exited, could not speak English. I was there myself. There was some that could and we directed them. But it did not -- it didn't cause us any problems, no.

I'll take one or two more. You know, we don't...

QUESTION: You said you removed 37 people (INAUDIBLE).

ZIKUSKI: Thirty-seven people we removed. No -- I don't know if anybody escaped on their own. And I was on the scene within three minutes myself and nobody exited that building until we took the 30 -- we took them -- the first group and then the second group was 26.

Within, as I said, when I got there, nobody left that building until we -- the SWAT team brought those people to safety. So if anybody got out before that two or three minute time, I don't know.

QUESTION: Chief, I know you said no indication (INAUDIBLE) the man you believe to be the gunman, any prior record or any criminal history or anything that would lead you to believe this wasn't premeditated?

ZIKUSKI: We're checking on that. It obviously was premeditated. He barricaded the back door so nobody could get out. He put his car right against the door. He was making sure nobody could escape.

You know, we're -- we'll be forthcoming with you as we get information. We don't want the citizens of the community alarmed. And after this tragedy, it's -- and we will give you the information as we get it. But I -- we just don't know.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) this guy active with anyone else, that anyone else might have been involved in setting it up or (INAUDIBLE)?

ZIKUSKI: Way -- way too early to say. You know, my initial on the scene, you know, is over our radio said do not assume that there's one gunman. You know, but we don't know that. It's way too early to tell that. There's no indication whatsoever that there's anything but a lone gunman. But we will look at every -- everything that comes in front of us.



ZIKUSKI: We heard that.

But can I confirm 100 percent?

No. But we did receive that information. So...


ZIKUSKI: A possibility. We heard that, but it's not been confirmed.

OK. Thank you.

Andrew Black from the mayor's office will be in contact with the media for any other future briefings we're going to have on this.

Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. So there he is, the police chief in Binghamton, New York, Joseph Zikuski, telling us that 14 people are confirmed dead, presumably one of those 14 the suspect himself. Four people are in critical condition. They were wounded. They were shot in this rampage. Thirty-seven people did manage to escape. They did survive.

Let's assess what we've just heard.

We have two former FBI agents joining us right now, Chris Voss, a former hostage negotiator for the FBI; Tom Fuentes, a former deputy director.

Chris, let me start with you. They are -- he's erring, the police chief, with an abundance of caution, saying they -- they can't make a 100 percent confirmation of who the shooter is.

VOSS: Well, that makes a lot of sense right now because there's a tremendous amount of planning that went into this. Again, he -- it's -- this was a killing journey. I mean when an individual is at the end of a killing journey like this, you don't want to make any assumptions at all about -- on the face value of what you have. There may have been people that may have been inadvertent accomplices, which, in effect, would make them victims themselves.

So they're still trying to make sure that they understand what went on here.

Another thing that they're going to find in this type of a killing journey is often the person that did that, did it -- did a number of significant events just beforehand. So when they serve a search warrant at a residence, it's likely that they'll find indicators of an individual setting up his own life -- his or her own life for the end if it, which culminated in the act today.

BLITZER: It shouldn't take too long to make a 100 percent confirmation, I suspect, Tom Fuentes, if there are eyewitnesses, obviously. Thirty-seven people did survive this incident. There will be fingerprints, presumably, to match the suspect to the actual weapons. And they did say one of those found dead had a satchel with bullets inside. So there -- there will be, supposedly, some -- some hard evidence pretty soon.

FUENTES: There should be. But again, in a situation like that, the victims are under incredible stress -- being shot at, fighting for their lives. To try to have an accurate description from survivors would be a very difficult situation. So that -- that is not as easy as that might appear to be.

BLITZER: What did you think of the way the chief -- the police chief described the way it was handled?

Within a few minutes of that 911 call, they were there on the scene.

Should they have all rushed in?

Can we -- can we second-guess how this unfolded?

FUENTES: That's also a very difficult judgment call at the scene. If you wait too long and somebody bleeds to death that might have been saved, you're going to be criticized for that. But, on the other hand, it appeared to me that they exemplified extreme professionalism in trying to contain the situation, secure that building and be -- be as cautious as possible to not cause more shootings and more deaths by just rushing right in there.

So I would commend the chief in the handling of it, the speed of their response, as well as the professionalism of the -- the tactical teams that arrived, the SWAT team, the negotiators, the rest of his command staff and, of course, the law enforcement leaders from all the other agencies that immediately responded to assist.

BLITZER: Is it common Chris, because it startled me when I heard the police chief say how they were coaching some of the people stuck inside to barricade the doors, the couches or whatever in front of those doors. A lot of these folks obviously had cell phones. CHRIS VOSS: The nature of the world today when there's been enough shootings like this that has occurred in different places, law enforcement understands that they're probably going to be able to be in contact with victims inside while it's ongoing, so they prepare for this. The nature of a dynamic or an active shooter. It's not that unusual and it's probably something they thought of in advance.

BLITZER: The suspect was believed to have driven his car, we have a picture we're showing it, barricading the rear door so no one could get in or not. I assume at some point and let me throw this to Tom, it won't be difficult to find out who owned that car, who it was registered to and whether or not the individual with the satchel of bullets is the same individual that drove that car up to that building.

TOM: Right. Normally now, that car would be towed to a secure indoor location where it can be meticulously searched for hair, fiber, fingerprints, other DNA evidence, to try to determine who was behind the wheel when that car was left in that position. Whether it's another one of the victims, whether it's an innocent person that wasn't even involved in this event, just lending the car. My thoughts earlier today was that it could have been a stolen car. So merely having the vehicle by itself is important lead information, but again, it's going to take meticulous analysis. For the viewers out there who watch the CSI television shows, it takes a lot longer than 60 minutes to put the physical evidence together and obtain the information from the databases.

BLITZER: Yeah, I think that's a fair point. Chris, if you take a look at the earlier reports, there were high-powered rifles, but the police chief making it clear these were handguns apparently that were involved. Did you notice that?

CHRIS VOSS, FORMER FBI KIDNAPPING NEGOTIATOR: And you would expect there to be conflicting information coming out initially because of the fear of how horrific a situation is like this in the very beginning, so when law enforcement hears this, they begin to sort out the information and of course don't take anything for granted.

BLITZER: Which is good information. First information usually in these kinds of incidents very often can be wrong, which apparently was the case. So let me just reassess, recap what we know now based on what we heard from the police chief in Binghamton, New York, upstate New York, Joseph Zukiski. 14 individuals confirmed dead. One of them believed to be the suspect although they can't make 100 percent confirmation of that yet. 37 individuals did survive. They managed to escape. Four of them were shot. They are in a local hospital in critical condition right now. We'll continue to watch the breaking news for you and get more information from Binghamton, New York. Binghamton, a community of about 50,000 people in upstate New York, about 120, 130 miles north of New York City.

There was supposed to be friction between them, but President Obama and French President Sarkozy may now be best friends forever. Wait till you hear them dish out the flattery.

Plus, is it a disaster waiting to happen? Now a crumbling bridge on a busy interstate, why it doesn't qualify for stimulus money.

And Madonna after all, won't be getting -- won't be allowed to adopt a second child from the African nation of Malawi. That's the judge's ruling against the pop star just happened today.


BLITZER: I want to update our viewers right now on what the governor of Alaska Sarah Palin is saying about that bungled up prosecution of the former Alaska Senator, the republican Ted Stevens. CNN's Brian Todd is here. He's working the story for us. What's going on Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sarah Palin pretty much had to turn against Ted Stevens just before Election Day when he was convicted. Now, she's among those saying he should be given another chance to get his seat back.


TODD (voice-over): Meet Alaska's highest profile GOP strategist. Governor Sarah Palin weighs in on the future of former Republican Senator Ted Stevens after federal prosecutors asked that his conviction on ethics charges be dropped. Palin tells an Anchorage TV station --

GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R) ALASKA: There was improper undo influence in the campaign. I'd love to see a fair, special election.

TODD: Two publications report Palin is siding with the state Republican Party which calls for democratic Senator Mark Begich to step down. Begich barely beat Stevens in November just days after the 85 year old republican was convicted. Palin and her fellow republicans believe if voters had known then about all the problems with the case, Stevens would have kept his seat. Begich isn't budging, his press secretary telling CNN he is not going to resign no matter who's asking.

Even many of Stevens' senate colleagues who supported him during the trial say there's virtually no chance a special election can be held now. But one republican friend of Stevens' has an idea about what he could do --

VOICE OF REP. DON YOUNG, (R) ALASKA: I think that would be a great way to cap off a great career is being the Governor of the state of Alaska.

TODD: An aide to Alaska Congressman Don Young strongly denied that he's encouraging Stevens to challenge Palin, who may run for reelection next year. But there's some history there.

LIBBY CASEY, ALASKA PUBLIC RADIO NETWORK: There's been a lot of tension between Congressman Young and Governor Palin. Her lieutenant governor challenged Congressman Young for his seat and Governor Palin backed her lieutenant governor.


TODD: Palin was also among those calling for Stevens to step down after his conviction in late October, echoing her running mate John McCain even though she had once been Stevens' political ally. There's no word from Stevens on what he might do next. He's keeping quiet until next week when the judge in his ethics case hears arguments from both sides. Wolf?

BLITZER: So why would you think the governor of Alaska would weigh in on this the way she did when there's so little chance that there could really be a special election?

TODD: Virtually no chance of a special election unless Begich says he'll step down. He said he's not doing that. Palin's motivations are a mystery. She has had a contention relationship with the state GOP chairman, she once accused him of ethics violations. If she runs for reelection next year, she may need his support. But she said virtually nothing about whether she's going to run. So her motivation is right at this moment a bit of a mystery.

BLITZER: All right Brian Todd, thanks very much.

We're going to be following up in the coming days on the prosecutors, on their role on what exactly happened. The allegations out that there was lots of prosecutorial misconduct. Let's bring in our political contributor, our democratic strategist Donna Brazile, republican strategist Kevin Madden. What a story this is. A United States senator after he's convicted and then in effect they say, never mind but in the meantime, he's lost his senate seat.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN : I think Attorney General Holder needs to get to the bottom of it to figure out exactly what happened. We know that there was a lot of partisanship over the justice department, but this is a republican senator. We had a democratic governor --

BLITZER: So the republican justice department going against a republican senator. So you know, it's just so strange.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't usually have the same kind of lines that would come out if you were just to point fingers as republicans versus democrats. Instead, it seems like there was prosecutorial misconduct, there may have been really bad mistakes and really bad decisions made. And somebody has to get to the bottom of it so that we have some sort of confidence should any of these prosecutions go forward.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people are going to lose confidence unless they do -- explain if you can, because you're a republican, Sarah Palin, why she's weighing in the way she is right now when there's virtually no chance that there will be another election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brian Todd said it right, it's a mystery. It's either the result of bad advice or really bad instincts. There really is no upside to trying to get into something as controversial as this, as well as the simple fact that it does complicate the messages that she sent earlier on during the campaign, opens her up to charges that she's flip-flopping for political expediency. So there really is no upside. Oftentimes the urge to stay quiet eludes politicians

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: There's a volcano erupting there in Alaska and it's not really anything other than Sarah Palin not understanding her role. I think she should just at this point focus on running the state and stay out of national politics.

BLITZER: Let's switch gears from Alaska to South Carolina, a rising star in the Republican Party. Governor Mark Sanford says thanks but no thanks to the rest of the economic stimulus money, but now after all, he's going to start accepting the money. Explain what's going on?

: I think there are two things here, first is political leverage and the second are principles. I think what Governor Sanford seems to be doing is giving himself as many options as possible with the federal money by filing that certification for accepting the dollar so that he can now barter with the state legislature on how to spend that money. Because what he wants to do is pay down the debt, he wants to use that money to pay down the debt. The legislature seems to be balking at it. But right now he's got this big bargaining chip by the simple fact that he's filed --

BLITZER: Let me ask you this, how does paying down the debt of the state of south Carolina create jobs and stimulate the economy which is supposed to be the purpose of those billions of dollars?

: That's where the principle comes in. You have Governor Stamford firmly believes that by accepting $700 million for federal funds to pay for teachers, that instead he's going to have a long-term liability when we should be paying for that with state funds. If he can put that down, that way he doesn't have a long-term liability after fun with state teachers with federal dollars..

BLITZER: You've taken a c close look at this and a lot of folks in South Carolina, especially African-Americans in South Carolina, unhappy with the governor's decision. James Clyburn the majority whip in the house leading the charge.

BRAZILE: I've been to South Carolina twice this year. One, because of i have a brother there as a result of hurricane Katrina. That's where he and his family of course is living. Over 11 percent of the state now is faced with unemployment. It has the second highest unemployment rate in the country. If the governor fails to accept this money three to four thousand teachers and law enforcements officials will lose their jobs. The governor has an obligation to the people of South Carolina, not to the politics of 2012, to take this money and spend it for the people.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there guys. Donna, Kevin, thanks very much.

This note to our viewers, on Tuesday, this coming Tuesday, the Vice President Joe Biden, will be our guest right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We want you to be part of the interview. What question do you have for Vice President Biden? You can submit your videos to Watch Tuesday, Gloria Borger and I will go over to the White House to interview the Vice President Joe Biden to see if your questions may have been asked in that interview. That's coming up this coming Tuesday right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Madonna, she won't get to adopt a second child after all from the African nation of Malawi. Why a judge in Malawi today ruled against the pop star.

And she calls Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni the dueling divas of fashion. Tina Brown of "The Daily Beast" tells us about two very stylish first ladies. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again Wolf. An ice shelf about the size of Connecticut is imminently close to breaking away from part of Antarctica. Scientists say satellite images show the Wilkins ice shelf has new and widening cracks. In the last year the Wilkins shelf has lost nearly 700 square miles of ice. If it breaks away, scientists say the sea level won't rise, but some animals may have to adapt.

A raging fire rips through supplies bound for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Police say bombers hit this Pakistan court today torching the shipping containers. Pakistan is a major supply route to Afghanistan. Police suspect Taliban militants are behind several recent attacks. U.S. and NATO leaders are looking for alternative supply routes, especially with thousands of additional American troops headed to Afghanistan.

And two mortgage finance giants controlled by the government are set to hand out millions in bonuses. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say they will pay $159 million through next year to give workers an incentive to stay on. Fannie's top four execs will get 1 million each. A member of the senate finance committee says the move makes no sense when it involves companies that lost a hundred billion dollars in a year.

And gay couples in Iowa are celebrating. Their state is now the third in the nation to allow same-sex marriage. The Iowa Supreme Court today shot down the state's gay marriage ban. The court upheld a 2007 ruling which says limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violates the state institution. Massachusetts and Connecticut also allow same-sex marriage. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right Fred, thanks very much. As the Obamas continue to captivate Europe, is there a Trans Atlantic rivalry between two very stylish first ladies? Joining us now, Tina Brown, the co-founder and editor of "The Daily Beast", the very popular website. Tina thanks very much for coming back.


BLITZER: Let's talk about these two women who met today in Europe. Carla Bruni the first lady of France, Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States. Very different but there are similarities.

BROWN: Well they certainly were the dueling divas of fashion today I must say. It was wonderful to see these two very different, very stylish women meeting today for the first time. Both of them wearing these big pussycat bows, which I thought was rather funny. But the thing about Carla is you know she's very, very different from Michelle. She is an aristocratic girl, extremely rich by birth, a playgirl. She's dated Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, she strummed the guitar, she made a great play for Sarkozy when he was still married to his wife Celia and just carried him off in a moment of absolute excitement between the two of them. So she's quite a player in the international scene. Much more to hide in her background, frankly.

Michelle is a much more authentic kind of woman. She's a real red blooded, it's all as you see it with her. It couldn't really be more different. I think that's one of the reasons that Carla didn't really want to come to London, because she knew this was going to be a Michelle show and she didn't really want to have a bad comparison between herself and Michelle.

BLITZER: Was she concerned as some suggested that Michelle Obama could upstage Carla Bruni?

BROWN: I don't think it was about so much upstaging because Carla is an absolutely gorgeous sort of superstar cover girl. But she understood I think that this was not going to be the great PR moment for her. Because at this moment in the economic turndown, here's Carla, who is a very much a kind of couture kind of girl, she dresses in very expensive clothes, Dior all the way. Covers of, you know, glossy magazines. Right now in this economic turndown, that's not such a great image to be projecting for France and for herself. So I think she was smart. She decided to stay home, stay out of the way, let this be Michelle's big moment. And then let Michelle come to France where she's first lady and she can then play gracious hostess.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say that the first lady of the United States so far on this European adventure of hers, it's been a flawless performance.

BROWN: It has really been amazing. What I think is quite fascinating is when these big, big press figures like the president and his wife go abroad, you see them in relief, in a way that you don't really see them when you encounter them every day in the news. You suddenly see them through different eyes. There's no doubt but this trip she has been dialed up to a whole new level. Instead of become a cross between Oprah and Princess Diana on this tour. She's really broken through in ways that I think that she hadn't even done as first lady, popular though she is.

BLITZER: Are we focusing too much attention, do you think, some criticism, I think unrightly, that maybe the media is paying too much attention to the first lady and what she's up to, but there is -- you have to admit, enormous amount of high interest.

BROWN: Huge interest. Actually, the trick is the Brits are most completely in love with the Obamas. They really are. So are the French. They do represent something so new in Europe. Because certainly in England and there really hasn't been anything like this kind of brilliant, attractive, glamorous, sophisticated black couple, black leader in a sense. They've never seen it really. They certainly haven't seen it in France. It was a huge novelty there. And also they were so kind of disgruntled with Bush and so disaffected with Bush. It really represents a whole new day. And the whole thing has contributed to a great sort of inspiration al tour, really.

BLITZER: We've spent a lot of time talking about what Mrs. Obama is wearing throughout this trip. But let's talk about her husband for a moment. Because he has a style all of his own. And I wonder what you think about that style, especially what he wears? It's usually a dark suit, white shirt, with a nice tie.

BROWN: Absolutely. You know, Barack is all about these monochromatic colors. He keeps very much in his uniform. Which is a cool thing to do. He's very dapper. He never lets it all hang out. He's very disciplined in his appearance as he is in his personality. And of course always very fit. Never misses the gym. He has a very lean physique. He's tall. He absolutely looks extremely elegant, I think. He looks really quite wonderful. His whole style is very restrained. I thought it was interesting that in France for instance a girl wanted to kiss him in the crowd and he didn't want to really do that. Even with Carla Bruni, she went towards him to kiss him and he kind of extended his hand and shook her hand. Really, it's as if he's saying, look, I'm a married guy. I don't do that stuff. I'm a little straighter than that, which is actually very appealing.

BLITZER: It's very appealing and there's no doubt when he walked into that stadium for that town hall meeting in Strasbourg earlier today, and the crowd, it was like a crowd of very partisan Obama supporters here in the United States. It was almost like a campaign event in the heart of Europe.

BROWN: I know, it's actually a remarkable thing. He is just a complete rock star abroad. It's that magic smile. It's the modernity of him and the fact that he just seems to be like a kind of messenger from a made-over world. As does Michelle. I felt that particularly actually when you saw those amazing pictures of Michelle and Barack and the queen in London. There's the tiny little queen who looks now a bit like Queen Victoria or something, and these big, sort of almost extraterrestrial beings from another time, another future. It was really wonderful and it was the same in France. Because Carla, elegant though she is, suddenly seemed a sort of little bit retro next to Michelle and Barack. Very interesting these images we're seeing.

BLITZER: And he's tall, taller than Sarkozy, the president of France. And when people see the two of them together, I suspect that he comes across a little bit more dapper, shall we say.

BROWN: Definitely.

BLITZER: A little bit more attractive than the president of France.

BROWN: Well the president of France is a much more explosive, valuable, volatile kind of guy. You never quite know where he's going to go off. So it's a completely different dynamic because Barack is so disciplined and so cool and so modern. But, you know, they're a very appealing quartet. I think the Sarkozys are a very attractive couple, I have to say. I think that he's a charming and smart and very interesting man to follow.

BLITZER: I totally agree. Thanks so much, Tina, for coming back.

BROWN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tina Brown is the cofounder and editor of "The Daily Beast."

A serious warning from the president of the United States to North Korea. There will be consequences if you launch a missile. Just ahead, the reason the U.S. may not want to hype the threat. We'll explain what's going on.

And new tapes just released of the former president John F. Kennedy. Tapes like you've never heard him before.


BLITZER: Madonna won't be adopting a second child from the African nation of Malawi. Martin Geisler picks up the story.


MARTIN GEISLER: This is Mercy James. Filmed in an orphanage in Malawi two years ago. Even back then, Madonna had her eye on this little girl. They met shortly before these pictures were filmed. There were also apparently an instant bond, and plans for her adoption began.

ANNIE CHIKHWAZA, KONDANANI ORPHANAGE: When Madonna came here, she really fell in love with this one. Although she was very compassionate and very loving to all the children. She really fell in love with Mercy.

GEISLER: She loved her so much, she wanted to take her home. But today a judge killed that dream, refusing to bend Malawian law for Madonna or any other applicant. Outside the court her judgment was read out to reporters. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Court do not make law by the process of presidents. And Miss Madonna may not be the only international person interested in adopting the so called poor children of Malawi.

GEISLER (on camera): It's difficult to imagine Madonna would have come all this way to start the adoption process if she hadn't been given some kind of a nod that she was going to get approval. With that in mind today's news came as a shock to everyone, not least presumably the singer herself.

(Voice-over): Madonna wasn't in court to hear the news today. It was issued from the judge's private chambers. Earlier this week, I asked Madonna what she thought of her critics. She made her feelings perfectly clear.

Can you tell us why you're adopting again, Madonna?


GEISLER: And you understand people's reservations about this? Seriously.

MADONNA: No. It's none of their business.

GEISLER: But there are many who feel it is their business. On point of principle. Madonna has been accused of using her status to buoy the courts once already in the case of David Banda. And then there's the basic issue of whether it's right to adopt children into a different culture as well. Unless there is a successful appeal, young Mercy won't have a life of privilege, but an upbringing here amongst the other orphans. The contrast is pretty stark but she's too young to understand. Martin Geisler, ITV, News.


BLITZER: And to our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.