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Bloody Airstrikes in Afghanistan; Police Offer Teens $500 Reward; Signs of A Rebound?; Air Force One Photo To Be Released; Same- Sex Marriage Milestone

Aired May 6, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But could they be turning kids into targets?

And was Abraham Lincoln suffering from a grave illness when he was assassinated?

One doctor wants an investigation that he says could change the history books.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The fog of war hangs over a bloody incident in Afghanistan, even as the region's leaders attend a summit here in Washington. The Red Cross says a number of civilians were killed in a U.S. air strikes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expressing regret but a top U.S. military commander is drawing some very different conclusions.

Let's go to straight to our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara, the accounts clearly don't match up.

STARR: Wolf, this is hugely controversial and there are widely divergent accounts of what happened yesterday in Farah Province in Southwestern Afghanistan.

Afghan officials and the Red Cross have claimed that some number of Afghan civilians were killed as a result of U.S. air strikes after there had been fighting in the region. And, of course, any claims of Afghan civilian casualties at the hands of the U.S. always controversial.

Earlier today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put the issue front and center in those three-way meetings of leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to try and apologize for what may have happened.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: But any loss of life -- any loss of innocent life is particularly painful. And I want to convey to the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan that, you know, we will work very hard with your governments and with your leaders to avoid the loss of innocent civilian life. And we deeply, deeply regret that loss.


BLITZER: Barbara, are we getting any additional information what may have happened?

Some reports say 100 or 130 innocent civilians -- men, women and children -- were killed in these strikes.

STARR: And the information still is very preliminary, Wolf. But as you hinted at the top, General David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, late today has been talking about this notion that there had been heavy fighting going on in the region and some people may have been killed, in fact, as a result of that.

But, Wolf, a much grimmer scenario is now emerging. Two U.S. military officials tell CNN what they are looking at is intelligence that they have that the Taliban -- and listen to this, Wolf -- that the Taliban went and took women and children -- the U.S. believes -- and killed them with hand grenades and then put them in the back of trucks, parading them through some local villages, parading those bodies with fatal shrapnel wounds, saying that these people -- about 15 of them -- died at the hands of U.S. military air strikes.

To be clear, Wolf, there are most likely other casualties in the region -- other people both dead and injured as a result of all the fighting. But what the U.S. believes, at least 15 Afghan women and children killed with hand grenades by the Taliban and paraded publicly through this area, being -- the people being told that these people died at the hands of the U.S. military -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon with that story.

Thank you.

The Defense secretary, Robert Gates, is in Afghanistan right now. And he's warning that U.S. troops will have their hands full fighting the Taliban even with the reinforcements that are on the way. Another 21,000 U.S. forces on the way to Afghanistan.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is traveling with the Defense secretary.

He had an exclusive interview with him.

And he has the story from Afghanistan -- Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I spoke with the Defense secretary one-on-one just before we arrived here in Kabul and he was very blunt about the fight ahead. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Taliban leadership has the momentum here in Afghanistan -- a position of strength that makes reconciliation with the Afghan government all but impossible.


ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Until that momentum changes, I think it will be difficult. LAWRENCE (voice-over): Gates says the U.S. will still encourage negotiations with younger Taliban who are fighting for the money. But he wasn't surprised when I told him the Taliban spokesman told CNN they will send suicide bombers to disrupt upcoming elections and won't negotiate until American troops leave the country.

GATES: He's leading this insurgency. He is not -- he's not going to sort of -- sort of throw down and say, well, you know, we're ready to negotiate, we're about done here, whatever. No, I think we have a tough fight ahead of us.

LAWRENCE: Gates is here ahead of 20,000 American troops, who will mostly fight in Southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban are entrenched.

GATES: It's sad to say, I expect that with the rising level of our activity and operations, there probably will be higher casualties.

LAWRENCE: Privately, Pakistani officials have expressed concern to the U.S. that increased fighting in Southern Afghanistan will only push the Taliban back to the Pakistani side.

GATES: Well, I think it's just the reality that there -- there are extremists on both sides of that border.


LAWRENCE: But the top commander in Afghanistan told me what he sees is mostly foreign fighters crossing that border. General David McKiernan says most of the Taliban that would run back to Pakistan came from that area in the first place -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence in Kabul with the Defense secretary for us.

Thank you.

Pakistani troops, meanwhile, pounded Taliban strongholds today, killing dozens and forcing more civilians to escape to safer ground. All this playing out while President Obama has been meeting with the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan here in Washington.

CNN's Ivan Watson visited a camp for ref -- evacuees in Pakistan.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Five days ago, this was an empty field. Now, this is a rapidly growing tent city. There are more than 1,300 people living here. And the administrators expect this community to grow fast.

All of these people have been pushed out of the nearby district of Buner, where the fighting has been raging over the course of the past week-and-a-half.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have estimates of some 40,000 people having been pushed out of the Swat Valley over the course of the last 24 hours and predictions that up to half a million people could be pushed out of this new round of fighting in Northwestern Pakistan.

The people we've spoken with describe artillery landing in their villages, forcing them to drop everything and run with just the clothes on their back, walking or riding on buses to get out of there. And this situation is just expected to get worse.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Mardahn, Pakistan.


BLITZER: And I'll speak about the situation in Afghanistan Friday with the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. He'll be here THE SITUATION ROOM. The interview Friday here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Hamid Karzai.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No criminal charges for the authors of the Bush administration's so-called torture memos, according to a preliminary report by the U.S. Justice Department. The draft report, instead, suggests that the government might call on state bar associations to take sanctions against two of the three lawyers who wrote these memos. So the most severe punishment they could get would be disbarment.

This report now goes to Attorney General Eric Holder for his approval or revisions and is expected to be finalized soon.

The torture memos, as you know, were written after 9/11, authorized harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, throwing detainees against walls and forced nudity.

Needless to say, these lawyers in the Justice Department did not decide to write these memos on their own. Somebody told them to do it.

The issue has become a political hot potato for the Obama administration. The president opened the door to criminal prosecution for those who authorized these acts, but he also talks about looking forward instead of dwelling on the past.

Meanwhile, a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows most Americans don't want to see an investigation of Bush officials. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed say Congress should not conduct an investigation. Fifty-five percent don't want to see an independent panel created to look into this stuff, either.

The poll also found that 50 percent support President Bush's decision to authorize these harsh techniques, even though 60 percent are convinced that it was torture. So here's the question: Would disbarring the Bush administration lawyers who wrote the interrogation memos be enough to put an end to the torture debate?

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: The debate is going to continue for a while, Jack, irrespective of what they do.

Thanks very much.


BLITZER: So here's the question -- is the risk worth the reward?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that there's the fear that you'll be get -- you'll get caught and people will find out that you told. And no one really wants to be like the snitch.


BLITZER: Police offer big money for tips about drug dealers -- why some teens are very cautious.

And the Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, says the Supreme Court needs another woman -- why she's speaking out right now.

And he's a popular priest known for giving relationship advice on the radio. But he's in hot water right now after a magazine picture allegedly shows him in a passionate embrace.


BLITZER: Police in New York -- in one New York State county are offering a lot of money for information on drug dealers. For local teens, it's a case of risk versus reward.

Let's go to Mary Snow.

She's working this story for us.

You went out there to see what was going on -- Mary, what is going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, police in this largely suburban county outside New York City are looking to teens for help what in what they say is an increasing problem with kids using heroin and illegal prescription pills. Now, they've distributed posters to 58 schools advertising a crime stoppers program. But it's sparking some concerns.


SNOW (voice-over): Teens in New York's Suffolk County are being made this offer by police -- use your cell phone to text message police a tip about a drug dealer and there could be a cash reward of up to $500, along with a promise it will remain anonymous.

The county's executive says the goal is to make schools safe ever.

STEVE LEVY, SUFFOLK COUNTY EXECUTIVE: The key is that this is a method by which a young person can tell an authority that there's someone within the school pushing heroin, cocaine or other types of substances that are going to do a lot of harm to some of their peers.

SNOW: Some teens are skeptical it will work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the money definitely appeals to teenagers. But other than that, I don't really think so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that there's the fear that you'll be get -- that you'll get caught and people will find out that you told and no one really wants to be like the snitch.

SNOW: And most kids are well aware of the dangers of retribution, spelled out in a popular song, "Snitch," which has nearly seven million hits on YouTube.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Just whenever you do snitch, you will get hit.


SNOW: Knowing the peer pressure kids face, authorities say $500 makes a difference.

LEVY: You know, is anybody really going to bother for $25?

I doubt it. But for, you know, several hundred dollars, that's something that can make a lot of our students say it's worth it.

SNOW: That cash has critics questioning if it will lead to false tips and whether schools are the right place to target.

ANDREA CALLAN, NEW YORK CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: But, police, you know, could arguably be using our students as an arm of the police agency itself and asking the students to become police agents in those hours that they're supposed to be learning in school.


SNOW: Now, police say they'll only pay out cash rewards if information leads to an arrest. Now, in roughly three weeks since launching this program, police authorities say they have 55 tips, but so far, no arrests -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, how can they make sure that these tips -- these text message tips -- remain anonymous?

SNOW: You know, that's something that can't be answered 100 percent. Now, police say that they will assign codes to tipsters, but didn't want to give out any more information for fear that it would not become anonymous.

But, you know, talking to parents and teens, saying however they do this and distribute this cash reward, keeping a secret -- keeping things under wraps when it comes to teens is a very hard thing to do.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

All right, Mary, thank you.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for the nation's homeowners?

One hard-hit area may be starting to turn around a bit.

Let's go out to the West Coast.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us right now.

What do we know -- Dan?


We are seeing signs of progress with the housing market in Sacramento and other distressed parts of California. Now, experts are not calling this a rebound, but they are hopeful that the worst is behind us.

Take a look.


SIMON (voice-over): California's capital was among the fist to be hit by the housing bust. It was also among the nation's hardest it. But real estate experts say the market here shows signs of stabilizing. Home sales are up 45 percent this year and prices, while still at record low levels, don't seem to be falling any further.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say that right now we're seeing signs of a rebound, especially because we are seeing the number of sales pick up each month. Year over year, we've had a huge increase in the number of sales.

SIMON: That's why, for the first time in a while, those in the industry are feeling optimistic that maybe the worst is behind them.

SEAN O'TOOLE, FORECLOSURERADAR.COM: We're at, you know, near peak sales volumes. We are back to fairly low inventories -- kind of traditional inventory levels. So, overall, the Sacramento market is pretty healthy right now.

SIMON: But thirds of the sales were driven by foreclosures in March -- buyers sensing a once in a lifetime deal -- a house so cheap that you couldn't pass it up. The rest of the market remains stagnant. And the unemployment rate is still high here -- 11 percent. And, that, some say, could keep the vicious cycle going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still experiencing job losses. And, you know, we shouldn't forget that, historically, it's been job losses that have driven these foreclosures.

SIMON: Still, the hope is that Sacramento has already bottomed out and that maybe the town is barometer for the rest of the country.


SIMON: And some other parts of the West Coast are also looking better, including Las Vegas and Phoenix. Phoenix, a 30 percent increase in sales year over year. But, Wolf, as you point out, again, this is being driven by deeply discounted foreclosures. A lot of people are sensing there are some really good deals to be had -- back to you.

BLITZER: Yes. There certainly are.

All right. Thanks very much for that.

Dan Simon reporting.

The U.S. Air Force One flyover flap -- the White House revisits its decision on that controversial photo-op that frightened so many New Yorkers.

And the confessed swindler Bernard Madoff's secretary now talking. She says she was devastated by the scandal that took her boss down.

Stay with us.



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


An American journalist imprisoned in Iran is no longer on a hunger strike. Roxana Saberi's father says his daughter agreed to start eating again after he and his wife visited her in prison and expressed concern for her health. Saberi was convicted of espionage last month and sentenced to eight years in prison. She is appealing the verdict. Irani officials are expected to begin that appeal process next week.

A German-owned cargo ship is now under the control of Somali pirates. U.S. military officials say the boat was hijacked yesterday off the coast of Somalia. Eleven remaining crew members are being held captive. A Turkish frigate responded to a distress call and sent a helicopter. But officials say the pirates were already in control of the vessel by the time the chopper arrived.

And Mexico City is coming back to life after shutting down for five days to limit the spread of swine flu. Today, restaurants and businesses reopened, as concerns over the H1N1 outbreak eased. Many people are now actually walking around without protective masks. Students at high schools and colleges return to class tomorrow and primary schools are scheduled to reopen next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, thank you.

Same-sex marriage approved in yet another state -- Maine's governor makes it official today. The controversial issue could end up in the hands of Congress. Stand by.

Marriage problems for Italy's prime minister. The rift heating up amid those rumors of an alleged affair with an 18-year-old.

And a 144-year-old medical mystery -- an assassin's bullet took Abraham Lincoln's life, but some say the 16th president was already under attack from a rare genetic disease.


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

Happening now, the Obama administration prepares to release the much anticipated results of those bank stress tests. And there's word that one of the largest financial institutions, Bank of America, may need an additional $34 billion to withstand the harsh economic climate. Stand by. There's breaking news, we suspect.

Part two of my interview with the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid -- why he says Democrats in Congress aren't taking a back seat to the White House.

And the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, says it's time to debate legalizing marijuana.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Let's bring in our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, right now, along with the Republican strategist, Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the RNC, former senior adviser to the former president, George W. Bush.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

A little bit of a P.R. flap the White House had. They authorized that Air Force One look-alike plane to fly over Lower Manhattan last week. It caused a lot of scare. They saw an 16 fighter jet flanking it. A lot of people in New York City were understandably very nervous.

The president was furious, as we later learned.

Then, earlier in the week, they said you know what, that photo-op -- which is what it was -- that cost about $300,000 or $400,000 in taxpayer money -- that they weren't going to make those -- even make those pictures public.

But now there seems to be an about-face -- the White House saying well, maybe we will.

Listen to Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The -- the president -- I'm sorry. The report, I believe, will be concluded at some point this week. We'll release it's findings and release a photo.


BLITZER: Release a photo. Although, I suspect a lot more than one photo were taken.

This is a P.R. mess.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It is, Wolf. But the White House -- the president ordered an internal review. The deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, has conducted this review. And I'm sure that once they have all of the facts, they will put out the information. And I hope there are some photos in the package. At $326, 000, you would like to see a couple of photos, I'm sure.

BLITZER: You'd like to see some video, too. But go ahead.

ED GILLESPIE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: I think it's -- it's the kind of mistake that happens when you're -- you're new in the White House. And it's unfortunate. And they're taking responsibility. And they're -- they're trying to put (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: So you're sympathetic with this White House team.


BLITZER: You know, you worked in a White House. You know what it's like.

GILLESPIE: Well, that -- maybe that's why I'm a little sympathetic on it.


GILLESPIE: I mean, quickly, these things happen. It's a -- it was a dumb mistake. It was -- it was stupid. But I don't hear anybody in the White House saying, no, it was a good idea. So, you know, they're going take their hit on it. And, you know, they're... (CROSSTALK)

GILLESPIE: ...and somebody will be held accountable at some point.

BLITZER: And that's the smart thing to do.


BLITZER: When there's a mistake made, you acknowledge the mistake and then you move on and you -- you try to learn from that mistake and promise it won't happen again, although very often it does.

BRAZILE: Rahm Emanuel is running a tight ship, so I'm sure it won't happen again.

BLITZER: All right. I want you guys...


GILLESPIE: It won't happen again by the same person.


BLITZER: All right. Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is in New York.

She's following another story, a sensitive story -- a major milestone unfolding right now on the issue of same-sex marriage -- Jessica, update our viewers.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today, supporters of same-sex marriage are making more headway. Just today, the governor of Maine signed a bill making his state the fifth to legalize gay marriage. Now, that's the same governor who has previously opposed legalizing the practice.

And next, gay marriage may soon come before Congress. Now that is because Washington, D.C.'s city council gave its nod to recognizing same-sex marriages from other states.

Now, I don't know if you can hear it in this video, but there were very engaged activists from both sides on hand during that vote. And that means Congress now could get engaged on this issue, too. They get the final say over D.C. laws. So we could see action on the Hill on this same issue, if opponents try to block the D.C. rule.

Now, taken altogether, there are four states -- Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa -- that currently allow marriages between gays or lesbians. Vermont has also OKed those marriages, although its law doesn't actually take effect until September. And the New Jersey state house is expected to vote on a bill today, though its governor has not said whether he will sign it or not.

So, finally, so far, while public opinion seems to be siding with gay marriage's opponents, but that breaks down by age. According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll, 54 percent of those polled said same-sex marriages should not be recognized as valid. But a majority of people who are aged 18 to 34 said those marriages should be recognized as valid, while only a quarter of those 65 and older thought so.

A lot to chew on there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you say New Jersey or was it New Hampshire?

YELLIN: New...

BLITZER: What was the...

YELLIN: New Hampshire. I'm sorry.

BLITZER: New Hampshire. Yes.

YELLIN: New Hampshire.

BLITZER: I thought you said New Jersey.

YELLIN: I'm sorry if I misspoke.

BLITZER: I think it was New Hampshire...

YELLIN: Correct.

BLITZER: ...that was making a major decision itself right now.

Jessica Yellin, our national political correspondent.

What do you think about all this, because these states are beginning to move pretty quickly on this very, very controversial issue?

GILLESPIE: Well, like most Americans, Wolf, I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman. And wherever it's been put to a referendum, that view has prevailed.

The people in Maine will have to stand for re-election based on their vote and that's preferable to having unelected judges impose sanction of gay marriage.

I do fear at the end of the day, all of this is heading to the Supreme Court because of the full faith and credit clause of the constitution and what happens if someone, a gay couple married in Maine and sanctioned there moved to a state that does not sanction gay marriage.

BLITZER: You have to recognize it. You know, in California it was legal until there was a referendum and the people of California voted and they rejected same-sex marriage.

BRAZILE: And that case is probably still before the courts because there's been some lawsuits raised. New Hampshire is going to of course decide on this and Governor Lynch will have to make a decision on whether he will sign it. This is an issue of fairness, the equal protection under the law and I think the day is fast coming where this will become the law in this country. Yesterday in the District of Columbia, the council took action. That will have to sit in Congress for 111 days, but for Democrats in majority, let's hope no one objects.

BLITZER: Do you think you will see the day when the president of the United States, President Obama will change his mind and support same-sex marriage which he now opposes?

BRAZILE: Robert Gibbs said today that he continues to oppose and he believes that this matter should remain in the states.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about another key issue, the Supreme Court. The only woman on the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she had an interview today. It was done before David Souter announced that he was stepping down from the court. She says this, women belong in all places where decisions are being made. I don't say the split should be 50/50 or 60% 40%. But women are the exception. She's really dearly would like President Obama to nominate a woman for the Supreme Court.

GILLESPIE: She's not alone in thinking that. I was there when President Bush nominated the replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor. He took into account the perspective that having a woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor obviously was a consideration there. I would say this, it would be wrong for President Obama to say to his team, go out and find five qualified women and present them to me as the pool from which to choose. He needs to obviously say he'll find the most qualified candidate for the bench for this lifetime appointment. If in that mix, there are women, which there are likely to be which should be taken into account. Our perspectives are shaped by gender.

BLITZER: You remember, your president, President Bush, he did find a woman, Harriet Myers to be his nominee, and that didn't exactly work out. Did he get gun shy after that?

GILLESPIE: He did not get gun shy after that, but I think that in the next round of this election process, the person who emerged as clearly most qualified really head and shoulders among others was Samuel Alito and there wasn't another woman that was of comparable experience and skill and temperament and intellect.

BLITZER: It seems to be taken for granted now that President Obama will nominate a woman for the seat that David Souter is giving up, do you believe that.

BRAZILE: I don't know what's on his plate right now. But I would hope that he would include women, we're not just the majority of the population, the majority of women heading into colleges and universities.

BLITZER: But your sense is right now it's probably going to be a woman?

BRAZILE: I would hope he would consider a woman and qualified minorities of all types.

BLITZER: What do you think of the president of the United States meeting jointly as president Bush did with the president of Pakistan, the president of Afghanistan and if you saw live THE SITUATION ROOM President Obama's comments, he was pretty upbeat, extraordinarily positive developments, very different sense of what's going on in what we heard from him today than we heard from him in his news conference last week on day 100 of his administration when he was pretty gloomy.

GILLESPIE: Sometimes these individual meetings, person to person, face to face can have a real impact and it's hard to think of a more important strategic relationship for the United States than that with Afghanistan and Pakistan and with Pakistan, with Afghanistan, and obviously the Fatah, the federally administered tribal areas that fall between the two countries are the locust of a lot of the trouble in the world today and I think it was a very important meeting and I hope there was progress there.

BLITZER: These are two U.S. allies, sometimes they're at odds, the Afghans and the Pakistanis. But the United States and the world desperately need them to work together, especially given the strategic importance of those nuclear arsenals in Pakistan.

BRAZILE: I thought it was a very timely meeting given all of the strategic interests we have of course in that region, but most importantly to help the Pakistani government strengthen it's bonds with its people because we need a strong Pakistani government in order to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in that area.

BLITZER: Yesterday President Zardari of Pakistan was here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We had a long interview with him. Friday President Karzai of Afghanistan will be here THE SITUATION ROOM.

BRAZILE: You only do presidents and prime ministers. I hope we can come on from time to time.

BLITZER: You're almost like presidents and prime ministers. You continue to work hard, it's a great country, stuff can happen.

BRAZILE: That's true.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks for coming in.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's personal life now in full view, the Italian leader is denying charges of an affair and is taking on his wife.

And the secretary of confessed swindler Bernard Madoff speaking out about the scandal that brought her boss down.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The swindler Bernard Madoff's long time secretary is now speaking out about the investment scandal in a new article in "Vanity Fair" magazine. Let's go to our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff. She's got a lot to say, this woman about Bernie Madoff.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The secretary, Eleanor Squillari, said she was as stunned as anyone to learn the truth on Bernard Madoff, even though she worked directly for him for two decades.


CHERNOFF: While Bernard Madoff was running the biggest investment fraud in history, his secretary said she had no clue. Eleanor Squillari says she's angry too and is cooperating with the FBI as investigators try to determine who helped her former boss perpetrate the fraud. In Vanity Fare she writes, Bernard Madoff orchestrated his arrest by having his sons Mark and Andrew, who were executives at the company, turn him in.

Many people wonder if that's his way of protecting the sons.

ELEANOR SQUILLARI, BERNARD MADOFF'S SECRETARY: I think that's natural for any parent to want to protect his sons, but I believe that he protected his sons because they weren't involved. I have always known them to be professional and just very good people and I never saw anything that would indicate that they were involved in that side of the business.

CHERNOFF: Is that not the way though that you probably felt about Bernie Madoff himself.

SQUILLARI: That's a good question. It's true, yes.

CHERNOFF: Madoff's wife Ruth has her own office at company headquarters and for many years was deeply involved in the business.

SQUILLARI: They did everything together and they talked about everything together. So yes, she was very involved.

CHERNOFF: To most people, it's inconceivable that his wife would not have known.

SQUILLARI: It is and I have heard that from a lot of people, but I would not be comfortable damning somebody without having absolute proof.

CHERNOFF: Madoff Squillari says was flirtatious writing Bernie had a roving eye and I knew he had a habit of getting frequent massages. One day I caught him scouring the escort pages.

It's not illogical for one to have the idea that did Bernie Madoff ever have affairs. Any sense of that?

SQUILLARI: I'd rather not say. It's between him and his wife.

CHERNOFF: Squillari says most painful of all is the knowledge that her boss of 20 years stole billions from client who had trusted him with their life savings.

SQUILLARI: I didn't know I had that many tears in me.


CHERNOFF: Squillari says she had invested with her boss as well but withdrew the money years ago when she needed it for expenses. Bernie Madoff himself is in jail awaiting sentencing next month when it's almost certain he'll be sent to prison for the rest of his life. He faces a maximum terms of 150 years.

BLITZER: That's a long time. All right. Thanks very much Allan for that.

A controversial photo lands a popular Miami priest in trouble with his church. Why some are asking whether father Alberto cute is celibate.

And DNA could dispel a long held mystery about President Abraham Lincoln.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All right, those big banks may or may not need a lot more money from us, from the taxpayers. This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's check in with Ali Velshi. He's got the latest.

Those stress test results, they're beginning to come in. What are we learning? How much more is this going to cost all of us, Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The results aren't officially out. They'll be out 24 hours from now, but it's leaking out to some organizations. They are being reporting and I'll tell you what it is. The idea here is that the stress tests are designed to tell the major banks how much they need to raise so that the taxpayer doesn't have to step in and again what we are expecting to hear now from reports out there is that Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup are among the 19 of the biggest American banks that are being stress tested and those are the ones that will probably need to raise the greatest amount of money. Bank of America, as most people have been expecting, at the top of that list, possibly $34 billion, Citigroup, $10 billion, Well Fargo $15 billion, some other banks on the list that may have to raise capital, Regions Financial, Six Third Trust and Sun Trust.

Now Wolf the idea here is that the government, the Federal Reserve, telling these banks you have got to come up with this capital yourselves to protect you from a further downturn in this economy, a higher unemployment rate and more drops in house prices. If the banks can do that, they are safe and the government won't have to step in.

BLITZER: And what if they can't?

VELSHI: If they can't then that could cost us money. They have got six months from tomorrow to raise the money that the government says they need to raise. We have all got to keep our fingers crossed that they can actually do that.

BLITZER: Huge financial issues at stake right now. Ali, thank you.

A very popular Miami priest with movie star looks known for giving relationship advice on his radio show. Now he finds himself removed from his duties after a magazine showed him in an alleged romantic embrace with a woman on a beach. CNN's Colleen McEdwards has details on this unfolding scandal.


COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The headlines say it all, Father Alberto is he celibate? His archdiocese says no and father Alberto Cutie no longer has a pulpit or a microphone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The archbishop has decided to relieve him of his current responsibilities which include his duties as head of the church in South Beach and his radio and television appearances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He really has a message for everyone, a message of hope, of faith.

MCEDWARDS: This is Father Cutie about a year ago on CNN talking about Pope Benedict's visit to the United States. Young and popular, he had a finger on the pulse of the community, commenting here about how young Catholics view the pope. Now reaction at his Miami Beach church has been absolute shock and total disbelief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was photo shopped for sure. Father Alberto is such a beautiful and caring person, oh, no, they had to find a way to hurt him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a man, no? A human being, but if he doesn't want to be a priest anymore, he must resign.

MCEDWARDS: Miami's South Beach is known for its nightlife, dancing, sex. Asked by a newspaper how he could preach there, Cutie said you remember that god created it all. He was born in Puerto Rico to Cuban Americans. His broadcasts on radio peace were heard throughout the Americas, even in Spain. At the network, more sadness.

ISUAL GONZALEZ, RADIO: If I tell you we're not hurting or we have not been crying after hearing this news, then I would be lying to you, we're in a lot of pain.

MCEDWARDS: Father Cutie issued a short statement, "Before god of love and mercy, I ask for the forgiveness of those who may be hurt, I am grateful for the love and support, from especially my parishioners and the supporters of the radio stations who have demonstrated understanding toward me as a human being." Columnist, author, priest, media star, Father Alberto Cutie has now fallen. His supporters say he is on a prayerful journey, one that his followers are struggling to understand.

Colleen McEdwards, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Would disbarring the Bush lawyers who wrote the interrogation or so-called torture memos be enough to put an end to the torture debate?

Peter in Colorado says: "It wouldn't put an end to the debate but maybe disbarring the lawyers might inspire them to do a little talking to Congress about just what they were ordered to do to help the White House make an end run around torture prohibitions."

L.C. writes: "The torture debate will end when the media start reporting on the American lives that were saved by waterboarding. Then watch the Democrats run for the exits on this issue."

Circy in New Mexico: "The torture debate isn't going to die so easily. Using torture on others is going to leave scars that are long lasting. This action can't be defended by countries that pretend to be civilized while at the same time lecturing others on their behavior."

A.B. in Texas: "No, the high level officials would get off scot- free just as they have throughout history. Go after Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush and the others who are insulated against their wrongdoings. It won't be over until the light is shown on all involved."

John in North Carolina: "I don't know if this will end the debate, Jack, but we need to move on. At the end, can you really get any information from terrorists being nice?"

And Nancy in Illinois: "No Jack. Everyone involved must be prosecuted so this never happens again. If I robbed a grocery store and told the officers that it's in the past. I just want to move on, they'd haul me away. How is this any different? There's no ambiguity here. Clear war crimes were committed and must be prosecuted. This cannot be swept under the rug."

If you didn't see your e-mail, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, stand by.

Does he believe the Bush administration used torture? The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, has a very blunt answer in my interview.

And he says it could change the history books. Why a medical researcher wants to have a DNA test done on Abraham Lincoln's blood.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The marital spat between the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is heating up amid rumors of an alleged affair with an 18-year-old. Diana Magney has details from Rome.


DIANA MAGNEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A very messy business, playing out on Italy's airwaves. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian premier, on a late night talk show demanding a public apology from his wife, Veronica, after she told the national press that she's seeking a divorce. The reasons printed in La Republica, I cannot stay with a man who surrounds himself with minors. This after photos appeared last week of Mr. Berlusconi at the birthday party of an 18- year-old, he said, she was just the daughter of a friend. His response, Veronica, I love you, but admit you made a mistake. Adding that his wife had been misled by the left-wing media, something her publicist tells me is unlikely.

MARIA LATELLA, JOURNALIST AND WRITER: We're talking about Silvio Berlusconi, who is probably one of the most clever and able men of communication. And we're talking about his wife, who is also brilliant, intelligent, and able to consider the media effects.

MAGNEY: Mr. Berlusconi has never done much to hide his admiration for the ladies. His current equal opportunities minister is a former topless model, who his wife accused him of flirting with back in 2007. She demanded a public apology, and Mr. Berlusconi gave her one.


BLITZER: Diana Magney reporting from Rome for us.

Here another story we're working on, was Abraham Lincoln already suffering from a grave illness when he was assassinated. Kate Bolduan is joining us from inside Ford's Theater here in Washington.

What do we know, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf, right here, this is Ford's Theater where President Lincoln was assassinated. The booth where he was sitting, right there. But now one doctor says the president was already dying of a rare, genetic disease.


BOLDUAN: Rapid weight loss, shown in these photos of the 16th president. Along with his long limbs and bumpy lips, a California doctor now says are all evidence supporting his theory that Abraham Lincoln had a rare genetic disorder known as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2-B, a disorder that spurs excessive growth in nerve cells and bones and often leads to cancer.

DR. JOHN SOTOS, CARDIOLOGIST: The question is not how Lincoln died, of course. The question that I think is much more interesting is how Lincoln lived. In particular, how did he live with this condition?

BOLDUAN: To prove it, Sotos is stirring a bit of historical controversy, asking a small museum in Philadelphia for threads of the blood-stained pillow a dying Lincoln rested his head on in order to conduct a DNA test.

SOTOS: If he had a sense that his death was looming, you've got to wonder if you're a historian how that affects the conduct of the presidency.

BOLDUAN: The museum is holding off on Sotos' request, voting this week to bring together a group of scholars and forensic pathologists to investigate the potential impact of DNA tests on the artifact. Historians are skeptical of the cancer theory, pointing to past theories like depression and Marfan's syndrome that some scientists have previously tried to connect to President Lincoln.

HAROLD HOLZER, LINCOLN HISTORIAN: He couldn't have had all of these problems and still managed to write the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation.

BOLDUAN: That said, scholar Harold Holzer welcomes the test in order to either prove or disprove this latest Lincoln mystery.

HOLZER: If these were available and they could be tested without degrading them and ruining a museum display, for example, then I think we should do it. Knowledge is power.


BOLDUAN: Now, Wolf, Dr. Sotos, the man requesting this DNA test, he answers skeptics simply by saying of all the medical theories out there, he believes his is the first correct and accurate theory of Abraham Lincoln's life and health as a president. Of course, Wolf, many have said it as well.

BLITZER: Kate Bolduan, thanks you very much, she's over at Ford's Theater in Washington.

Genetic research, by the way, has been applied to other mysteries from the history books. A decade ago scientists analyzed DNA from Thomas Jefferson's family tree and from the descendents of slaves, Sally Hemmings. They found that one of her children was fathered by a Jefferson but not necessarily by the former president. More recently, DNA tests from bones from a Russian slave, showed that they were the children of Czar Nicholas II, show which ended the story that they escaped the slaughter of the royal family during the Russian revolution. And less successful, efforts to prove that a skull kept in Austria is the compose of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. DNA testing didn't pan out on that front.

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

Happening now -- President Obama proclaims unity with two allies on the front lines against terror. This hour, a new commitment to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. And the Taliban. Another Bush-era tradition scrapped. Why the Obama administration won't play -- play up national prayer day.

And is California right now ready to start legalizing marijuana? The governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, said it's time for a real serious debate.

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