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Plane Vanishes Over the Atlantic; Cuba to U.S.: OK, Let's Talk; Prepping for Her Capitol Hill Debut

Aired June 1, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, CNN's Special Investigation Unit revealing new information about the man accused of killing a doctor who performed one of the most controversial types of abortion -- a killing some extremists are calling justified.

Plus, rising tension -- a growing concern North Korea may spark a nuclear arms race in Asia, threatening stability in the region and beyond.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're following breaking news this hour. The head of Air France now openly saying what many have been fearing for hours -- Flight 447 likely crashed into the Atlantic somewhere between Rio de Janeiro and Paris, killing 228 passengers and crew.

Brazilian and French military teams are searching for any sign of the Airbus A330, while aviation experts try to unravel the mystery surrounding a series of automatic messages sent from the plane to the Air France computers indicating multiple malfunctions.

CNN international security correspondent Paula Newton is joining us from Paris.

She's at the airport now with more on what's going on.

What is the latest -- Paula?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, relatives, some of them, still remain inside this airport waiting for information. But, Wolf, I can tell you, right from the very beginning, as you looked at the expression on some of those faces, they knew the worst was probably to come.


NEWTON (voice-over): It seemed to take hours for relatives to get word something was wrong. Air France Flight 447 left Rio de Janeiro for Paris, but vanished off the coast of Northeastern Brazil after reporting electrical problems and, according to Air France, crossing through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY BFM) PIERRE-HENRI GOURGEON, CEO, AIR FRANCE (through translator): The entire Air France company and all its staff feel very moved -- affected by the concern for the families of the passengers. We will do everything we can as soon as we have any more information to make available to you in order to find out what has happened to this plane.

NEWTON: The Brazilian Air Force has been searching the waters of the Atlantic for hours now, but have come up with nothing. The 4- year-old Airbus A330 reported problems just three-and-a-half hours into the flight, but word that it had fallen off the radar took several more hours to reach relatives and friends, some of whom had already turned up at the airport not knowing anything was wrong.

Luis Carlos Muchado (ph) had a friend on the flight and says he had little information from Air France but panicked when he checked his voicemail. "I landed from Milan," he said, "and had three voicemails, the first saying a plane had crashed; the second saying no survivors; and the third saying my friend was on the flight."

(on camera): For hours now, visibly distraught friends and relatives have been arriving here at Charles de Gaulle Airport at a crisis center that's been set up. The most frustrating thing is there is still no clue as to what happened to Flight 447.

(voice-over): On two continents, relatives were received by Air France officials and counselors. In Paris, they met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who delivered a grim assessment, calling this a catastrophe even as he was comforting relatives: "I told them the truth," he said, "the prospects of finding survivors are very low."

And so the mystery of what could have happened to Flight 447 begins with a painstaking search scouring hundreds of nautical miles in the Atlantic. Aviation investigators are looking into the possibility of a lightning strike, but say that alone would not likely have brought the plane down. They say what seems to be more likely is a deadly domino of technical problems that sent Flight 447 crashing into the Atlantic.


NEWTON: Now, Wolf, the information we have had so far has been conflicting. But we believe now, from Air France, them saying that there were two Americans on board the flight. More than two dozen nationalities represented, but the majority were French or Brazilian nationals -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story.

All right, thanks very much, Paula, for that.

Air France also says turbulence was making for difficult flying at the time that the plane vanished.

Let's bring in our meteorologist, Chad Myers -- Chad, walk us through -- at what point did this plane simply disappear, go off radar?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it went off radar when it ran out of room. It was actually on radar and then the radar -- what happens is that radar beam -- let me just draw it. Here is the Earth, Wolf. The radar beam goes straight. At some point in time, that's about 50,000 feet too high and the plane's down here and the radar can't find it. So the plane was still flying when it got to the point where the radar just couldn't see it anymore. It didn't drop off the radar. It was still flying.

This is the airways map. He's South America. The plane leaving Rio de Janeiro, flying by Recife and then on up toward Charles de Gaulle. Somewhere in here, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, literally, is where things went very wrong.

A number of things probably went very wrong -- not just one thing, not just a lightning hit, not just a power failure, but the domino effect that we've heard so many times.

It left about four hours later -- from Rio de Janeiro -- it left the coast of Brazil. It got to the very last radar site. There is the last one right there. Remember, these radar sites just fall off the Earth, because the Earth falls away. The Earth is round. Radar beams are straight.

There is the last airport that it saw, that saw it fly to the north here. And the problem is, as it went by here, about an hour after this leaving of this -- over the top of this radar site -- that's when it actually left what we think is a no -- no trace whatsoever -- no May Day at all, Wolf.

It was -- it got into something called the Intertropical Convergence Zone.

BLITZER: What was the weather like at this area over the Atlantic Ocean, because we can go back and review?

MYERS: Yes. Yes, we can go back and review. Today is the first day of hurricane season. But there's a tropical wave out there -- not a depression, not a disturbance. It's just a wave. But this wave, 1,800 miles from where this plane took off, look at all of this cloud cover up here. This is the problem we have. We're going to go ahead and flatten the view and you're going to see an enormous storm system out there -- not spinning, not churning, not a -- not a hurricane, but certainly areas of significant convection here and here and here and here -- this plane trying to fly through this convection.

If, because it got hit by lightning; if it lost its radar, it wouldn't be able to see these big cells. It wouldn't know where they were. And that could have ridden another -- a number of things went wrong for a plane to go down, not just a lightning strike and probably not just turbulence, but the turbulence could have come from the fact that the pilot couldn't see.

BLITZER: Because we always, during hurricane season, hear these hurricane hunters... MYERS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ...these planes that fly right into these hurricanes. They don't break up.

MYERS: Absolutely. No question about it. Something catastrophic went wrong and many things.

And people are saying, well, why couldn't they just land it like they landed it in the Hudson?

It was in the middle of the night. This is a pitching stormy night. There's no runway areas. You can't see where the ground is. And this pilot probably had no indication, even if he had a chance to bring it down, where the actual water surface would have been, especially in the middle of the night; especially if he didn't have any electronics in the plane whatsoever.

I just hope the search goes on and I do hope they found something out there.

BLITZER: Yes, I do, too. All of us are praying for that.


BLITZER: Chad, thank you very much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack, that's a heartbreaking story, that plane crash.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Vanished without a trace.


CAFFERTY: And you wonder, I mean, they may never find anything.

BLITZER: They may never.

CAFFERTY: It's entirely possible.


CAFFERTY: They maybe -- they may never find any answers at all.

Meanwhile, Republican senators continue to voice skepticism when it comes to President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, although they are staying away from the hateful language of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich.

Republicans point to Sonia Sotomayor's strong legal background. But they say they're concerned about speeches that she's made about a judge's decisions being affected by life experience.

The one comment that keeps getting the most attention is when Sotomayor said in 2001: "A wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male."

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions, says: "It goes against the heart of the great American heritage of an independent judge" -- 99.9 percent of whom are white men.

And Senator Lindsey Graham calls the remarks: "troubling and inappropriate" and says Sotomayor should apologize.

Well, it seems the White House is picking up the drumbeat on this -- that the judge's remarks could be a pretty big deal come confirmation time. The president, over the weekend, came out and said that he's sure that Sotomayor would restate that comment, without indicating how he knows that. Mr. Obama says if you look at the judge's full comments, she was saying that her life experiences will help her understand people's struggles and will make her a good judge.

Sotomayor appears headed for confirmation, but the White House wants more than a slim majority. They want a smooth confirmation. They're hoping to get a big win -- something that could be complicated by her remarks.

The question, then, is this: Will Sonia Sotomayor's comment about a Latina woman versus a white man be enough to derail her Supreme Court nomination?

Go to, where you can post a comment on my blog.

They won't let this one go, the Republicans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. No, these hearing are going to be exciting, there's no doubt about that.

Thanks very much.

We have some new details of a potential milestone in relations between the United States and Cuba. Those details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- what the two long time adversaries are about to do.

And extremist anti-abortion groups are actually cheering the killing of a doctor who performed the procedure and go one shocking step further. CNN's special investigation's unit is working the story for us.


BLITZER: A big step forward in the political tug of war between the United States and Cuba -- the State Department says Cuba agreed over the weekend to restart talks on immigration and mail service between the two countries.

CNN's Jim Acosta is joining us now -- Jim, you were just in Cuba and had a rare opportunity to get some access to what's going on.

Let's talk about these developments -- potentially very significant.


BLITZER: Immigration first.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf.

Immigration is a big issue. And migration is still a big issue for the U.S. and Cuba. The countries, as we know, are just 90 miles apart. And each year the Coast Guard still picks up Cuban rafters trying to make that dangerous trip from the mainland -- or from the island to the U.S. mainland.

Another major concern is the increase in human smuggling. Many Cubans are paying speedboats to smuggle them to America's shores and the wet foot/dry foot policy is still in effect. So if they make it to dry land, they can stay. If they're caught at sea, they have to go back. So both the U.S. and Cuba would like to work together on that front. And this is not totally unexpected, Wolf. It's one of the issues that they've worked on the in the past.

BLITZER: And right now, Americans can't sell -- send mail directly to Cuba. But this is a subject the Cubans are now willing to discuss, direct mail service.

ACOSTA: And we haven't had this in roughly two decades, according to a U.S. Postal Service official that I talked to earlier today. And it's hard to believe, but to this day, you can't send a letter or package directly to Cuba. The mail goes through a third country, like Mexico or Canada.

And just a personal story from my recent trip to Cuba, Wolf. When I was on the island, my cousin gave me his address. And this is it right here. He scrawled it on this little piece of paper right here. And he said if you get a chance, send me a note.

But under U.S. law, to this day, I can't even send him a postcard without that item going through a third country.

And because of the embargo, you can't send a package weighing more than four pounds. The State Department says this would be another way for Cuban-Americans in the U.S. to have better access to relatives on the island, if this is changed -- and, in fact, it appears to be changing -- and act as U.S. ambassadors to Cuba.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who's in Latin America this week, Wolf, as we know, cautions she would like to see more democratic reforms coming from Cuba.

So this is, again, part of that ice chipping away in this cold war relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. And these are some of the areas where they've worked together in the past. And it's a test of this relationship to see if they can work together now. BLITZER: Where do things stand right now on the travel ban?

ACOSTA: The travel ban is still in place. Americans cannot travel to Cuba unless they have special permission from the Treasury Department, as we had earlier this year. And there are a number of bills pending in Congress right now, Wolf, to change that. But we haven't heard yet from the White House whether or not the president is receptive to doing that.

BLITZER: All right. Well, things are moving slowly, but surely...

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: a result of President Obama's election.

Thanks very much for that.

We'll see what happens in terms of U.S.-Cuban relations.

President Obama's Supreme Court nominee is spending the day behind closed doors with top White House officials preparing to face some tough questions tomorrow, as she meets one-on-one with senators who will decide her fate.

Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by.

She has the details -- lots at stake, Dana, in these one-on-one meetings tomorrow.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Sonia Sotomayor will have at least a half a dozen meetings here tomorrow with key senators. And though they may look like made for TV events, Obama officials are well aware they are quite important.


BASH (voice-over): White House aides huddled with Sonia Sotomayor preparing for her first meetings with the senators who will decide her fate. Obama officials invited photographers to capture these images to portray an engaged nominee and because history shows Congressional courtesy calls matter.

ED GILLESPIE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Senators will form opinions based on the one-on-one meetings. They'll talk to their colleagues about their perceptions that they've taken away from those meetings. And that will start to form perceptions.

BASH: Perceptions that have much more of an impact than the smiles and pleasantries the photo-ops suggest. Most recently, Samuel Alito and John Roberts' Senate meetings went smoothly. But Harrier Miers' nomination was pulled after senators in both parties emerged from private sessions calling her unqualified.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Because I couldn't tell you how I would vote on Harriet Miers because she offered very, very little.

BASH: Even Sotomayor's critics concede she is qualified. Still, senators she's visiting say they'll use their meetings to ask pointed questions. For Republicans, it will be their first shot at directly asking about concerns, like judicial activism.


SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: They're not a policy-making branch. So the question would be whether or not she's committed to that or whether she believes that a judge is empowered to promote an agenda.


BASH: And though Senate Republicans are carefully avoiding the explosive language of Rush Limbaugh, who called her a racist, GOP senators say they do expect her to explain and even apologize for suggesting as a Latina woman, she would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: She is going to have to convince me that if I found myself in court against someone she has a lot of empathy for, I'd get a fair shake. And if she can't, I won't vote for her.


BASH: Democrats sources tell CNN they expect Sotomayor's questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee to be completed very soon and that it will include additional writings and speeches. But despite what seems like a nomination on the fast track, Republicans insist they still need ample time to read through her thousands of rulings before public hearings begin. It's unclear whether they'll get it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

Dana Bash reporting from Capitol Hill.

A mass kidnapping -- hundreds of people abducted by the Taliban -- what's going on. Stand by.

Plus, teetering on the edge of disaster and most likely death -- we have video of the dramatic rescue that kept these men from going over the edge.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is following some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is very disturbing. About 400 students, staff and relatives driving away from a boy's school in Pakistan have been kidnapped. Pakistani authorities say Taliban militants armed with grenades ambushed the convoy in Northwestern Pakistan. It's an area where Pakistani forces have been battling Taliban insurgents. A school official says the militants seized more than 30 vehicles. He says only 22 students escaped. Police are trying to negotiate a release.

I want you to take a look at this video. Here it comes. We're going to show you a helicopter that is pulling a man to safety. Look at this -- he's been clinging to the edge of a dam in Virginia on the Virginia River there. Now, on the other side, a 75-foot drop. You can see the second man holding onto a pole, there at the bottom of your screen there. The men reportedly were fishing this weekend when their boat had mechanical problems and then drifted toward the dam. My goodness.

Well, some politicians have egg on their face -- literally. Yikes. Protesters in the Czech Republic have taken to egging Social Democrat representatives ahead of an upcoming election. The egging gained momentum through a Facebook campaign encouraging people to egg the chairman of the Social Democrats. Well, the chairman has been criticized for not doing enough to fix the economic crisis.

I guess that's one way to do it, to at least get your word out there -- get your message out -- to egg the folks.

All right, Wolf, there you go.

BLITZER: Yes. Tough -- tough stuff out there.


BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that, Betty.

The world's largest car company files the fourth largest bankruptcy in U.S. history -- General Motors hopes to become leaner. But until then, taxpayers will end up with a 50 -- a 60 percent stake in the company. President Obama pledging $30 billion in aid on top of the almost $20 billion already provided by U.S. taxpayers.

Let's bring in our Abbi Tatton.

She's got more on this story.

What's closing down and who's affected by all of this?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: First of all, Wolf, nine states affected by the plant closures that were announced today. You've got 47 G.M. plants across the country. Twelve of them, it's been announced today, will close; plus, two others that we already knew about clustered around Michigan and the Midwest; but, also, further afield, a parts distribution center in Jacksonville, Florida; further up the East Coast, in Wilmington, Delaware, an assembly plant, as well.

On top of that, three more plants will go on stand-by. They'll go idle. And they can reopen if things pick up.

All in all, Wolf, that's 20,000 employees that will be affected directly by 2011.

BLITZER: But there's going to be a ripple effect. More than just G.M. employees are going to be affected by this.

TATTON: Right. And this is something the company has been warning us about for months and months. It's the dealers, the suppliers, the retirees that worked there for decades and now rely on the company for health insurance.

Take a look at this from the Web site of the "Detroit News." They've really mapped out what we're talking about.

Every one of these dots here is a supplier for G.M. spread all across the country. Some of them have more than 1,000 employees. Every single one of them is looking to see what will happen next.

Then you have the people that used to work for the company and still rely on G.M. for their health insurance, for them and their families, as well. If a state is shaded in orange here, that state has more than 10,000 G.M. retirees. Their families are going to be to be affected, including then, we heard today, that more hundred -- more than 650,000 retirees will see cutbacks in their health insurance. So we do think that their pensions will be unaffected at this time.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of nervous people out there right now, for good reason.

TATTON: Across the country, right.

BLITZER: Thank you.

A strong political voice speaking out on gay marriage -- the former vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, says there should be freedom for everyone.

But can Cheney get his fellow conservatives to agree?

Plus, bold steps that could trigger a nuclear domino effect -- why North Korea's actions may start a weapons ramp-up in other countries.

And that deadly shooting in Kansas reopening a painful wound more than 1,000 miles a way.



Happening now, triggering a domino effect -- North Korea's nuclear program isn't the only threat -- why the U.S. says that what could happen next with North Korea's neighbors is a cause for concern.

A deadly blast at a Pakistani bus station has killed at least two people -- the latest in a string of deadly attacks since Pakistani forces launched an offensive against Taliban insurgents. The Taliban has vowed to retaliate for the offense with attacks in Pakistani cities.

And a big surge on Wall Street today -- the Dow closing up 221 points after signs a global economic recovery perhaps -- perhaps is brewing.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A startling turnaround on the invasion of Iraq by former vice president, Dick Cheney -- just one of the headline grabbing statements he made in the speech over at the National Press Club here in Washington today.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

He's joining us now live -- Bill, the former vice president -- he's making news once again on this day.

What is he saying?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's making more news these days than he did when he was in office. He's no longer in a secured, undisclosed location.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Vice President Dick Cheney once argued that the evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 was, "overwhelming." Now, here's the former vice president speaking at the National Press Club.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not believe and I've never seen any evidence to confirm that he was involved in 9/11. We had that reporting for a while. Eventually it turned out not to be true.


SCHNEIDER: Doesn't that undermine the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq?

Cheney says no -- it's not so much what Saddam Hussein did, but what he could have done.

CHENEY: Just imagine what would happen if you had 19 men in the middle of two of our major cities, not armed with airline tickets and box cutters, but with a nuclear weapon or a dose of plague or some other deadly biological instrument.

SCHNEIDER: Since Obama administration has released memos detailing the interrogation methods the CIA used on detainees, Cheney pressured the administration to release the memos detailing the information gained from those interrogations.

CHENEY: I would not ordinarily be leading the charge to declassify classified information; otherwise they wouldn't call me Darth Vader for nothing.

SCHNEIDER: Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said last week that he has seen those memos and they, "Say nothing about the numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of abusive techniques." Cheney also offered a new and startling justification for the Guantanamo detention facility.

CHENEY: You know, if you don't have a place where you can hold these people, your only other option is to kill them. And we don't operate that way.


SCHNEIDER: Last week, former President George W. Bush told a business group, "I didn't like it when a former president criticized me, so therefore I'm not going to criticize my successor. I wish him all the best." Sounds like President Bush is ready to move on. His vice president clearly is not. Wolf?

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much for that.

Let's talk about Dick Cheney among other subjects with our CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, the Republican strategist, Ed Rollins. He said the options were either keep them in Guantanamo or kill them. Ed, why not move some of them to a super max facility in the United States where they'll be eight stories underground?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There's lots of things that could be done with them and killing them is certainly an idiotic option and an idiotic statement today. The bottom line is post-9/11, everybody was rushing to catch up, we didn't know what al Qaeda really was, we didn't know how dangerous these people really where are. A lot of years have gone by and a lot of different decisions have been made. But I think the reality today is we still have a problem with where to put them. The Congress doesn't want to move them. I think to a certain extent in the case of Dick Cheney, this is an intellectual argument and those who are guests it's an emotional argument. And you're never going to win an intellectual battle in an emotional issue. So I think to a certain extent the quicker we quit talking about it, the better we are.

BLITZER: What do you think Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: As a Democrat, I always love to see Dick Cheney on the national stage. I would say that when Al Gore, after waiting 21 months launched a very tough broad side against the Bush Cheney foreign policy after leaving office 21 months after, many Republicans, including the Republican National Committee, bitterly attacked him. I'm not going to do the same thing. I never liked the supposed tradition that former office holders need to keep their mouths shut.

Now that also happens to advantage my party because most Americans, particularly independents and young people, they don't much like Dick Cheney. But it was I think a bit of soft history for him to say we either have to kill them or leave them in Guantanamo. As you point out and as Ed points out, there's plenty of other options.

My problem is not those immediate detainees in the very first days of the war in Afghanistan, because I understand, war is messy and you have to do something with them. But there never was a plan for the long-term disposition of these detainees and they just kicked the can and they dumped it in poor Barack Obama's lap.

BLITZER: You may be surprised, some of our viewers may be surprised, Ed, to hear the former vice president making the case in favor of gay marriage. He did precisely that today. Listen to this.


CHENEY: Freedom means freedom for everyone and as many of you know, one of my daughters is gay and something that we have lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of freedom way wish, any kind of arrangement they wish. The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute that governs this, I don't support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. This has always been a state issue, and I think that's the way it ought to be handled today.


BLITZER: Some conservatives, Ed, might be surprised to hear the former vice president making the case for gay marriage.

ROLLINS: I think they would. But at the end of the day, if you're really a conservative and you believe in states' rights and you believe in democracy, states get to do a lot of things that people disagree with. But the key thing here I think is that he's arguing that it's a state right and as many states have now taken this mission on, which you know 20 years ago we never would have seen happen. I do think that sooner or later though because of the discrepancy that will occur where you have a marriage in some states and you do not have a marriage in other states, it will come to the United States Supreme Court and that will ultimately decide this issue.

BLITZER: Because, I was going to say Paul, some people will be surprised to know that Dick Cheney supports gay marriage and Barack Obama opposes gay marriage.

BEGALA: Well that's right. And it says something bad frankly about my party that there are a lot awful lot of Democrats who are now less progressive on gay marriage, not just gay rights, gay marriage than Dick Cheney. And there was one important word ship. You heard him there. He said enter into any kind of union that they want, any kind of arrangement that they want. In the past, if memory serves and I'm just working from memory, Vice President Cheney used to say any kind of relationship. So he's ramped it up. In other words any kind of union means marriage. He endorsed gay marriage today and god bless him for doing so. I think on this one, Dick Cheney is on the right side of history and too many Democrats are behind the curve.

ROLLINS: I promise you there's a lot of Republicans who don't agree with him. But I do think there's been influenced by his daughter who is a fabulous, both his daughters are fabulous young women and I think to a certain extent, when it's in your family, you think a lot differently than when it's an abstract thing out in the Netherlands.

BLITZER: Did the president make a mistake the other night, Paul, by spending a lot of taxpayer money to go on a date with his wife, Michelle Obama, to New York to dinner, go to a play, the RNC issuing a statement, "As President Obama prepares to wing into Manhattan's theater district, on Air Force One to take in a Broadway show, GM is preparing to file bankruptcy and families across America continue to struggle to pay their bills."

BEGALA: He didn't just take Michelle on a well deserved night out, he took the cameras of the world and all across this planet now, thanks to CNN, people in Europe and Asia and Latin America, Africa, they're looking at our president and his beautiful wife going out on the town in New York City, and some of them are going to say maybe we should do that too, honey. Tourism and travel employs 7.7 million Americans. It is a $740 billion industry. It's getting hammered by this recession. God bless Barack Obama. What little it cost the taxpayers is more than going to make up for it from the increased revenue we're get from tourism.

BLITZER: You worked for Ronald Reagan, Ed. I'm sure he took Nancy Reagan out on the town once in a while as well.

ROLLINS: I have worked for three presidents. We always end up with some kind of debate about travel and safety and the cost of it. The president gives up his life when he takes on the most important job in the world. To a certain extent, he doesn't control the costs. If he wants to jump on Air Force One and goes to New York with his wife, the bottom line, we need to protect him. Whatever travel he needs, whatever protection he needs, it's a minimal cost to the service that he gives this country.

BLITZER: Good point. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Extremists cheer the killing of a doctor who performed one of the most controversial types of abortions and now some are going one step further, calling for more violence.

Plus North Korea, Iran and growing concern about a nuclear arms race, who might be next in line to get the bomb?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A Kansas abortion provider is shot and killed while attending church. Investigators say a gunman fired one shot yesterday killing Dr. George Tiller while he served as an usher. Tiller's clinic has often taken center stage in the abortion debate. The women's clinic performs late-term abortions and has been the site of repeated protests. The Kansas shooting is reminiscent of a deadly attack carried out against a doctor in Buffalo, New York more than ten years ago. That doctor's clinic is still on guard. Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow to pick up this part of the story -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, you are from Buffalo, the women's clinic became a flash point in the war over abortion and some here say this weekend's murder of a Kansas doctor instantly brought back haunting memories and fear.


SNOW (voice-over): The murder of Dr. George Tiller reopened a wound more than 1,000 miles away in Buffalo, New York.

GLENN EDWARD MURRAY, BUFFALO CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: I couldn't tell you where it was going to happen or when it was going to happen, but I considered it to be inevitable.

SNOW: Inevitable says Glenn Murray, because in 1998 his friend Dr. Barnett Slepian, a father of four, was shot and killed at his Amherst home. Slepian's convicted killer targeted the doctor because he performed abortions. The women's health clinic in Buffalo where Slepian worked remains on guard to this day.

SUSAN WARD, BUFFALO WOMEN SERVICES: Our staff meetings include bomb drills, fire drills, what to do if a protester invaded the building and we have had that happen where they have managed to get in. But we have a pretty secure camera system now, a buzzer system. No backpacks allowed.

SNOW: Following Slepian's murder, some clinic doctors even wore bullet-proof vests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Killing innocent children!

SNOW: And since then, a law was passed prohibiting protestors from coming within 15 feet of an entrance to the clinic but that hasn't stopped anti-abortion activist Bob Behn. He still organizes almost daily protests, protests that resumed the day after Dr. Slepian was killed.

ROBERT BEHN, LAST CALL MINISTRIES: It was sad that it happened. But it didn't stop us from doing what we have been doing right along.

SNOW: Behn admits his movement has dwindled and expects to experience a backlash following the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas.

BEHN: The immediate reaction was one of sadness, we're sorry that this happened. And the second reaction was now that we're going to have to deal with it. It will be a national kind of a plot against the pro life movement because everybody will try to blame the pro-life movement for his death.

SNOW: Some abortion rights supporters say the 1998 murder of Dr. Slepian only hardened their resolve.

MURRAY: In the aftermath of Dr. Slepian's murder, that really backfired for those who felt that acts of violence would end access to abortions because many physicians took that danger and it made them more resolute.


SNOW: But one clinic doctor who asked not to be identified disagrees with many who say that things are very different today. The doctor says there is still a lingering fear -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary Snow in Buffalo, New York for us, thank you.

In Kansas right now, the suspect of the fatal shooting of Dr. Tiller is in jail. Dr. George Tiller and his clinic had been targeted by abortion opponents for decades before he was gunned down in church yesterday. CNN's Ted Rowlands is in Wichita.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): According to police, Dr. George Tiller was serving as an usher, greeting people in the foyer of the church Sunday when he was murdered. It was just after 10 a.m. The service had started. Tiller's wife was singing in the choir, when a 51-year-old anti-abortion extremist with a long record of violent acts killed him with one gunshot. Tiller's friend and attorney Daniel Monnat says recent vandalism had Dr. Tiller worried something might happened. He asked the FBI for help and received it, but didn't feel the need to protect himself in church.

DANIEL MONNAT, TILLER'S ATTORNEY: Church was always a place of peace for Dr. Tiller where he thought he might be free from violence.

ROWLANDS: Tiller's clinic is closed for now. The flag is at half staff. Flowers and notes line the fence outside, some from people who didn't agree with Tiller's practices. A former patient, who didn't want to be identified, talked about the doctor that performed late-term abortions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not a monster, he's not.

ROWLANDS: But plenty of people think he was, like anti-abortion activist Randall Terry.

RANDALL TERRY, ANTI-ABORTION ACTIVIST: George Tiller was a mass murderer. George Tiller killed thousands and thousands of innocent human beings.

ROWLANDS: For more than two decades, George Tiller was a target of anti-abortion extremists. His Wichita clinic was bombed in 1985. In 1993 he was shot in both arms and then at the age of 67, he was murdered at church.


BLITZER: Ted Rowlands reporting for us from Wichita.

The Kansas shooting is bringing divisive debate over late term abortions back to the forefront. Dr. Tiller's women clinic performed abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy, a rare procedure. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 800,000 abortions were performed in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available. 1.3 percent or about 8,400 of those abortions occurred after 21 weeks of pregnancy. Right now 31 states have banned uncertain second term abortions.

A nuclear armed Japan and South Korea as well, there's growing concern North Korea will set off a nuclear arms race with those countries and others.

Plus we're following the breaking news, the search for that Air France jet that vanished over the Atlantic and some disturbing clues.


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

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour, will Sonia Sotomayor's comment about a Latina woman versus a white man be enough to derail her Supreme Court nomination?

Diana writes: "Of course Republican senators are voicing concerns. They've got the right wing hate machine clawing at their backs and are facing extinction if they vote against the nomination of this absolutely qualified and distinguished Latina. Miss Sotomayor has nothing to apologize for, especially to a group of ethically challenged group of gasbags in the U.S. Senate."

Ben in Maryland writes: "Absolutely not. There was nothing in the comment that should be interpreted as racist. For 233 years, the court was led by rich white men. They made some very poor decisions. Many of their decisions favored the rich and privileged over the poor and middle class. So when someone comes out of the projects and becomes a judge, he or she, Latin or white or black or Asian, will see both sides better than a privileged white guy."

Ken writes: "Once said, you can't take it back. That is a racist, sexist comment and if the sex and genders were flip-flopped, the man would be crucified. Of course, she's what Obama wants and Obama gets what he wants when he wants it now."

Joan writes: "I suggest everyone take a few minutes and read the entire speech/lecture that Judge Sotomayor presented at Berkley. I did. I missed the controversial comment the first time through because it made sense when taken in context. Everybody makes decisions based on their backgrounds, experiences, moral compass and the laws of the land. I don't see what the big deal is."

Joe writes: "If she's not confirmed because of her comment about a Latina woman having more life experience than a white male, then that would be a very sad day for the U.S. I'm a white male and there are a helluva lot of stupid white males whose only qualification for the bench was being in the right fraternity house and playing at the right golf courses. Look at what was in the oval office for the last eight years."

And Greg says: "Maybe the Supreme Court should be filled with candidates straight out of law school. That would cut down on the life experience drawback."

If you didn't see your e-mail, you can go to my blog,, look for yours there. If it's not there, I don't know what to tell you.

BLITZER: I got a good question for you. It's a very happy day for all of us today, Jack. I'm going to ask you the question, see if you know why. Who turns 29 today?

CAFFERTY: Certainly not you or me.

BLITZER: That's correct.

CAFFERTY: Twenty-nine.

BLITZER: June 1st, 1980. Think back. What happened on June 1st, 1980?

CAFFERTY: Boy, I don't know. You've got me.

BLITZER: It was a great day. I'll give you a clue. Ted Turner.

CAFFERTY: You're giving me a clue. Ted turner's a lot older than 29. Oh, you're talking about CNN.

BLITZER: The network he created.

CAFFERTY: You're talking about CNN. I should know that you have disguised some sort of corporate plug in this question.

BLITZER: Yes, I have. I'm already getting excited thinking about next June 1st, it will be three decades. 30 years, Jack, of CNN. June 1st, 2010, we will have a huge celebration but let's have a little celebration right now. I know how excited you are.

CAFFERTY: Well, are you going to take us to dinner and perhaps pick up the check?

BLITZER: Not that excited.

CAFFERTY: Not that excited?

BLITZER: Not that excited yet. Maybe on the 30th --

CAFFERTY: Excitement has a limit. BLITZER: Congratulations to you. Congratulations to Ted Turner, to all of us at CNN.

CAFFERTY: I remember when this thing started, nobody took it seriously and everybody said an all news network, nobody's going to watch that stuff. Turner was ridiculed as being kind of an eccentric fellow. Wrong. He was a visionary. This network has provided a hell of a service to this democracy for 29 years.

BLITZER: I applaud CNN and I applaud, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, thank you, Wolf. Just my dinner. Don't applaud. My dinner.

BLITZER: Thank you. Congratulations, CNN. 29 years today. Good work all around.

A mystery with more than 200 lives in the balance. What caused an Air France plane to simply vanish over the Atlantic Ocean? We're following the breaking news.

Plus, some leading Republicans are portraying President Obama's Supreme Court pick as a racist but what does Sonia Sotomayor's judicial record say? Her rulings in the spotlight.


BLITZER: There is mounting concern right now that North Korea could spark a nuclear arms race in the region. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's taking a closer look. What are you seeing, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, we have talked to some analysts and they are pointing out Asia is very unsettled about what has happened in recent days.


STARR (voice-over): U.S. spy satellites are watching North Korea 24/7 for signs of military and missile activity. Pentagon officials say there are indications Pyongyang could be getting ready to test fire a long range missile for the second time this year. Coming in the wake of North Korea's recent underground nuclear tests, there are new worries.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.

STARR: In Asia, concerns the North Korean program could lead other nations to join the nuclear race.

SHARON SQUASSONI, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTL. PEACE: That is a definite threat to stability in the region that a further North Korean capability could in fact have a domino effect, could cause Japan to reconsider and South Korea to reconsider. STARR: Joe Cirincione runs the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation dedicated to eliminating nuclear weapons. He says it's more than just Asia at risk. In the Middle East, Iran's nuclear ambitions are unsettling its neighbors.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: In the last two years, we have seen over a dozen Middle Eastern states start for the first time nuclear civilian programs, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan.

STARR: Nuclear weapons as a hedge against Iran or North Korea is exactly what the U.S. doesn't want, but the world may be headed in that direction.

CIRINCIONE: I believe if North Korea tests two or three more times, the debate in Japan will be over. They will get a nuclear weapon.


STARR: Analysts say that Iran and North Korea are watching each other very closely to see how far down the nuclear road they might be able to go and of course, the U.S. hopes it's not too far down that road. Wolf?

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, very disturbing stuff indeed.

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

Happening now, a plane vanishes and hopes fade. This hour, breaking news about the missing Air France jet and what went horribly wrong over the Atlantic. 228 lives at stake in this airline mystery.

And what GM's bankruptcy means for you. Factories closing, jobs lost, billions more in tax payer dollars to keep the car maker running.

And Judge Sonia Sotomayor's ruling on race and discrimination. What she may bring to the Supreme Court as the first Hispanic justice. Part of a CNN investigation on being Latino in America. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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