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Plane Vanishes Over Atlantic Ocean; General Motors Files For Bankruptcy

Aired June 1, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It could prove to be the world's deadliest commercial airline disaster since 2001. The French president says the prospects of finding any survivors from a missing jet are very small.

The Air France flight from Rio to Paris vanished over the Atlantic with 228 people on board. Airline officials haven't found the plane, but they suspect it crashed in the ocean.

Let's bring in Brian Todd. He's following the investigation -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a lot of speculation going on right now. So, we do have to have some caution and care of what we're reporting here.

But what Air France officials are saying is that there was turbulence in that area. That electrical problems were reported. That points to some possibilities for what could have gone wrong but there's also the possibility that we may never find out.


TODD (voice-over): A massive air and sea search that may never provide definite answers on the fate of Flight 447. Air France officials say the plane experienced turbulence and electrical problems before it vanished. Experts say a lightning strike is a possibility. But...

JOHN WILEY, FORMER AIRBUS PILOT: On average, every airliner is struck at least once a year by a lightning strike. They don't go down.

TODD: Experts say when lightning strikes a plane, the bolt typically hits a sharp part of it, a wing tip, or a tail surface. Millions of amps of energy run through the aircraft and usually exit out another sharp point. But sometimes, if components aren't well grounded, high voltages can cause electrical damage.

This plane, an Airbus-330, is equipped with a fly-by wire system. Unlike standard aircraft, where the pilot's controls are manually attached to control surfaces like rudders and flaps, with fly-by wire the pilot's controls in the cockpit are linked to the movable services by electrical wires and computers, so essentially a signal is sent to move those devices. Experts say there are backup fly-by computers and wires, but a lightning strike could possibly disable those as well. JOHN HANSMAN, MIT DEPARTMENT OF AERONAUTICS & ASTRONAUTICS: If you have a massive electrical problem, it's possible that you could cut off all the commands out of the control surfaces.

TODD: Still, even if those commands are cut off, aviation experts say the A-330 has a manual flight control system, so-called trim tabs, that allows the crew to manipulate the rudder and the surface controls.


TODD: We asked Airbus for a briefing on possible causes, on the electrical warning system, what protections are built in for lightning strikes. An Airbus spokeswoman said it's way too early at this stage and the company does not want to engage in speculation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the weather in the region over the Atlantic? I understand that could have been a real problem.

TODD: That's right. This is an area called the Intertropical Convergence Zone. We're going to show this to viewers now.

This is the area of the Atlantic where the Northern Hemisphere meets the Southern, right around the equator. Weather and aviation experts tell us this is where the northeast and southeast trade winds meet, pushing a lot of warm moist air upward. That condenses, produces some of the world's most nasty thunderstorms and hurricanes.

If lightning hit this plane, it could have been in this area, Wolf, but again, very preliminary at this stage.

BLITZER: Everything is preliminary. The mystery continues.

Brian, thanks very much.

Only two U.S.-based airlines fly the Airbus A-330, the model of the Air France plane that disappeared. The merged firms of Northwest and Delta together have 32 Airbus A-330s. U.S. Airways has nine of them in operation. Seven internationally based airlines flying the Airbus A-330 in and out of the United States are going on with those flights right now.


BLITZER: Joining us now, a former National Transportation Safety Board director, Peter Goelz.

Peter, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: What's your working assumption of what happened?

GOELZ: Boy, this is a real mystery. But this plane must have catastrophically broken up at altitude. There was no mayday call by the crew. And it's off radar all of the sudden. This is a very tough one. And I think it's going to take a long time -- if ever -- that we're going to figure out what happened.

BLITZER: What could cause a plane to simply crack up at 40,000 feet?

GOELZ: Well, it's -- it's extraordinary. We had TWA, which was a flammable fuel tank. We have had a couple of other mysterious explosions, but nothing like this.

BLITZER: You're talking about the TWA plane over Long Island...

GOELZ: Long Island, exactly.

BLITZER: ... that simply exploded or whatever.

GOELZ: Right. And that -- that one went down only nine miles off the shore in 200 feet of water, you know, and it took us four or five days to find out where it was.

This one, it's the size of -- two or three times the size of Europe. I think they're going to have a real tough time.

BLITZER: Can lightning or turbulence cause a plane to explode like that?

GOELZ: Well, let's look at each one of those.

Turbulence, these pilots are certified to fly through tough weather. Other flights from South America were traveling the same airway. They reached -- they hit some turbulence, but nothing extraordinary, tough stuff, but nothing extraordinary.

And, in terms of lightning, planes are hit by lightning virtually every day. They're designed to dissipate the charge. Sometimes, there -- there are problems with their electronics systems, but nothing catastrophic -- on lightning, nothing catastrophic since the 1980s.

BLITZER: So -- so, when we say -- when you say breaking up, the plane could have broken up, does it necessarily mean an explosion that would cause that?

GOELZ: Well, it could have been a structural failure.

But this was a new plane. It was manufactured in 2005. You know, if it -- if it were a 30- or 40-year-old plane, you might look toward some sort of fatigue issue, but this was relatively a brand-new plane.

BLITZER: Here's what I don't understand. With the GPS technology that is out there, how it is possible we don't know where this big plane is right now?

GOELZ: Well...

BLITZER: Because with all the pings and the pongs, you would think they would have an idea.

GOELZ: Well, that's -- that's one of the questions.

You know, we -- many of these planes are not flying on GPS. That's the whole issue of next generation that you might have heard about. That's going to satellite -- you know, use satellite technology to traffic planes in air traffic control.

But, even today, on transoceanic flights, we don't have a very good picture of where these planes are precisely at all times. And, this one, boy, I don't -- I think we're going to have a hard time.

BLITZER: And could this plane have landed safely on -- on the Atlantic Ocean?

GOELZ: No, it's virtually impossible.

And what we're going to have to do is track down whatever radar we have got, then put some ships in the area with listening devices to see if they can pick up the pinging noises from the flight data and voice recorder. They issue a tone on a certain frequency when it's submerged. It will last for about 30 days. They have got to get those search vessels out there as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: If you were running an airline now that had a flight over the Atlantic Ocean, what would you be doing, if anything, differently?

GOELZ: I don't think -- I think I would be watching what this investigation turns up. I would be making sure that the crew and the maintenance guys were all doing their jobs.

But, boy, there isn't anything you can do.

BLITZER: Does the U.S. get involved in this investigation at all, since it's -- it's an Air France plane flying from Brazil to France, a plane that's made by not the United States?

GOELZ: The -- the U.S. will be participating, because the engines were GE engines. They were -- they were U.S.-manufactured engines. So, the NTSB will offer support, as will the FAA.

And there's good working relationships with the French investigative agency, the BEA. This will be a worldwide effort to try and -- try and uncover this.

BLITZER: The last communication, we're told, between the plane and ground control was something along the lines that they have an emergency under way. Is that right?

GOELZ: Well, it's not clear yet.

What -- what we do know is that there was a signal sent, an automatic signal sent to the operations base that said that there was an electrical issue. Now, these -- these are sent periodically, so that the plane can be maintained. It could also signify that -- that the plane was in real distress and perhaps starting to break up.

BLITZER: And this was the kind of plane where the pilots are sitting there, but it's basically automatic. It's all on -- it's all on -- you know, just mechanical, if you will?

GOELZ: Yes. This -- this is a fly-by-wire plane. The pilots, during cruise altitude, are sitting there charting numbers off the flight control system. They usually do not have their hands on the -- on the stick. And this -- this plane is a first-class aircraft...


BLITZER: We have all been in -- on planes where the -- the turbulence starts. You have been over there, especially over the Pacific or the Atlantic. And it gets a little nerve-racking when your -- your plane is moving along, especially if it's a big one, a jumbo jetliner...


BLITZER: Or a huge commercial jetliner like this one.

What do the pilots normally do? Do they try to go up even higher and fly over the turbulence?

GOELZ: Well, they -- they -- they have forward-looking forward that -- that they try to pick a way through the storm cell, where -- where it's least intense.

And they can go up. They can go left. They can go right. They can go drop down. But they try to pick a path through it that -- that looks less intense...


BLITZER: But, the higher the storm, usually, the -- it's more intense, the storm, right? And, sometimes -- you know, can a plane go over 50,000 feet...


BLITZER: ... flying over the Atlantic?


The maximum altitude for -- for a plane like this is in the low 40s. So -- and the usual crew's altitude, somewhere between 32,000 and 39,000. So, I mean, that's -- that's -- that's where you have your maximum efficiency.

BLITZER: Is it possible we will never know what happened to this Air France plane?

GOELZ: If we don't get the flight data recorders or the voice recorder back, I think it's -- it's likely that we will never know.

BLITZER: And, given the depth of the Atlantic Ocean, it's possible that that stuff is at the bottom of the Atlantic right now.

GOELZ: Well, you can recover it. We have recovered things since as deep as 10,000, 12,000 feet.

But the point is, you know, the -- locator device only works for 30 days. We have got to find it.

BLITZER: So, it's pinging right now?

GOELZ: It is pinging right now, hopefully.

BLITZER: And it doesn't -- and it's not floating?

GOELZ: It is not floating. It's in the -- it's at the bottom of the sea.

BLITZER: Peter, thanks very much for coming in.

GOELZ: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" right now.

Jack, that's quite a mystery.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That was quite an interview. That's a -- he's a very interesting fellow.


CAFFERTY: I was -- I was riveted listening to his explanation of stuff. He knows what he's talking about.

BLITZER: He's a former director of the NTSB.

CAFFERTY: And -- and it shows. His expertise came through in the interview.

He speaks in sentences that -- that laymen like me can understand.

"American capitalism is disappearing with barely a whimper" -- that's a quote -- "from the public," according to the online edition of the Russian news agency Pravda. They write the U.S. descent into Marxism is happening with breathtaking speed. First, Pravda says the population was dumbed down through a substandard education system based on pop culture -- they're right -- instead of the classics.

They write, Americans' faith in God was destroyed until its churches became little more than Sunday circuses. And Pravda says the final collapse came with the election of President Obama, who has been spending and printing money at a record pace.

Pravda also mentions the president's desire to redesign the tax system and cap executive compensation, and notes how he forced the former CEO of General Motors to step down. Speaking of GM, President Obama announced today the government will become a reluctant shareholder when it assumes a 60 percent stake in General Motors.

President Obama insists he has no interest in running GM. Nevertheless, the government's stake in GM comes after a much smaller ownership of Chrysler and with significant federal equity in banks, the insurance giant AIG, and two mortgage interest giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That's not exactly old-school capitalism, now, is it?

Republicans say the government's -- quote -- "firmly in the business of running companies using taxpayer dollars" and question how Washington bureaucrats can make a huge corporation profitable. They want the administration to explain its exit strategy. There's a phrase we haven't heard in awhile.

Here's the question: Is American capitalism dead?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

How ironic that Pravda is writing the obituary of the U.S. economic system, when the collapse of the Soviet Union happened, what, about 20 years ago, and things haven't been exactly shipshape ever since.

BLITZER: Yes, good point, very ironic indeed. Thanks, Jack.

In the debate over the Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, some conservatives portray her as a racist. But wait until you hear her real record deciding claims of discrimination.

And what do people who actually know Judge Sotomayor think about her? Our Soledad O'Brien and she is here to preview CNN's newest documentary, "Latino in America."

And the fourth largest bankruptcy in U.S. history -- GM's troubles could cost you a lot more money.


BLITZER: President Obama said today -- today marks a new beginning for General Motors, but thousands of workers fear it's the end of the line for their jobs.

Staring down debt and a government deadline, GM filed formally for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today. And it unveiled plans to close 14 factories, three warehouses, a move that could eventually cut another 20,000 jobs.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, who's watching the story for us.

All right, the U.S. government, Suzanne, owns a bigger and bigger share of GM right now.


And President Obama today called on autoworkers who are, many of them, losing their jobs because of the bankruptcy today, to make the sacrifice for the next generation. But, clearly, the reality here is that GM's problems are also Obama's.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Car giant General Motors is bankrupt, and the American people now own it.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are acting as reluctant shareholders, because that is the only way to help GM succeed.

MALVEAUX: That's the president's line, notably, a tough sell to American taxpayers, who have already shelled out $20 billion to GM in low-interest loans and will now be forking over another $30 billion. The president at times sounded like the reluctant car salesman in chief.

OBAMA: What I have no interest in doing is running GM. Our goal is to get GM back on its feet, take a hands-off approach, and get out quickly.

MALVEAUX: But the federal government will now own 60 percent of GM, a company already $172 billion in the red. Unclear is how Obama's team remains hands-off, while protecting the taxpayers' investment.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Is the president going to thumb through engineering reports and each page of the annual report? No.

MALVEAUX: But, previously, the president has said GM's business model was not working and needed to be changed.

The new total of help from the federal government is about $50 billion, just a little more than the federal government wants to spend next year on education, but would only account for about four months of last year's spending on the Iraq war.

Regardless, entering the messy business of now owning a failing auto icon, the president made it clear he's intent on avoiding the political mine fields.

OBAMA: When a difficult decision has to be made on matters like where to open a new plant or what type of new car to make, the new GM, not the United States government, will make that decision.


MALVEAUX: But the president is pushing GM to make more fuel- efficient cars, to produce those cars here at home, as opposed to abroad. So, the administration is really dependent on this new board that it's helping select to make sure that they are cooperative with the president's agenda.

And, Wolf, the big question, the end game here, when does the government get out of the car business? One senior administration official who is a member of the auto task force admitted that two to five years would be a good outcome -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Wow. All right, thanks very much, Suzanne, at the White House.

Here's what General Motors looked like heading into today. It had a debt of more than $54 billion. And it included the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC brands, along with Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab.

Today's bankruptcy filing allows GM to transform itself, shedding some debt and bad assets to emerge as a new, leaner company. The new GM cuts its debt by more than half, down to $17 billion. And it will keep only its most successful brands. That would be Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC, the others going, going, gone.

Chrysler Corporation has gotten the green light to emerge from Chapter 11 protection soon. That's because a bankruptcy judge has approved the sale of most of Chrysler's assets to a group led by the Italian automaker Fiat. The ruling late yesterday may help Chrysler meet President Obama's goal of completing the bankruptcy procedure within 60 days.

An abortion provider gunned down while attending church, and now we're learning the man suspected of pulling the trigger may have been watching the doctor for some time.

A former president says he doesn't agree with the decision by President Obama. It's not George W. Bush who we're talking about. It's Jimmy Carter.

And hitching a ride -- the space shuttle's return trip.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Judge Sonia Sotomayor starts making her case to lawmakers tomorrow. Will she play up the prospect of becoming the first Hispanic justice? We're investigating how her roots may have influenced her rulings.

Are Senate Republicans willing to fight Sotomayor's nomination, questions about racism and the -- quote -- "thought police"? The best political team on television is standing by.

And Jimmy Carter now vs. President Obama -- the former president openly disagreeing with his successor on an important national security matter. This is a CNN exclusive. Stand by.



Happening now: The court records of detainees at Guantanamo Bay could become public next month. The U.S. government tried to seal all cases involving suspects with indefinite detention, but a judge denied the request, calling it too broad.

Pentagon officials say there are indications right now that North Korea could be getting ready to test-fire another long-range missile. That would be the second time this year. U.S. spy satellites have North Korea under 24-hour surveillance.

And the space shuttle Atlantis had to hitch a ride back to Florida today. It rode piggyback on a 747. Atlantis landed in California more than a week ago, after a mission to repair the Hubble telescope.

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

She's under intense political attack, and her supporters are circling around her. Judge Sonia Sotomayor, her former law clerks say she's perfect for the Supreme Court. Forty-five of them signed a letter of support and sent it to the leadership in the Senate.

Meanwhile, conservatives are concerned Judge Sotomayor overly favored minorities in court cases. Is there any truth to that?

We asked our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar to take a closer look -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a CNN analysis of Sotomayor's record as a federal appeals judge shows, for every discrimination-related claim that she agreed with, there were eight she rejected. And because federal appeals judges are part of three-judge panels, we can look at her record and measure it against those of her Republican-appointed peers.


KEILAR (voice-over): Supreme Court attorney Tom Goldstein has been poring over Sonia Sotomayor's legal record.

TOM GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT LEGAL EXPERT; Is she out there making decisions to favor minorities, rather than the law? There's just no evidence of that.

KEILAR: In 2002, two African-American airline passengers said they were bumped from their flight because they were black. Sotomayor's decision: Federal courts don't have jurisdiction over alleged civil rights violations that happen in the course of international air travel.

And when the New York City Police Department fired a white officer for mailing racist material, the appeals court threw out his case, but Sotomayor dissented, saying he was protected by the First Amendment.

GOLDSTEIN: When the majority was willing to go against the bigot, Judge Sotomayor said: Look, I hate this message that's being sent by this guy, but the Constitution gives him that right.

KEILAR: In 1993, a Connecticut boy was demoted from first grade to kindergarten. His parents said it was because he was African- American. Sotomayor agreed with them, but she was the lone dissenter.

In a CNN analysis of almost 100 race-related cases she heard as an appellate judge, this was the only one where she did not agree with at least one of her two colleagues.

GOLDSTEIN: She agrees with her Republican colleagues in almost every single case. There were only a small handful, less than five, in which she found herself in disagreement with the appointees from President Bush or President Reagan.


KEILAR: And that, says Tom Goldstein, is the measure that shows she is not an extremist when it comes to issues of race and discrimination -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar at the Supreme Court for us -- thank you, Brianna.

Let's bring in Soledad O'Brien, who's taking a closer look at this justice -- soon to be justice, we assume, if she's confirmed -- Soledad, you've had a chance to speak with people who know her, who have commented to you on all the uproar that has developed over national origin.

What are you hearing?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what's interesting to me is that you can really interpret a lot of what she means by some of these comments, I think, that have raised the most hoopla, because if you read the entire speech -- which we actually have posted on in the "Don't Miss" box -- you really get a sense of what she's trying to say, in addition to what people who know her are saying, to shape what her thoughts are.

The bottom line is this -- she is a Puerto Rican -- a Puerto Rican. She was born in New York. She's not of the immigrant experience. She is a Nuyorican. So she is not born on the island of Puerto Rico.

And in the speech, she talks about the food and the language and the dancing and all these things. But she says Latino identity is really about being proud of where you come from.

What's critical, I think, she points out the paradox of how we in this nation love to highlight how, in America, we're all about the immigrant experience, we're a nation of immigrants and, at the same time, people like to say we're colorblind -- race blind.

And guess what?

You know, we're not.

So while she's saying there are differences in gender and race and all those things make up experience -- and that definitely has some kind of influence to everybody, including judges. The bottom line is -- the reality is, she's saying, you can't divorce your experience from how you're going to read the statutes or read the Constitution.

I think what you take away from her speech and what folks who know her have said, she's saying her goal and her hope is to take the good from her experience and extrapolate that into other areas where she may have less familiarity. She does not say, as you heard Brianna say a moment ago, I'm going to rule in favor of Latinos. She does not say that.

What she says is where you come from -- your experience influences you, whether you're a judge or you're anybody else -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Those are excellent points. And I know you're working on a major, major documentary, Soledad.

Let me tell our viewers what's going on. Of course, many have seen Soledad's documentary, "Black In America." Now she's the author of an upcoming book, "Latino in America." It will be published in October. At the same time CNN will bring you "Latino In America." It's a comprehensive documentary -- a comprehensive look at how Latinos are changing America in business, education, politics and much more. That will air in October right here on CNN. And we're very proud and happy to make the announcement right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Former President Jimmy Carter now openly disagreeing with President Obama on one of the more controversial decisions. We're going to talk about what that means with the best political team on television.

And how hard of a fight will Senate Republicans put up against Sonia Sotomayor?

A revealing remark by their leader.


BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter now openly at odds with the current president, Barack Obama, over the release of more photos showing the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.

Listen to what former President Carter told CNN's Campbell Brown.


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, we're hearing or learning that there are more pictures of detainee abuse -- many arguing they should also be made public. President Obama wants to keep them under wraps.

Do you agree with his decision?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. But I respect what his decisions are. I don't have the responsibility to deal with the consequences. But I think the -- most of his supporters were hoping that he would be much more open in the revelation of what we've done in the past.

I don't agree with him, but I certainly don't criticize him for making that decision.


BLITZER: That sounded a little bit like a criticism to me.

All right. Let's talk a little bit about it with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley; and our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

It's -- you know, what struck me is that the former president, Bush, is not criticizing President Obama, but former President Jimmy Carter is sort of openly disagreeing with his decision to not release those controversial photos.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Jimmy Carter likes to talk. And I think in this case, he was a little holier than thou, if you don't mind my saying so.

I mean, you know, Jimmy Carter is someone who -- he tried to take both sides of this. He said, I disagree with him, but I respect his right to do what he tried to do.

But it's Jimmy Carter. We're used to it.

BLITZER: Yes. I think we are used to it.

What do you think -- Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he certainly disagreed as nicely as I've ever heard the former president disagree. And obviously, this is a president of his own party. I think we heard some terribly harsh criticism of former President Bush at the 2004 convention from Jimmy Carter.

But this is -- you know, he obviously thinks they should go out there. That is, by the way, a huge wish by the left side of the Democratic Party. They want those pictures out there, too.


CROWLEY: But I mean it was a -- it was a pretty mellow criticism.

BLITZER: Yes. He was very polite in the criticism -- David, is it ever appropriate, at this early stage in a new presidency, for a former president to openly disagree with the president?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, Wolf, I think standards have changed so rapidly on questions like that. And we certainly heard so much -- so many vitriolic attacks against the president from vice president -- former Vice President Cheney.

In this case, it's important to remember that Jimmy Carter's whole presidency and foreign policy was focused on human rights. He was -- he's one of the world's foremost advocates of human rights. Part of his Nobel Prize is linked to that.

And so, for him, I think it would have been a surprise if he had not called for the release of the photos. I think he did that. He was -- he felt compelled to do that by his conscience. But then I think he made a very sincere effort to say look, I'm not trying to be critical, but this is what I believe.

So I thought that that was a respectful series of comments by someone who has long believed that human rights should be at the forefront of foreign policy.

BLITZER: And I suspect it's only the first of many moments that we'll be seeing former President Carter criticize -- or at least disagreeing with some decisions that the current president has to take. We'll watch that as it unfolds.

Let me play this clip, Gloria, for you.

John King interviewed the top Republican in the Senate yesterday on the -- Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation process.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Well, I'm not going to get into policing everybody's speech. The important thing here is to look at the nominee, her qualifications, read the 3,600 cases and do it right. That's what the American people expect of us.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Can I read into that, though, that you do not agree?

You would not label...

MCCONNELL: It is certainly not my view. My view is we ought to take a look at this nominee's qualifications. I think her life story is -- is absolutely impressive.


BLITZER: Yes. It's very clear, everyone, all the Republicans in the Senate are taking the high road, unlike, let's say, Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich, who are openly calling her a racist.

BORGER: Wolf, I think they realize that Gingrich and Limbaugh have poisoned the well for them. And they're going to have a respectful hearing. And if they vote against her -- and I do presume there are going to be lots of Republicans -- a majority of Republicans, I think, will end up voting against her. But they're going to have civil and respectful hearings because of the damage that's been done by these two men.

CROWLEY: You know, Wolf, I mean, they poisoned one well, but they prime another. I mean that's the problem that it's former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, both of whom have a very good conservative following and could be said to be speaking for some conservatives.

I think on Capitol Hill, the problem with Senate Republicans is they just don't have as compelling a speaker as either Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh. So they've got no one to go up against that has the same kind of charisma, nor do they want to sort of push away the conservative core of their party. It's a dilemma for them.

BLITZER: Will they, David, give her an up and down vote, a majority vote?

Or will they use -- try to use, which is what Barack Obama did when he was a senator, the filibuster card?

GERGEN: Wolf, it's my sense right now that, absent some new revelation or some statement on her part during the hearings that sets off a firestorm, that they don't have the ammunition or they don't have what it would take to back up a filibuster. You need a rationale for a filibuster, not simply that you want to delay her getting to the inevitable. You need some -- you need some argument.

And right now they -- I think the Senate Republicans are smart enough to understand they don't have a central argument. I think Gloria was right in her analysis, having -- having -- what Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney did was, I think, force them to sort of cool the rhetoric for a while, to search the opinions, as Mitch McConnell said, and see if they can find something or see if she says something. They can maybe force her into an error...

BLITZER: But, you know, Gloria...

GERGEN: Absent that, it's not going to happen.

BLITZER: But, you know, Barack Obama, when he was a senator and supported a filibuster -- it never came down to it -- against Samuel Alito, he didn't question his qualifications or his experience or anything like that. He just didn't like his judicial philosophy. And that's why he said go ahead and try to filibuster this.

If that's the standard, there will be plenty of Republicans who will follow that example.

BORGER: And there could be. But in the end, they have to decide what they're going to gain from a filibuster. The overwhelming presumption is that Barack Obama is going to have his 60 votes, that he's going to get her confirmed. Given the fact that this has been so poisonous right now, Wolf, with folks like Limbaugh calling her racist, they have to back away from that. And so I think it's going to be more civil.

BLITZER: Candy, you think so, too?

CROWLEY: I certainly think the debate up there will be more civil than, certainly, the debate outside the Senate chambers have been.

Also, I don't think they actually want to have a fight on this particular nominee. And we have to remember, when Barack Obama was a senator, the Democrats were in a much stronger position than Republicans are now.

I mean do they want to spend some of their capital -- of which they have virtually none, opposing this nominee...


CROWLEY: Or do they want to wait and see if it looks like the dynamic of the court may change on the next one?

They just don't have the capital to spend on this particular nominee.

BLITZER: All right, guys, we've got to leave it right there, but we'll continue this conversation.

Thank you.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you.

Tonight, complete coverage of the Obama administration's decision to effectively nationalize General Motors. We'll have complete coverage. And one of G.M.'s top executives joins us.

Also, rescuers searching a huge area of the Atlantic Ocean tonight after an Air France airliner disappeared on a flight from Brazil to France. We'll have the very latest for you.

And new controversies over the Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sotomayor, and her position on group and identity politics. This, after her court ruled in favor of the City of New Haven in a racial discrimination lawsuit. That's the topic of our face-off debate tonight.

And we'll be examining the threat to free speech in this country with Brian Jenkins. He's the author of an important new book, "Censorship."

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you. BLITZER: All right, Lou.

See you in a few moments.

Thank you.

A shocking reaction to the killing of a doctor who performed one of the most controversial kinds of abortions. Some extremists are now calling for even more violence against top elected officials.


BLITZER: All right. There's new information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now on the suspect arrested in connection with the murder of a late term abortion -- a doctor who performed late term abortions.

Drew Griffin of CNN Special Investigations Unit is joining us now.

What's going on?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN can now confirm that Scott Roeder, the suspect in the shooting, was a regular protester at a medical clinic in Kansas City that was performing abortions. We have also confirmed that Saturday -- now, the day before the shooting took place, Roeder was caught on that clinic's surveillance tape, recognized by the staff there and is alleged to have damaged the back door of the clinic. A police report was filed and right now police have the surveillance tapes, which may show Roeder, just a day before the shooting, vandalizing this clinic in Kansas City.

We've also learned Scott Roeder had recently taken a big interest in the work of Dr. George Tiller and even attended Tiller's recent trial.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): That trial ended in March with Dr. George Tiller being acquitted on 19 misdemeanor counts of performing unlawful procedures at his clinic -- late term abortions, where a colleague rendered a second opinion on their necessity.

Now we've learned Scott Roeder may have attended the trial. Eugene Frye, who says he's known Roeder for years as an anti-tax campaigner, said just weeks ago, Roeder showed up at an abortion protest talking about the trial -- the man Frye called the killer.

EUGENE FRYE: He did mention something this time, he said he had been to Wichita and had been to the trial -- the killer's trial. And he did say what a sham that was.

GRIFFIN: Frye, who would speak only by phone, says he was surprised by the shooting, saying Roeder never spoke of any kind of violence. Most anti-abortion Web sites and groups have been quick to condemn the killing -- but not all.

In Iowa, Dan Holman who operates Missionaries To the UNBORN, told me over the phone the news was something to cheer.

DAN HOLMAN: I was cheered by it because I knew that group wouldn't be, killing any more babies.

GRIFFIN: Holman, who protested President Obama's speech at Notre Dame University, is part of a small but vocal minority of the anti- abortion movement that has, at times, physically threatened politicians who support the right of a woman to have an abortion.

HOLMAN: I believe that all abortionists are deserving of death. And they aren't the only ones. You know, there's politicians and judges and others that support this murder that are also deserving of death. And...

GRIFFIN (on camera): Would you care to name names, Dan?

HOLMAN: Oh, George Bush, OK. Barack Obama. Any politician that takes -- you know, that gives our tax money to Planned Parenthood and organizations that kill babies are participating in the killing of innocent children and deserves the same penalty.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Priests for Life put up this video of Father Frank Pavone, who condemns the killing, but then justifies the movement.

FATHER FRANK PAVONE: This is a massive Holocaust. It is killing. And even events like the killing of George Tiller, which we object to, nevertheless should not be invoked as a reason to obscure or to downplay or to be afraid of saying the reality of what abortion is and the fact that it does have to stop.

GRIFFIN: And Priests for Life weren't the only anti-abortion groups vigorous in their opposition of violence as a means of opposing abortion. The Family Research Council opposes abortion rights, but condemns this killing and anyone who would celebrate such a thing. The council's leader, Tony Perkins, tells CNN: "I don't know of any legitimate group cheering this news." Perkins called the shooting of Dr. Tiller a tragedy, saying: "We believe the law should protect the unborn and the born."


GRIFFIN: And, Wolf, none of the people we talked to consider the alleged killer here, Scott Roeder, to be a leader in the anti-abortion movement or even that he was affiliated with any group. In fact, he was more associated with an anti-tax group, The Freemen, from back in the '90s -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Drew Griffin with our Special Investigations Unit, reporting for us.

Thank you, Drew.

Let's go back to Jack.

He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Is American capitalism dead?

Pravda, the online version of the Soviet news agency, claims that this country is marching toward Marxism.

Lou writes: "Wal-Mart is an American company that's kicking butt right now and so is McDonald's, another USA kid. While other companies are struggling, demand for lower cost goods rises and these companies thrive. At different times in our history, different companies rise and fall, depending on the needs and greeds of the times. And that is called capitalism."

Patrick writes: "Hysteria, hyperbole -- the fearful twins of a population unsure of our economic future. I'll wait patiently and listen to calmer minds than Pravda, thank you very much."

Thomas writes: "Yes, Jack, capitalism is dying quickly. To paraphrase Khrushchev, our grandchildren will indeed live under socialism. We have tiptoed our way through diminishing standards of learning, of behavior, of speech. And now it's time to pay the piper."

Sam in Chicago says: "It's a silly claim. American capitalism is alive and well. Barack Obama's monetary and fiscal policy only ensuring that capitalism's heart is still beating strong. Printing money is nothing new and is simply a tool to help expedite the recovery. As long as there's competition and people still strive for the American dream, American capitalism is very much alive."

Ray writes from Danville, Virginia: "With his royal highness in charge, a willing Congress and a mute news media, who's going to stop the march to Marxism? The people have been properly indoctrinated by our liberal public schools and colleges of higher learning, so "The Times" seems to be right. I fear what the results will be, but the people have found their messiah and are now willing to follow his voice into the wilderness."

And, finally, Dale writes: "No, Jack. It's in the shop being repaired. The former driver pushed it too hard for too long without changing the oil or getting the proper tune-ups."

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

BLITZER: Jack, stand by.

I want you to see this next report that's coming up.

An actor known for putting people in awkward positions to make a political point strikes again -- what Sacha Baron Cohen did to a famous rapper that has a lot of people talking.


BLITZER: The actor Sacha Baron Cohen has been known to make people feel a little uncomfortable in order to make a political point. This time, a famous rapper became a butt of a joke in a very public way.

CNN's Jeanne Moos shows us a "Moost Unusual" stunt.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bruno is no angel.





MOOS: And on a wing minus the prayer, he stole the show. Actually this was Sacha Baron Cohen's second costume of the night. His new character, a gay Austrian fashion journalist, arrived at the MTV Movie Awards...





MOOS: skin tight leopard. But he was mostly just skin by the time he dropped from the ceiling to present an award, landing on Eminem -- straddling the rapper formerly known for his homophobic lyrics.



BARON COHEN: Eminem, nice to meet you.

EMINEM: Are you serious?


MOOS: Much bleeping then ensued.





MOOS: Eminem eventually stormed out, leading to the burning question...


BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST: Was this all a stunt?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure if it was fake or not.

MOOS: Obviously, the stunt was preplanned.

But did Eminem have advance knowledge of Sacha Baron Cohen's crotch attack?

TMZ ran a poll on Eminem's reaction. You know you're in trouble when Paris Hilton is an authority on the subject.


PARIS HILTON, ACTRESS: I don't think he knew, because I talked to someone who was running the show before and he said a big surprise was going to happen and the person didn't know it was going to happen.


MOOS: Bruno came across as a cross between Tinker Bell and Howard Stern.

When Stern arrived on stage at the 1992 MTV Music Video Awards, getting cheeky with Luke Perry.


MOOS: Eminem was trying not to touch it.

(on camera): We tried to get Eminem to comment, but his lips were sealed. Your lips would be sealed, too, if they had a close call with Bruno's behind.

(voice-over): For his new movie, Bruno literally crashed a real fashion show in a Velcro outfit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Help me out of this.


MOOS: He offended Congressman Ron Paul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE CURTIS SLIWA SHOW," COURTESY WABC-AM) REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: I was expecting an interview on Austrian economics.


MOOS: Instead, Bruno put the moves on him.


PAUL: By the time he started pulling his pants down, I -- what in thunder is going on here?

I ran out of the room. This interview has ended.


MOOS: That ended up in the movie trailer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has ended.


MOOS: For some, the MTV stunt was a trashy, vulgar bore. While for others...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. This is better than a sex tape.

MOOS: Our culture has hit bottom all right -- Bruno's bottom.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't touch me, guys. Not until I become a (INAUDIBLE).

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Sacha Baron Cohen -- we'll get ready for the movie.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.