Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Sandra Day O'Connor; Tracking Your Stimulus Dollars; Bloopers, Zingers and Screw-Ups

Aired January 28, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: A major Pentagon announcement is in the works, after the president of the United States pledges to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military. Some service members take a big risk to give us their reaction. Stand by for that.

A half-a-billion-dollar plan to lure Taliban militants back into a law-abiding society. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, speaking exclusively with CNN today on why that kind of scheme just might work.

And the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is worried right now about her former colleagues' easing of limits on campaign financing. I have an exclusive interview with her. That's coming up.

I am Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome you our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Momentum has been quietly building for months now. It appears the days may be numbered for the controversial 17-year-old ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military. Listen to what the president said last night in his State of the Union address.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.



BLITZER: And today, this statement from the U.S. Army chief of staff, General George Casey.


GENERAL GEORGE CASEY, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: President Obama has been very clear with Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen that he is committed to changing the law. And he's also been very clear that he's committed to doing it in a way that has the least impact on a force that has been, as you say, at war for eight-and-a-half years.

And I think what you heard last night was the beginning of a process. And I will participate in that process and I will provide my military advice to the secretary of defense and to the president. And you will be the second to know.


BLITZER: All right.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, a couple of hours ago, you broke the news that the defense secretary, Robert Gates, he is about to make a decision, right?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is about to announce the next steps, the process, as you just heard General Casey talk about.

On Tuesday, Wolf, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and they will spend one hour talking about the next steps in don't ask, don't tell repeal, the implementation plan, the way ahead, what needs to be done here at the Pentagon to get ready for this legislative action, not the legislative package itself. Let's be clear about that.

That is up to Congress. They are going to talk about what the next steps are to expect here at the Pentagon. And I have to tell you, Wolf, the next step is the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Casey, the head of the Army, and his fellow chiefs of the military services.

Getting them on board, getting their support for this is going to be absolutely critical. All of these men have privately expressed their concerns about nation at war, time of stress for the troops, is this the right time to do it? There is a lot of concern about it.

General James Conway, the head of Marine Corps, perhaps the most vocal. Let's share with you what he has said. Back in November, he said, "Our Marines are currently engaged in two fights and our focus should not be drawn away from those priorities."

So, even though Secretary Gates is going to talk about it, he still might need to get the chiefs on board, Wolf.

BLITZER: I noticed when the president made that statement in the speech last night, the members of the Joint Chiefs, as they should, they didn't applaud, they didn't react. They are military officials. But the defense secretary, Robert Gates, you could see him assertively applauding the president's remarks.

STARR: Oh, absolutely, Wolf.

If you look and recall that piece of video, it was very clear. The chiefs sat there, didn't rise, didn't clap, pretty stone-faced. The secretary right out of his chair clapping, supporting this. It is a very politically sensitive issue, so the chiefs don't really react to these political matters.

But, on Capitol Hill, while there are many that support it, there are still very substantial numbers of both Democrats and Republicans who are opposed to lifting this ban at this time, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, stand by. I'm going to back to you, I but want to bring in CNN's Ted Rowlands right now.

He is getting reaction to all of this from some gay service members, men and women -- Ted.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we talked to three active members of the U.S. military, all of them gay, all possibly risking their careers by talking to us. That is why we are not showing their faces. We also altered their voices. You will hear that in a minute, an Army sergeant with 10 years of service, been to Iraq on tour, a female Army M.P. captain who has been in for five years and has also to Iraq, and a Navy sailor who joined about a year-and-a-half ago.

They argue that despite all that is going on in the world, including two wars, that now is the time to change don't ask, don't tell. And listen to what they say about being gay in the military. They say that they are basically living a lie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am terrified that somebody in my chain of command is going to find out. There is always that pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree. It is a near constant thing, because you are almost always putting up some sort of a front. That band of brothers that everybody talks about, I'm kind of that brother with the secret, and, yet, it does wear on you.

ROWLANDS: Why do this interview?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Loving an institution doesn't mean you can't tell it when it's broken. We're just giving voice, hey, you know, something is screwed up here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I truly think it is best thing for the military, all the services, and the best thing for this country for this law to be repealed.

ROWLANDS: Why now? Why do we need to deal with this now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a problem now. I think that our deployed soldiers deserve to have their full rights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgendered are in the military now. People know about it. And the people who are against it, who don't want to take a shower with us, that stuff already happens. It is not going to change.

ROWLANDS: Do you find that people through the process of elimination figure you are gay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have been aware of people who knew that I was gay. I never really felt like I was threatened. I never felt like I had to keep watching over my shoulder for the witch-hunters to come after me with their torches and pitchforks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would everybody in my group where I work, they all know that I am gay. If I can be open with them, I would be able to trust them more and they would know that they could trust me, because I trusted them with something so important.

ROWLANDS: Would you all come out right away if don't ask, don't tell was lifted?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would not go out to everybody saying, hey, I'm gay. But the people that were important to me, if they are important to me, they will know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to hang a rainbow flag in my office, but I'm definitely having a coming-out party.

ROWLANDS: All three say they are pleased and surprised that the president mentioned repealing don't ask, don't tell in his State of the Union address. They're hoping it actually leads to a change so they can stop, as they call it, living a lie -- Wolf.


BLITZER: We will stay on top of this. Ted, thanks very much for that report.

Ted Rowlands getting reaction from some gay members of the U.S. military.

We have a lot more coming up, including my exclusive interview with the former justice of the United States Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor. She has lots to say on last week's Supreme Court decision lifting some restrictions on campaign fund-raising.


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


No more Americans on the moon, at least not now. "The Orlando Sentinel" is reporting that when President Obama releases his budget proposal on money, there will be no money for the Constellation program, which was supposed to return humans to the moon by 2020.

Also on the chopping block in that budget will be plans to develop a new rocket to replace the space shuttle and a new heavy-lift cargo rocket meant to one day launch supplies and fuel meant that will be needed to extend human life beyond Earth's orbit. In place of the planned moon landing program, the administration is touting instead what it calls a very significant program and insists that canceling the moon plans does not mean that the president is abandoning exploration and human space flight.

Officials point to a new $6 billion project to develop commercial rockets that could take astronauts into orbit. They're calling on American companies to get involved and help develop private space taxis. And they say this is all part of a larger plan to increase NASA's budget by about $1.3 billion a year over the next five years in order to increase research and development and extend the life of the International Space Center, among other things, but no mention of developing a heavy-lift rocket capable of taking humans beyond the space station, and no talk of putting men back on the moon by 2020.

Here is the question: Should NASA's plans to return to the moon be scrapped for budgetary reasons? Go to Post a comment on blog. We will read some of the e-mails in about 40 minutes or so.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

It was a seemingly random roadside killing on the outskirts of Kabul, a local Afghan religious leader shot dead by passing NATO troops who apparently saw his vehicle as a threat. The allied command is now apologizing, but this is one more civilian death that may only boost the Taliban insurgency.

CNN's Dan Rivers reports from Kabul.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bullet-riddled car belonging to an Afghan cleric shot and killed by NATO-led forces as a convoy passed his house.

Witnesses say Mullah Mohammad Yunus was parked at the side of the highway waiting for the convoy to pass, his two sons sitting in the back, when the shots rang out.

"Was he a criminal?" this man says. "No, he was innocent. Today, they killed him. Tomorrow, they will someone else. Every day, we see they're killing people, but this will have big repercussions on them."

This man says: "He was our cleric. He was a good scholar. He was knowledgeable. He taught our kids. He was a good man."

(on camera): The people here are mystified and angry that the American troops that they say shot Mohammad Yunus did not stop. And now several hours after the incident, there are no signs of any international troops investigating the shooting.

(voice-over): NATO issued a statement confirming that a civilian was killed by NATO forces, saying the vehicle appeared threatening, adding, "We deeply regret the tragic loss of life that occurred this morning and extend our most sincere sympathies to the family."

The shooting happened here, just a few hundred meters from a NATO base. Locals say no NATO or Afghan police took witness statements in the hours after the incident. The chief of the Afghan police confirmed his officers won't lead any investigation, which will be handled instead by the military.

NATO says appropriate action will be taken to ensure that personnel complied with its policies designed to protect the civilian population. When I asked how many of the locals would consider joining the insurgency as a result of the shooting, just watch their reaction.

A recent U.N. report found that the number of civilian deaths caused by NATO and Afghan forces actually fell 28 percent last year, with many more being killed by the Taliban. But the issue remains highly charged in Afghanistan. The death of a religious cleric at the hands of NATO forces is even more acutely sensitive, and will likely be seized on by the Taliban as evidence their insurgency is justified.

Dan Rivers, CNN, Kabul.


BLITZER: International donors today passed the hat to fund a plan to turn Taliban fighters into law-abiding citizens. A $500 million pay-for-peace program would create jobs and housing for reformed militants.

After today's conference in London, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, spoke exclusively with CNN's Jill Dougherty.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I want to start with this idea of reintegration and reconciliation in Afghanistan. President Karzai today, in fact, said that he believes that the insurgents will definitely be invited to the peace talks. What do you think about that idea?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, in general, Jill, you don't make peace with your friends; you make peace with your enemies. There are very clear conditions: You must renounce violence, you must lay down your arms, you must renounce al Qaeda, and you must be willing to live by the laws and the constitution of Afghanistan.

So I think that this is the way peace usually gets made. You send out feelers. You see who's willing to lay down their arms and abide by the conditions. You see how far up that will go. I do not expect Mullah Omar and those people to be at all interested in this. In fact, they have made it very clear that they're not. But I think there are many members of the Taliban who will see this chance to reenter society under these very stringent conditions to be attractive enough to test.


BLITZER: Let's talk about this with our national security contributor Fran Townsend. She was homeland security adviser to President Bush.

What do you read into this emerging strategy?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, I think it's right. In a classic counterinsurgency, you want to peel off sort of the foot soldiers who may be in it because they have been intimidated. It may be the only way they can protect their families. You want to pull them away from the leaders.

The one condition that Secretary Clinton did not mention that absolutely needs to be in there, quite frankly Wolf, if Mullah Omar was interested, we should be clear we are not interested in cutting a deal with him.

Those Taliban leaders who have committed crimes against U.S. troops, against the Afghani people, there should not be a possibility as to...


BLITZER: They did this strategy in Iraq with the Al Anbar province, the Sunni Muslims. They basically paid them off to try to get them away from al Qaeda in Iraq.

TOWNSEND: Well, that is right, Wolf. And that is why I say we have seen this work before. You do want to pull the lower-level and mid-level people away. You want to offer them an alternative, an alternative way to earn a living. And that is one of the reasons you offer to fund them if they will meet certain conditions, like renouncing violence, renouncing al Qaeda.

BLITZER: The report, the Dan Rivers report, you saw that disturbing incident. A cleric is killed. And you saw those hands go up, those Afghanis saying they want to join the insurgency against the U.S. They were so angry because of this killing.

TOWNSEND: It's a tragic situation, Wolf. And we expect those things, those tragedies will occur in a war zone.

And so there is no doing away with that 100 percent. General McChrystal, as John (sic) Rivers reported, has reduced those incidents 28 percent. I know, personally, that it is a goal of his to reduce them even further.

But let's be honest. How you handle one of these tragedies in the immediate aftermath is as important as reducing the number of these incidents. So, transparency matters in Kabul, just like it matters in Washington and the United States. And what you want to see is the people on the base going, talking to witnesses, making reparations to the family, to the community. How you handle these tragedies is just as important.

BLITZER: All right, Fran, thanks very much -- Fran Townsend, our national security contributor.

We are just getting in a statement from Senator Mary Landrieu on that alleged plot to tamper with her phones in her office in New Orleans. Stand by. We will share that with you when we come back.


BLITZER: Getting a statement in from Senator Mary Landrieu on that incident in her office in New Orleans.

Let's go back the Lisa Sylvester. She is watching this story for us. What is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you may recall four men were recently charged with tampering with the phones in Senator Mary Landrieu's Louisiana offices.

Their lawyers claim the alleged crime was simply to embarrass the senator's staffers, but we have just received a statement from Landrieu's office.

And it reads: "Senator Landrieu believes this feeble explanation is a clear and calculated effort to divert attention away from the fact that his client stands accused of a federal crime that could land him in prison for up to 10 year years. The fact remains that they perpetrated a false identity scheme on building security by posing as telephone workers and attempted to manipulate the phones in her office. The only people these four individuals have embarrassed are themselves and their families" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You're going to have a lot more on this story coming up at the top of the hour. We will check back with you then. Lisa, thanks very much for that update.

Coming up, my exclusive interview with the former Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Sandra Day O'Connor. She is outspoken on several critical issues.


BLITZER: There was an awkward moment during the State of the Union address, when President Obama criticized the Supreme Court for lifting campaign spending limits, saying that would let special interests influence elections.

Justice Samuel Alito reacted by shaking his head and appeared to say, "Not true, not true."

Ahead of the president's speech, I spoke with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor at Georgetown University Law School. Here is my exclusive interview.


BLITZER: Justice O'Connor, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: There was this major decision the Supreme Court made the other day, as you well know, easing a lot of these restrictions on campaign finance. When you were on the bench, you said Congress could have a role in opposing restrictions on campaign fund-raising and campaign finance. What do you think of that decision the other day?

O'CONNOR: Well, I haven't even finished reading this 170-some- odd pages.

I'm in the process of it now. It did overrule in effect a decision which I did help write in 2003 dealing with the McCain/Feingold act. We upheld it in that 2003 decision. And a majority of the present court overruled a portion of that case.

BLITZER: It was 5-4, the decision.


BLITZER: If you had been on the court, I assume you would have been with the four.

O'CONNOR: Well, let's let that be. I will refer you back to my opinion in that case. And it differed from the holding of the present majority.

BLITZER: Because the majority now in the 5-4 decision said it was an element of free speech. But do you buy that?

O'CONNOR: Well, certainly, it is an element of free speech, but the question is whether it can be regulated when it's corporations involved.

BLITZER: Or labor unions.


O'CONNOR: Or a labor union.

It was not individual speech. It was not you and me. It was restrictions on corporate and union activity.

BLITZER: I know this is an issue. Now it's going to open up floodgates for campaign contributions by the corporations, the labor unions, other special interests.

O'CONNOR: Well, I hope that it won't. It could. It has that potential

BLITZER: Are you worried about that?

O'CONNOR: Well, of course I am worried about it, because so much money has been going into judicial campaign races in recent years.

I think the first state where we really had a million-dollar judicial race was in Texas. And that was back, I don't know, as long ago as the year 2000.

And in the intervening time, we have seen a huge escalation in the cost of some campaigns. There was a 9$ million campaign in Illinois.

BLITZER: And your concern is that, with all this political money going into races, especially judicial races in the states, it could have a what?

O'CONNOR: Well, it has the effect of turning judges into these politically-elected figures in arms races, if you will, by people with the means to support them.

And what the framers of the Constitution tried to achieve when they wrote that Constitution back in the 1700s was an independent federal judiciary. They wanted federal judges to be appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate, and to serve for good behavior.

BLITZER: But the states had a different regulation.

O'CONNOR: No, all the states started out the same way, all of them, appointment by the governor, some kind of legislative approval. It was not until Andrew Jackson's presidency that things changed.

And he was quite a populist. And the concern then in Andrew Jackson's time was that the big interests, the special interests were having too much influence in the selection of federal judges.

BLITZER: How do you assess the Obama administration in its first year in office as far as judicial issues are concerned, Sonia Sotomayor, for example, becoming the third woman on the Supreme Court?

O'CONNOR: I was pleased to see another woman selected. We don't have many. That brought it back up to two. That is the most we have ever had at the Supreme Court. Our nearest neighbor, Canada, has at least four of the nine in the Canadian Supreme Court are women. And their chief justice is a woman. So, we can do better.

BLITZER: You would like that?

O'CONNOR: I would like that.

BLITZER: To see more women, a more balanced court?

O'CONNOR: I would, yes. Well, half of the law school graduates today in this country are women. We have choices.

BLITZER: So, there are -- should be opportunities?

O'CONNOR: Indeed.

BLITZER: Not only on the Supreme Court, but the other federal courts as well.

O'CONNOR: Across the board, yes. BLITZER: Let's look back a little bit on some history.

Bush v. Gore, you remember that case in the Supreme Court.

O'CONNOR: Oh, I remember that.

BLITZER: Looking back -- we have some time to look back, what, nine years now -- was that the right decision?

O'CONNOR: I don't know. It was a hard decision to make.

But I do know this. There were at least three separate recounts of the votes, the ballots, in the four counties where it was challenged. In not one of the recounts would the decision have changed. So I don't worry about it.

BLITZER: So you've no regrets as far as the decision is concerned.

O'CONNOR: No, it wouldn't have changed anything.

BLITZER: So the right man was elected president?

O'CONNOR: Well, the man who got the most votes.

BLITZER: That's the...

O'CONNOR: That's what it comes down to attend the end of the day.

BLITZER: I guess what some people have been concerned about on the current Supreme Court, this 4-4 split with Justice Kennedy being the swing voter. How healthy is that to have a divided court on some of these most...

O'CONNOR: Oh goodness...

BLITZER: ... sensitive issues.

O'CONNOR: When I was nominated and went on the court in 1981, when I arrived, a large number of the cases were coming around 4-4. Indeed, the very first time that I sat in the justice's conference room to talk about the merits of cases argued that week, and for each justice to say how it should be decided -- I was the junior justice so I was the last to speak, and the very first case came to me, 4-4. So it's not a new problem.

BLITZER: I can't tell you how many people said this to me over the past few days as I mentioned I was going to sit down with you. A variation of this. I wish she were still on the Supreme Court.

O'CONNOR: Oh, well, that's very nice, but my time was up, and I had 25 years, and it was a wonderful experience. The court is a great institution.

BLITZER: Do you lament the decision? O'CONNOR: No, of course not. My husband had Alzheimer's, and he had reached the point where he had to go into some kind of nursing care situation. We had two of our three children and their families in Arizona. It seemed to me that's where he should be. And I couldn't do that from Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: You're approaching 80 now.

O'CONNOR: I am, sorry to say.

BLITZER: What keeps you going? Tell us what...

O'CONNOR: My concern...

BLITZER: What you want to do right now.

O'CONNOR: Two things. My concerns through the years increased about the concerns of an independent judiciary and how we maintain it. Certainly in the states. I'm a product of state government in my own state of Arizona.

And it seemed to me that the popular election of judges was creating major problems in many states, and we had improved the system in Arizona. And I thought the nation ought to at least rethink how we select our nation's trial judges in the states.

The other thing that concerned me greatly was the elimination of teaching of history and civics to young people in our public schools. Now when I went to school, we had heavy doses of history and civics. That was a requirement.

Today, half of the states or more have stopped making civics a requirement for high school. And the whole idea of a public education was to train young people about how our system of government works, so they could be good citizens and be part of it.

We're not doing that today. And so I desperately wanted to restore some system of teaching young people about our system of government, and I have succeeded in developing a Web site that is addressed to middle school students and to do just that.

It's free. It's teacher-friendly. And it works by letting the students in part play games and learn about the system. And it's wonderful.

BLITZER: All right. So let's look ahead, you know, the next several years, you're going to be out there traveling, writing, speaking, doing what you're doing now.

O'CONNOR: Some of what I'm doing now, yes. I hope maybe a little less, but we'll see.

BLITZER: I hope not a little bit less because the country needs some good strong advice from you.

O'CONNOR: Well, I hope that the states will start paying attention and if they will, then I'll stay busy going to talk to them.

BLITZER: I hope you do and I thank you for your service to the United States.

O'CONNOR: Thank you.

BLITZER: To all of us. And I wish you many, many happy years of fulfillment.

O'CONNOR: Thank you very much, Wolf.


BLITZER: My exclusive interview with the former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

We're watching lots of other news. We're going back to Haiti to see what's developing there on this day. Stand by. Our coverage continues after this.


BLITZER: Two men were hanged in Iran today. One semi-official Iranian news agency links the executions to protest after Iran presidential election in June. Another ties the hanging to a bombing the previous year.

A lawyer for one executed man says he was already jailed when the elections took place and was never charged with a bombing.

At least nine other people have reportedly been sentenced to death in Tehran.

In exclusive comments to CNN's Jill Dougherty, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this.


CLINTON: The sanctions will be tough, and clearly aimed at the Iranian economy. But that the international community does not have a choice. That this is unfortunately a situation in which the behavior of the Iranian government, not just in this instance, but what they're doing to protesters and demonstrators -- I mean, their society is under a lot of stress.

We think it's imperative to change the calculus of the leadership. The Iranian people are at a crossroads. They have the opportunity to demand more from their own leadership which has obviously from the outside appeared to have failed the Iranian people.

So the voices of protest, the voices of opposition, are going to continue to challenge this regime in Iran, but the outside world is not involved in that. This is an internal, societal matter for Iranians to decide.

What the outside world is concerned about is their nuclear program.


BLITZER: Secretary Clinton speaking exclusively with our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. We'll stay on top of this story for you.

Other news we're following. J.D. Salinger, the author of the iconic novel, "The Catcher in the Rye," has died at the age of 91. The story of rebellious teenager Holden Caulfield made Salinger a literary superstar, carried parallels to Salinger's own youth, but he quickly lost his taste for fame.

And back in 1952, '52, just a year after "Catcher in the Rye" was published, he fled New York for rural New Hampshire. There he married, had two children, spent the next half century basically in seclusion, aggressively avoiding any publicity.

In a statement, Salinger's son says he died of natural causes and adds this, and I'm quoting, "In keeping with his lifelong uncompromising desire to protect and defend his privacy, there will be no service."

J.D. Salinger, the author of "The Catcher in the Rye," dead at age 91. Like almost everyone else who went to high school, I read that book. We all read that book and we marveled reading that book.

J.D. Salinger, a great, great writer.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, we'll check in on what's going on with Toyota. There are new developments. If you own a Toyota or know someone who does, I think you're going to want to stick around at the top of the hour. We have new information.



OBAMA: This recession has also compounded the burdens that America's families have been dealing with for decades. The burden of working harder and longer for less, being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.

So I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They are not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for president. These struggles are what I have witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Indiana, Ginsburg, Illinois.

I hear about them in the letters that I read each night. The toughest to read are those written by children asking why they have to move from their home, asking when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.


BLITZER: President Obama highlighting the hardship in small town America in his State of the Union address. But what impact has this massive economic stimulus package had on those communities?

CNN's Kate Bolduan has been looking at this as part of our broader economic stimulus project tracking how billions of taxpayer dollars are actually being spent.

What did you find out?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting. Billions of dollars. We've been talking about that, Wolf. Well, the White House has told us, said you, me, everyone, over and over again, that you can track the stimulus all the way to your hometown, to your zip code, so we did just that.



BOLDUAN (on camera): How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am absolutely wonderful.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): I came back to my hometown, Goshen, Indiana, a city that has always maintained its small town feel when that also continues to feel the very real pain of stubbornly high unemployment.

MAYOR ALLAN KAUFFMAN, GOSHEN, INDIANA: It got as high as 18 percent or 19 percent and Goshen is working its way back down, so we're fortunate in that way, but for those 13 percent that are out of work, it's horrible.

BOLDUAN: So we went looking for signs the stimulus has arrived, tracking the money all the way from Washington to where I grew up.

Allan Kauffman has been mayor here for more than a decade.

(On camera): At the end of the day, people say stimulus is about jobs. It's about jump-starting the economy, but it's also about main streets just like Goshen.

From your perspective right now one year into the stimulus, is it working?

KAUFFMAN: For those people who are still out of work, stimulus hasn't worked for them. But I can see the effects that are coming and that are here now.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): One place we found stimulus, Goshen Middle School. $300,000 for a new high-tech reading program.

STEPHANIE STEELE, TEACHER, GOSHEN MIDDLE SCHOOL: The stimulus money bought the whole program, helps pay for the computers. They helped to pay for the MP3 players, they helped to buy the books.

BOLDUAN: Did the money create jobs? So far, only one, an IT specialist to manage the computer software, but Teacher Stephanie Steele says the impact reaches far beyond her classroom walls.

(On camera): If they hear this story and they say, where are the jobs? This isn't going directly to the economy, to shovel-ready, to putting people to work. Why is it worth it then?

STEELE: Because our students will be the people in the future who are running our country and if we can't give them the education and the tools to do so, where is the country going to go then?

BOLDUAN: Goshen is part of Elkhart County, a county that has been hit hard by the recession, hammered by manufacturing layoffs. Unemployment jumped from around 6 percent to an astonishing almost 20 percent in a year.

(Voice-over): That's one reason President Obama visited the area twice last year to pitch the stimulus.

OBAMA: Folks here in Elkhart and all across America need help right now. They can't afford to keep waiting for folks in Washington to get this done.

BOLDUAN: City officials estimate Elkhart has received more than $40 million in stimulus funds for projects like this one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Elkhart with the weather.

BOLDUAN: Just under $4 million to reconstruct the main runway at Elkhart municipal airport.

KENNETH JONES, CONSTRUCTION ENGINEER: It was asphalt before. Usually has a design life of about 10 to 15 years. It's now a concrete runway and it has a design life for around 30 year, so it was needed improvement here at the airport.

BOLDUAN: Airport officials say this job put 250 people to work for the month and a half long project.

Back in my hometown, some say these projects are proof the stimulus is making a difference, but others, including local barber Doug Shaffer say if the stimulus has made it here, he and his customers still can't find it.

DOUG SHAFFER, OWNER, DOUG'S SPORTS CUTS: I don't see it in my barbershop. If you were to give me $1,000 for telling you 10 things that it's done, I can't tell you. I can't list 10 things. I am sorry, but I can't.

BOLDUAN: Kate Bolduan, CNN, Goshen, Indiana.


BLITZER: Kate, it was a very good report you did going back to your hometown. How did that feel to go back to Goshen?

BOLDUAN: It was great to get back. I don't get back very often at all, but it was great to get back and also be able to cover this story and kind of dig deeper on what we're covering, tracking the stimulus all the way to your hometown. It hits home when you're talking about not someone else's main street, but your main street. So it was good to get back there and see that.

BLITZER: And as the president said, go back to your hometown and find out what's going on. You did exactly that. Kate Bolduan, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good work.

On the stimulus desk from morning until night every day this week, we're trying to sift through the raw data so you don't have to, then we're reporting on the stories you want to know about that. This is what CNN does as we check the facts.

If we find something interesting, good or bad, we're going to tell you about what we're doing, what our investigation is uncovering.

Let's check in with CNN's Tom Foreman right now. He's over at the stimulus desk.

You're doing some research on some projects in Nevada, Tom? What's going on?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, what you and Kate were talking about a minute ago is exactly what we're finding all over the country.

Let's fly into Nevada here. We're going to talk about a company there that received between $500,000 and $600,000 to do some work there. The name of this company, as I pulled it out over here, is Carpenter's Sellers Architects.

Now they were hired to do a variety of jobs here including retrofitting some fire stations -- not this one, but some like it -- with green energy solar panels, that sort of thing. That job they said went very, very well.

They also built a visitor center and built a fireman's barracks out near the Black Rock Desert up near Reno, the site of the famous Burning Man Festival, if you know anything about that.

And they say this really worked for them because this $500,000 to $600,000 saved five jobs -- people who they say they would have otherwise lost -- and they say it created two or three more. Their math is a little fuzzy on that.

But all in all, as we move past the stimulus desk here, I can tell you that this is the kind of work the White House really wants people to see, because they're saying, look at this. Five to seven or eight jobs overall either saved or created.

That's what we're finding in these books in some of these projects. That gets people very, very excited, because they say that's a real payoff here. And if you do the math on that, that comes out to about $80,000 per job, equipment, the supplies, everything for these people to do this.

That's what the government wants to see. So, our stimulus desk total so far, we roll it up, we've now checked out more than $8,206,000,000 worth of your tax money being spent on projects like this. And as we said all along, Wolf, you can look at these project that we've done out in Nevada. The one that Kate looked there in Indiana. Decide for yourself if that's the way you want your tax money spent. Wolf?

BLITZER: And we can always go to and get more information on what's going on. Our investigation will continue, Tom.

To our viewers, I just want to make sure all of you know we're not going to go away from Haiti. We've got a new report just coming in from Port-au-Prince. Stand by. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is: Should NASA's plans to return to the moon be scrapped for budgetary reasons?

Dick writes: "Humanity's future lies in space. Returning to the moon and establishing a permanent presence there is a must."

R.A. in Danville, California: "NASA has advanced science a bunch. Our quality of life is better because of our efforts to push into space. Returning to the moon and eventually going to Mars will benefit our country more than either of wars in the Middle East."

Ashley writes: "Jack, I think it should be cut. It's important but there are more important issues now. And budgeting means making tough decisions in favor of the highest priorities."

Randy in Japan says: "The next man on the moon will not be an American. Probably Chinese or Indian."

John in Virginia: "Yes, I think the funds can be better spent at home. The moon's been around for a very long time and will be around quite some time to come. Maybe in the future we'll have more efficient green ways to get there and continue our research. Going to the moon is a desirable, not a mandatory."

Pete writes: "Yep, I rather we use that money we give to NASA on meaningful things like health care and education. Instead of giving it to NASA to go and look for E.T. If we want to find E.T., just ask Dick Chene where he is. E.T. is his brother."

David in North Carolina says: "Not entirely. Develop a one-way shift that will accommodate Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and a few others in Congress. Then NASA can turn its attention to other things. And Bill writes: "Since the first lunar landings, there have bee a lot of conspiracies saying it was all done in the Arizona desert and they never did go to the moon. So why not go to Arizona and film it? Save all that money."

If you want to -- silly. If you want to read more, you can go to my blog, Or not.

BLITZER: It's a lot of money at stake, though.

CAFFERTY: In what? Space?

BLITZER: Yes. Whether you go to the moon, not go to the moon, that's billions and billions of dollars, right?

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. Big bucks.

BLITZER: Big bucks. All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

Jack is not going away. We'll take a quick break.

Toyota, what's going on? Do you own a Toyota? Do you know someone who does? We have information you need to know right now.


BLITZER: There are some sides of the State of the Union speech that you may not necessarily have seen last night.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over: If you're salivating for screw-ups, the State of the Union got off to a promising start. A deer-in-the-headlights moment when the official introducers at a loss and know when to start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're supposed to give us a tap.

MOOS: Tap of the gavel.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.

MOOS: You're off. Ah, to be a fly on the wall at the State of the Union, or an eagle on the ceiling.

(On camera): Of course, everyone's favorite State of the Union game is watching who claps when. All rise. Please be seated.

(Voice-over): Some suffered from PA. Premature applause.

OBAMA: ... get a government that matches their decency. That embodies their strength. MOOS: Enthusiastic clappers contrasted with stony faced Republicans. After a presidential dig at the opposition, someone yelled, oh, snap!

OBAMA: The problem is, that's what we did for eight years.

MOOS: And at one point, one of the most avid clappers, California Democrat, Barbara Lee, physically nudged a colleague, seemingly to get her not to clap.

OBAMA: Democrats and Republicans. You've turned some of the spending.

MOOS: Then there was the Joint Chiefs' "Don't ask, don't tell, don't applaud" moment.

OBAMA: To finally appeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.

MOOS: There was so much clapping for Michelle Obama. She gestured for everyone to sit.

OBAMA: She gets embarrassed.

MOOS: So did the FOX News correspondent Major Garrett who tried to tweet a link to State of the Union excepts and accidentally gave out a soft porn site. Sorry.

Jimmy Kimmel imagined how the president should have described the State of the Union.


MOOS: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito got the most attention for apparently mouthing, "not true" when the president dissed a Supreme Court decision.

OBAMA: Including foreign corporations. To spend without limit in our election.

MOOS: Not quite as exciting as the last time the president's voracity was challenged.

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie! You lie! You lie!

MOOS: Maybe Senator Harry Reid needed to lie down. But not Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano. Here she is putting the nap in Napolitano, mocked one right-wing Web site, but the AFP photographer who took the picture says, she wasn't asleep. Not unless she was sleep-clapping.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.



BLITZER: And happening now, millions of Toyota owners want to know when their cars will be safe again. The automakers recall troubles keep growing and growing. We're going to hear from consumers who are very worried right now and they're also angry. We have new information for you.

Plus, the president takes his State of the Union talking points on the road. This hour, the one subject he apparently doesn't want to talk a lot about.

And a U.S. congressman is accused of using...