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Christmas Day Terror Attack; Worried Democrats; Federal Payroll; Pilot Fatigue; Toyota's Mixed Message

Aired February 3, 2010 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, the uproar over the administration's handling of the failed Christmas bombing suspect. The attorney general, Eric Holder, sent a letter today to his Republican critics defending his decision to try Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in civilian court. Some GOP lawmakers are fuming that the administration leaked word yesterday that Abdulmutallab is cooperating with investigators.

Holder wrote, and I'm quoting, "I made the decision to charge Mr. Abdulmutallab with federal crimes, and to seek his detention in connection with those charges, with the knowledge of and with no objection from all other relevant departments of the government."

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry and our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. They're both working this story for us. Ed, first to you, what's behind the administration, the White House's sudden decision to have this push back, if you will?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it's sort of a flurry of activity. All of a sudden what I have seen from this vantage point is the fact that ever since the Christmas Day terror incident, the White House has been pretty tightlipped about the details of these interrogations, you know they had started on Christmas Day into Abdulmutallab, but you know they had stopped after they read the Miranda rights to him.

And there had been a lot of criticism and the White House had been holding back, not wanting to get into it, not wanting to compromise the investigation, et cetera. But I think they finally reached a point clearly in the last 24 hours or so where they felt just that the Republican criticism had reached a new point.

And as one top official here said he was just frustrated as hell that the Republicans kept saying that reading the Miranda rights had prevented the U.S. from getting actionable intelligence, when in fact what we now know from these senior officials is that in the last couple of weeks, the U.S. had gotten the secret cooperation of some of the suspect's relatives and he has now been talking extensively over the course of the last weeks. So they're trying to say look, there's been this outside criticism, but quietly and behind the scenes, their methods are working -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Gloria, Susan Collins, the Republican moderate from Maine, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, she is pushing right back at the White House.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well yes, I spoke with her today at some length, Wolf, and she said look, her problem with Eric Holder's statement is that informing the intelligence chiefs is very different from consulting with them about what to do. Essentially she is saying that they were presented with a fait accompli from the FBI about this was the way they were going to handle Abdulmutallab.

She says look, what's going to happen now is that we will never know whether the quality or the quantity of our intelligence would have been even better if we had acted differently. She says look, we might have come to this same conclusion to treat him the way Eric Holder is treating him, but it would have been a lot better to have the input from the intelligence chiefs and they told her at a January 20th hearing, she asked them directly were you consulted on how to treat this terrorist, and they all said no.

BLITZER: Quickly, Ed, what's the White House's response to Susan?

HENRY: Well you know I got an e-mail from a top White House aide a short time ago who is basically saying look, you can go back and forth on this again and again, but the bottom line is that when the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, was apprehended during the Bush administration, he was read his Miranda rights within a few moments of being apprehended.

And the bottom line is that this White House feels like a lot of the Republicans on the Hill sort of have a selective memory about all of that and are saying now well, now they disagree with what the Bush administration did, but they were not saying that back in 2001, 2002 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry and Gloria Borger, guys, thanks.

Some Toyota owners tell us they are deadly afraid of driving their recalled cars even as the company scrambled to try to fix the problem. They may be just as afraid, even more confused after hearing from America's transportation secretary earlier in the day. Listen to what Ray LaHood told members of Congress this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: My advice is if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it, take it to the Toyota dealer because they believe they have the fix for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. This afternoon LaHood said he misspoke when he urged the Toyota owners to stop driving those cars recalled because of gas pedal problems. Here is what he is saying now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LAHOOD: If you own one of these cars, take it to the dealer, if you're in doubt, take it to dealer and have them fix it. If it's one of the ones that needs to be fixed or at least have them look at it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Toyota issued a statement thanking Secretary LaHood for clarifying his remarks. The company says this: "Our message to Toyota owners is this. If you experience any issues with your accelerator pedal, please contact your dealer without delay. If you are not experiences any issues with your pedal, we are confident that your vehicle is safe to drive."

Ahead this hour I'll speak live with Congressman Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat suggests Toyota is saying very different things about its recall problems in private as opposed to in public -- that interview coming up.

Attention, Republicans in Congress, President Obama has a tough new message for you. After standing on what you might call hostile ground at a Republican retreat last Friday, today it was friendlier territory. The president turned a meeting with Senate Democrats into a bit of a pep rally, encouraging his party to be more aggressive and aggressively claiming Republicans are determined to just say no. Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, you were over there at the museum (ph) when all this unfolded.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And last week the White House opened up the president opened up Q&A with Republicans to show independents that he's willing to reach out and to show his face (ph). He's willing to take on the GOP.

What was fascinating about today is that Democrats used this as a chance for their own vulnerable senators to take on the president. Take a look at these six senators. Each of them is facing a re- election battle this year and each was carefully chosen by the Senate Democratic leader to ask a question. And none missed a chance to use the forum, live cameras rolling, to show frustrated voters back home they are listening and even willing to stand up to the president. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas was the most pointed and personal. She told the president about a frustrated constituent who doesn't he or his aides has the experience to understand their struggles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), ARKANSAS: He and his father have worked hard. They've built three -- three or four different small businesses. And he fears that there is no one in your administration that understands what it means to go to work on Monday and have to make a payroll on Friday and are we willing as Democrats not only to reach out to Republicans, but to push back in our own party for people who want extremes?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Blanche is exactly right. We've got be non ideological about our approach to these things. We've got to make sure that our party understands that like it or not, we have to have a financial system that is healthy and functioning so we can't be demonizing every bank out there. We've got to be the party of business, small business and large business because they produce jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Dana, it didn't take very long for Senator Lincoln to issue a press release. She's got a tough reelection campaign.

BASH: That's right. She issued a press release touting what you saw there, touting the fact that she challenged the president in public on those issues. And I was sitting behind Senator Ben Nelson as the first tough question came out and he said -- whispered under his breath so much for softballs because look, what this was it really did amount to campaign speeches.

Whether it was Evan Bayh challenging the president on deficits, whether it was Arlen Specter challenging him on unfair trade practices with China. Sitting there watching this it was pretty clear that everyone in the room knew that the optics of this was politically helpful at a time when voters think Washington is the problem, these endangered incumbents got to look and sound like they're challenging the system, not that they're part of it.

BLITZER: She may have the toughest race coming up, we'll see. Arkansas, a tough, tough race for Blanche Lincoln...

BASH: Very tough.

BLITZER: All right thanks very much for that.

BASH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We all know that when a pilot is tired the results can be deadly, so why is a carrier involved in a crash a year apparently pressuring some pilots to fly when they are fatigued? We have an exclusive report, information you need to know.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is responding to Iran's conditions to releasing three American hikers. We have new information.

And the British do it all the time. Now there is a push for President Obama to be grilled by members of Congress on a regular basis. Republicans and Democrats, CNN's Richard Quest considers the possibilities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The Republican starts the question and he starts to get a little bit antsy and a little bit angry. But the president comes straight back. He interrupts, he questions the questioner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the era of big government is over. That's what President Clinton told the nation in 1996 before cutting hundreds of thousands of federal government jobs. Well guess what, they're back and then some. According to President Obama's proposed budget, the number of federal government employees will grow to nearly 2.15 million this year.

That's the largest federal work force in modern history and it doesn't even include the postal workers or more than 7.6 million federal contract workers. Since the recession began 200,000 workers have been added to the federal government payrolls, have they ever heard of layoffs? During the same time the private sector was downsizing to the tune of about seven million lost jobs.

With a country looking at a $1.6 trillion deficit this year, that's a record, as well as more than $12 trillion of national debt, that's a record, it seems worth asking if this is the right time for more government employees. One expert says it's a matter of time now before the Republicans, the tea partiers, et cetera, go after the president on this issue. Perhaps it's time for a federal hiring freeze except for jobs that relate to national security, public safety, et cetera.

That way the work force would decline through attrition as older federal workers retire, but then that would require political courage. Here's the question: In light of record deficits, is now the time for one of the largest federal payrolls ever? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack thank you. Let's get to a CNN exclusive right now. Pilot fatigue, it's a long simmering issue that's heating up once again with the investigation into a commuter plane crash that killed 50 people outside Buffalo, New York, almost exactly a year ago.

Our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff is working this story for us, so let's turn to Allan. All right, Allan, what are you learning.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the Safety Board concluded that fatigue probably did hurt the performance of the pilots though it couldn't be blamed for their tragic mistakes that led to the crash. Now CNN has learned Colgan Air is getting tough with crew members who don't go to work because they're tired.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): FAA regulations require pilots to be fit for flight. A tired pilot is supposed to call in fatigued.

RANDY BABBITT, FAA ADMINISTRATOR: The pilot has ever right. He has a responsibility to remove himself from flight if he is fatigued. CHERNOFF: Yet Colgan Air, operator of doomed flight 3407 that crashed a year ago recently issued a memo to limit fatigue call-ins. Aviation safety experts say that amounts to pilot pushing, pressuring crews to fly whether or not they are fit. The internal Colgan memo states, crews may not call in fatigued if they are coming off a break of at least 12 hours. The Safety Department will ultimately determine whether a fatigued call is acceptable or not. The memo threatens blatant abuse of the fatigue option will be addressed as a disciplinary action.

JIM HALL, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN: In light of this tragedy, that is certainly disappointing action on behalf of Colgan Airlines and one that unfortunately is a very poor reflection, I believe, on their internal safety culture.

CHERNOFF: Colgan declined to appear on camera but told CNN it's been working with the pilots union on policy. We are not looking to punish people, said a Colgan spokesperson. The company is trying to encourage professional behavior but it's disturbing to the sister of crash victim Beverly Eckert.

KAREN ECKERT, SISTER OF CRASH VICTIM: There are these buzz words of blatant abuse, discipline, punitive action and I think those words are what kind of intimidate a pilot who truly is fatigued from calling in because they're going to be judged.

CHERNOFF: The National Transportation Safety Board blamed Captain Marvin Renslow and co-pilot Rebecca Shaw for the errors that caused flight 3407 to stall and crash. But the board's investigation also concluded Colgan Air did not proactively address the pilot fatigue hazards.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Colgan Captain Mark Segaloff, chairman of the Pilots Union Local tell CNN Colgan provided the union only three hours notice of its new policy and that the pilots oppose the quote "presumed guilty approach of the memo." Now Segaloff says Colgan and the Airline Pilots Association are working together to revise the fatigue policy. The goal he says is to make it non-punitive and make Colgan as safe an airline as possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What was one of the big complaints of the pilots about this entire fatigue policy, Allan?

CHERNOFF: Well, Wolf, it did actually say only after the pilots had an adequate break. But here's the thing. Say that a pilot has a young child, a baby crying through the night. He took no consideration of that and clearly that would be a case where a pilot would indeed be very fatigued.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff, thanks very much for that story. It's got a lot of ramifications for our viewers who fly.

Toyota's problems are not getting a sympathetic ear in Congress. Some lawmakers, key ones, they are leaning heavily on the carmaker right now. I will speak to one of them, Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan, he's leading an investigation panel.

And tough talking White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel went too far for Sarah Palin and some other disability advocates. What is he doing about it? We'll tell you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) Lisa Sylvester. There is a story that's developing. We're just getting information. What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Now this story is just in to us. Motivational speaker James Arthur Ray is now charged with manslaughter in connection with the deaths of three people in a sweat lodge ceremony he led last year. Officials say -- in Arizona say that Ray was arrested this afternoon. His bond is set at $5 million. Now Ray allegedly encouraged the victims and others to stay inside the heated lodge even after some of them became ill.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is rejecting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's offer to swap the three detained American hikers in Iran for Iranian citizens imprisoned in the United States. Clinton says the hikers should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds and calls the allegations against the hikers unjust. President Ahmadinejad suggested the swap in an interview yesterday.

And outrageous -- that's how Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is describing AIG's plan to grant its employees almost $100 million in new bonuses. Geithner told the House Ways and Means Committee today that the bonuses which were negotiated years ago could be recovered through a bank fee included in President Obama's proposed budget. The secretary is asking Congress to support that measure.

And President Obama's Aunt Zeituni Onyango is preparing to make her second bid for political asylum. The Kenyan native will go before an immigration judge in Boston tomorrow after defying a deportation order in 2004. And she is expected to argue that ties to the president could make her a political target if she returns to Kenya. Her status was revealed shortly before President Obama was elected in 2008 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, we'll check back with you Lisa for more.

American missionaries in trouble in Haiti for trying to take children out of the country; we're going to find out what UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund thinks about that. Lisa is working the story.

And President Obama scoring points by answering questions from lawmakers, but could he handle what the British Prime Minister has to put up with every week? Richard Quest shows you what a real question time is all about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to one of our top stories right now -- Toyota. Members of Congress are taking a very hard look at Toyota's massive recall and deep concerns that the carmaker isn't telling the public everything about the problem. One of those members of Congress is Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan -- Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: Good evening, Wolf.

BLITZER: You and Henry Waxman, the chairman of your committee, wrote a powerful letter that was released saying Toyota is misleading the American public. Tell our viewers why you have come to that conclusion.

STUPAK: Well Wolf, our committee has been working on this, the Oversight Investigation Subcommittee for a few weeks here and when we interviewed Toyota personnel on January 27th, they said look this is a very, very difficult issue to pinpoint exactly what the cause of this accelerator sticking -- it's very, very difficult to pinpoint what is going on.

But yet Mr. Lentz was on TV yesterday saying, oh no, we've got it narrowed down, we've got it fixed. So we're saying, why the discrepancy. Mr. Lentz says the problem was first made known to Toyota in October of 2009, yet Toyota officials told us no, it was much earlier in 2000 -- about April or May.

Plus, we also know there were some problems in the Lexus in 2004. So why would you say you just found about it in October? And then when pushed a little bit more on this defect, we say well, could it be in the electronics and Mr. Lentz says no absolutely not. We have our own engineers and we have other engineers and independent agencies who will verify it's not in the electronics, but yet they couldn't produce any documents.

So where are the documents? If you have got these independent analysis let's see it so we make sure because what they are telling us on the Oversight Investigation Subcommittee is complete different than what Mr. Lentz is saying.

BLITZER: And you're talking about James Lentz. He's the president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

STUPAK: Correct.

BLITZER: He was not in that meeting back on January 27th with members of your staff.

STUPAK: Correct.

BLITZER: Who represented Toyota there?

STUPAK: Off the top of my head -- I'd have to get back with you on that...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But were these senior officials from Toyota... STUPAK: Yes.

BLITZER: ... or were they just public affairs representatives or were they people supposedly in the know?

STUPAK: Both. People in the know and they're public affairs and some of their legal people were there.

BLITZER: And you believe they were adequately responsible for what -- as part of this investigation inside Toyota?

STUPAK: Well when investigators ask you questions, you should expect good, concrete, honest answers. Our concern is you go from we can't pinpoint the problem to oh look, it's all fixed, don't worry about anything. I mean, if you want to reassure the American people that your cars are safe, then be consistent in your statements to our committee and to the American people.

BLITZER: So are you suggesting it may be the floor mats? It may be the gas pedal? But there could be a whole other issue involved and that's been the suggested -- there's some -- electronics issue involved. Is that what you're saying?

STUPAK: That is what I'm saying. There is a floor mat issue, which they've done a recall on. They're making changes in the pedal. That's a given. The stuck accelerator, they're saying, oh, if we just put the shim in there, that'll be it, but other people are saying, wait a minute. This very well because, yes, the accelerator just doesn't stick as they like to claim. It actually increases your speed. It continues to accelerate and in come cases unfortunately people have lost control of their vehicles and died.

So it's not just simply oh it's stuck at this position. It continues to accelerate the car. As the one guy was clocked at 120 miles an hour before they crashed and him and his family died in that crash, 120 miles an hour, that's not just simply -- you don't drive that speed. It wasn't like it was stuck at 60 and stayed there. It continued to accelerate.

BLITZER: I know you are going to continue your investigation with Henry Waxman and others. And we'll stay in close touch with you. Thanks very much, Congressman for coming in.

STUPAK: Thank you.

BLITZER: Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan.

We've got a lot of news happening on Haiti right now. The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton she's now speaking out about those 10 American missionaries being held in a Haitian jail. What is going on with those 33 Haitian kids that they were trying to take outside of the country? We're getting new information. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: In Haiti right now, protests in a Port-au-Prince suburb. Hundreds of people accuse local officials from profit from donated food. They say they are charged the equivalent of 7 U.S. dollars for a coupon needed to get a bag of United Nations rice. Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton is taking on a greater role in Haiti. The U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has asked to lead him coordination of international aide, emergency response and rebuilding. The former president already is the U.N. special envoy to Haiti.

We are seeing a generation of kids alone, in need, and in some cases, abandoned. Joe Johns is in Port-au-Prince.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One little boy we talked to said he lost his dad, but his mom is still alive. Another lost a cousin. Figuring out what happened in these kids' lives can be tricky. A flatbed truck cruising the back streets and tent cities carrying dozens of kids back from a day on the soccer field. Most people here don't know it is organized by one of the many groups here on a difficult mission to identify and help children orphaned by the quake. The day camp is more than just play time, it is a safe place for the children outside of what is a really harsh environment right now, but it also gives the group a chance to figure out which of these kids are the so-called new orphans, the ones who don't have any parents, don't have any family as a result of the quake, but it is tough to figure that out. There is something like 85 kids right now, and almost a toss-up as to who is who. Dr. Father Frechette is a priest from Connecticut who spent 22 years here rescuing children from Haiti and he says to separate the street orphans who have figured out how to survive in Port-au-Prince from the kids who have just lost their parents in the earthquake.

REV. RICK FRECHETTE, CATHOLIC PRIEST: The kids who are used to the street, you know, they have scars, and the way they stand and you know them immediately and the kids trembling and scared to death and can hardly speak, you know that they are new to the street.

JOHNS: The second problem is that not all orphans are orphan, because parents abandon them hoping they will have a better life. Alfonso Leone was once an orphan, but now he goes out to search for the kids left without family by the quake, but they don't take all of the kids offered to them.

ALFONSO LEONE, NUESTROS PEQUENOS HERMANCS: They would hope they would take the children, and actually they do that almost any time, but we don't work that way, even like the mother with a child would beg us to take the children, but we can't do that, because we don't operate that way. We help them, and in that case, who would help the mother and the kids to have a meal and do something and if we could help in the community, maybe we would do that, but I would not take the children from her.

JOHNS: There is another challenge here, too, because some of them distrust anyone who is looking to help orphans and weary of the motives so that the groups have to work to gain trust which is not easy. Just last week Alfonso and the team brought in these two little brothers who left the house before the quake and now can't find their mother. The goal is to determine if the boys have any other family they can stay with. It is a huge challenge and a slow process, and the orphanage connected to Father Frechette now Alfonso Leone is expected to expand. But Haiti will almost certainly not be able to handle the number of orphans likely to come into the system.

Joe Johns, CNN, Port-au-Prince.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ten American missionaries are facing child trafficking charges in Haiti right now for trying to take 33 children to the Dominican Republic. CNN has spoken to the parents of some of those children who said they turned them over willingly trying to give them a better life. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today speaking out about the case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: So we know how to do this in the right way. And it was unfortunate that whatever the motivation, that this group of Americans took matters into their own hands. As you know, they have been charged with breaking the laws of Haiti. And we are engaged in discussions with the Haitian government about the appropriate disposition of their cases.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in Lisa Sylvester. She's been digging into this story for us. Lisa, it's causing a lot of concern out there. First of all, UNICEF, the United Nations organization that deals with kids, who what do they think about these 10 mercenaries trying to take the 33 kids out of Haiti to neighboring Dominican Republic?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I asked them that question and they did not want to comment specifically about the Haiti case because they said it's an issue for the Haitian authorities. What they did say is they are very concerned about people coming into the country and taking children out of the country without any documentation.

BLITZER: Even when paints say we are so poor, we can't afford to give a good life to these kids. Take the kids, take them to some missionary, educate them and give them a better life. What do they say about that?

SYLVESTER: I asked, is poverty is justification a reason for a parent to give their child up for adoption. And they said, we can sympathize. The anguish they feel. But UNICEF's position is that if the parent needs resources, what should happen, they should help the parent get the resources. If the parent can't feed a child, they should help that parent receive food. They put on a position on inter-country adoption that we can put up as a graphic. They said, "UNICEF believes that families needing support to care for children should receive it. And alternative means of caring for a child should only be considered when despite the assistance, the child's family is unavailable, unable or unwilling to care for him or her." So adoption should be a lost resort.

BLITZER: Can parents on the spot as was the case involving these 33 orphans, did they decide take the kids, we're giving up the rights to the kids?

SYLVESTER: In short, no, there is a legal procession. There is a convention protocol on inter-country adoptions. And Haiti did not sign the convention but they have a process and standards they follow. You got to make sure the child is adoptable. You have to have it legal, in writing. There can be no money exchanged. And depending on the age, they ask the child to weigh in on what he or she thinks.

BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester, a complicated story but an important story. Thanks very much for getting that information.

President Obama is getting credit for a "q" and "a" session with members of Congress. Could he be doing what Britain's prime minister does all the time? Richard Quest will take a closer look at that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Lisa monitoring the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there Wolf. A U.S. trained Pakistani scientist faces decades in prison after she was convicted of trying to kill Americans in Afghanistan. Today a federal jury in New York found her guilty of attempted murder and armed assault. Officials say she opened fire on U.S. officers while detained in 2008. She is scheduled to be sentenced in May.

Two people are dead and at least eight injured after a car hit a Nevada casino. The 70 year old driver told police he fainted before careening into a bank of slot machines at the Edgewater Hotel and Casino. Police are conducting an investigation.

Congress is condemning China in the wake of recent reports of cyber attacks against Goggle there. The Senate approved a resolution last night demanding an explanation for attacks and free speech on the internet. Google is considering pulling out of China. The Chinese government denies any involvement in the attack.

And James Cameron's blockbuster film "Avatar" is breaking news records. The box office mega hit has surpassed Cameron's original smash Titanic to become the highest grossing movie of all time. The film garnered a whopping nine Oscar nominations yesterday. Cameron and the entire "Avatar" cast will be joining Larry King tonight for the first interview. You can see them tonight, 9:00 p.m. eastern. You know what? I got to see the movie now. Everybody is talking about it. I haven't seen it. I know people who have seen it two or three times. Maybe I need to go to the movies. BLITZER: You and me together -- well, well this weekend we have the Super Bowl.

SYLVESTER: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks Lisa, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is asking, is now the time for one of the largest federal payrolls ever? Jack is back with the answers coming up.

Also, Sarah Palin is angry with President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel for an insult. Will Palin be happy now that he's doing something to make amends?

And Senator-elect Scott Brown makes a demand and he wants it done now. Will he get it tomorrow?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our political ticker, Senator Elect Scott Brown is demanding to be sworn in tomorrow instead of next week. The Massachusetts Republican says he want to push up the timetable because of votes he wants to cast. Brown's surprise win of Ted Kennedy's former seat will give the GOP 41 votes and deny Democrats their filibuster-proof super majority. He is expected to take the oath tomorrow afternoon after his election win is certified in Massachusetts.

The white house chief of staff Rahm Emanuel apologized to activists representing people with disabilities. He reportedly signed onto a pledge not use the word the "r" word to describe people with challenges. Sarah Palin had called for Emanuel to be fire after a report he called liberal critics of the president's plan and I'm quoting him now, retarded. Palin, who's son Trig has Downs Syndrome, called Emanuel's language a slur and heartbreaking.

For the latest political news, you can check out cnnpolitics.com.

Back to Jack for the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is another word he used in front of that word that made it more offensive.

BLITZER: According to the "Wall Street Journal".

CAFFERTY: Yes, well they quoted him so. The question this hour, in light of record deficits, is now the time for one of the largest federal payrolls ever?

Richard in Illinois writes, "No, but it's not the time for companies and corporations to fire the lowest paid workers to give top management million dollar bonuses but you don't see them stopping their bonus practices. At least some people are getting a good paying job."

Jeff writes, "It's not fair to ask this question without saying what job were added. Does it include temporary census worker, how about FDIC workers? I bet their ranks had to grow significantly. How about the department of justice? Is giving these people jobs more cost effective than adding them to the unemployment or welfare roles? You're slipping Jack and it's not even Friday."

And George in New York writes, "No it isn't. The nation's in a recession. There is a shortage of jobs due to corporate America's greed. People are losing homes and going hungry and living on the streets and in their cars and yet government employees go on like there is nothing wrong."

Kelli writes, "Public or private sector, if someone in this dismal climate is fortunate in actually having a job, it's greatly cherished, period, more power to him or her."

John writes, "Absolutely not. While government is not a business there are certain business principles that should apply in terms of expenditures. The explosion of federal employees at this time is simply unconscionable and will contribute further to the mortgage we are creating for our children."

Tom in Texas writes, "I've often heard the call for smaller government but more services are demanded of the public. Almost by definition as the population increases, the government has to grow. There is waste in all businesses, government tends to overstate personnel needs. Add water and it grows into a robust parasite."

And Mark in Virginia, "Why do you hate America, Jack. You are constantly attacking federal employees who keep the country moving forward. I would put a hiring freeze on the news commentators."

You want to read more on this, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile and find more e-mails there.

BLITZER: You and I agree they do an outstanding job as public servants for all of us.

CAFFERTY: You can make the argument there are too many.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to this because we have a lot of alert viewers out there and I want to thank them personally. We want to thank one of the viewers who e-mailed us in the Cafferty file. He is Clarence in Virginia. He caught a mistake we made earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We mentioned that the first man in space was Alan Sheppard, that is not correct. He was the first American in space. The first human was a Soviet cosmonaut. Thanks to Jack Cafferty's alert viewers.

"Q" and "a" can mean question and attack. We are talking verbal political combat after President Obama battled Republican comments last week. Some say he is should it all the time like they do it in Britain. I'll talk about that with CNN's Richard Quest. He's in London.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check with Campbell Brown to see what is coming up at the top of the hour. Campbell, what are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Wolf. Tonight we're starting a special look at the growing cloud of political independents in the U.S. As you know the first tea party convention opens tomorrow but the party seeming to have a few problems sticking together. We'll talk about that tonight. We'll also continue a focus on children of Haiti. And tonight, there are new questions about who might have tried to help the American missionaries arrested for trying to take 3 Haitian children out of the country, including questions about whether they told the truth to Haitian authorities. We are new information on that front. All that and the mashup of the top news at the top of the hour.

BLITZER: See you in a few minutes. Thanks for that.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's check in with her once again.

What else is going on?

SYLVESTER: Hi Wolf. One person is dead and seven people wounded after two suicide blasts struck Baghdad. The attack marked the second time this week the terrorists have targeted a pilgrimage to Karbala. More than 50 people were killed in a bombing on Monday. Additional attacks are feared when the pilgrimage ends Friday.

Former secretary of state and joint chiefs chairman Colin Powell endorsed a repeal of the military's don't ask, don't tell. In a statement released by his office, Powell says, "In the almost 17 years since the don't ask, don't tell legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances changed. I fully support the new approach presented to the senate armed services committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff." And he added that the ultimate decision lies with President Obama.

Golfing legend Tom Watson has a message for Tiger Woods, show some humility. The eight time major winner who's in Dubai for the Dubai Desert Classic says Woods should admit that he screwed up when he returns to the game. And he says he doesn't have the same stature of other greats. Woods is taking an indefinite break from the game after an admission of infidelity. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much Lisa. We'll do this again tomorrow. Appreciate it.

A candid and often times confrontational back and forth between leaders and lawmakers. It's certainly as you know a tradition in Great Britain. But there is a growing online movement to make it a staple here in the United States as well. Supporters of the idea from both parties posted a petition calling on President Obama to host a regular question time with Republicans in Congress.

Joining us now from London, CNN's Richard Quest. Richard, it's pretty unusual here in the United States, not unusual where you are. Twice in the past week now, the president of the United States has taken questions before cameras, first from Republican leaders, then from Democratic leaders. Here is a clip from last Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom Price from Georgia. And then we'll have one more after that if your time permits, Mr. President.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I'm having fun. This is great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So are we.

Tom Price, Georgia.

REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: I want to stick on the topic of health care and ask a specific question. You have repeatedly said most recently at the state of the union that Republicans have offered no ideas and no solutions in spite of the fact --

OBAMA: I don't think I said that. What I said was in the context of health care -- I remember that speech pretty well. It was two days ago I said the welcome ideas that you might provide. I hadn't said that I haven't provided ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Since that exchange last Friday there's been a lot of talk about question time what occurs in the British Parliament all the time. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, I will play a clip for the viewers not familiar with what goes on in the House of Commons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We not only save the worlds and the banks -- and led -- [ applause ]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's on the record. He is so busy talking about saving the world, it's forgotten about the businesses in the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I think our exchange was quaint compared to what is going on over there. Is it a good idea for the U.S. president to engage in this question time?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, you have to put it in context. Question time in the House of Commons is a highly political moment. It is a point scoring, all out fist fight between the two parties. It is designed to try and score against the other. Forget the argument. You are going out to try and trap the opposition as best you can. And the best evidence of that is, the prime minister doesn't get notice of the questions. He has to take them blind from all other MPs, including the leader of opposition.

Whether that would work in the United States, of course is interesting. First of all you got the separation of powers, the executive and the legislative. And how would Americans feel if that Republican question had been put rudely? Brutally, why are you doing this? What about that? What would have Americans have said then?

BLITZER: And especially if it was followed by boos and cat calls. Which is common there. It's largely political theater going on in London as opposed to something emerging from that.

QUEST: Complete political theater. And the best sound bites of question bites one that you just played there. They are played again and again on radio and television. And newspapers will put point scoring who won a particular exchange. The prime minister does it every Wednesday for 30 minutes. We come back, would you find it acceptable for the head of state to be put through a grinder? Question time is designed to test the mettle of the woman or the man no the office. Margaret Thatcher was brilliant. You would watch her absolutely remove limbs from leaders of the opposition and members of parliament. Ultimately, they are talking about the policies that are going to be put forward. It is probably -- not probably. It is definitely much more heat than light.

BLITZER: But it's good TV. I watch it often on C-Span here in the United States. It's great TV. We'll see if that question time emerges.

QUEST: Yeah, but, Wolf, one point note, even in that short clip that you played of the Republican questioning the president, you already got a taste of what could happen. For instance, the Republican starts the question and he starts to get a little antsy and a little bit angry but the president comes straight back. He interrupts. He questions the questioner, and demeans the question. I guarantee you f you had question time with the president, it would be six months to a year before a fistfight like the House of Commons.

BLITZER: Richard Quest knows something about the House of Commons. Thanks, Richard.

Let's take a look at the hot shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Singapore, a military training aircraft flies during an aerial display at an air show.

At the Vatican City, acrobats perform for the pope.

In Miami, kids participate in an event outside of Sunlight Stadium where the Super Bowl will be played Sunday night.

And the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., a panda lounges in the snow on his last day in the country. He'll be sent back to China tomorrow. Hot shots, pictures worth 1,000 words.

Remember, you can follow one is going on in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on twitter. Get my tweets. Let's go to Campbell in New York.