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Unemployment Crisis, Racial Divide; Cost of Caring for Quake Victims; Tuberculosis Fears in Haiti; Storm Brings Washington to Standstill

Aired February 10, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, record-breaking snowfall brings the U.S. capital to a standstill. Washington, D.C. seemingly a ghost town today as federal employees are snowed out of work for a third day.

Also, he's the public face of the drive to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the United States military. Now Army Lt. Dan Troy is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. This is his first interview since the Pentagon opened the review of its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and his new status. Stand by. We're going to tell you what's going on.

And a U.S. college student is detained and interrogated for hours by the -- by government airport security workers. You probably will be surprised when you find out why.

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

It was welcomed news when the national unemployment rate dipped back into single digits in the latest jobs report, but behind the numbers is an astounding racial divide.

The jobless rate for African-Americans is almost double that of white Americans, and that shocking disparity was topic number one as black leaders met with President Obama over at the White House for what is being called an Urban Economy Summit.

Just a moment, we'll talk about that with the Reverend Al Sharpton. He was there inside the White House for that meeting.

But first, CNN's Lisa Sylvester is here with the raw numbers.

Lisa, tell us what they show us.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we want to go through the numbers right now. You can take a look at the unemployment rate, 9.7. That's the current unemployment rate for the nation. But when you break it down, there are some very interesting things that happen when you break it down racially.

Take a look at this. This is for whites now in the United States. 2008 started at 4.4 percent. Now as of January of 2010, 8.7 percent. That's a pretty bad picture. But we're going to move this away for a second. Now we're going to take a look at Latinos. Latinos, very interesting story, it's even worse. Started out at 6.4 percent, January 2008, now 12.6 percent.

But take a look at this. This is what we want to highlight. For African-Americans, that rate started 9.2 percent, so it started high to begin, back in 2008. The latest numbers, January 2010, 16.5 percent.

We're going to move this over for a second and bring back the numbers for whites for a second. Just for a second here. And I'm going to show you a side-by-side comparison, because that is what they're really talking about, what this is really about.

It's the difference between here. You can see for the whites, it's 8.7 percent. For African-Americans though, it's almost double at 16.5 percent. And that is what the real concern is about. And that's why there's a lot of talk of what you're hearing now about targeted job creation. Wolf?

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much.

Let's bring in the Reverend Al Sharpton. He's the founder and president of the National Action Network. He's over at the White House for the meeting with the president today.

Reverend Sharpton, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: Why does this disparity still exist?

SHARPTON: I think many reasons. You have the structural inequality, historically, but you also have a mixture of the problems right now of first fired, last hired. Some of the unions not being fair.

What we wanted to do today, Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, Ben Jealous of the NAACP, and I, in meeting with the president, would say that labor leaders and business leaders have been part of the discussions. Civil rights leaders need to be a part of the discussion.

BLITZER: What did he tell you?

SHARPTON: He says I want to make sure all Americans have an opportunity. I don't want anyone excluded. I'm not looking for a specific race-based program, but I'm not looking to make us as a government insensitive to the fact that we've got to make it fair and an even playing field for everyone.

BLITZER: Were you happy with what you heard?

SHARPTON: Not only were we happy and encouraged that he continues a commitment to fairness across the board, I think it sets a tone now that everyone is at the table. We need the talk with union leaders as we create jobs and make sure the unions are not -- discriminatory. We need to talk to business leaders. There's enough of this conversation that needs to be shared with all.

BLITZER: But is there anything specific he promised you that would help remove this enormous gap between unemployed white people and unemployed black people?

SHARPTON: The question was not to raise a specific request to the president other than that we want to be in the discussion as we did with this jobs bill. We're going to the Senate leaders, Republican and Democrat now, and we want to be in the conversation as they work through the bills in the conferences.

The president has created a spirit of we've got to create jobs, I want to make sure it's fair. He cannot be the labor leader or the civil rights leader or the business leader. He must be the president. We all must represent --


BLITZER: Because you know there are some black leaders, intellectuals and others, who are disappointed in this president.

SHARPTON: Well, I think that what -- we are not disappointed. I think that what we are saying is we've been disappointed in those that have been the obstructionist on Capitol Hill against all jobs programs and that we think the president must be supportive in creating the jobs.

We just make sure those jobs go to every body. If we get an even playing field, when the rubber meets the road, we want to make sure that everybody is in the car.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this gap. Sixteen -percent unemployment for African-Americans, 8 percent for white Americans. What's wrong with doing something special to try to help African- Americans? Why would the president not want to do this?

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, I don't think the president -- we didn't ask or address that in a specific context. When you have a bill --

BLITZER: Well, is there something wrong with that if there is such a gap?

SHARPTON: No. I don't think there's anything wrong at all with dealing with those things. I'm telling you what the discussion was. I think that discussion has to happen when you get into the Senate, when you get into the Congress, where the bill is going to be and you see the ability to pass the bill.

I think what people are trying to do is ask the president to do something that is going to have to come out of the legislative branch, in terms of how do they deal with the structural inequality.

If the president says, I want to make sure every American is treated fairly, that's all we can ask of him. What we need to ask the legislature branches is how do we deal with the structural inequality and how do we protect ourselves and this can happen from justice with the executive branch. From discrimination policy, from some of the people that are around the table.

BLITZER: You were once a Democratic presidential candidate. How worried are you about this upcoming midterm elections and the beating, potentially, Democrats can take?

SHARPTON: I'm concerned about it, but I'm even more concerned that we have seen some Republicans that are just on this obstructionist mission to vote no on anything this president or anything the Democrats raise, including a jobs bill.

And that's not even about black unemployment, that's about anyone's unemployment. They're voting against their own proposals. And I think that we have put the whole government in a state of paralysis and I think we've got to break that grip.

Before we get to November, we've got to deal with after the recess. They've got to stop to paralysis of government. People in all communities are needing to have the employment dealt with. They need to be able to feed their families. These people come to Washington, yell no, and go and say vote for me because I'm blocking the Democrats.

BLITZER: Bad weather in Washington didn't stop Al Sharpton from showing up.

SHARPTON: I thought I'd come down and help melt some of the snow.

BLITZER: Go outside with a shovel. Thanks very much, Reverend Sharpton, for coming in.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: He was detained and interrogated for hours all because of the flashcards he was carrying for school. Now his case is at the center of a lawsuit against the TSA.

Also, who's paying to treat Haiti earthquake victims here in the United States? And are they overpaying? Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- he's in Port-au-Prince. He has details of a growing controversy. We'll speak with Sanjay live.

And record-breaking snowfall shuts down the U.S. government. We're out in the storm looking for any sign of activity.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. We're from CNN, we're seeing if anybody is still working at the Social Security administration today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, they're closed.

TODD: Did anybody come in?



BLITZER: Let's go to Haiti right now. Some of the most critically injured earthquake victims from Haiti are being treated here in the United States, and now there are new questions about paying for their care.

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us now from Port-au-Prince.

Sanjay, tell our viewers what's going on. I know you've been investigating.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, for a long time, there has been a question about patients who simply cannot get care here in Haiti despite all the efforts that we've talked about over the past nearly a month now, Wolf.

Hospitals have improved in terms of medical care, resources available, but still there are patients who just have life-threatening problems that can't be cared for here. The question is what happens to those patients? How do they get transferred and who pays for that as well?

We know that over the last couple of weeks the USS Comfort has been an option, but we know also the demand is outpacing the supply when it comes to the comfort, so more and more patients are being transported back to the United States.

The system that is set in place, Wolf -- and this is interesting. What I'm about to describe is the first time this has ever been done. It's called an NDMS, National Disaster Medical System, and it basically allows patients in this case from another country. For the first time in the past, it's been used domestically.

A patient from another country can come to the United States, get care from a variety of hospitals around the country, and those hospitals will get reimbursed at around 100 percent of what Medicare typically pays. So these hospitals have an incentive to take care of those patients and those patients are getting care.

That's what's happening right now, Wolf. We just followed the story along of a man who went through that entire process to see how that works specifically.

BLITZER: Interesting, Sanjay. And I also -- you've also been following this other story, and I saw your report on tuberculosis in Haiti right now. Tell us what you saw and what we in the United States should be worried about specifically beyond the humanitarian crisis.

GUPTA: Yes, you know, when you think about an earthquake like this, it has all sort of ripple effects. Some which you may not predict. In this case, what happened was patients who had tuberculosis -- Haiti has one of the largest percentage of patients of tuberculosis anywhere in the Americas. They -- when they lost their homes, they lost so many things, including their medications.

They were without medications for a period of time and what happens with infections is that you can develop a resistance to the medications. This is called drug-resistant tuberculosis and they're starting to see more and more cases of that right behind me here in Port-au-Prince and in many of the tent cities as well.

The problem, Wolf, and the reason that people all over the world need to really pay attention to this is that if you develop drug-resistant tuberculosis in large numbers here in Haiti, it can potentially find its way around the world. People come here, aid workers, they take it back, get on a plane and take it back to their own countries.

So they're really trying very hard to immediately and try and quarantine these patients, identify them, and start giving them appropriate medications. It's hard to treat in the United States or anywhere in the world and it's especially hard to treat here.

BLITZER: Any idea how many cases have already been reported in Haiti?

GUPTA: Well, before the earthquake, they say there's about 30,000 new cases a year, Wolf. And keep in mind, this is a disease that causes 5,000 deaths a day around the world. Right now it's just a guess, but they think about 8,000 new cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis may appear within the next several months.

BLITZER: That's pretty shocking. All right, Sanjay, we'll check back with you. Sanjay Gupta is on the scene for us in Haiti.

An information blockage in Iran as the country marks an important anniversary. Details of a massive government crackdown. Stand by.

And Iraq expels current and former employees of a controversial U.S. government contractor. What's the latest?

And complete coverage of the record-breaking blizzard that's brought much of the mid-Atlantic and northeast U.S. to a standstill.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. Well, it's now just after 3:00 a.m. Thursday in Iran, the 31st anniversary of the revolution.

Authorities there have imposed a virtual blockade on information. This after opposition leaders had called for protests. President of Tehran say text messages have been blocked and Internet service is sporadic. Also human rights groups report arrests of journalists.

Iran's security has put out warnings that they won't tolerate any opposition protest during the anniversary of the founding of the Islamic republic. And Iraq is ordering all former Blackwater employees to leave the country within the next week. This follows a January declaration that those who worked for the military contractor, now known as Z, were no longer welcomed there.

Iraqis were outraged at Blackwater after its contractors were involved in a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead.

And Google says it will start testing a superfast broadband network, and get this, they're talking about more than 100 times faster than a traditional broadband speed. And this would allow the customers to download a full-length, high-definition movie in less than five minutes.

Google will build the network but then consumers can choose their own service providers. No word on when this test network might be up and running.

And Valentine's Day is just around the corner and that's going to mean extra work for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents in Miami. Workers there go through the majority of fresh flowers imported into the country.

Agricultural specialists make sure that the flowers coming in to the United States for Valentine's Day don't have any harmful insects or diseases.

And you know, Wolf, one of the things that this made me think about is, with all of the snow that we're getting here in the east coast, does that mean going to mean that maybe there might be a few less deliveries in time, because you know, it's Valentine's Day, it's just, what, four days away?

BLITZER: Well, a lot of time for the earth to heat up and let the snow melt a little bit, and hopefully there won't be any more and then all those deliveries can be delivered.

SYLVESTER: That's a hint-hint to all the guys out there.

BLITZER: Yes, of course.

SYLVESTER: You know, mark your calendars.

BLITZER: Good hint.

SYLVESTER: Because it's coming up.

BLITZER: It's coming up very, very soon.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

Flights canceled, schools closed, powerlines down. It's the blizzard of 2010. We're going to tell you who's getting hit and how long this monster storm is going to last. A college student raises some red flags for carrying Arabic flashcards at the airport. Now he's claiming he was mistreated by authorities and he's taking his case to court.

And an openly gay member of the U.S. Army's National Guard bring processing for discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, but this Iraq war veteran is now training with his unit. He's back in uniform even as he leads an effort to repeal the ban.

He's standing by live to joins us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, tensions are running high in Iran as the country prepares to mark the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. The Iranian government doesn't want a repeat of last year's protest, and it's reportedly cracking down on the opposition, the journalists and lot of other folks including the Internet.

New York's politically embattled governor goes on the offensive. David Paterson talks -- takes to the airwaves to defend himself against all kinds of rumors.

And a simple embrace with President Obama, not so simple for Florida governor, Charlie Crist, who supported the president's economic stimulus plan, is now being used as political ammunition by the man who wants his job.

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

But first a record-breaking snowstorm is bringing much of the northeast to its knees. Heavy snow and blistering winds are creating nightmare conditions from North Carolina to New England. A region still recovering from last week's huge storm.

Major cities are turning into ghost towns as businesses, schools, airports, even governments shut down.

Let's check out the situation of what's going on outside. I'll walk outside here from THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll go over to the balcony here. Let me put on my coat first of all because it's cold out there. We'll see what's happening. Let's open up the door and we'll go outside. Let's take a look at the streets of Washington, D.C. and see what's going on.

Stand by. All right, here we are. We're walking outside, and you can see this is really a ghost town. Take a look at the street behind me. We're right behind Union Station up on Capitol Hill. You can see it's virtually empty.

You see one or two cars, basically. This would be jam packed right now with rush hour traffic. That's to the right over there, you can see the back of Union Station, but it's deserted like so much of Washington, D.C. right now. Simply deserted. It's dangerous to be on the streets of the nation's capital and for good reason. This has been a record-setting blizzard here in Washington, D.C. So I can personally testify driving to work earlier this morning, it was a whiteout. You could barely see what's going on.

The bad weather certainly kept federal employees in Washington out of work for a third straight day. Hundreds of thousands of them.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us from the National Mall.

Brian, tell us what you discovered as you went about the nation's capital today.

TODD: Just what you saw today at the balcony there, Wolf. It is a ghost town down here. This is right on the National Mall. You can see it's just -- there's just no traffic down here. It has been just amazingly empty all day.

The second major snowfall in less than a week has left this city paralyzed. You're looking at one of the federal buildings behind me, the Capitol, that has been largely empty today. This is a government shutdown on a scale that we have not seen in about 14 years.


TODD (voice-over): A government ghost town. What you see through this wintry blast are federal buildings that are largely empty. Officials say Washington hasn't seen a government shutdown this sweeping since 1996.

We asked these folks braving the blizzard if they miss it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They haven't been functioning very well for the past 10 years anyway, so -- so shut it down now for a few days and it's really no difference.

TODD: We drove and walked through streets that would normally be stifled with traffic. Tried to enter buildings like the Treasury Department and the IRS. No one home.

But the director of the Office of Personnel Management which oversees the nearly two million federal workers across America told us a government shutdown isn't what it seems.

JOHN BERRY, DIR., OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT: Only 13 percent of the government is here in this region. You know when I say this region I include not only Washington, D.C., but all of the surrounding counties. And -- it's about 270,000 workers in that area.

TODD: That means people can still process things like Medicare claims. Tax returns are getting through. And Social Security recipients are still getting their checks by mail or direct deposit even when that agency's key offices are shuttered.

(On camera): Yes, hi. We're with CNN, we're seeing is anybody has stopped working at the Social Security administration today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, they're closed.

TODD: Did anybody come in?


TODD (voice-over): The White House is up and running. As for national security --

(On camera): Nobody answering the door knocker here at the Justice Department, but we're told by officials here that the attorney general has kept some key offices open, including some very important counterterrorism offices, told the same thing for the FBI just across the street where an official there says that all the counterterrorism, national security functions are in place.

Also the Departments of Homeland Security, the Pentagon -- officials there tell us that their operation centers where they coordinate all of their 24/7 operations and their responses are functioning.

(Voice-over): What's not getting done? Congress is shut down and not holding hearings. Administrative, policy and budget meetings are on hold. Speaking of budgeting.

(On camera): What does it cost per day to shut down the government?

BERRY: It's $100 million approximately, but that number is 20 years old. And it doesn't account for the emergency and essential personnel. What that is, is that's the total payroll cost of 270,000 people.


TODD: Now John Berry says that after this storm they're going to update that figure to reflect current reality which he says about 30 percent of the government workforce, the essential personnel are at their offices, were at their offices today keeping those crucial operations running.

Also, many, many more people are what he calls teleworking by computer from home. Translation, he thinks that $100 million a day figure for a government shutdown is going to be probably inflated. It will come out to be a lot less than that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, what about the postal service? How are they doing?

TODD: Well, we have heard reports from the postal service that they have had delays. Not a shutdown, but delays in processing a lot of the mails especially in some of the offices and the delivery services around this region and in the northeast.

So some of those Social Security checks and other things like that people were counting on by mail may be getting there a little bit late, but they say they are going to get there, but the processing centers are experiencing some delays in the postal system.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, not far away from me. Is it snowing where you are, Brian?

TODD: It's still snowing, Wolf, but a lot of this is the wind carrying the snow all around. So it really has tapered off. The snow is supposed to stop really any minute now and it could have stopped but it's just the wind carrying this around us, it's kind of hard to tell that it stopped right now.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

New York City certainly managed to escape the worst of last week's huge storm, but no such luck this time around. The city and its suburbs are getting hammered right now.

Our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff is joining us live from Central Park.

Allan, what's it like there?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is still coming down. We've seven inches here in Central Park as of 4:00. By now, I'd say we're talking at least eight inches of the stuff right now. And it's still coming. We're supposed to get at least a foot in New York City. The wind gusts up to 30 miles an hour. And we've got a blizzard warning until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow.


CHERNOFF: (voice-over): New York City brought out its heavy artillery to battle the blizzard -- 2,000 snow plows and salt spreaders to clear the streets and highways, at a cost of $1 million per inch of snow. Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania was not as well maintained. Two separate accidents damaged two dozen vehicles. One driver was killed.

Airports around New York remained open through the afternoon, but virtually no planes took off, as carriers canceled most of their flights out of the region.

New Jersey shut down all state offices. And courts in New York were closed. But as the blizzard frosted the Big Apple, municipal offices remained open and the city kept functioning, though at a slower pace.

(on camera): And how do you deal with driving in this snow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's OK. You just take your time and go slowly.

CHERNOFF: (voice-over): The city's second big storm of the season seemed to bring out a tough it out attitude among both New Yorkers and out of town visitors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm from Florida, so I'm just drawn to the shorts anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The town we come from, it has been snow for over two months now. CHERNOFF: Aside from stomping through slush, the worst part for those who work is the commute. Many trains to the suburbs are delayed or canceled. But no work for the kids -- school was out.

(on camera): Are you glad that school was out today?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When it's snowing, I love for them to be out of school.

CHERNOFF: So a snow day is a happy day?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A snow day is a happy day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no better day for children.

CHERNOFF: You -- do you agree?



CHERNOFF: They'll -- they'll have no such luck tomorrow. These snowmen, well, they'll be a little lonely because school is scheduled to be open. But at least the storm should be finished by tomorrow and we'll have the big dig coming -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Allan, for that.

People will be shoveling, I guess, for a few days.

Let's bring in our meteorologist, Chad Meyers, for a little bit of the forecast.

So what do we expect to see over the next few days -- Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's going to pull out tonight. The whole thing will be done. The snow will be all gone, really, by morning for most everybody, except maybe Boston and the Cape. But it is still snowing very hard in some spots. And, in fact, that could keep up.

I want you to notice this. Wolf, I haven't shown this all day, so this is brand new for you -- 532 lightning strikes with this snowstorm. So that means there's thunder snow out there somewhere. So if you heard some rumbling, if it wasn't a truck driving down the street, there may very well be lightning and thunder in some of this very heavy convective, as we call it, snow.

The snow is wrapping around, grabbing moisture from the ocean -- almost an ocean effect storm, although, it's really -- we just call it ocean maybe enhanced. Some of the big enhancement is along from the Long Island Expressway all the way out toward the Hamptons. At times, there's some sleet mixing in and so that's keeping the numbers down for snow amounts. Sleet won't pile up like light fluffy snow will. That light fluffy snow, though, is piling up in Western New Jersey, parts of New York State, right through Maryland and into Virginia.

The next story -- airports. This is actually LaGuardia. There are still four planes in the air to LaGuardia. The airports in New York are not closed. Now in DC, they are. DC, National and Dulles done -- shut, not even going to open until tomorrow. But some of the planes are still making it in and out of New York. JFK, actually, almost 25 planes in the air heading there.

So if you're sitting there waiting for a plane, there's some hope. But it's probably a better chance of getting a hotel room than a plane -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A good point. Planes, trains -- there's a lot of problems right now...


BLITZER: -- although Amtrak seems to be OK, at least for now.

Thanks, Chad.

We'll check back with you.

MYERS: All right.

BLITZER: More blizzard coverage coming up later. We're also watching another story -- rumors raining down on New York's governor. David Paterson is now fighting back.


BLITZER: The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today against the Transportation Security Administration over the detention and interrogation of an American college student whose flashcards raised some him suspicion.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is here with details.

It's a very strange case -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It filed suit not just against the TSA, but the FBI and the Philadelphia police, as well.

It's all about a student named

Nicolas George, who says he's always been fascinated by the Middle East. But authorities at the Philadelphia airport have a different impression and now he's taking them to court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MESERVE: (voice-over): Pomona College student Nicholas George was flying out of the Philadelphia airport last August when he took Arabic-English flashcards like this out of his pocket during screening. Most of the 200 cards were innocuous, but not all.

NICHOLAS GEORGE, PLAINTIFF: There were maybe 10 cards that said things like "bomb," "explosion," "terrorists." And these cards they were especially interested in, obviously. They asked me why I had those words. I told them honestly because I've been trying to read Arabic news media.

MESERVE: George had studied in Jordan and was carrying a passport showing he'd also traveled to Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union claims that during almost five hours of detention, George was "abusively interrogated by, among others, a Transportation Security Administration supervisor, who allegedly asked, "You know who did 9/11?"

George replied, "Osama bin Laden."

"Do you know what language he spoke?," asked the supervisor.


At that point, court documents say, the supervisor waved the flashcards and said, "Do you see why these cards are suspicious?"

The suit claims that Philadelphia police kept George handcuffed in a cell for two hours and that FBI agents interrogated him about his religious and political beliefs before determining that he did not pose a threat.

BEN WIZNER, ACLU ATTORNEY: This lawsuit is to remind both the American people and the TSA that the Constitution does apply at the airports; that although they have a very, very important security mission, they don't have a blank check to violate the privacy of Americans.

MESERVE: The TSA, FBI and Philadelphia police declined to comment, but an official who couldn't speak on the record because of pending litigation says that the TSA focused on George, in part, because of erratic behavior, which began even before he got to the security checkpoint.


MESERVE: In a bit of irony, Nicholas George says he's been studying Arabic in hopes of serving the U.S. Government as a diplomat. But he no longer travels carrying flash cards or anything else in Arabic -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So was it a problem of his attitude?

Is that what they're saying?

MESERVE: He says not. He says he kept his cool and was perfectly respectful through the whole episode. We don't have the other side of the story because the agencies are saying, hey, there's litigation, we just can't talk.

BLITZER: That's good, but it does underscores the sensitivities out there right now at airports.

MESERVE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that.

He's a West Point graduate, and Iraq War veteran and also happens to be gay. Army National Guard Lieutenant Dan Choi is leading efforts to try to repeal "don't ask/don't tell."

He's standing by to join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


LT. DAN CHOI, ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: This is what it means to be an American. We don't lie.



BLITZER: Army National Guard Lieutenant Dan Choi drilled with his New York unit this weekend. What's remarkable about it is, is that Dan Choi is openly gay. He's also a West Point grad, an Iraq War veteran. He's fluent in Arabic. Right now, he's being processed for discharge under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bars gay men and women from serving openly.

Choi is leading efforts to try to repeal the ban, which got a boost last week, when the Pentagon announced a year long review of "don't ask, don't tell" following the president's State of the Union Address.

Lieutenant Dan Choi is joining us now from New York.

Thanks very much for coming in.

CHOI: It's great to be here with you.

BLITZER: All right, your commander all of a sudden says to you, come on in, you can drill with your Guard unit over the weekend.

Was that the first time in how that happened?

CHOI: Well, it's been a while. The last time that I'd been with my unit was a few months ago, last year. And essentially, my commander says, we're going to war and we need all of the capable soldiers that we could get to train with us. There were critical skills that we had to train on. We had rifle marksmanship. We had to shoot our rifles and qualify. We had combat lifesaver first aid training. All those were important things and they needed everybody that was capable and willing to go. And so while this is, for me, a responsibility. And the amazing thing about it, I know that I was in Washington, D.C. About a week ago during the hearings and I was on some of the news programs. And there were some people who said, look, if you allow gay people to serve openly in their units then everybody is just going to quit and there's going to be just mass resignations. People are going to be so uncomfortable, we're going to need to get a draft.

And I -- I -- I laughed very hard when I realized that some people were actually serious about that.

Well, I reported to drill the next day. And there was a lot of snow on the ground, but we laced up our boots and we got to qualifying on our weapons.

BLITZER: All right, we've got some video. And we've got some pictures of you wearing your uniform.

How did that feel, to be back in uniform?

CHOI: It felt great. I mean it was like a homecoming. I mean I got to say thank you to a lot of my soldiers who wrote character statements for me. We collected almost 500,000 character statements and signatures saying don't fire Lieutenant Choi. And I was really grateful I got to see some of them. And -- well, the thing that -- that I found the most amazing was so many people just wanted to come up to me and tell me about, you know, their gay brother or that they're OK with gay people or they know gay people and it's so great. And it really opened up the conversation.

BLITZER: Was anyone...

CHOI: People were...

BLITZER: Was anyone...

CHOI: -- allowed to be honest.

BLITZER: Was anyone hostile or seemingly uncomfortable?

CHOI: Absolutely not. And here's the thing, when you assume that people would do that, when you assume that people would be uncomfortable and quit, you are insulting soldiers in the most treacherous way. I can't believe there are people that are saying a soldier would quit. You want to insult a soldier in the worst way, tell him he's going to quit. Call him a quitter.

BLITZER: Is there a connection, in your mind, between what the president said in his State of the Union Address, when he said that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy should be repealed; the subsequent statements from the Defense secretary, Robert Gates; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen; and the decision all of a sudden from your commander to call you back to drill?

CHOI: Well, Wolf, even today, right now, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is looming over my head. I could get fired right after I walk off the set here. I -- I still have not been an exception to a policy, I'm just serving my country. And I wanted to make this very clear, that for me this has very little to do with, you know, statements that people can make or political timetables. It has even very little to do with civil rights. It has everything to do with my responsibility. Wolf, I made a promise. I said if I get kicked out and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" happens, I would be the first one in that recruiting station.

Well, I've been called back. I'm getting ready to deploy, if -- if need be and I have met my part of the bargain and I still have my promise. "don't ask, don't tell" hasn't been repealed yet and I am going to continue speaking out...

BLITZER: All right...

CHOI: I want to send a message to all the senators and the Congress that I'm watching them. And my promise remains -- I will hold everyone accountable until we can, as Admiral Mullen said, have an organization and an institution that lives by those values of integrity.

BLITZER: Is yours an isolated incident where your commander, who may be sympathetic to you, called you back?

Have you heard any other stories of other openly gay members who have been on the -- in the process of being discharged all of a sudden were told, you know what, come on back, come on back to the United States military?

CHOI: Well, Wolf, I think the heart of the matter here is that we are at war right now. And there are people that are openly gay in their units right now. And for people to say that a statement or politicians that are saying certain things is the reason why there's certain people that are looking the other way, I think that's absolutely not true. Gay people have been serving openly for years...

BLITZER: But have others who were...

CHOI: -- and for decades.

BLITZER: -- in the process of being discharged, like you, have they been told by their commanders, come on back for the time being?

CHOI: I know of some. I know of some of them that are out there. And there's a lot of people that are in their units that I -- I think they realize, look, we're in a time of war, we've got to have everybody that we can...

BLITZER: And is...

CHOI: -- can get.

BLITZER: Is this the -- do you -- do you give the president and the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs some credit, if you will, for opening up this policy or allowing you to come back to your unit? CHOI: Well, the heart of the matter is exactly as Admiral Mullen said, people should not have to live a lie. It is a matter of integrity. But nothing has been done yet. There is ac -- absolutely nothing...

BLITZER: But your commander...

CHOI: -- substantive (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Your commander told you to come back to drill after months of telling you stay away, all of a sudden, after these guys speak out, you're back in uniform. I -- I'm trying to get you to tell me if you think that there was a connection to what the president of the United States said?

CHOI: I think we realize that the president has made his intent very clear. I think we're all waiting for the full repeal to happen.

You know, Wolf, what I'm most interested in is I see this in terms not of political statements or -- or policy changes, necessarily. I look at it in terms of history.

I mean can you believe that only 60 years ago, I wouldn't have been able to serve in my unit because I am an American who happens to be of Asian descent?

And now think about the future generations. They're going to look back at us and say, wow! Really, you guys were forcing people to live in order to serve their country in 2010 because there are patriotic Americans who just happen to be gay.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note.

Lieutenant, thanks very much for coming in.

CHOI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Dan Choi of the United States military.

The record-breaking blizzard of 2010 -- we're going to take you outside with our meteorologist, Reynolds Wolf.

Also, Jeanne Moos on the hazardous of storm reporting. She has the best blizzard bloopers.


BLITZER: It's a winter storm for the record books -- extremely heavy snowfall, fierce winds creating treacherous conditions across the Northeast. It's the second major storm to hit the region in the past week.

Our meteorologist, Reynolds Wolf, is joining us now live from the National Mall in Washington -- you've seen a lot of bad weather, Reynolds.

How does this compare?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: This is like nothing I've ever seen. I covered a -- a blizzard back in the Sierra Nevada about two years ago, near Truckee, California. And I mean this -- this blows that away.

I've got to tell you, we've been out here from sunup, now, of course, to sundown and the snow continues to come in. It is a little bit lighter than it was earlier, but the wind still very strong. now, I can tell you about the snowfall or I can show you how it's been. Let's take a walk. We've CNN photojournalist Chris Turner with us. We're going to walk through some of this heavy stuff, Wolf. What we'd like you and our viewers across America to take a peek at are these things that are sticking up over here out of the snow.

Now, these, of course, are change meters. Now, normally, you have your sidewalk here, right near 3rd Street, right along The Mall. But right now, it's nearly up to the top with the heavy snowfall. And still, we're expecting it to fizzle out as it gets into the late evening hours.

But the problem is, tomorrow have to begin the cleanup. And there are drifts all around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area that around two to four feet. Some places may be a little bit higher. The streets in some locations, like over here on 3rd -- I'm going to try to crawl over here or at least point the camera here a little bit, Chris. You see the streets there are pretty good, for the most part. But there are many places that law enforcement described as just horrible -- just choked up with snow -- and ice, for that matter.

I know the big issue is with the strong winds that we're getting, Wolf. The trees that are just really bearing a great deal of snow and ice are going to be swaying back and forth. We could see some branches break. And with that, we could see more power outages.

More power outages -- and we already have tens of thousands of people in the region without power at this time. And there's a good chance that many of them may not have power restored until maybe after the weekend, maybe Monday or Tuesday of the following week.

So certainly harrowing conditions for people. People are dealing with the second blizzard in one week.

Let's send it back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Reynolds, is that a parking meter right there behind you on your right?

Is that a parking meter?

WOLF: This is a parking meter. And, Wolf, I don't have any change. Luckily, we're not parking here right now. But I mean just the little signpost gives you a little bit of a, I guess, a measuring stick, so to speak. What's funny is in July, you can obviously see the ground. But, again, just several days of snow have really caused this to stack up about -- I'd say about maybe eight to maybe 12 inches of snow in this area.

But it's really hard to judge how much is falling here, because so much of it has been blowing all day long. And, again, I would imagine by the time we get to in the springtime, you'll be able to see this nice and fine. But until then, we're talking about this -- this cleanup.

It's hard to believe that something so pretty as this snow can cause so many problems.

BLITZER: Yes, it's causing a lot of problems.

WOLF: Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: From one Wolf to another Wolf, Reynolds Wolf, thanks very much for joining us.

WOLF: Certainly.

BLITZER: The hazards of winter reporting -- CNN's Jeanne Moos has the best bloopers from the blizzard of 2010.

Plus, it's the only refuge for hundreds of thousands of people. CNN's Anderson Cooper takes us inside Haiti's tent cities.


BLITZER: It's the sideshow from every big snowstorm -- bloopers from journalists covering the storm. Their reports lead to some Moost Unusual moments.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos with the tale of the tapes.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): There's a blizzard all right -- a blizzard of flakey reporters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the health care debate...


MOOS: Easy for the nice, warm anchors to laugh.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You and I are sitting on heaters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ooh, Anne's (ph) inside, I'm sitting on heaters, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's the matter with you?


MOOS: It's not easy walking and talking, getting the cold shoulder.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there are puddles wherever you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're all over the place, buddy. Watch it.



MOOS: Everyone is critiquing our outerwear.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need a hat, you poor thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: love the hat.


MOOS: At least we don't go out reporting in shorts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Man, what is wrong with you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been doing it for 25 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Man, you have icicles coming out of your nostrils.


MOOS: Did I say we don't report in shorts?

Tim Russert's son Luke posted this Twit Pic of himself on snow patrol. The macho thing to do is to keep reporting no matter what happens.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I wrote one for our blog. There we go. This is what we do on live television, folks, in a blizzard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, stay there, Cole (ph). We're fine.


MOOS: Whether it's a falling umbrella or a falling camera man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FOX NEWS) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where it's not really snow, but rather it is some black ice, which, at times, can be a very slippery thing. Let me tell you.


MOOS: Might as well join the cameraman on the ice.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, are you OK, man?




MOOS: Just act like nothing is happening.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dipped to about 9.7 -- 7 percent. But for African-Americans, it is more than 15 percent.

MOOS (on camera): In the name of in-depth storm coverage, we reporters will use anything to measure the depth of the snow.

(voice-over): This reporter climbed his own satellite truck to measure virgin snow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ooh, seven inches of snow.


MOOS: My ruler is bigger than your ruler.


MOOS: Despite bragging about pictures being...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In high definition.


MOOS: -- try defining this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the left, that's the shot we usually show you of the Capitol Hill dome. On the right, that -- that would be the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: When the White House did clear, we noticed a Secret Serviceman jumping on top of it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, Reynolds, you're making it look -- oh, too easy.

MOOS: Reporters are a little like dogs frolicking in the snow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harry is doing (INAUDIBLE). Harry is doing (INAUDIBLE).


MOOS: But no one frolics quite like CNN's Reynolds Wolf.

WOLF: Wiggie (ph). Wiggie. Wiggie. Wiggie.

MOOS: Keeping warm between live shots.

WOLF: Trying to keep real in the hood, trying to stay hard like a gangster should.

MOOS: Now there's a meteorologist who rules -- even without a ruler.

WOLF: Oh, this is coming to me.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

WOLF: Yes!

MOOS: -- New York.


BLITZER: And happening now, the blizzard of 2010 -- breaking records, stopping millions of people in their tracks. We're bringing you the best and the worst of this monster snowstorm and what we can expect in the immediate hours and days ahead.