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Americans Freed in Haiti; Red States or Blue States; Accused Professor; Did the Stimulus Work?

Aired February 17, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, anticipation is building for freed American missionaries to leave Haiti and return home. We are following the breaking news on their release after being accused of child kidnapping.

Also this hour, Tiger Woods finally ready to face the public. We'll look ahead to what he is likely to say and not say when he breaks his silence.

Also more bizarre revelations about the professor accused of shooting her colleagues in Alabama, her link to a famous author, and her fit of rage at a pancake house.

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

Right now, the families of American missionaries say they will believe their loved ones are coming home from Haiti when they see it. Eight of the 10 Americans accused of child kidnapping were released today by a Haitian judge and allowed to leave the country. The two others still are being held for more questioning.

CNN's Dan Simon is in Idaho where most of the missionaries are based, but let's go to CNN's John Vause. He's in Port-au-Prince with more on the breaking news -- John, how did this all unfold?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello Wolf. Well earlier today, the judge got the brief from the prosecutor. The prosecutor put in his recommendations on bail. It all happened very quickly. The judge then decided that eight of the 10 missionaries there was no real case for them to answer, and so they were free to go, basically on unconditional bail.

Only their word was given that if needed they would return to Port-au-Prince for further investigations if asked by the authorities. That, says their lawyers, is an indication that all these charges against the eight missionaries should in fact be dropped some time in the near future. One point in this, we know that these missionaries are now at the airport here in Port-au-Prince.

There are no direct flights yet, commercial flights out of Port- au-Prince to the United States. So a military plane, a U.S. military flight is due to arrive at the airport any moment now. It will take these eight missionaries from Port-au-Prince directly to Miami. Six are from Idaho, one is from Kansas, the other one is from Texas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So basically they posted bail but they are still allowed to leave the country even though they are out on bail, is that right?

VAUSE: Yes, well essentially there was no bail to post apart from their promise that if they were required to return that they would. And they gave them that commitment. For the other two who have remained behind, Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter, it is a different story. The judge still has more questions for them.

What were those two women doing in Haiti before the earthquake? He wants to know what they were doing here. He says that that could take a couple of days, but under Haitian law, the judge could take a couple of months, but they have fast tracked this case up until this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fast moving developments, let's go to Meridian, Idaho right now, get some reaction. Dan Simon is on the scene for us. What are they saying at the church where most of these missionaries were based, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's first talk about Laura Silsby, the business woman here from Meridian, Idaho who's been under a lot of scrutiny over this mission, just got off the phone with her sister a short time ago. She told me quote, "that her family is very disappointed obviously and at this point, have nothing more to say."

As for the church throughout this process they have been very reserved, haven't given a whole lot of statements and at this point no different, still no reaction yet from the church. They just put up this sign here on the door basically saying even the procedures for the media. You're allowed to be here. We're having our normal Wednesday night schedule.

And when we're ready to make a statement, we'll make a statement. So that is what we are hearing from the church. Obviously Wolf, for those families of the eight individuals who will soon be heading on that airplane to come back to the United States, obviously very happy, I spoke with the mother of one detainee, Jim Allen (ph), she was quite emotional, crying to me on the phone. Let's hear what she had to say.


SIMON: What have these last few weeks before like for you?

PHILLIS ALLISON, MOTHER OF DETAINEE JIM ALLEN: It's been awful. But we trusted in God that it would happen.

SIMON: What would you like say to your son?

ALLISON: I would just like to tell him this I love him and I'm so proud of him. I'm very proud of him. And I can't wait to see him.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SIMON: The mother of Jim Allen, obviously ecstatic that her son is coming home, joined by seven others who are on that trip. Charisa Coulter and Laura Silsby remaining in Haiti, Wolf, and of course they're the two that organized this trip, Laura Silsby most responsible for this mission. She began formulating this idea some two years ago to build an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, then the earthquake happened and she gathered the volunteers to go to Haiti right after the earthquake to try to put that orphanage in place. Obviously the trip going awry and now she and her 24-year-old nanny, Charisa Coulter remaining in the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Probably smart for the church to stay silent at least until these eight actually leave Haiti and they'll probably want to be silent until the other two leave as well, relatively speaking. All right Dan, thanks very much.

Very soon, the world will finally hear Tiger Woods' side of the story or at least some of that story. The golfing great is set to break his silence on Friday after months of avoiding questions about his troubled career and marriage. Brian Todd is here. He's got more details on what we can expect. What do we know, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's an extraordinary move, Wolf. Tiger Woods' first public appearance since that car crash outside his Florida home at Thanksgiving. He will make a statement Friday morning 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time at PGA Headquarters in Florida. And it's the typically, carefully managed nature of this that's very interesting.

It will be not be widely open to the media. He will not be taking questions. One network will provide a camera for pool coverage. It can be seen live. Now according to Woods' agent Mark Steinberg, he'll be making a statement to quote, "a small group of friends, colleagues and close associates."

There is no mention anywhere of his estranged wife, Elin, attending this thing. According to a statement on Tiger Woods' Web site, quote, "Tiger plans to discuss his past and his future and he plans to apologize for his behavior. While Tiger feels that what happened is fundamentally a matter between him and his wife, he also recognizes that he has hurt and let down a lot of other people who were close to him. He also let down his fans."

Now it goes on to say that wants to begin the process of making amends and that is going to be what he is going to discuss, Wolf. But in -- by any measure in median management this is going to be an extraordinary event.

BLITZER: Some will say this is sort of a half measure because he is not taking any questions.

TODD: Right. Well I spoke with Dan Bond (ph), he's a leading image consultant. He works with major corporations and CEOs. According to him, he thinks this is the right move not to take questions. Why -- because this is the process where Tiger Woods wants to start to end this entire thing. By taking questions, you know you're running the risk that a lot of reporters are going ask, well what about this woman, what about that woman, all about these alleged infidelities. That's not the way to put an end to it. This is why Dan Bond believes that this is the right move for Tiger Woods right now not to take reporters' questions.

BLITZER: It does sound a little contrived, the notion of having friends and associates sort of in the audience --

TODD: Right. It's clearly contrived. And Dan Bond says that you know there is no really getting around that. And the reason though that he is doing this in front of friends and associates likely he's going to ask those people for forgiveness, of course likely they are going to forgive him. And again, that is the start of the public forgiving him for this. Again, very carefully managed and that is kind of the calculation behind it.

BLITZER: What about the timing of all of this?

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Some media image consultants are raising some questions.

TODD: Right and timing is very interesting. One thing that has to be pointed out this statement on Friday is going to be held during a golf tournament sponsored by the firm Accenture. Accenture was one of the first sponsors to drop Tiger Woods when the sex scandal erupted. That's very interesting.

Also Bond says that you know Tiger Woods probably wants to get this whole thing done before the Masters Tournament begins in early April. But Bond says he would do it differently. He would wait until after the Masters for two reasons. One to show the world that he is kind of legitimately suffering through this and therefore will miss, you know golf signature event of the season, but also to drive home the point that without Tiger Woods, the Masters Tournament, the PGA Tour, TV ratings plummet in popularity.

BLITZER: So let's just be precise. This is just a statement he is going to read.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: There will be TV cameras there, but he is not going to answer any reporters' questions.

TODD: He will not answer questions.

BLITZER: So it's not a news conference. It's basically just a statement they will make.

TODD: They are making it very clear this is not a news conference. He's going to -- whether he reads it or not, he is going make it seem like kind of a conversation it seems like, but clearly there won't be much feedback to Tiger Woods at that event.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd. We'll watch it obviously very closely. We'll have live coverage of Tiger Woods' comments Friday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Writing a violent novel, an alleged assault of a mother in front of her children, guess what, at a pancake house. We're hearing that is part of the background of the Alabama professor now charged with capital and attempted murder.

Also a murder mystery with international intrigue, a leader with Hamas is assassinated, now seven Israelis say their identities were stolen by the alleged assassins.

And President Obama in THE SITUATION ROOM -- not ours but the over in the West Wing at the White House, we're going to tell you what he talked about there with his national security team today.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, everything blue is red again, well sort of. Politico is reporting that the electoral map which President Obama remade in 2008 is returning to its old patterns. During the campaign there was a lot of talk about how Barack Obama had changed the playing field and put several red states into play. By winning in places like Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia and the mountain west Obama didn't need to rely on states that had decided previous presidential elections like Florida and Ohio.

Well fast forward a year and a half. Democrats are facing some tough races for Congress and governorships in November in these very same states. No doubts Republicans are loving it. One congressman said quote "one election doesn't make realignment". But Democrats insist that these states that use to be red will be competitive in November. Although some worry that without President Obama on the ballot, young voters and African-Americans are more likely to stay home.

Meanwhile a new poll suggest that trouble is brewing for any incumbent red or blue come the mid-term election and that is exactly as it should be as far as I am concerned, vote them all out, incumbents and start over with some people who want to work for us for a change. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows only 34 percent of voters think most members of Congress should be re-elected. That is a little high.

That is the lowest number, nevertheless, in the history of this poll, 63 percent say send the incumbents home. And as for President Obama, it doesn't look good, a majority, 52 percent say he does not deserve a second term in office. The American people are angry. Now if the economy turns around before November and jobs suddenly appear, well everything is up for grabs all over again.

Anyway here is the question. Why are some of President Obama's 2008 blue states turning red again? Go to Post a comment on my blog. Didn't take long for that to turn around --

BLITZER: No, but you know what, it can turn around the other way pretty quickly too.

CAFFERTY: Oh yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: This is politics, very fluid stuff.

CAFFERTY: Like I said, if the economy turns and the jobs start to appear, all is forgiven.

BLITZER: Yes, well I don't know about all, but a lot.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

We're digging deeper into the very troubled past of that Alabama professor accused of shooting three colleagues to death last week. CNN's Brooke Baldwin is just back from Amy Bishop's hometown near Boston. She uncovered new details. Brooke, you have been all over the story. She was a biologist, a neurobiologist I'm told, but she was also was, what, a writer?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She was a writer, Wolf. She apparently a penchant for writing novels. I finally got her husband, Jim Anderson, on the phone a couple of days ago. He said, yes, she wrote three of these. He referred though to them as medical thrillers, but he wouldn't give specifics as far as the plot, but who did give specifics was a writing colleague of Bishop's, who I interviewed last night, as you said, when I was in Boston. And he told me one book in particular that Bishop had written was set in Northern Ireland. He described it as dark and full of violence.


ROB DINSMOOR, COLLEAGUE OF AMY BISHOP: She managed to create a sense of suspense and in fact dread in her first book about the troubles in Belfast and growing up in it. And you just got a real sense of foreboding that was really hard to do.


BALDWIN: In fact, The Associated Press, Wolf, is reporting that she is the cousin of well-known novelist John Irving. In fact they're also reporting that Bishop had turned to Irving a few times for getting advice, on getting possibly published and getting out of her university job which she had described as frustrating -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You are digging -- you're also learning about another incident, Brooke, at a pancake house.

BALDWIN: We learned about this, Wolf, we were able to confirm it from the plane here to Atlanta today. We confirmed this with Peabody police. That's a suburb of Boston. This incident you're referring to happened in 2002, so Bishop was at an IHop with her children and she asked for a booster seat. Well the restaurant apparently had just given their last one out to another woman who had two young children and that is when Peabody police say Bishop, she started shouting, she was yelling profanity at the woman.

She of course was asked to stop, but that is when police report her shouting. I have the report. Let me read it to you. She kept repeating the statement I am Dr. Bishop. The IHop manager told her to leave and that is when police say Bishop hit the victim on her head in front of her two small children. Wolf, Bishop was eventually charged with assault and battery and disorderly conduct.

BLITZER: I understand you have also now spoken with a survivor of the shooting incident. Is that right, Brooke?

BALDWIN: There is a Huntsville affiliate reporter -- I got to give her credit -- down in Huntsville who has really definitely been digging and she spoke with Deborah Moriarity (ph). That's the name that's coming out from the university president, really hailing her as a hero. And she -- if you recall the details coming out yesterday -- she was sitting across from Bishop when she started shooting around that round table Friday during that Biology Department meeting and Moriarity was the one, she crawled under the table, she grabbed Bishop's leg, tried to get her to stop shooting.

Moriarity crawled into the hallway and that is when Bishop aimed the gun at her, but the gun clicked. She had to reload. The whole time Moriarity says Bishop's facial expression never changed. Here's what she said.


DEBRA MORIARITY, WITNESS TO ALABAMA SHOOTING: She looked angry when I first saw her. You know somebody who was just mad at you and was going to shoot you, you know and I don't think that that changed.


BALDWIN: One final note, Wolf, Moriarity also said that the time between when the shooting started and when Moriarity and the others helped barricade the door, that was just 20 seconds time, but Wolf, I imagine it would have felt like an eternity if you were sitting in there.

BLITZER: I know you'll stay on top of this story for us, Brooke. Thanks very much.

BALDWIN: You got it.

BLITZER: Brooke Baldwin reporting.

We're just learning about an incident involving the vice president, Joe Biden over at the Winter Olympics. CTV is reporting a security breach. We're going to tell you what we know. Also, Israeli spies now suspected in the assassination in Dubai of a Hamas leader. Some question whether they put Israeli citizens at risk by stealing their identity if in fact that's what they did.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well new developments in the Toyota recall. The government now says it will open a formal investigation into potential power steering issues in the 2009-2010 model Corolla. It all begins tomorrow as the Transportation Department begins its probe with an estimated 500,000 vehicles. Earlier today Toyota announced it was considering a recall as one option, but said there have been fewer than 100 complaints. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has received about 150 complaints from drivers.

And a man described as having an infatuation with Vice President Joe Biden was able to slip past security during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics Games. CTV News reports the 48-year old British Columbian came within just feet of the vice president, but two plain clothes Mounties flagged him. The man also had a homemade pass, tried to outrun security, but he was caught, he is now in a psychiatric facility.

And an update for President Obama on that major anti-Taliban offensive in Afghanistan. He huddled with his national security team in the White House Situation Room today with the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal joining by video conference. The news from the front lines is encouraging with U.S. led international forces making gains in the town of Marjah. This is the last major Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. Today Afghan forces were able to take down the Taliban flag that flew over the city and they replaced it with the Afghan banner -- progress being made on that front -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Thanks very much for that.

It's exactly one year since President Obama's stimulus package went into effect. While Democrats are singing its praises, Republicans are singing a very different tune. We're about to hear from both sides.

Plus, he went to prison 16 years ago for a crime he didn't commit. Tonight he is finally free.


BLITZER: Exactly one year ago, President Obama signed the stimulus package into law. Today he and other administration officials are using this anniversary to declare the Recovery Act a clear success. The stimulus has cost taxpayers a pile of cash, the total price tag, $862 billion. Many Republicans complain the package is full of waste but the president suggests that every penny was worth it.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One year later, it is largely thanks to the Recovery Act that a second depression is no longer a possibility. It's one of the main reasons the economy has gone from shrinking by six percent to growing at about six percent. This morning we learned that manufacturing production posted a strong gain. So far the Recovery Act is responsible for the jobs of about two million Americans who would otherwise be unemployed. These aren't just our numbers. These are the estimates of independent nonpartisan economists across the spectrum (ph).


BLITZER: Let's talk about the impact of the economic stimulus plan with two guests. Douglas Holtz-Eakin is a former economic advisor to Republican John McCain's presidential campaign and Robert Reich is a former labor secretary in the Clinton administration. Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in. And Douglas Holtz-Eakin, let me start with you. The president says two million Americans are working today who would be unemployed had it not been for the stimulus plan. Do you accept that?

DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, FORMER ECONOMIC ADVISER TO JOHN MCCAIN: No, Wolf, the source of those estimates are usually economic models computer based estimates that are sadly detached from the reality on the ground. They're the same models that didn't predict a recession and there is no way to verify their claims. I think the most potent piece of evidence against the bill is the fact if you compare what the president said the economy was doing, dropping at six percent and give it -- the Recovery Act all the credit for the growth we saw in 2009, it barely breaks even. We basically got a dollar for every dollar the federal government spent and that's not much in the way of stimulus.

BLITZER: Professor Reich, you want to respond to that?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR: Yes, first of all, the estimates of independent economists, many of them are, as Douglas Holtz-Eakin says, are based on models, but that is what estimates are based on. I mean there are no other ways of doing it. You do it as well as you possibly can and also every piece of data we have shows that the net job increase or the jobs saved were between 1.6 and two millions jobs. That is of 8.4 million jobs that were lost and Wolf that is not a good figure.

I mean there was a lot of pain out there, still is a lot of pain there. It would have been much worse. Would have been about 10 million jobs lost were it not for the stimulus package. And there's a very simple reason and I'd love to hear Douglas Holtz-Eakin's response to this and that is that with businesses pulling back and laying people off and not investing and with consumers getting out from under a huge debt load and not wanting to spend, the only spender left of last resort was the government.

BLITZER: All right.

REICH: And that is why you needed a stimulus.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Doug.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Well I think you should be skeptical of these claims. I mean stimulus packages have a very mediocre track record dating back to the 1970s and we've seen them repeatedly try and in many cases failing to arrive in time. And when they do not having much impact. This one is also not particularly well designed. I mean this is a $1 trillion package and I don't think the administration should take great credit for getting Congress to spend $1 trillion. That's not very hard. You should have something that is designed effectively --

BLITZER: But Douglas Holtz-Eakin, in fairness, the economic stimulus package a third of that was tax cuts for 95 percent of working class families. That's something you and other Republicans would support, right?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Yes, but that is one-third. Now we have two-thirds of the remaining you know $600 billion --

BLITZER: Well another third were benefits for those who are unemployed, insurance for cheaper prices for COBRA insurance (INAUDIBLE) laid off. Those are things you would support as well.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think there are things that should you support. Automatic stabilizers that have a long tradition of turning themselves on and turning themselves off. The stimulus package was so big that it is filled with a lot of waste, programs that went from 20 million to four billion and are riddled with real implementation problems, ridiculous projects. Worse, what we did in the stimulus package was expand the size of government in ways that won't go away.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Secretary Reich. Secretary Reich, the Vice President Joe Biden in an op-ed in USA Today writes this, "To me, the most exciting thing about the recovery act is not what we have done but what lies ahead. Year two of the recovery act will build on the successes of year one, continuing to generate jobs while seeding the transformative investments needed to ensure that our economy remains the world's strongest." Wasn't the economic stimulus package supposed to be immediate and create jobs right away not in year two or year three or year four? Wasn't there a crisis that had to be addressed?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER CLINTON LABOR SECRETARY: Yes, Wolf a lot of it was spent fairly soon and remember, those shovel ready projects, were there actually were some shovel ready projects. The stimulus money that went to state and local governments was spent right away. Unemployment insurance was spent right away by the people who desperately needed it. About 60% of the stimulus that was enacted has been spent. And there is about 40% left to go and that was on purpose. It's like a cold relief time capsule. It has to continue to be out thereto to do what is necessary for an economy that is not yet completely healthy.

BLITZER: But I thought the emergency was immediate. There are ways to deal with long term economic problems. And this economic stimulus package was sold as an immediate need to save jobs or create jobs.

REICH: There was an immediate need and there continues to there be. That was the first 10, 20, 30, $40 billion that went out had a very important direct effect. But like that time relief cold capsule, there is a continuing need. The recession is not going to turn around right away. Money cannot be spent right away. I don't think the administration ever said that the money would be immediately spent. But the unemployment insurance, the money that went to the states, locales and in terms of keeping the stimulus money going.

BLITZER: Doug, the whole notion of the economy being on the brink of a great depression a year ago, 700,000 jobs being lost in a month and now the economy is obviously is a lot better than that. Still losing but nowhere near 700,000 jobs a month. Here's the question, how much credit does the economic stimulus package deserve for turning the economic, albeit not enough but significantly around?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: It deserves some credit. I'd say a minority of the credit. Remember, the real pressure on the economy came from a financial crisis and the steps that were taken by the Federal Reserve to re-establish credit channels and by buying mortgage backed securities, by buying up securized car loans and student loans. That's the primary reason the economy stopped its free fall. The stimulus package, which we should have known in advance because of the design and the history of these things, deserves minimal credit. It doesn't deserve zero. You can't throw $1 trillion at the economy and expect to have no impact but certainly I think the bar ought to be higher than we want to have some impact when we spent $1 trillion of the taxpayer's money and set us up to spend trillions more.

BLITZER: Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Robert Reich, guys, thanks so much for coming in on this the first anniversary of the economic stimulus package.

International intrigue is spreading after the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai. And former President Bill Clinton says he knows what led to his most recent heart problems. And five people killed in two separate plane crashes. We will show you what happened.


BLITZER: There are new developments in the case of at Hamas official taken out by a team of assassins in a luxury Dubai hotel. That killing is now causing an uproar in Israel. Some security officials there are accusing the country's spy agency of being behind the hit and putting Israeli citizens at risk in the process. CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Jerusalem for us.

Paula, what's been the reaction to the story?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, at this point there are seven Israeli residents who have found themselves in the middle of an international man hunt. They said their identities have been stolen and used by this alleged hit squad. Now the seven live in Israel but they do have European passports as well. Many of them are British and one lives in northern Israel. And he says it feels like he is in a bad movie. These residents are asking, what happens now, why was their identity stolen and what happens when they try to travel? Because of course it's going to set off alarm bells if a border control types in their name. That is something they are worried about. It's not just the residents. The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, weighed in as well. He has called for a full investigation how fake passports could have been used. According to the Dubai police, they have been used for six months, between Asia, the Middle East. This is a question going forward. And also we know that the foreign office in Britain is summoning them to talk about this and talk about what is going on.

BLITZER: There has been serious criticism of the Mossad. The Israeli government isn't saying anything about this assassination but some media critics and others are saying it may have been a tactic success in killing a Hamas leader but a strategic blunder. Explain the reaction that you are seeing and hearing in Israel.

HANCOCKS: It's interesting, Wolf. They are not going to comment. They have this policy of ambiguity. The Israeli government doesn't really comment although the foreign minister says there's no actual proof that it was Mossad. The Israeli journalists and certainly the editorials which are pretty strong are saying it's obvious it was Mossad but they have messed up. Now there is a precedent to this. Back in 1997, Mossad tried to assassinate a Hamas leader. They tried to poison him in Jordan. The two Mossad agents who at that point were traveling under Canadian passports, were caught. There was a big diplomatic incident and in the end, Israel had to send the antidote over and actually save the life of the Hamas leader. So there is a bit of wringing of hands in the Israeli media and Israelis assuming it is Mossad.

BLITZER: I remember that incident. The late king of Jordan personally told the Israeli government, get the antidote, save his life or there be severe repercussions in Jordanian Israeli relations and the Israelis responded to that. Stand by for a moment. I want to bring in our homeland security contributor Fran Townsend. What does it say to you Fran that the Israeli government is silent in either rejecting or accepting blame or credit, whatever you want to call it, for this assassination?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That is sort of standard fair, Wolf. The operations, while not common, this is not unprecedented. There was the Russian assassination attempt in London several years ago and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at the time, it was Prime Minister Blair, was very unhappy with the Russians. It was a poisoning. There was a big investigation. But these things happen. And what you hope for is that it's "a," successful and you get the target. And "b," you get the people out. And this operation, while there are errors made here, was a success. If it was an Israeli operation.

BLITZER: You just assume like others that it probably --

TOWNSEND: It has all the classic hallmarks of it. Of course an intelligence service and a national government wouldn't admit one way or another. They are right not to comment on it.

BLITZER: Paula, let me bring you into this conversation. Is there a sense in Israel that it's one thing to go out and assassinate a Hamas official in Gaza using a drone for example, some sort of missile, a hellfire missile, which the United States tries to do in Pakistan against al Qaeda or Taliban operatives but it's another thing to send in a hit squad into a third country like the United Arab Emirates in Dubai in this case and actually assassinate someone who is on their hit list. Is that a subject that is discussed right now in Israel?

HANCOCKS: Certainly. If it hadn't had happened in Gaza, I really don't think we would be discussing it at this point. It is the fact that it is on a third territory even though this Hamas leader was actually living in Syria. And the fact is many Israelis do trust their government and their intelligence agency. If they are told as we have been told by Israeli security that this man, Mahmoud Al Mabhouh was a key link and he was actively smuggling arms to Gaza, the main thing that Israelis are going to thinks is thank goodness he was taken out of the equation because they believe he was a security threat to the state. Obviously we are hearing now that they believe it's a strategic threat. This is what the editorials are saying but there could be embarrassments about to come around the corner if it turns out that these -- these false identities were taken and it does implicate even further Mossad, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me bring Fran back into the conversation. Fran, to a lot of Israelis Hamas is a terrorist organization sort of the equivalent as al Qaeda is for the United States. Here is a hypothetical. Would the U.S. if it learned of an al Qaeda leader, a top al Qaeda leader in a third country, go out and send out an assassination hit squad to kill that al Qaeda lead center not with a drone, missile, not a remotely targeted device but actually go out and assassinate an al Qaeda leader in a third country like the United Arab Eremites?

TOWNSEND: Let's look for a moment what this and prior administrations have said about Osama Bin Laden. If they find him, wherever he is, and that includes Pakistan because of the tribal areas, we would get him. So I don't -- I wouldn't comment, Wolf, on any particular case, but I will tell you this is what intelligence agencies do. They are supporting the foreign policy of their governments, they do things covertly, they travel covertly and while many governments now will act outraged by the use of British or Irish passports, their intelligence services are all about doing the same thing to protect their citizens.

BLITZER: Interesting discussions. Thanks to both of them.

We are just getting new video by the way into THE SITUATION ROOM from Haiti. Pictures of those missionaries just released from jail. We are going back live to Port-au-Prince, stand by.

And two small planes in two separate states crash in eerily similar ways. The consequences are tragic. We're standing by for new information and the details.


BLITZER: Let's go back to John Vause from Port-au-Prince. New developments happening with those eight missionaries who have been released. I take it we are getting the first pictures? JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right Wolf. What happened a couple hours ago today, the eight missionaries boarded a van with diplomatic plates, from the U.S. embassy from the jail and then taken out to the Port-au-Prince airport here. Now a team on the ground outside the jails said the missionaries looked to be in fairly good health. They didn't say a lot when they left. They got on the van and they were taken out to the airport and there are some reports on the way -- once they got to the airport, they were taken to what's known as the Miami hospital to be checked out and right now they are still waiting at the Port-au-Prince airport. A short time ago a U.S. military C-130 touched down. We are assuming that is the plane that will fly the missionaries back from Haiti to U.S. oil. We know six of the missionaries come from Idaho, another one comes from Texas and another one actually comes from Kansas. Their destination in the U.S. at this point on that military plane is still unclear, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of it and see what happens to the two others who remain in jail. John, thank you.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf. Well, a small plane slams into a northern California neighborhood sucked in by heavy fog. Three people inside the Cessna died. Two homes caught fire and a daycare center was showered with debris but fortunately no one on the ground was hurt. Witnesses say it looked like it clipped power lines before it went down.

And in Texas, two men died when a plan crashed into a concrete storage building and split into the pieces. The pilot and the passenger of the twin engine left the airport only minutes before the accident. Witnesses report sounds of an engine stalling before the plane fell from the sky.

And a North Carolina man convicted of murder will go free because of mistakes made during his trial more than a decade ago. It's the first win for the North Carolina innocence commission, the only state level panel of its kind. Judges made the ruling after questions were raised on how state experts used evidence for the conviction. The 47- year-old always maintained his innocence.

Former President Clinton says shorting himself on sleep while working on Haiti earthquake relief probably led to his heart problem. Days after he went under a medical procedure to unclog a blocked artery, Mr. Clinton is already back to work and he said he won't slow down but he is going to try to manage his stress a little better. He needs to take it easy after all of that.

BLITZER: The doctor says he should get seven or eight hours a sleep a night. I know he doesn't because he's always working. All right. Thanks very much Lisa for that.

Here's a question. Why are some of President Obama's 2008 blue states returning red again? That is Jack Cafferty's question. Jack is back with your email after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for the Cafferty File. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour, Wolf is why are some of President Obama's 2008 blue states suddenly turning red again?

Katja in Florida says, "We were promised change, we got more of the same. We were promised transparency and we got more closed doors. When America voted for change, we were hopeful, but time has past and nothing has changed. I guess if we really want change, we the people will have to do it ourselves starting at the local levels and working our way up."

Steve in Cincinnati says, "The Obama administration is desperately throwing stimulus money at states like Ohio whose governors are weak and up for re-election but it's not working, ambiguous numbers are being touted as jobs being saved or created. And they keep trying to repackage that mess of a healthcare bill. Independent voters woke up. They're no longer buying the hippie hope and change bull that they were sold."

Matt writes from Illinois, "Who says they turned red? We haven't had an election yet. So why don't you wait until that time to declare there's been a change in sentiment?"

Jimmy in North Carolina says, "My state is turning red because we're bleeding to death. The hope is gone. The only change I've seen is what little I get back from a buck and that doesn't buy much."

Jim writes, "Because, Jack, the American people are stupid. Great idea gang. Let's put back in charge the people that ran us into a ditch. Good grief."

Sandra writes, "Jack, lots of Americans feel that they were lied to. I have heard people say that they there were so many problems when Obama took office that he couldn't have been expected to fix things overnight. Well one year later is not exactly overnight and people don't see that things are any better. One of Obama's biggest mistakes is that he made big promises and when you promise big you have to deliver big and he hasn't. With the overwhelming majorities he had in Congress, he has no excuse and the American people know that."

And Sue writes from Idaho, "Folks are fickle, Jack, no miracles, no votes."

You want to read more on this, you'll find it on my blog, I'm out of here, see you tomorrow.

BLITZER: Enjoy. Thanks very much Jack; Jack Cafferty with the Cafferty File.

Making a seriously long distance phone call, President Obama called up the NASA astronauts on the international space station and congratulated them on their successful mission. The president was joined by middle schoolers from Michigan, Florida and Nebraska. All of them had plenty of questions including the president.


OBAMA: I want you guys to maybe let us know what this new tranquility module will help you accomplish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The arrival of this module means several things. It means of course we, everybody's aware of this new, grand view that we have of the world below us and that brings a special significance. But the tranquility module is also going to serve as a gym, as a hygiene area, as a place the crew can maintain themselves for a long duration and long duration living and working in space is what the space station is all about.


BLITZER: The U.S. space program is at a moment of transformation right now. The space shuttle program is coming to an end at the end of this year. After the Columbia shuttle accident, President Bush decided to end the program because the shuttle was aging and becoming technologically obsolete. The last flight is scheduled for September 16 and then it's done.

A surprise candidate joins California's gubernatorial race, Zsa Zsa Gabor's eighth husband and his program is unlike any other. The Dalai Lama is getting ready to meet with President Obama tomorrow at the white house and you're going to find out why you'll probably not see any videos from that visit.


BLITZER: On our political ticker today, don't hold your breath for a big photo-op with President Obama and when he meets with the Dalai Lama tomorrow. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader visits the white house and his top envoy says the meeting probably won't be public because that will likely make China even angrier about the talks. The white house press secretary Robert Gibbs suggests one way or another the Dalai Lama will get his best --


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE PRESS SECRETARY: The meeting will happen as you know, in the residence in the map room. There will be an official photo released out of that whether the Dalai Lama goes to the stake out or what have you is up to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The stake out is up to the Dalai Lama?

GIBBS: He's done it before. I mean I wouldn't -- it would be a little bit more of an offer to restrict the right of speech.


BLITZER: Gibbs is posting about his own twitter. The white house spokesman tweeted that less than 30 hours after he began using the social networking site, he had almost 17,000 followers. He joked that he might even upstage TV star Kim Kardashian, not quite more than 3 million people follow her on twitter.

A prince best known for being Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband says he's ready to try a new role as governor of California. Prince Frederick was set to file papers today to run as an independent. The 65-year- old socialite and fixture in the tabloids says he's motivated to run by watching Arnold Schwarzenegger's mistakes.

That's it for me. Thanks for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, Campbell Brown.