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Toyota Under Fire; NATO Ally's Coup Fears

Aired February 23, 2010 - 18:00   ET


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

Happening now: fireworks and tears. As a top Toyota executive gets a grilling from Congress, terrified drivers and grieving families tell shocking stories of runaway vehicles.

An exclusive from CNN's Special Investigations Unit, the so- called 96-hour rule, why U.S. troops in Afghanistan must quickly turn up evidence against terror suspects, insurgents, or turn them loose. Does it hurt the overall war effort?

And a key NATO ally rounds up dozens of its own military officers amid allegations of a coup plot, an extraordinary story you won't see anywhere else.

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

The head of Toyota's U.S. operations in the hot seat up on Capitol Hill, as the first of three congressional hearings on the company's massive recalls gets under way. In just a moment, we will have some of that emotional testimony, and it was very emotional indeed.

But first let's go to CNN's Brian Todd up. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Brian, tell our viewers what you're picking up?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that testimony today from victims, from experts and from the head of Toyota's U.S. headquarters was indeed dramatic.

We also got the chance to speak to one family that did not testify today, but who has had a complaint with the automaker that predates these recalls.


TODD (voice-over): Before that deadly 2009 Lexus crash near San Diego brought our attention to Toyota's problems, before those problems brought Toyota's leaders to Washington, these three sisters have been fighting Toyota over unintended acceleration.

SHERRY BRANDT, CRASH VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: They don't even listen to the consumers.

TODD: Sherry Brandt, Julie Mayfield and Margie Meibergen remember vividly that day in September 2007. Their mother, Barbara Schwarz, was in the passenger seat of a 2005 Toyota Camry by her friend Jean Bookout.

The sisters say the throttle took off on the car. It flew into a culvert in rural Oklahoma. Bookout was injured. Barbara Schwarz, mother of five, grandmother of nine, died of internal injuries, but not before telling witnesses something that haunted her daughters.

MARGIE MEIBERGEN, CRASH VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: She just kept reiterating that Jean could not stop the car.

TODD: That 2005 Camry is not covered in the two recent Toyota recalls, but the family says the accident that claimed their mother's life was not caused by the problems addressed in those recalls, not a sticky accelerator pedal, not a floor mat issue. They say it was because that 2005 Camry had no brake override system, where the brakes would have prevailed if the brakes and accelerator were pressed at the same time.

The sisters and their attorney have been litigating against Toyota over that since 2008 and came to these hearings to draw attention to their case.

(on camera): What do you want from Toyota right now?

JULIE MAYFIELD, CRASH VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: I just want them to make it right. Hearing the explanations that we have heard in there just break my heart. I think they have known something was wrong. I want them to recall the cars.

TODD: Contacted by CNN, a Toyota official would not comment on the sisters' lawsuit, but he said none of the company's vehicles have had brake override because some features about it were not appropriate for the way many people drive. Specifically, he cited the way some people drive with one foot on the accelerator while the other is on the brake.

Also, he said, it would not work if you needed to accelerate up a hill from a dead stop.


TODD: That Toyota official said the company does not consider brake override necessary for driver safety. He said that the cars that Toyota makes, all of them can be safely brought to a stop if the drivers apply the brakes firmly and steadily and if the brakes are in good working condition.

The Schwarz family attorney says the brakes on that 2005 Camry worked just fine, that it was the design of the vehicle that led to that deadly accident -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, what happens down the road? This brake override, will that be in place in all Toyota vehicles?

TODD: We asked the Toyota official about that today. He said that by 2011, brake override will be made available on all Toyota vehicles. But, again, he reiterated that they said in the past they did not think it was necessary for safety and that very few makes and models of any kind have that system in place.

BLITZER: Brian Todd with this story for us, thank you.

Let's get some more now on the hearing and some of that gripping testimony.

I want you to listen to this woman recount her terrifying ordeal with sudden acceleration and the stonewalling from Toyota that she says followed. Afterwards, we will hear the response from the head of the company's U.S. operations.


RHONDA SMITH, Testified About Lexus Sudden Acceleration: I would like to share an incident with you concerning SUA that I experienced October 12, 2006 in our new Lexus ES350.

This car had 2,728 miles on it when the indent occurred. The vehicle had a keyless push-button ignition and required a key fob to be present inside the car in order for it to start.

On that Thursday, October 12, 2006 -- and I am going to read this, because I tell you, it still upsets me today -- I was driving from my home in Sevierville down Highway 66 to the interstate, Interstate 40. And upon entering the interstate, I accelerated with everyone else into the flow of traffic.

And at this point, I merged over into the second lane, not going into passing gear. At this time, I lost all control of the acceleration of the vehicle. The car goes into passing gear and the cruise light comes on.

At this time, I'm thinking that maybe the cruise is what caused the car to keep accelerating, as my foot's not on the gas pedal. I take off the cruise control, but the car continues to accelerate. To make a long story short, I put the car into all available gears, including neutral, but then I put it in reverse, and it remains in reverse as the car speeds to over 100 miles per hour down the interstate.

I placed both feet on the brake after I firmly engaged the emergency brake, and nothing slows the car.

I figured the car was going to go its maximum speed and I was going to have to put the car into the upcoming guardrail in order to prevent killing anyone else.

And I prayed for God to help me.

I called my husband on the Bluetooth phone system. I knew... (OFF-MIKE)

I'm sorry.


I knew he could not help me, but I wanted to hear his voice one more time.


After six miles, God intervened. As the car came very slowly to a stop, I pulled it to the left median. With the car stopped and both feet are on the brake, the motor still revved up and down. At 35 miles an hour, it would not shut off. Finally, at 33 miles per hour, I was able to turn the engine off.

Toyota said they would inspect our Lexus, then contact us. After 10 days, we still had received a callback. We called again and got the same assurances. Toyota promised us they would look into our complaint several more times over the next few weeks.

When we finally forced Toyota to respond in writing, we received a five-sentence analysis stating, and I quote, "When properly maintained, the brakes will always override the accelerator." Well, we know that's a lie.

And we were outraged that Toyota would suggest in that statement also that the brakes had to not properly be maintained in order for that to happen. And the car had less than 3,000 miles on it.

Once again we contacted our dealer and expressed our disgust with Toyota's handling. They recommended that we contact NCDS, which is the National Center for Dispute Settlement, and ask for an arbitration hearing.

Our NCDS hearing was a total farce. The representative for Lexus was Mr. Leonard St. Armond (ph), their Tennessee district field technician. Mr. St. Armond (ph), although only an hour away in Kingport, did not show his face, and he attended via speaker phone.

He insisted that he could not re-create the incident and that I had more than likely caused this problem by standing on the brakes while spinning the tires.

Well, of course, we were furious that Toyota called us liars the second time. NCDS denied our claim for a total refund of our purchase price for this (INAUDIBLE) car, which is all we were asking for.

Unfortunately, it took almost four years and injuries and lives lost to Congress to take up this important issue. In 2006 and '07, we hoped that our efforts might spare others the unnecessary terror and pain of an SUA incident.

And it pains our hearts deeply to realize that we failed. But this failure is surely shared by Toyota and NHTSA today. In our view, they demonstrated an uncaring attitude and disregard for life. The results have been tragic. And today, I must say, shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy. And shame on you, NHTSA, for not doing your job.

JAMES LENTZ, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, TOYOTA MOTOR SALES USA: And I can tell you listening to Mrs. Smith, I'm embarrassed for what happened. And we are going to go down and -- and talk to them and get that car so that they feel satisfied. I want her and her husband to feel safe about driving our products. I was embarrassed to hear the story.

I will tell you, and whether it is an accident, an injury -- I mean, we heard the Smiths today. You didn't -- you didn't have to have a death to understand the terror that she had from that accident. I mean, that's a terrible thing to have to put one of our customers through.

And it doesn't even have to be an accident. I mean, we -- we have apologized to our consumers just for the concern that we have given them with their current recall vehicles. We are -- we are sincerely sorry for that concern and anxiety we've put people through.

Any time there is one death in one of our vehicles, that -- that pains us to have that take place, regardless of how it happens. But it's -- it's critical today, and we weren't doing a good job in the past, of investigating those quickly enough, especially when it had to do with unintended acceleration.

And with -- with adding these new engineers, these SWAT teams, that we're going to be able to get on-site as rapidly as we can. Our goal is to make it in 24 hours. We need to be able to do that so we can understand what's happening and make the necessary changes so that it doesn't happen again.

I can tell you, I lost a brother in an accident a week after his 30th birthday. That was 20-some years ago. And there's not a day that goes by that I don't think of that. So I know what these families go through.


BLITZER: Tomorrow, by the way, Toyota's president, Akio Toyoda, is scheduled to testify up on Capitol Hill. He is new to the role and comes to it at a time of crisis. Toyoda was appointed president just last June, two months after the company posted its biggest annual loss ever, $4.4 billion.

Toyoda is the grandson of the company's founder. He's 53 years old and has lived and studied in the United States. He is currently number 28 on the Forbes list of the world's most powerful people.

And if you are wondering why the family name the company name are spelled differently, it is because the Japanese character for the family name has 10 brush strokes, while the company name has eight, and the Japanese consider eight a lucky number.

Jack has "The Cafferty File" in a moment.

Also, broken government -- while millions of Americans are wondering how they will ever retire, members of Congress enjoy a pension that you might find hard to believe.

And a close U.S. ally, a member of NATO, is rocked by accusations of a coup plot, including an alleged plan by military leaders to bomb mosques.

And the role that some say is hindering the war in Afghanistan -- I should say the rule. Suspects are set free after 96 hours. We are going to get an exclusive response from NATO.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama has set a dubious record. He's now gone longer than President George W. Bush in avoiding a formal news conference with reporters.

It's been 215 days since the president's last prime-time nationally televised press conference. George W. Bush's longest stretch was 214 days.

I wonder why he doesn't want to talk to reporters and answer their questions.

Maybe it's because at his last prime-time news conference, in July, Mr. Obama stepped in it big-time. Remember? That's when he said the Cambridge police acted stupidly -- his words -- in the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates. Well, that comment turned into a virtual media storm.

Since then, it's been all about staying on message. Earlier this month, the president took questions from reporters in a mini-presser, if you will, after showing up unannounced on a snow day at the daily press briefing in the White House. He took a handful of questions for about 30 minutes. But not the same as a full-fledged, announced- ahead-of-time, prime-time news conference carried live on all the networks.

One White House reporter tells "The Washington Times" the president seems -- quote -- "a little snakebit on the whole presser thing" -- unquote. And other reporters have said they're frustrated at not being able to hold the president's feet to the fire.

The White House argues they have done more interviews with more reporters at this point in the president's term than any of his predecessors.

And that's true. The president is all over the media. He's done interviews with the network anchors, "60 Minutes," Oprah, print reporters, et cetera. But that's not the same as standing in front of the nation's Washington press corps on live television at night and making yourself accountable.

So, here's the question: Why is President Obama ducking the press?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

All this week, CNN is taking a close look at broken government. Many Americans will spend half-a-lifetime or more working for the same company, only to find they have little or no safety net when that job ends. Others, especially those on Capitol Hill, don't have that problem.

Our Lisa Sylvester has been investigating what is going on.

Lisa, what are you finding out?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is certainly nice work if you can get it. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill receive automatic pay raises and they never have to worry about their retirement, but that is not the case for middle-class Americans.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Paul Debosz worked for more than 35 years in the auto industry. He was promised a pension when he retired. But after his former company, auto parts manufacturer Delphi, went bankrupt, Debosz found out his pension taken over by the Federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, was being cut by 30 percent.

PAUL DEBOSZ, FORMER AUTO PARTS WORKER: I felt betrayed. I felt betrayed mostly because I had put 37 years in with a company, following the rules, doing everything I should, and then, all of the sudden, I found out that, for the rest of my life, things would be changed.

Come on. Let's go.

SYLVESTER: Like many Americans, Debosz is worried about how is going to he to cover his bills in retirement? But one group doesn't have any worries. And that's members of Congress. They can draw on their pension beginning at age 50. Depending on the years of service, they can get as much as 80 percent of their final salary.

There are costs-of-living adjustments added on, and they are still eligible to receive Social Security. According to an analysis by the National Taxpayers Union, Senator Chris Dodd will have a starting pension of $125,500 every year starting next year when he retires.

Senator Byron Dorgan counting his years in the House and Senate stands to get more than $116,000, Senator Gregg an average of $ $63,000, Senators Bond and Bunning taking away $58,900 in annual pensions. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unlike even state and local pension plans, the federal congressional pension system is simply a direct line into the taxpayers' wallet. There's no investments that need to be made, no fund balances that get worried about. Whatever the liability is for a given year, taxpayers cough up the money for it.

SYLVESTER: We called the senators to get a response, but our calls were not returned. The congressional retirement system was reformed in 1994 to make the system less generous and more in line with that of other federal workers.

Still, Representative Howard Coble says the system is broken. He has tried repeatedly to reform the pension program, which he says has not won him many friends on Capitol Hill.

REP. HOWARD COBLE (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, it is too lavish. It's too generous when you compare it with pensions across the country. I elected to refuse the pension on the ground that taxpayers are subsidizing my salary now. And I figure, when I leave, they have taken good care of me. Let me do the best I can once I leave, after the service in the Congress has been accomplished.


SYLVESTER: And, amazingly, up until recently, even if a congressional member has committed a crime, they could still get their full pension. But a 2007 law barred members convicted of felonies from receiving their pensions.

Still, there are a number of members of Congress, like Congressman William Jefferson, his corruption offenses took place before that year, so he will still receive a pension paid for by the taxpayer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He was the one who had almost $100,000 stashed in his freezer.


SYLVESTER: That's exactly right, in the freezer. That is what most people will remember him for.

BLITZER: And he's -- I think he's already in jail. He is sentenced to a rather long jail sentence.


BLITZER: But he will get his pension.

SYLVESTER: He is still going to -- he's still eligible for his pension, despite everything that has happened.

BLITZER: Good reporting, Lisa. Thank you.

SYLVESTER: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: Are America's allies too reluctant to fight? The defense secretary, Robert Gates, warning European nations future enemies may see their attitude as a sign of weakness.

And one NATO ally -- get this -- arresting its own generals amid allegations of a plot to overthrow the government and to blow up mosques. What is going on?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Top generals rounded up in the middle of the night -- why a NATO ally -- yes, a NATO ally -- fears a coup and why this alarming situation is so vitally important to Americans.

And an exclusive from CNN's Special Investigations Unit -- U.S. troops in Afghanistan struggling with a rule, a NATO rule that gives them just 96 hours to turn up evidence against terror suspects or turn them loose.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: The former Vice President Dick Cheney's office now says he has suffered what is being called a mild heart attack. That would be his fifth heart attack. We are going to get the latest on his condition and prognosis with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Americans exposed to thousands of chemicals, but the government has tested only a fraction of them for safety -- a disturbing report as our look at broken government continues.

And tales from the toll booth. You won't believe what some drivers claim they have been subjected to.

I am Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now, to an extraordinary story that is unfolding, one you are not likely to see anywhere else: a key NATO ally rounding up dozens of top military officers including former navy and air force chiefs. They are accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Turkey.

That Islamic-leaning government is deeply suspicious of the military, which has often intervened to keep Turkey very secular.

CNN's Ivan Watson picks up the story in Istanbul.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Look at how far the mighty have fallen. One by one, 17 retired generals who once commanded a million-man army, escorted by plain-clothed police away from their homes at night. Turkish police detained 19 active and retired military officers in a wave of raids on Monday.

The suspects include four active duty Navy admirals and this man, Ibrahim Fertna, the former commander of Turkey's Air Force now escorted by authorities on a commercial flight to Istanbul where he is expected to be interrogated.

The generals are accused of an alleged plot to destabilize Turkey's elected civilian government. The plot code named "Sledge Hammer" was first reported in the Taraf newspaper. It allegedly included plans to plant bombs in mosques.

In a fist-pounding performance last January, Turkey's top military commander angrily denied these accusations, but it has not stopped the investigation. The military has long before the most powerful institution in Turkish society.

Over the last 50 years, the generals have overthrown at least four civilian governments. But the staunchly secularist military's might has been on the wane since prime minister and his Islamic- inspired justice and development party swept to power in 2002.

Over the last year and half, prosecutors have detained hundreds of suspects as part of another alleged coup plot to overthrow the government. Author and analyst Hugh Pope says that the investigation has been anything but transparent.

HUGH POPE, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: No one can doubt that there is actually been some bad stuff done, but on the other hand, it seems beyond belief that many of the people have been taken in and some of them held without charged for several months, are all deeply involved in plots of terrorism or to overthrow the government.

WATSON: Lawyers for the detained generals with their long history in meddling in Turkish politics are now accusing the civilian government of fabricating evidence and acting dictatorial.

WATSON (on camera): The political struggle between the once powerful military and the civilian government is far from over. Now analysts predict a fresh legal battle over where to prosecute these military officers. No one yet knows whether they will be tried before civilian courts or before a military tribunal. Ivan Watson, CNN, Istanbul.


BLITZER: Any instability in Turkey certainly has serious implications for the region, for NATO and for the United States.

Let's bring in our National Security contributor Fran Townsend who was the Homeland Security Adviser for President Bush. She also worked during the Clinton administration in the Justice Department.

Explain to our viewers why Turkey is so significant and important not only to NATO, but to the United States.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: You know, Wolf, the best thing to look at to understand it is where it sits. This is -- Turkey sits both at the gateway to Asia and the gateway to Europe.

It is a new member to the European Union so it has economic ties and military ties and political ties throughout the region. Remember -- folks will remember when the United States was preparing to go into Iraq how we sought the military cooperation of Turkey, which was denied to us in the beginning of that war.

Turkey has a long -- we have a long history with their military of cooperation, training and assistance, and we look to the Turkish military for their advice, for their support throughout the region.

BLITZER: Because the Turkish military has been very, very pro NATO, pro-U.S., and much more so than the new government over the past several years, which is more Islamic-oriented if you will.

TOWNSEND: That is right, Wolf. I remember going become to my time in the Bush administration between 2003-2008, and this was an uneasy alliance between the very secular military and the more conservative Islamic government of Prime Minister Erdogan, but the tensions were clear even to us in the outside of the United States over policy, and just day-to-day matters.

Things like the Prime Minister Erdogan's wife wears the veil and that was an issue, because you knew there were concerns at the highest reaches of the military with the conservative bent, and of course, the Islamic conservative population is part of Prime Minister Erdogan's political base. So some of the tensions were natural, but it led over the years to the sense of mutual suspicion on both sides and that's clearly bubbled over now.

BLITZER: Yes, certainly the military is not very happy with it, but this is a government when all that is said and done, that was democratically elected.

TOWNSEND: That' right and so it's an adjustment for the military to be comfortable in their appropriate rule, and wane in advising the prime minister of military policy matters and foreign policy matters and respecting the democratically elected government.

BLITZER: This is a critical moment in Turkey right now, and we will watch it closely with you and all of our viewers. Thanks.

TOWNSEND: I'll be there next week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Really?

TOWNSEND: Yes, it will be very interesting to see what the feel of the city is in Istanbul.

BLITZER: Let us know what's going.


BLITZER: Fran, thank you. Have a safe trip.

It's called the 96-hour rule, and some say it is hampering the war in Afghanistan while NATO forces are actually forced to let suspects go. This is a CNN exclusive, we have new information you'll be interested and we're also following the condition of the former Vice President Dick Cheney following what is now being called a mild heart attack.


BLITZER: It is a policy that even General David Petraeus says he is personally concerned about. Now we are getting reaction from the NATO leaders about a detention rule that many say is putting American and NATO soldiers at risk.

It is called the "96-hour rule." NATO and Afghanistan troops have four days or 96 hours to hold on to a suspect. After that time, they either have to turn over the suspect to Afghan authorities or simply release them.

CNN Special Investigations Unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau is joining us with more. Abbie, you have been working the story now for a while and you're getting new reactions?

ABBIE BOUDREAU, SPECIAL INVESTIGATION UNIT: Yes, Wolf, just last week, we examined the case of Roger Hill. He is a former Army captain who was faced with the 96-hour rule during his time in Afghanistan in 2008. Hill says the rule is not working and in his case, it forced him to make a decision that would ultimately end his military career.


BOUDREAU (voice-over): Captain Roger Hill had 12 suspected spies on his bait, one of them, his once-trusted interpreter, Nuri. He detained all of them in this small building that's when NATOS's 96- hour rule went into effect. He had 96 hours to collect enough evidence convince Afghan authorities to takeover the 12 suspects or Hill would be forced to release them. He was running out of time, so at the 80th hour, he had a plan.

ROGER HILL, FORMER U.S. ARMY CAPTAIN: I decided that I need to break protocol and interrogate them myself. I took three gentlemen outside and sat them down and walked away and fired my weapon into the ground three times hoping that the men on the inside left to their own imagination would think that they really needed to talk.

BOUDREAU (on camera): So what happened?

HILL: Fired two rounds in the ground, walked back inside and sure enough, some of the detainees started to talk.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): The confessions were enough for the Afghans to take control over the 12 suspected spies, but Hill's tactics got him charged with detainee abuse. He received a general discharge last year.

BOUDREAU (on camera): After a public appearance, we asked General David Petraeus about the rule. I'm with CNN, and we have one quick question. Is 96 hours enough?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: The 96 hours is not enough if you are going to ensure that they stay behind bars, obviously. Again, there has to be a process by which the individuals that need to be detained are detained or that if they are handed over to Afghan officials that there is confidence in the system working.



BOUDREAU (voice-over): And now NATO is the reacting as well. In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee says NATO is now considering taking another look at the rule. Though there have been no formal discussions yet.

BLITZER: Is it time for NATO to rethink that 96-hour rule?

ADM. GIAMPAOLO DI PAOLA, CHAIRMAN, NATO MILITARY COMMITTEE: NATO is discussing the issue, but we have to understand it here that this 96-hour rule which is today a NATO rule is also to do with a certain legal aspect which part of certain allies. So it is not just a matter of military issue here. There are legal, judicial aspects that we have to take into account, but needlessly needing to be discussed.

BLITZER: So you're open to taking another look at it?

ADM. DI PAOLA: The alliance is considering the issue.


BOUDREAU: Wolf, we got a statement from Senator Lindsey Graham who is critical of the 96-rule and he said, quote, "the rule makes no sense and is putting our troops at risk for no higher purpose." He says, "I am glad the policy is being reviewed, and it is long overdue."

Graham also tells us that he has legislation prepared in case the review process is stalled and he considers this, quote, "a matter of life and death." And, Wolf, one more note about Roger Hill's case, even though Afghan authorities took over the 12 suspected spies, Army investigators learned that all 12 men were released and no one knows where they are now.

BLITZER: How is that possible, Abbie, that NATO does not even know where these guys are? And the suspicion was that they were actually spies working for the Taliban?

BOUDREAU: I know it is really hard to believe, but that, the reason for that is because NATO stops tracking detainees once they are handed over to the Afghan authorities and that is the way the rule is set up. And that is one of many reasons why this rule is so widely criticized now. Now, all 12 of those suspected spies, Wolf, were let go and remember they all worked on the base, so that means they were all armed with a lot of information about how the base operated and other intelligence information that could also ultimately et into the wrong hands and help the Taliban -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I have spoken to a lot of high-ranking U.S. military personnel who served in Afghanistan. They hate this 96-hour rule and they want it to go away and encouraged now that the NATO Chairman, the military Chairman is saying that they are open to taking another look at it.

And they were certainly encouraged by what they heard from the commander of the Central Command General Petraeus who oversees NATO and Iraq. Abbie, excellent reporting, thanks very much.

The U.S. Navy is about to lift a longstanding ban, we have details of a major change in store for thousands of U.S. sailors. We are learning that one of Sarah Palin's daughters has landed a TV role, one that hits close to home.


BLITZER: We are getting details on shooting in Colorado. What is going on, Lisa?

LISA GODDARD, CNN CAPITOL HILL RADIO CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we've got the very latest details. This is just in.

Two students have been wounded at Deep Creek middle school in Littleton, Colorado. Authorities say an adult male is in custody. One of the victims was shot in the chest and the other in the arm. Witness says that students were waiting for a bus when a man in a black hat and jacket opened fire.

The school is not far from Columbine High School where two students went on a shooting spree in 1999 killing 12 people and we will monitor that, and bring you more details as they come available.

In other news, the Navy has decided to lift the ban on women serving on submarines. They were one of the last places women were excluded in the military, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates has notified Congress by letter that the Navy intends to repeal the ban. It was thought that close quarters on subs would make co-ed service hard to manage.

Former Democratic Congressman James Traficant tells CNN than he plans to run for Congress as an independent. He says he is disgusted with both parties and eyeing a campaign in Ohio district. Traficant, you might recall, he spent seven years in prison for corruption.

Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, has landed a television role. The teen mom will play herself on ABC's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager." Palin says she is thrilled to be on a show to educate people about the consequences of teen pregnancy. The U.S. Coast Guard spotted this hiker trapped on a rocky ledge after falling near Mt. Noma Falls in Oregon. Rescuing him is proving to be a challenge. Because the coast guard cable was not long enough to reach him. The team is now trying to reach him by land. He remains in contact with the rescuers via cell phone and he is not injured --Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks to the coast guard for that. Lisa, thank you.

Jack Cafferty is asking, why is President Obama ducking the press? Your e-mails are just a head.

And former Vice President Dick Cheney suffers his fifth heart attack. We will check in with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Standby, you are in "The Situation Room."


Right back with Jack for the Cafferty File -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Why is President Obama ducking the press? It's been 215 days since his last formal prime time news conference.

Dave writes from New Hampshire, what's the old saying? If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything. This guy doesn't have much under his belt to brag about. He resolve full of hope and change at the beginning, then he hit the wall, you know, Congress.

Simon from Florida writes, it's all about the teleprompter. He's a great speaker, he's just not a very quick thinker when it comes to some of the tough questions that reporters might ask and defending some of the idiotic things he's done has got to be almost impossible.

Jeff writes, ducking the press? Give me a break. Six months ago CNN was having panel discussions about how overexposed Obama was. How could he handle his workload, et cetera? Which way do you and the press want it?

Vic from New Jersey writes, the press is not interested in asking substantive questions. They are only trying to score some kind of gotcha moment. These just spin out of control in the media and it's difficult to maintain focus on important policy issues. Obama realized this after the Gates fiasco and he's been wise to avoid the press ever since.

King writes, maybe I'm wrong, but can anyone tell me the last American president who has been this forthcoming with the American people and the news media?

Brad from Texas writes, Obama is ducking the Washington press because while adept at public speaking from prepared comments, he is weak at answering spontaneous questions in front of a live audience. He governs by committee and flounders when he's on his own, attempting to address the press.

Ken writes, because the Washington press corps for the most part is composed of rude, egotistical jackals.

You want to read more on the subject, go to my blog,

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jack.

Members of Congress may be turning up the heat on Toyota, but in today's hearing, they also kept turning the attention to themselves as customers. Look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Toyota makes good cars. I've driven one pleasurably and safely for years.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I drive a Toyota, a Camry Hybrid that so far has not been recalled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was excited to get one of the very first Camry Hybrids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When it was time to replace my 12-year-old car, I went in search of a Hybrid. I decided on a Prius but ended up with a cute little Celera convertible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second generation of my two children who are actually adults drive Toyotas.


BLITZER: A lot of those Toyotas are manufactured right here in the United States.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is standing by. He's going to fill us in on the former Vice President Dick Cheney's heart attack. Details of his conditions, his prognosis, what's going on.

And up next, toll takers gone wild. CNN's Jeanne Moos about to take a most unusual look.


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

In Taiwan, a woman praised under a lantern.

In Russia, communist and their supporters hold a rally on the "defenders of the father land national holiday."

In London, models thrills on the catwalk during Fashion Week.

In Germany, check it out. A baby orangutan poses for a picture at the Dresden zoo.

Hot shots. Pictures often worth a thousand words.

Their job seems to be taking a toll on some toll takers. CNN's Jeanne Moos getting ready to take a "Most Unusual Look."


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The next time you go through a toll, imagine getting your change back plus saliva.

ANDREW GOLDBERG, MANAGING EDITOR: Patron claims collector spit on his fingers before counting out his change and handing it to him.

MOOS: In that case, keep the change. The smoking gun web site has received 550 complaints about toll takers on the New Jersey turnpike.

This one short and sweet.

GOLDBERG: Patron dropped a dime. Customer called him a moron.

MOOS: These are from motorist so mad, they bothered to call in their complaints, sometimes mundane --

GOLDBERG: He got the wrong change because he was busy on a cell phone ordering a pizza with extra pepperoni.

MOOS: Sometimes unbelievable.

GOLDBERG: The collector then sprayed him with some type of aerosol spray.

MOOS: For one female motorist, an innocent chat about driving while sleepy turned into a proposition from the toll taker.

GOLDBERG: I have a way of keeping women awake if you're interested, and then he offers to flash her.

MOOS: Some women complain about being asked out on dates that we know of couples who met driving through toll booths on the Massachusetts turnpike, couple who met and then married. This trucker used to ask his fellow truckers for help finding his favorite toll taker.

GOLDBERG: I'd send somebody ahead to find out what booth she was working that day so I would get the right booth.

MOOS: As for the wrong thing to do --

GOLDBERG: Pennies are the worst thing you can do to a toll collector. MOOS: Drivers trying to pay in pennies found the collectors throwing the pennies back at them. We found one on-line comedian paying a $7 toll in pennies. Though the toll taker took it well and then there's the driver that pays with $100 bill.

GOLDBERG: The toll collector decides they're going to give them all their change, and he says, I can see you have 20s. Do you want quarters?

MOOS (on-camera): All right , we're going to pay with nice, crisp $100 bill at the Queens midtown tunnel, we got no attitude.

Can I have three 20s, a 10 and some singles?


MOOS: Like a bank.

After a run-in at a toll, one driver complained --

GOLDBERG: He looked back and was climbing out of the booth screaming to come back, he wanted to kill the patron's ass.

MOOS (voice-over): We know one driver who used to drive the Jersey turnpike. Better not try throwing pennies at him. Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you take a postage stamp worth 39 cents?

MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: Happening now, Dick Cheney suffers his fifth heart attack. It was mild, but with the former vice president having experienced so many heart problems, how should he proceed now?