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Where to Put Nuclear Waste?; Longer Stay in Iraq For U.S. Troops?

Aired March 4, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: A group headed by Dick Cheney's daughter says some Justice Department lawyers are disloyal because they once misrepresented Guantanamo Bay detainees -- why that has got sparks flying all along the political spectrum.

The Obama administration ends efforts to ship nuclear waste to a mountain in Nevada, but what is to be done with the countless tons of radioactive material piling up at plants around the country? We are taking you behind the scenes.

And a key NATO ally recalls its ambassador from Washington after a House committee approves a resolution about genocide.

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

A big hint today that U.S. forces could end up staying in Iraq longer than planned. All combat troops are supposed to be out of the country by the end of August, but as Iraqis face a crucial election this Sunday, the early balloting is already marred by violence.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's Arwa Damon, Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, says he may ask the United States to stick around for a while, based on the security situation.

Listen to this.


NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): This depends on the future, on whether the established Iraqi army and police would be enough or not. So, this issue is depending on the developments of the circumstances, and regulated by the strategic framework agreement between the United States and Iraq.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, just to clarify, if this situation dictated it, you would be willing to have U.S. forces extend their stay in Iraq?

AL-MALIKI (through translator): Absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. Let's go to Arwa Damon. She did the interview in Baghdad.

Arwa, does this mean for all practical purposes that he wants U.S. troops to stay longer?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, what this means is that the prime minister is realizing that perhaps this post-election period might not be as smooth as anyone had hoped.

This is quite a departure from his previous rhetoric, where he had been stating that his security forces were quite ready and capable. There is a reality here, though, that there are a number of insurgent groups out there who are just waiting to see how this so- called democratic process plays out, who are saying that if in their view the government that emerges is as sectarian as this one, there could potentially be more violence.

I think, at this stage, the prime minister wants to try to keep all options open, because, after all, this is still a very volatile and unpredictable country, and perhaps the worst for Iraq is not quite over just yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: The voting, though, has started already, Arwa. How is it going?

DAMON: That is right. The voting started, early voting for the Iraqi security forces, people at hospitals and in detention facilities.

One would like to be able to say that it had gone well, but it was marred by violence, by roadside bombs and by suicide bombers, the very type of violence Iraqi security forces have been trying to prevent.

But, earlier, we were at a polling station, and take a look at what we saw.


DAMON: It is early special voting in Iraq. Eligible for that are people at hospitals, in prisons, and, of course, the Iraqi security forces. So, the first step of the process for a voter is to come here, check, and make sure that this is, in fact, the correct polling center, that they are eligible to cast their vote here. They then go inside and their identification is verified here.

These police officers are telling us now that their names were not on the list here, which means that they're not eligible to vote at this center. And they're saying that a number of their colleagues have been having this problem as well. But they're unable to find their names on the list at any voting center and that they're being told to go home and basically haven't been able to cast their votes.

They're just saying right now that this whole issue is making them feel as if there is no transparency in the process, and it's also causing them, they're saying, to lose faith in the democratic process as well.

So this is the voting station. Here you have observers from the political entities. A person has their identity checked once again and they sign a piece of paper and finally receive their ballot.

Here we have the names of all of the blocs. A person has to check one of these political blocs, or the ballot will be considered invalid. And then of course they also have the option of voting for a specific candidate

This is the open list system. And it's the first time that Iraqis are able to do this on the national level.

The ballot then ends up in one of these envelopes. The fingers dipped into the purple ink. It is special ink that is not supposed to wash off for a few days, and then the ballots are placed inside a sealed box.

Now those boxes will not be open until after the rest of the Iraqi population has casts their vote on March 7.


BLITZER: All right. Arwa, so where do we go from here in the immediate days ahead?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, the Iraqi security forces most certainly will be stepping up their efforts.

I think, when it comes to the Iraqis, they are now going to be heading towards that critical vote, with two main concerns. One is a possibility that maybe there has been some sort of mixup in a voting list, and the second is, of course, the reality of violence.

And let's point out anything that happens that throws the legitimacy of these elections into question has the potential to be disastrous for Iraq. And this is not a country nor a people who at this point can afford for anything more to go wrong -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the stakes are enormous for the U.S., including all of those U.S. troops who are hoping to come home, and we will see if they do on schedule.

Arwa, thanks very much.

DAMON: Thank you.

BLITZER: A vote in Congress today triggering a stunning diplomatic setback for the United States, as a key NATO ally recalls its ambassador from Washington.

We are talking about Turkey, which is furious that the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution labelling the 1915 killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. The vote, 23-22, came over the objections of the Obama administration and it may have far-reaching consequences. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And joining us now, our correspondent in Istanbul, Ivan Watson.

Ivan, give us some background, first of all. This is something that happened nearly a century ago, yet it is causing such concern right now.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it still stimulates a lot of passionate debates here, basically, the events of 1915.

The Ottoman Empire is crumbling, World War I is raging, and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians are marched out by Ottoman troops out into the desert, many of them are killed or die along the way.

Now, Armenia argues this is a genocide. The modern-day Turkish government says, no, it was not a genocide, because ethnic Armenians and Muslim Turks were killing each other on these bloody battlefields, Wolf.

BLITZER: And now the government of Turkey, a NATO ally, has recalled its ambassador in Washington. I don't remember a time when a NATO ally has actually recalled an ambassador, but why the harsh reaction based on one committee in the House of Representatives?

WATSON: In fact, Wolf, this is the second time in a couple of years. In 2007, a similar resolution was passed, and Turkey also immediately withdrew its ambassador, temporarily, in protest.

I think what the Turks are really surprised at now, despite all of their lobbying efforts, despite a call from the Turkish president to President Obama the night before this vote, is how close the vote was, a nail-biter, 23-22, 23 in favor.

And, already, just minutes after the vote, the Turkish prime minister, his office putting out a statement saying that this showed a -- quote -- "strategic lack of vision" and warning that this could have an impact on a whole wide range of Turkish-American bilateral relations, suggesting it could impact Turkey's troop presence and cooperation as far as Afghanistan -- it's a NATO member country -- Iraq, and of course, the U.S. is going to be looking for the Turkish support in the U.N. Security Council for trying to bring up any potential sanctions against Turkey's eastern neighbor, Iran.

BLITZER: Is it just going to be tough words on the part of the government of Turkey, or will there be some substantive reaction, some punishment, if you will, some impact, direct impact, on this strategically important U.S.-Turkish relationship?

WATSON: Well, that is going to be a very good question. The U.S. military relies on the Incirlik Air Base for refueling flights on their way to the Middle East, to the conflict zones there.

The question is, is, how far are the Turks going to go to show their displeasure right now? And that is a question that we will just have to watch in the days to come.

A big question, can this resolution get down to the floor of the House of Representatives? Because it is clear that even though the White House reportedly opposed this resolution and tried to convince some representatives not to vote for it, they were not able to control the outcome of the vote in the House Foreign Relations Committee.

And look at the impact that it is having on regional politics now, nearly 100 years after these bloody events.

BLITZER: It is clear the Obama White House did not want this issue to come up right now. It is another headache that they have to deal with.

Ivan Watson, our man in Istanbul, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Spying on U.S. citizens. Did the U.S. military cross the line? We are going to tell you what some new defense documents are revealing.

Also, could there be a conflict of interests? Liz Cheney leads an attack on Justice Department officials who represented Guantanamo Bay detainees.

And our own Brian Todd in the middle of 200 tons of nuclear waste. He investigates where it will go after the Obama administration cuts off a project for a permanent dump under Yucca Mountain.


BLITZER: Even though Obama administration has given the go-ahead and the loan guarantees to build the first nuclear plants in decades, this week it formally ended the government's effort to store nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. That means radioactive material will continue to pile up at dozens of existing plants across the country.

Brian Todd is getting a firsthand look at what is going on -- Brian.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm standing in the middle of about 200 tons of nuclear waste, spent fuel that is stored in these dry casks. Officials here say it is safe, but they say it makes much more sense for the United States to move away from this kind of nuclear waste storage.

(voice-over): They are massive cylinders, each holding thousands of spent nuclear fuel rods. These casks at the Dresden Nuclear Power Plant AN hour outside Chicago are now the very symbol of the struggle to store nuclear waste. ADAM LEVIN, DRESDEN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT: Our pools are full. We're having to put fuel out into dry cask storage. And it doesn't make any sense.

TODD: Adam Levin is the director of spent fuel and decommissioning at this plant, which powers about a million customers. He and his colleagues are disappointed that the Obama administration has cut off the project to build a site underneath Yucca Mountain, Nevada, to permanently store nuclear waste.

To show what they are up against, plant officials give us access. After several security screenings, we don helmets, goggles, radiation exposure counters. Then we are inside the room where scalding hot waste from fuel rods cools down in massive pools.

(on camera): So, we are maybe 15 feet from the water and this is incredibly radioactive spent nuclear fuel just feet away from us, but because of the water barrier, we are safe?

LEVIN: That is absolutely true. And, in fact, where we are standing right now is very safe for walking around, for working in, whatever we need to do.

TODD: At most nuclear power plants like this one, safety is a space issue. Most of these spent fuel pools can hold spent nuclear rods with the spent fuel and the waste for decades. Some of the rods down there have been here almost since this plant was constructed about 40 years ago.

But, as I said, it is a space problem. They have to add new rods every couple of years. They have lift those rods out that are down there now, lower some dry casks that weigh about 100 tons each into the water, store those rods, and they take them out and store them outside.

(voice-over): More than 40 dry casks full of waste are on the premises. Plant officials say there will likely be at least 200 more by the time they have to decommission this plant.

It is a scenario repeated at dozens of nuclear plants across the U.S. White House officials say there were too many concerns about the costs and scientific viability of Yucca Mountain.

Homeland security expert Randy Larson also says transporting nuclear waste to a common site most likely by train is a risk.

RANDY LARSEN, INSTITUTE FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: How about if somebody attacked it? What would they use it to try to blow it up or whatever? So that makes the security thing less well-known.

TODD: Levin says U.S. officials have safely transported spent nuclear fuel for decades and he says a permanent depository is an environmental must.

LEVIN: It is those radioactive materials that are in the spent fuel that do require isolation from the environment for a long period of time, and a geologic repository serves that purpose.

TODD: Levin says his facility can safely store this waste for years, but he has got other concerns, as the administration heads back to square one for a solution.

(on camera): Under current law, nuclear power plants in the United States can operate for up to about 60 years. Then they have to start the process of decommissioning. And plants like this then can't produce power anymore. This plant has got about another 20 years until that process begins.

But this nuclear waste storage facility could well be in place indefinitely, well beyond that time, and whoever builds around this would have to build with this in mind -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

The U.S. military is supposed to defend you, but has it also been snooping on you? The Pentagon's own records, now pried loose by privacy watchdogs, show apparent violations of a law against domestic spying.

What is going on?

CNN's Lisa Sylvester has been digging into this story.

What are you turning up, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. military is not supposed to engage in domestic law enforcement. That is the job of state and local police and the FBI.

But new documents show there have been several instances where the U.S. military was in fact spying on U.S. citizens.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the U.S. military was working with the FBI on security. But the military may have crossed the line, not just monitoring the activities of foreign nationals, but keeping close tabs on U.S. citizens.

According to documents released by the Department of Defense inspector general, the U.S. Joint Forces Group was reporting on the organizations of Planned Parenthood and a white supremacist group the National Alliance and their involvement in protests and literature distribution in what the I.G. called an intelligence oversight violation.

Privacy watchdogs call it illegal.

NATE CARDOZO, ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION: Unless there is a foreign intelligence activity going on or a counterintelligence activity or some other very limited exceptions, the military is simply not supposed to gather intelligence against U.S. organizations.

SYLVESTER: But that did happen.

Another example, 2007, an Army Reserve officer routinely collected and retained communications on U.S. citizens and protest groups exercising what the Pentagon said was their freedom of speech and assembly. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a freedom of information request to obtain the nearly 800 pages from the DOD inspector general.

But since the documents are heavily redacted, they say it is difficult to know the extent of the military intelligence gathering.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin:

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Certainly, since 9/11, the government, including the military, has gotten much more aggressive in searching out possible terrorists. But the military, like the rest of the government, still has to follow the law, and that is something everybody needs to be reminded about.

SYLVESTER: The Pentagon, in a statement to CNN, said -- quote -- "This is public knowledge because DOD properly reported the incident, investigated, and took responsible actions to address the violations."

And the Pentagon spokesman added, "When we learn of potential violations of law, we investigate and take action."


SYLVESTER: Now, we contacted Planned Parenthood to get their reaction to the military tracking their activities. They say they are currently reviewing all of these documents and are holding off at this point from releasing a comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, you will check back with us and let us know what they say. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Calling them the al Qaeda seven, an advocacy group tied to Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, suggests Justice Department lawyers have been disloyal by representing Guantanamo detainees. What is going on?

And we have video of that terrifying situation on board a Mediterranean cruise ship, as giant waves slam into it.

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



BLITZER: Are Justice Department lawyers disloyal because they previously defended terror suspects? Controversial claims from a group tied to Dick Cheney's daughter. Stand by for that. And students and teachers around the country protest steep cuts in public education. We are going to show you how some elementary kids are getting involved.

And the Nixon administration called him the most dangerous man in America for revealing secrets it kept from the American people. Now a film about the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers is up for an Oscar. CNN catches up with him.


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

Happening now: the scandal surrounding embattled New York Governor David Paterson. He lost a key ally today and could possibly lose another one later tonight.

Across the nation today, students and teachers taking to the streets and protesting. They are furious about budget cuts they say will destroy the educational system.

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

Should there be a loyalty test over at the Justice Department? Some critics are questioning whether lawyers who once defended terror suspects should be working for the government. They have got sparks flying all along the political spectrum.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is here with some background on what is going this -- Jeanne.


The Department of Justice, should it really be called the department of jihad? An advocacy spot from a group headed by Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter Liz and a 9/11 family member poses the question. Even some members of the Bush-Cheney administration say it is over the line.


MESERVE (voice-over): Some lawyers who have represented Guantanamo detainees are now officials in the U.S. Justice Department. And a spot posted by the group Keep America Safe raises questions about where their loyalty lies.


NARRATOR: Whose values do they share? Tell Eric Holder Americans have to right to know the identity of the al Qaeda seven.


MESERVE: The Obama White House calls it bizarre. And even some former Bush administration lawyers say it goes too far. JOHN BELLINGER, FORMER BUSH ADMINISTRATION LAWYER: I think those sorts of cheap shots, suggesting that a lawyer who is simply defending a client somehow shares those views, are -- really are inappropriate.

MESERVE: Keep America Safe says its ad is not McCarthyism, we are asking for transparency, and that is why Senator Charles Grassley says, he has been pressing since November for the names of justice officials who have previously represented or advocated for detainees.


SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I am not questioning ethics being violated. I want information, so I know that ethics are not being violated.


MESERVE: Others say, ethics are being violated if any of those lawyers are now involved in setting government detainee policy.


REP. FRANK WOLF (R), VIRGINIA: You have been lawyer and been representing the Mafia or organized crime, it would be a conflict of interest for you to then come into the administration or into the Justice Department and put together organized crime policies.


MESERVE: A simple internet search will turn up the names of the Justice Department lawyers who previously represented the detainees, but the Justice Department will not provide a full list. A spokesman says, we will not participate in an attempt to drag people's names through the mud for political games. He adds, it is offensive that their patriotism is being questioned. And some lawyers in different political stripes agree.


BELLINGER: John Adams represented Tories (ph) who were accused of treason back in the revolution. This is the sort of work that we ought be applauding and not attacking.


MESERVE (on-camera): The Justice Department says, its lawyers often work in areas that overlap their prior practice, and strict ethics rules prevent conflict of interest. Some DOJ lawyers have been recused from matters regarding specific detainees whom they or their firms have represented but they have been authorized to participate in other detainee matters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. Thanks very much. Let's get some analysis now from CNN's Legal Analyst Lisa Bloom and Attorney Victoria Toensing, Former Federal Prosecutor. She established the Justice Department's Terrorism Unit during the Reagan Administration. Thanks to both of you for coming in. Victoria, it is even appropriate to raise this issue right now like this advocacy group that Liz Cheney is involved in, is doing?

VICTORIA TOENSING, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, Wolf, this is not about who somebody represented, that's not at all the issue here that misses the point, it is about whether certain lawyers have deeply held philosophical beliefs that are at odds to contrary to declare Justice Department policy. Let me just give you an example, in1970s, the Vietnam War and the draft dodgers, should the Justice Department bring in people who are opposed to the draft to prosecute those cases?

Would you take a lawyer who is opposed to wanting to have all of the narcotics laws repealed, wants to legalize drugs to be a drug prosecutor? No. And so, I think people are jumping the gun here. It is step one. Were there lawyers in this group who came into court and said no matter what, these military commissions are illegal. I don't care if the Supreme Court said that they are legal, and they are illegal, they're kangaroo courts and nobody should be tried in them. Then those people should not be deciding about how detainees are treated.

BLITZER: Lisa, what do you think?

LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there is a fundamental misconception here, and that is that a lawyer and a client do not necessarily share the same values. I'm an attorney, I have represented many clients, some of them I agreed with, some of them, I didn't, but the job of the lawyer in our system is to represent everyone, even unpopular people, even despised people. You know, the Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in my opinion one of the greatest justices in the u.s. history represented many criminal defendants, including felons, he then decided matters of great constitutional law including the death penalty.

And his background as a criminal defense attorney informed his decision making and it is the same here. We should not be conducting a witch hunt into what people as attorneys did before they came to the DOJ. If you want to ask them what their values are, whether they are loyal to the policies that they are working on, fine. But who they represented in their past lives as attorneys is not a matter of law.

BLITZER: I assume Victoria, you represented individuals who did bad things, you don't agree with what they did, but you felt a legal responsibility that they deserve in proper legal law, legal council.

TOENSING: Well, Lisa is entirely missing my point. I am not saying that attorneys should be affiliated with what their clients do. I have never argued that. I am saying, if you have gone to court and say the system that you now have to uphold should not be used, then that is a very different matter. It is so different and I used the example should somebody who thinks that all of the drug laws should be repealed be a drug attorney prosecutor at least to testify to the right toward. I am sure she would not want to hire somebody who thought that all of the civil rights statutes should be repealed. In fact, what this is about, it is not making any accusations yet, let's just find out in fact, where these lawyers are, if that is what their beliefs are. It has nothing to do with who they have represented in the past. It has to do with how they have argued in court as to what should be done about military commissions.

BLITZER: You understand the nuance and the point she is making, Lisa?

BLOOM: Yes, I do and again, I think, it is fine to ask people what they believe in, you know, in fact, attorneys have an ethical obligation when they are in court to zealously, that is the word, zealously represent the interest of their clients and attorneys may have made arguments in court on behalf of their clients because they felt that was the appropriate argument to make under the constitution statutes and the laws. It may not be what they really believe as a matter of advocacy and policy...


BLOOM: -- what they believe but ask people who they represented an entirely different question, and that is not on the table here.

TOENSING: But Lisa, you're missing one point. A lot of this work is pro-bono, and I don't know about you, but when I do pro-bono work, it is really something I believe in. When I write Op-ed pieces, it is because I really truly believe what I'm saying. And whenever I do pro-bono for somebody, it's because I believed that I do a lot for government people who I think who has been screwed by the system. So, when you do that, it is on a different level or just an ordinary course of representing the client.

BLOON: But a lot of people do pro-bono cases, for example in the death penalty area. But they're policy in the death penalty, doesn't mean you are in favor of rape or murder or...


TOENSING: Absolutely, but you just made my point.

BLOOM: Terrorists who are in our system, I say God bless them for representing the despise because that's what attorneys need to do and aren't that attorneys need to do that to uphold the constitution...


TOENSING: You would not those people in charge.

BLOOM: And that is what is on the table here.

TOENSING: But you would not put those people in charge opposed to the death penalty and charge of deciding if you have a Justice Department says, we will apply the death penalty where appropriate or it would not for those people in charge of it.


BLOOM: Thurgood Marshall was opposed to the death penalty, he was on the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Lisa, should the Department of Justice release the names?

BLOOM: Absolutely not. I think, it creates a terrible precedent, it would make it even more difficult for despise people to get an attorneys in the future. Absolutely not.

BLITZER: What do you think, Victoria?

TOENSING: Of course, it is a transparent government. Is it not?

BLITZER: So, you think, they should -- what about calling them the Al Qaeda seven as this ad calls them?

TOENSING: Well, of course, that is what the ads do to get your attention, look at you're talking about, it worked but I am talking about it in the context of if lawyers are in the Justice Department over seeing areas that they don't think should even be applied, then I think, we should know about it, because our terrorism laws being carried out appropriately. That is what this is all about. I'll tell you this. I am much more open than the current administration, do you think that any lawyer who did a lot of work but lobbied for a cigarette company could get even get a job in this administration? I mean, talk about making a decision on people you have represented.

BLITZER: I will leave both of you with a quote from Reginald Brown, he was a lawyer in the Bush White House, he said this, he says: "It's beyond a cheap shot to suggest that a lawyer is an Al Qaeda sympathizer, because he advocates a detainee's position in the Supreme Court." We will continue this discussion, ladies, thanks very much to both of you for coming in.

TOENSING: Thank you.

BLITZER: They may not be able to spell his name correctly, but second graders at a California Elementary School know exactly what they want to tell the Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Their letters are part of the national outcry today over education cuts.

And you need to see it to believe it. Jeanne Moos brings some music video they had to shoot 60 times before they got it right. Stay with us here in the situation room.


BLITZER: Teachers and students nationwide came out today to protest steep cuts in public education. Look at this from coast-to- coast, from Berkeley, California, to Austin, Texas, Orlando, Florida, there were demonstrations against education budget cuts and tuition hikes. The move began in California where the biggest cuts have happened. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez tells us how kids at a Los Angeles Elementary School joined in the protest by writing letters to the governor.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is no secret that the State of California is having money problems or that schools are having a tough time surviving, but what exactly does the budget crisis mean to schoolchildren. We came to Wonderland School in Hollywood Hills to see what the kids have to say.


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): After all, they are the ones dealing with this mess.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: They are cutting the library. They are cutting the music.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I am really worried about this.

GUTIERREZ: The school has already lost office staff and assistant principal, and they stand to lose several teachers at the end of the year.


GUTIERREZ: So, the kids in this second grade classroom at Wonderland Avenue Elementary School are about to launch a protest in the way that seven and eight year-olds can, they are writing letters to the man in charge.

(on-camera): Who are you writing to?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Governor Sorzenegger (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Snortsnagger (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Governor Snortsanegger (ph).

GUTIERREZ: OK. So, they don't know his name, but they do have a serious message to send him.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: This is my school. I don't want to lose the librarian and coach teacher and the nurse, I am concerned because people are cutting money from our school.

ETHAN BLITZ, SECOND GRADER: I love my school. So, can you stop cutting budgets? I really want to keep my school.

SOO IN CHOO, SECOND GRADER: I am concerned that you will make our teachers, coaches, our mom and dad and other people that are poor lose their jobs. Please don't make them lose their jobs.

MOSES BARYOTAM, SECOND GRADER: So, this is what I'm saying, please don't take money from our school. I would even help you, if you can do this one favor. So, please, can you do it? So, I am begging.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): Well, that is really a good letter. I can tell you to put a lot of thought into it. Yes? All right. Soo, in her letter is one of about 500 that were written here at the school. Where did the teacher go? Jody Hoffman is a second grade teacher here. Jody, if I could ask you a quick question.


GUTIERREZ: Tell me, why this letter-writing campaign? What are you hoping to do?

HOFFMAN: Well, we are hoping to show the governor how important the schools are and how well these children are doing and how much they care.

GUTIERREZ: In writing to the governor. Do you think you can make a difference?



BALK: I don't think that just parents should worry about it. I think that kids and parents should worry about it.


GUTIERREZ: So, beware, governor, hundreds of letters are heading your way. They should be in your mailbox soon. We just talked to Don Wilson, the principal of the school, he told us that 500 letters are now on the way to Sacramento, he says that the students' next project, YouTube videos to the California legislators -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thelma Gutierrez, thank you. We just heard by the way from the governor's office spokesman telling us that the letters will be read and Governor Schwarzenegger supports the students' right to protest.

The last place you want to be in an earthquake is stuck in the elevator. We have some dramatic video to show you in from a building in southern Taiwan.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the situation room right now. What else is going on, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi, there, Wolf. We have dramatic video of people stuck in an elevator in southern Taiwan when that 6.4 earthquake struck. There have been more than 15 aftershocks since the powerful quake. At least 12 people were injured. There are also been reports of fire, electricity being cut off, cracks in buildings and bridges and disruption of train service.

A Muslim cleric from the New York Borough of Queens has pleaded guilty of charges in connection with an alleged terrorist plot. Ahmad Afzali was one of the first people charged in what authority saying was a plot to bomb New York City subways. The imam pleaded guilty to charges, he lied to the FBI about tipping off Najibullah Zazie.

Despite all the bad news in the jobs front. There are signs that wages are increasing. The government's monthly report shows both the average weekly plan and average hourly pay have been inclining steadily in recent months. January's 1.1 percent rise in weekly pay was the largest increase in nine months. So, definitely some good news for the workers out there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see what the jobless numbers are tomorrow morning.

SYLVESTER: Yes, we will.

BLITZER: If they will be released. Let's see if they're going up, going down. People are bracing for not such good news tomorrow morning. All right. Thanks, Lisa, thank you very much.

All right. Daniel Ellsworth was once called the most dangerous man in America. Behind the Oscar nominated film about the man who turned the spotlight on the pentagon. We will show you what is going on.

And an incredible chain reaction that set in motion for a most unusual video. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The extension bill before this weekend's academy awards, one Oscar nominated film is about the man who revealed dark secrets about the Vietnam war, secrets that the government kept from the American people. Let's go to CNNs Brooke Anderson -- Brooke.

BROOK ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the name Daniel Ellsberg will forever be tied to controversy over the Vietnam War. Now, the man who leaked the pentagon papers is taking center stage at the Academy Awards.


(voice-over) President Nixon branded him a traitor.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Daniel Ellsberg, whatever his attentions gave aim and comfort to the enemy.


ANDERSON: Henry Kissinger reportedly called him the most dangerous man in America. Daniel Ellsberg, the man famous for leaking the Pentagon paper is back in the spotlight, this time on a very different stage, the Oscars.

DANIEL ELLSBERG, LEAKED PENTAGON PAPERS (on camera): This is a different kind of attention and recognition than you're used to having. It's different to be here with you. I haven't had that.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Along with a slew of famous faces, he attended the annual Oscar Luncheon in Beverly Hills. Ellsberg, now 78, is the subject of the most dangerous men in America, one of the five films competing for best documentary. The film charged Ellsberg's evolution from policy analysts who supported the Vietnam War to one of its key opponents.

ELLSBERG: The hundred of thousands of killing were unjustified homicides.

ANDERSON: In 1971, Ellsberg photocopied a top secret study of the war, what became known as the pentagon papers, and leaked it to the "New York Times." The paper showed that excessive administrations have misled the American paper over the war in Southeast Asia.

ELLSBERG: We still see no wildly work.

ANDERSON: The leak enraged then President Nixon who secretly vowed to discredit Ellsberg.

NIXON: Let's convict the son-of-a-bitch in the press.

ANDERSON: The White House ordered a break-in at the office of Ellsberg's psycho analyst in a quest for damaging information. It became almost as notorious as the Watergate break-in.

ELLSBERG: Then they sprung into high gear in capacity. Then they neutralized me because they didn't want me to put out secrets on the Nixon administration.

ANDERSON: What is not reveal in the film is why he sought treatment by a psychiatrist. He told me, in all these years, no one has ever asked him that question.

(on camera) I'm just curious, why did you have a psychoanalyst, a psychotherapist, at that stage in your life?

ELLSBERG: Well, the truth is, that one symptom that I had was a difficulty, kind of a block in publishing, which to some extent I still have and it didn't cure me.

ANDERSON (voice-over): He told me apart from exploring his writer's block, he also wanted to understand why he risked death earlier in his career to gather military intelligence in Vietnam. Therapy didn't provide the answer.

ELLSBERG: I didn't find that helpful.


ANDERSON (on camera): Ellsberg says, he hopes the documentary about him will encourage government insiders to reveal secrets about the war in Afghanistan, a conflict he refers to as Vietnamistan. He told me, he thinks U.S. involvement, there is on the same path of failure as Vietnam -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll watch the Academy Awards with Brooke, Sunday night. It was shot by single camera, it took more than 60 takes and two days to film. A most unusual chain reaction. You have to see it to believe it. That's next.


BLITZER: There was a time music video as debut on MTV but that was before YouTube. CNN's Jeanne Moos tells us about a new viral video.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It takes all, not to mention dominos and sledge hammers to make what maybe the most mesmerizing music video of the year. It's called OK go, and then when all right. To condense the action, we have to edit the shots, their music video, "this, too, shall pass" includes one single shot of the Rube Goldberg chain reaction that lasts almost four minutes. The group partner with 20 engineers' of the -- called sin labs who create the installation.

DAMIAN KULASH, LEAD SINGER: We let everyone to make a video where essentially, we have a giant machine that we dance with.

MOOS: The machine took a month and a half to build in a Los Angeles warehouse.

KULASH: It would be great to have the audio cut out in some point and have the machine play some facsimile of the song.

MOOS: It took 60 takes to get completely through the course a couple of times. Usually something failed before they got a minute into the video and they would have to reset everything. The group's treadmill video, which won a Grammy, makes a cameo this time around on the TV screen. They all but destroyed TV sets from previous takes in the background. Same with the piano. They went through two. The first is back there.

(on camera) Doesn't that video remind you a little bit of that old childhood game with different music, of course?

A shower of umbrellas created by engineers who could have designed rockets. They said other videos inspired them, for instance, "the way things go" by a pair of Swiss artists. It played with fire. And Peewee Herman played with toast. No way on the face of the musician to give this, just paint.

Jeanne Moos, CNN New York.