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THE SITUATION ROOM

Biden Condemns Israeli Housing Plan; Terror on the Highway

Aired March 9, 2010 - 18:00   ET

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


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

Happening now: The vice president, Joe Biden, slams Israel after it unveils plans to expand a disputed Jerusalem neighborhood during his visit. Why is the Obama administration so upset right now?

This time, it was Muslims attacking Christians, hundreds massacred with guns and machetes. We're taking you to a Nigerian village in mourning right now.

And terror on a California highway in a runaway Toyota. The driver tells the extraordinary story.

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

But we begin with the breaking news. The vice president, Joe Biden, harshly condemns Israel's plans to build hundreds of homes in a disputed area of Jerusalem. The move comes during Biden's own visit to Jerusalem as the Obama administration tries to restart peace talks, the vice president accusing Israel of undermining trust.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is standing by in Jerusalem, but let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

Dan, the statement that the vice president issued while in Jerusalem, a very, very tough statement condemning Israel.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, very strong words. And White House spokesman Robert Gibbs pointing out that the substance and the timing of the announcement today not helpful at all.

As you know, Wolf, this is the highest level member of the Obama administration to visit Israel, the vice president, this really seen as a chance to kick-start the Mideast peace talks, and then comes this announcement, the vice president, as we pointed out, issuing this very strongly worded statement, saying, in part -- quote -- "I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I have had here in Israel." The vice president going on to say that the kind of atmosphere that is needed now should be to help negotiations, not complicate them. And he went on to say that what is happening right now really shows how the two sides are so far apart, and negotiations critical now more than ever, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did the White House, Dan, get a heads-up that this approval for these 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem was going to be announced while the vice president was in Jerusalem?

LOTHIAN: No heads-up whatsoever, Wolf. I talked to a senior administration official who confirmed that.

But I should point out, having said that, the administration still showing strong support for Israel, despite that announcement, saying that it stands behind Israel when it comes to negotiations and peace talks, when it comes to security issues, the vice president also addressing this issue of Iran, which is of particular concern to Israel, pointing out that the U.S. has determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

But, certainly, on the one side showing that support, but on the other side realizing that what was done today complicating matters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan, stand by.

Paula Hancocks is in Jerusalem for us.

Paula, this happens, what, a day after George Mitchell, the special U.S. envoy, formally announces the resumption of at least indirect Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. The timing is raising all sorts of questions. What are Israeli officials saying?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you can only imagine the sort of dinner conversation going on between the U.S. -- the vice president and the Israeli prime minister.

This announcement came just before they sat down to dinner, and just after they had dinner is when Mr. Biden left and carried out this statement. Now, we have heard from the Israeli interior ministry. What they have been telling CNN is this has been a long time coming. It's been three years in the works. It is not technically East Jerusalem, even though the United Nations says it is occupied lands.

And they also say that it was just another process in the procedure, and they told the prime minister about it at around 8:00 p.m. local. Now, we were reporting it around 6:00 p.m. local, so certainly, this could be a rather large error on the effort of the interior ministry. Maybe they just came out with it at the wrong time.

But the fact is, it is being seen as a very provocative move. The Palestinians have already said that the Israelis are trying to scuttle talks before they even begin -- Wolf. BLITZER: And there's no doubt that it's going to undermine the confidence that needs to exist between Washington and Jerusalem when it comes to moving forward on the peace process, because officials here in Washington are going to suspect that the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu is playing fast and loose right now.

HANCOCKS: Absolutely. And I find it very interesting that the interior ministry said that they only told Mr. Netanyahu about it two hours after we had been reporting it.

So, certainly, it does seem like that there has been a big mess- up here, but the confidence is gone. There was very little optimism here actually on the ground for these proximity talks anyway. The confidence in those talks is now gone.

Senator Mitchell has a tremendous job ahead of him. He is going to be the one who is shuttling in between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And the Palestinians at this point have no confidence whatsoever in Israel. It had been a big step for them to agree to these indirect talks, even though Israel had not agreed to a full settlement freeze, and then this extra 1,600 houses are approved.

The Palestinians are just scratching their heads, wondering what is going on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How awkward this must be for Joe Biden, the highest- ranking U.S. official to visit Israel since President Obama took office, to have this strain in relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government emerge right now. Paula, stand by. This story is clearly not going away.

Other news we're following, though, includes a story about a woman from suburban Philadelphia known as -- quote -- "JihadJane." She has been indicted now for an alleged plot to recruit and help terrorists overseas.

Our homeland security, Jeanne Meserve, is standing by with details -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, she allegedly called herself JihadJane in a YouTube posting. And she is charged with conspiring to kill in a foreign country and providing material support to terrorists.

The Justice Department and other U.S. government agencies declined to comment on her target, but according to a government official familiar with the case, it was a Swedish artist named Lars Vilks, whose controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed prompted the al Qaeda terror network to put a price on his head.

Colleen LaRose, 46-year-old from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, is described by a law enforcement official as blonde, green-eyed ,a convert to Islam. According to an indictment unsealed today, she received a direct order to kill a Swedish citizen identified by that government source as the cartoonist Lars Vilks.

The indictment says she agreed, saying, "I will make this my goal until I achieve it, or die trying."

The indictment says she traveled to Europe and to train and kill her quarry, saying, "Only death will stop me here that I am so close to the target." The indictment says she used the Internet to try to raise money for jihad and recruit others to the cause. A government official says she was successful.

The indictment does not connect LaRose with any specific terror group, but a government source says she was in contact with committed jihadists in South Asia, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe. According to law enforcement, she was arrested on October 15 of last year in Philadelphia on a passport charge, had an initial court appearance the next day, but has been quietly held at a detention center in Philadelphia to protected an ongoing investigation.

Well, what was that? Today, Irish authorities arrested seven people. Irish media reports their target was the same Swedish cartoonist, Lars Vilks.

We contacted Colleen LaRose's lawyer this evening. He had no comment for us, Wolf.

BLITZER: How surprising is this, to have an American woman now accused of allegedly waging jihad?

MESERVE: Well, certainly disturbing, Wolf, but not altogether surprising.

Law enforcement and counterterrorism officials have been saying for some time now that jihadists were trying to recruit Westerners. We also know that women have been used as suicide bombers overseas. This was a woman. She was Western. So, apparently, they got quite -- quite what they wanted here, if these allegations are true -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what can you tell us about the cartoons?

MESERVE: Yes, the cartoons were published in 2007. They show the head of Mohammed on the body of a dog. As you know, dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims. Many Muslims found this very offensive and as a result of that al Qaeda put a price on the cartoonist's head.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve with that story.

Thanks, Jeanne.

Jack Cafferty will have "The Cafferty File" in just a moment.

Plus, hundreds of Christians are killed in a massacre in Nigeria. While some say it was revenge for a January attack on Muslims, others say religion is not necessarily the cause of this violence. We have a report from the scene.

And a terrifying race along the highway in an out-of-control Toyota, how police finally brought one man's ordeal to a safe end.

And a secret life is finally revealed, and it is at odds with a California lawmaker's voting record.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ROY ASHBURN (R), CALIFORNIA STATE SENATOR: I am gay. And so I -- those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: They're supposed to be the golden years, but retirement is becoming more and more difficult for millions of Americans.

A new survey shows the percentage of workers with virtually no retirement savings grew for the third year in a row.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed say they have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, excluding the value of homes and pension plans.

The annual Retirement Confidence Survey also found that 27 percent of workers have less than $1,000 in retirement savings, a thousand bucks.

It's a glaring picture of the continuing decline in our quality of life in this country. Sixteen percent of Americans -- that's all -- say they're confident that they can save enough for a comfortable retirement. That's the second lowest percentage in the 20-year history of this particular poll.

Job losses, mortgage problems are partly to blame here, but not entirely. Some people weren't saving even when the economy was stronger. And a lot of people don't want to think about retirement until it's simply too late to save enough.

For many Americans, the new reality then is working longer and retiring later in life. Financial planners say that retirement savings, including Social Security and pension, should provide about 80 percent of your pre-retirement income. Well, for most people, that means they should be saving close to 10 percent of their salary.

But, with millions unemployed, rising care health costs, declining home values among other problems, saving that simply isn't possible.

So, here's the question: What does it mean that 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for their retirement?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. A Republican state senator ends the speculation and announces he is gay. After Roy Ashburn was arrested last week on a DUI charge, rumors started circulating on what kind of club he was leaving when he was pulled over. What is notable is that this lawmaker has consistently voted against gay rights.

Mary Snow has been following the story. She's joining us now with more -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, it's because of that voting record that California Republican state Senator Roy Ashburn is drawing criticism from some gay rights groups. Ashburn's admission comes after he was arrested last week on a DUI charge and a filed report that he had been spotted at a gay nightclub.

Now, Ashburn, who is a divorced father of four, went on KERN Radio and told his story.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ASHBURN: I am gay. And so I -- those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long. But I am gay, that it is something that is personal.

And I don't believe -- I felt with my heart that being gay did not affect, wouldn't affect how I do my job.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SNOW: Now, Ashburn addressed his voting record, and he says it reflects the wishes of people in his district.

But critics are calling him a hypocrite. The gay rights group Equality California says it has consistently given a zero rating to Ashburn on its scorecard tracking gay rights legislation.

Now, the group says it empathizes with Ashburn. It hopes that he will use the opportunity to create understanding for gay people. And Ashburn's term does end this year. At this point, he says he does not plan to seek reelection or seek any public office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A dramatic development out there. All right, thanks very much, Mary, for that report.

He lived through a Toyota owner's nightmare. We are going to hear from one driver on what he had to do to bring his runaway Prius under control.

And downloads faster than a blink of an eye? With more people using smartphones, one company is racing to stay ahead of consumers' demands for data.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: He has been described as the architect, George W. Bush's brain. And is now talking about a lot that happened during the eight years of the Bush administration. And we're going to be talking with the longtime political adviser to former President Bush, Karl Rove. He will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. We will talk about his new book, "Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight."

Karl Rove in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow, 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Terror on the highway -- a driver says his runaway Toyota reached speeds above 90 miles an hour. He tells us about his efforts to try to bring it to a stop. Stand by for that.

And hundreds of villagers slaughtered in and around their own homes, men, women, children -- why Muslims were attacking Christians in Nigeria. We are going to the scene.

And stunning new research shows some parts of the population are much more vulnerable than others to the devastation of Alzheimer's disease. We are going to tell you what you can do.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: massacres in Nigeria. First, hundreds of Muslims were targeted. Now it's Christians. But religion may not necessarily be the sole reason for all this brutality.

And a family's search for answers. The hunt for a former FBI agent who vanished in Iran three years ago.

And muddying the health care debate. Democratic leaders dismiss former Congressman Eric Massa's claims he was forced out of office over health care reform.

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

It has happened again, this time a frightening ordeal on a California highway. A driver reaching speeds above 90 miles per hour is unable to stop his Toyota Prius until a police officer pulls alongside.

The driver recounts his terrifying experience to CNN's Ted Rowlands.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are with Jim Sikes. This is the gentleman who was in his 2008 Prius down here in San Diego County when it went out of control, saying that the accelerator, Jim, apparently just sort of took on a life of its own. Explain what happened.

JIM SIKES, PRIUS DRIVER: Correct. That is exactly what happened.

I was actually heading east on Interstate 8 in San Diego, and I pushed the gas a little extra, in fact, very hard, to pass a car that was coming on the freeway. And, as I did that, it just, the gas pedal felt kind of weird, and it just went all of the way to fast.

I was actually going around cars and came close to hitting one semitruck. And I was speeding up faster at that time. I was in the 80s somewhere. And I kept hitting the brakes, kept hitting the brakes, and it was not slowing down at all. It was just accelerating.

ROWLANDS: What was the sensation like?

SIKES: It was an odd sensation. I felt it in my foot. And I pushed the pedal and it just kind of felt like it just moved on its own. It is the only way I can describe it. It moved on its own and then it took over. It was pushing harder than I was.

ROWLANDS: You didn't try to put it into neutral?

SIKES: No. I was afraid to try to over there and hit it in neutral. I was holding onto the steering wheel with both hands -- 94 miles an hour in a Toyota Prius is fast.

ROWLANDS: Why didn't you turn the car off earlier?

SIKES: Because it was not safe. Those are very windy roads. And I didn't know, if I turned the button -- if I hit the button, if the steering wheel would lock or if the wheels on the car would lock.

ROWLANDS: Is there any doubt in your mind that the floor mats had nothing to do with what happened?

SIKES: The floor mat had nothing to do with yesterday's event, period. The floor mat did not move.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: And, Wolf, Jim Sikes says that absolutely he owes a debt of gratitude to the CHP.

He had called the California Highway Patrol. He had called 911 during this ordeal. And a police car came up alongside of him and said to him, put the emergency brake on and your regular brake on at the same time, and he said that allowed the car to slow down just enough for him to be safe in his mind, and he turned the car off, and it came to a slow halt, and, of course, without incident.

He said that he was really terrified throughout this ordeal. The car right now is in this Toyota dealership, and a Toyota statement was released about this. And Toyota basically says that they have dispatched a field technician to San Diego to this dealership to investigate the report, and offer assistance and look at the car.

And Jim says he got a call, Wolf, this morning from Washington, D.C. He says the federal government is also coming out to look at the car and to talk to him. It is clear that, in his mind, what happened here had nothing to do with floor mats. It was an accelerator out of control. And it is something that a lot of people are looking for answers to.

BLITZER: Yes, we had spoken to some experts over these past few weeks, Ted, who, if this happens, this unintended acceleration, put the car in neutral, put your foot on brakes, but also turn off the engine.

Even if you are going to lose power steering, you will still be strong enough to get your car to the side of the road. But he was reluctant to do so.

ROWLANDS: Yes. He said he was reluctant because the road was windy and he just didn't know. And he was going 90 plus miles per hour. And if you put yourself in that position, that's a game changer if you make that decision and it doesn't do what you hope it does. He said that he just couldn't bring himself, really, to throw it into neutral or to turn the car off because it was a windy road and he was going just so fast.

BLITZER: Ted Rowlands, what a -- what a story that is. We're going to continue to stay on top of it.

We'll see what the federal and state governments find out.

It's a devastating disease ribbing memories and personalities and millions of families out there are struggling to cope with the impact of Alzheimer's. Now, there's stunning new research that shows some parts of the population are actually much more vulnerable than others. But there are things you can do.

Here's our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think many people think that who gets Alzheimer's and who doesn't is relatively random. But a new study shows there may be a connection between Alzheimer's Disease and race.

Take a look at these statistics. This study shows that when you look at the folks between the ages of 74 and 85, among white people, one out of 10 will have Alzheimer's.

However, when you look at Hispanics, that number jumps. One out of four Hispanics in that age range will have Alzheimer's.

And then, when you look at African-Americans, it jumps to one out of three.

Now, we talked to experts about this and they say the reason isn't about genetics or biology, they say it's really socioeconomic, that minorities in this country tend to have less access to good medical care. And that's one of the reasons why they have higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.

Now just like having diabetes and high blood pressure is bad for your heart, it's also bad for your brain. So they say that explains the different rates.

Now, all of us can try to avoid Alzheimer's Disease by taking some simple steps. You can eat fruits and vegetables. You can exercise regularly. You can also be social. Interact with people. Don't just stay at home as you age. Also, doing crossword puzzles or learning a language -- all of these things will keep your brain going.

There's -- you can't guarantee, by any stretch of the imagination, that you won't get Alzheimer's if you do these things, but some studies suggest you can decrease the risk -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good advice.

Elizabeth, thanks very much.

Let's remember, the brain is like any muscle. You've got to use it and use it and use it.

A battle over land or a religious war -- hundreds of people are being massacred in Nigeria. But the reasons why aren't necessarily all that clear. We have a report from the scene. Stand by.

And it's been three long years without any answers -- a former FBI agent disappeared in Iran without a trace. We have his family's desperate search for any clues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This time, it was Muslims attacking Christians. The victims were massacred in their homes or as they fled to the streets -- men, women, children. Hundreds were killed Sunday in at least three villages in Central Nigeria.

CNN's Christian Purefoy shows us the aftermath in one of those villages.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The hysteria of grief. Mary Tswon (ph) says many of her family members were killed when the attackers came in the dark of early Sunday morning. She cried for help, but no one came. The Christian community of Dogo Nahwa in Central Nigeria is burying its dead after what everyone here says was an attack by Muslim herdsmen on this Christian community. An estimated 150 people -- many women and children -- were killed in last Sunday's raid.

But some villagers say this conflict is not about faith.

GABRIEL GYANG, COMMUNITY LEADER: What these people want is the land. It's not a question of religion.

PUREFOY: But this tit for tat violence is fueling sectarian tensions. In January, more than 300 Muslims were killed by Christians in a neighboring town. (on camera): This is a very somber moment for the local community, but also a dangerous moment for Nigeria. The security forces across the country have been put on high alert, because often in this region, one attack begets another.

(voice-over): And quickly, the deadly cycle of retribution is reignited, as local families here try to kill a local Muslim journalist reporting the burial.

(on camera): This is the situation that the Nigerian authorities are worried about -- spiraling completely out of control. The situation here is extremely tense.

(voice-over): The police eventually drag him to safety. It's impossible to know how many of Mary's relatives were killed, but there is no mistaking the depth of her grief or her hatred for their attackers.

(on camera): How does she feel?

How does she feel now?

(voice-over): "I am not happy," she says. "I wish even I had died myself."

Whatever the reasons for the attack, its consequences mean that Mary's family are unlikely to be the last victims in the region's troubles.

Christian Purefoy, CNN, Dogo Nahwa, Nigeria.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: At least 200 people were killed in Nigeria this Sunday. The violence between Christians and Muslims in the country is nothing new. More than 300 people were killed back in January. Locals believe Sunday's attacks were retributions for Muslim deaths in that incident. More than 1,000 people were killed in September of 2001, about 700 in 2004 and more than 300 in a similar incident in 2008.

The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria is split roughly evenly between Muslims and Christians; Muslims making up about 50 percent of the population and they primary -- primarily live in the north; Christians making a little bit more than 40 percent; primarily in the south. The Central Nigerian City of Jos has become the fault line for religious violence in the region. After military rule ended in 1999, Muslims were appointed as the city's local representatives and some argue that this local conflict in Jos has expanded across the central part of the country.

We're going to stay on top of this story for you.

A former FBI agent turned private investigator -- Bob Levinson went to Iran three years ago and simply vanished. His loved ones haven't given up hope.

Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with more on this story -- Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Bob Levinson's family is again in Washington to press his case. They've been to Iran to meet with officials there. But three years after his disappearance, this case is no closer to being solved.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: (voice-over): Christine Levinson's frustration comes from three years of a cold trail getting colder -- three years exactly since her husband Bob disappeared without a trace from the tiny Iranian resort island of Kish.

Her frustration comes out when she describes retracing his steps at the place he was last seen.

CHRISTINE LEVINSON, HUSBAND MISSING IN IRAN: We went to the hotel. We saw that it is in an area of Kish Island where there is not much activity and very quiet. And it's a short distance from the airport. And we believe that something happened between the airport and the hotel.

TODD: (on camera): What do you believe happen?

LEVINSON: I don't know. I have no answer. That's the hard part. I don't have an answer.

TODD: (voice-over): Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent, was working as a private investigator when he vanished. The family believes he was looking into a case of cigarette smuggling. U.S. Officials say he was not working for the American government. The Iranians say they don't know what happened to Levinson.

One mysterious character, American fugitive Dawud Salahuddin, claims to have met with Levinson to discuss the smuggling case just before he disappeared. Salahuddin has some baggage of his own. He was given refuge in Iran after admitting he killed a pro-Western Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980.

Christine Levinson says she met with Salahuddin, but got very little detail from him.

U.S. Officials have said Salahuddin is not a credible source of information about Levinson.

(on camera): The fact that he has that background and gave you no other detail, does not that not set off a couple of alarms in your mind?

LEVINSON: No. I am just a housewife looking for her husband. I just want answers. And all he provided me was the fact that he met with Bob and that he left Bob. And, you know, Bob checked out of the hotel.

TODD: (voice-over): Levinson gave away one of his daughters at her wedding. Another daughter, Sarah, has delayed her own wedding in hopes of the same.

SARAH LEVINSON, FATHER MISSING IN IRAN: I know that lots of girls dream about their wedding. There was only one thing that I dreamt about, and it was my father giving me away at my wedding.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: And Sarah says that she is planning to get married in September, but does not want to think about her dad not even being there, Wolf. It's difficult for her to think about it, but she's going to try to get married in September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What can you tell us, if anything else, about this mysterious fugitive who met with Levinson?

TODD: His birth name is David Belfield. He's an American convert to Islam. In 1980, he was a radical supporter of the Khomeini regime, that had just taken power.

Now, press accounts at that time say that he dressed as a mailman and gunned down an official of the Shah's regime -- a former official -- at that official's home in Bethesda, Maryland and then he got asylum in Iran.

He has since been working as a journalist. And Levinson's wife says she believes his account because she says that he returned a book to her that Levinson had loaned him.

But this man, Salahuddin, as he now calls himself, has long expressed a desire to return to the United States. So officials really are not clear about his motivations. That's why they say he's not necessarily a credible source on what happened to Bob Levinson.

BLITZER: Let's hope we get some answers soon.

Thanks very much, Brian Todd.

There's a major development -- a legal development in the David Letterman blackmail case. A former they've producer entering a plea. We're going to tell you what sentence he's now facing. Stand by for that.

And it's not your average cheese on a cracker.

What sets one New York restaurant apart?

We'll tell you, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A network television producer is admitting he tried to blackmail comedian David Letterman for $2 million.

Robert Joe Halderman entered his plea in a Manhattan court today.

Our Brooke Anderson has details on the case and Bob Halderman's punishment -- Brooke.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a guilty plea in a sensational case that involved sex, money and one of television's biggest stars.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: (voice-over): The man accused of trying to blackmail David Letterman over sexual indiscretions pleaded guilty today in a Manhattan court. Robert Joe Halderman struck a deal, agreeing to plead to second degree grand larceny. He was sentenced to six months in jail, five years probation, 1,000 hours of community service.

Prosecutors alleged Halderman, a long time CBS New producer, demanded $2 million bucks from the late night host to keep quiet about Letterman's affairs with some of his female staffers.

After his court appearance, Halderman said he was sorry in a brief presser.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT JOE HALDERMAN: And again, I apologize to Mr. Letterman, his family, to Stephanie Burkett, her family and certainly to my friends and family. I will not be doing any interviews and I thank you all for your patience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Now, the extortion plot began late last year, when Letterman received a package from Halderman threatening to go public about his affairs unless the host paid him off.

Letterman pretended to go along with the scheme, even had his lawyer cut a fake check to Halderman. When Halderman deposited the money, police busted him.

Well, Letterman nipped scandal in the bud by revealing right away to his audience that he had been the victim of the blackmail plot. He also admitted he had had sexual relationships with some staffers and described his behavior as "creepy."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY CBS/WORLDWIDE PANTS)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: Would it be em -- embarrassing if it were made public?

Perhaps it would. Perhaps it would.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: Especially for the women.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Letterman issued a statement today thanking New York police and the Manhattan district attorney. He said: "I had complete faith that a just an appropriate result was inevitable."

He added: "On behalf of my family, I am extremely grateful for their tireless efforts." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brooke Anderson reporting that story.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on -- Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf.

Well, another corporate titan has jobs on the chopping block. Chevron, the country's second largest oil company, says it will eliminate 2,000 jobs this year and the company says it will continue to trim jobs next year, as well. In January, fourth quarter earnings were down nearly 40 percent from the same period the year before. A Chevron spokesman tells CNN affected departments will include refining and marketing.

A television station in the country of Georgia claimed this woman is 130 years old, making her the oldest person in the world. Now, while her documents have not yet been independently verified, the media outlet has shown what it says are civil registration papers. The woman lives with her family, which includes 11 grandchildren. And there it is. In the video, she's seen playing backgammon and having a little drink there of vodka -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, good for her.

SYLVESTER: That's her secret.

Is that the secret to a long life, backgammon and -- and vodka?

Who knows?

BLITZER: And she's pretty cool.

SYLVESTER: But at -- at her age, you might as well drink up and enjoy.

BLITZER: Let her enjoy. That's -- that's important.

Thank you, Lisa.

Another battle line has been drawn where Catholic lawmakers are taking a stand on health care reform. Stand by for that.

And we'll check back with Jack Cafferty on the responses he's getting about retirement savings. Jack Cafferty and The Cafferty File, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: A stunning statistic -- the question is, what does it mean that 43 percent of Americans have saved less than $10,000 for their retirement?

Isabella writes: "For people living day to day, paycheck to paycheck, saving for retirement is next to impossible. I'm one of those 43 percent. The way I see it, I'm grateful that I'm able to support my kid, give them a nice home, nutritious meals and send them to school in clean clothes. Saving for retirement simply has to wait until I have either fewer expenses or more income."

Zach in Washington: "It's not a question of not being able to save, it's a question of not wanting to.

If you're of retirement age right now and aren't close to your goals, that's your fault for not saving over a lifetime of working. It's not a representation of the economic climate."

Mike in Pennsylvania says: "As a former employee benefits administrator who managed pension plans, I'm not surprised. I've seen people borrow from their pension plan and take out loans, like the pension plan is a piggy bank. Then they use the money to buy sports cars, sofas, etc. It just goes with Americans' short-term focus on everything we do."

Jay in Portland, Oregon: "It just means that even though the official retirement age will be 60 something, depending on when you were born, the actual retirement age will be much later. So, in effect, we'll have gone back to the days where the vast majority of people worked until they died and only a lucky few retired -- and they didn't usually live too long after that."

Norm writes: "Approaching retirement myself, my observation is that most people I know never learned the difference between what you need and what you want. Knowing the difference and limiting my spending over my adult life, I'm ready and I'm anxious to get to it."

And Ron writes from Copenhagen: "It means that something is very, very wrong with the system -- unless you're a senator or a congressman. Then you're safe."

If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it at my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good to know they're watching us not only in Copenhagen, but all over the world, Jack, which is good.

CAFFERTY: It's a global enterprise, this thing we do here.

BLITZER: Yes -- yes it is.

CAFFERTY: They even watch us on "Saturday Night Live."

BLITZER: You -- we'll talk about that. Stand by.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Democratic leaders are dismissing his claims of political pressure -- the latest on a former U.S. Congressman who's now the focus of an ethics investigation.

And it may be natural, but it's giving some people second thoughts about hors d'ouevres. Our Jeanne Moos samples a Moost Unusual cheese, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Got some extra milk?

One New York chef is refusing to allow his wife's surplus breast milk to go to waste. So he's making cheese with it.

Our Jeanne Moos is taking a taste of a Moost Unusual menu item.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): You'd cry, too, if someone was taking your mom's breast milk and turning it into cheese?

(on camera): Isn't it weird for you to see someone eating your breast milk?

LAURIE MASON: It makes me feel proud.

MOOS (voice-over): Laurie Mason's fiance, Daniel, is a chef at their New York City restaurant, Clay Brasserie. So when their freezer at home started to overflow with Laurie's extra breast milk...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are we going to do with it, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then I look at her, why don't you make some cheese?

MOOS: Well, maybe you think that's better left to cows. But human breast milk is super healthy for babies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the most precious thing in the world to you. And so if your baby is eating it, why in the world would you not?

MOOS (on camera): And I have to say, you look much cleaner than a cow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, that, too.

MOOS: At least Lori is not out dragging herself through the mud and manure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm free range. I'm organic.

MOOS: Daniel's recipe for breast milk cheese...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's tricky.

MOOS: -- ended up on his blog. The next thing you know...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LIVE! WITH REGIS AND KELLY," COURTESY ABC/BUENA VISTA ENTERTAINMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guess what we have right here, Andy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, you're kidding me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Oh, go ahead and groan. Sure, there's a yuck factor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, it's a bodily fluid. Or, oh, you know, it's a form of cannibalism.

MOOS: Someone actually e-mailed that, saying: "This is beyond disgusting."

But Kelly Ripa managed to get it down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LIVE! WITH REGIS AND KELLY," COURTESY ABC/BUENA VISTA ENTERTAINMENT)

KELLY RIPA, CO-HOST: It tastes like chicken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And with the cheese resting on brioche with a pickle and paprika...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is no yuck factor.

MOOS: It tasted like cheese.

on a cracker and paprika. It tasted like cheese.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're going for (INAUDIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

MOOS: Though the cheese eaten alone had a gross consistency. But there are worse things you could do with breast milk. Take the Kentucky woman arrested the other day for being intoxicated, who allegedly squirted a female deputy in the face. But we digress from cheese.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, you're not the first to do this.

(CROSSTALK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "BORAT!" COURTESY TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife, she makes this cheese.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She'll make it from her milk from her (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).

MOOS: By the way, the New York City Health Department says the restaurant knows the cheese made from breast milk is not for public consumption and any experiments with it as a food ingredient are best left for the home.

PETA once suggested that Ben & Jerry's should make ice cream out of human breast milk. That led to .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE BONNIE HUNT SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rackberry.

Mrs. Kraft's singles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): What do you have to say about all of this?

(voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Happening now, Vice President Joe Biden condemns a new move by Israel only hours after meeting with Israeli leaders. This hour, why the U.S. is feeling snubbed and what all this means for Middle East peace.