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THE SITUATION ROOM
Jihad Jane from Main Street; How Big a Threat is Homegrown Terror; Health Benefit to Cigarettes?; Chief Justice Slams "Pep Rally"; Wiring Rural U.S.
Aired March 10, 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: All right, Jack. Thank you.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, she lived on main street, in the suburbs, but was she living a double life plotting terror? The CNN exclusive in the background of the suspect who allegedly called herself "Jihad Jane."
Remember when President Obama drew cheers by criticizing the Supreme Court during a State of the Union address? Well, it seems that Chief Justice John Roberts is still upset. Wait until you hear what he's saying now.
And the actress Reese Witherspoon travels here to Washington for International Women's Day. She meets with Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and with me right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
She's an American who actually lived on main street, in the suburbs, but authorities say she secretly called herself Jihad Jane online, living a double life recruiting jihadists. And now she's in jail accused of plotting to help terrorists and carry out a killing in a foreign country.
Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti has been digging into the background of the suspect in this dramatic case.
Susan, you had an exclusive interview with her former boyfriend. Did he have an inkling of what authorities say was going on?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, absolutely nothing at all. He said he met this woman in 2004 while he was on a job in Texas. He knew that she was twice divorced, but they hit it off and she moved here outside Philadelphia.
He worked long hours and he said he was clueless about what she was doing on his home computer. He thought she was playing games like Pogo. He did say that she took very good care of his father who was very, very -- her father -- his father, rather, who was very, very ill. And that after he died, she suddenly bolted, said nothing about it, nothing at all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURT GORMAN, FORMER BOYFRIEND OF COLLEEN LAROSE: First I was worried, concerned, didn't know what happened, if something happened to her. So then disgusted.
CANDIOTTI: Why disgusted?
GORMAN: If there was somebody, and then you come home and they're gone one day, how would you feel?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Susan, how long after that, did the FBI show up?
CANDIOTTI: Well, it was about a month later he said he got a phone call. They came over to the house and they were asking him questions about what she was doing on his home computer.
They took his hard drive. He told them he didn't know much about whatever she was doing. And they also asked him about his passport which he said disappeared shortly after she left.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORMAN: Didn't know I had moved it around somewhat, so I didn't know where it was.
CANDIOTTI: Did the thought run through your mind that she might have taken it?
GORMAN: It did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: And she says that she -- as we all know, she is accused of taking that passport, presumably to help some suspected jihadists overseas. That's what investigators are saying -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Now everybody has seen the pictures of her, the job, the traditional Muslim headscarf. Does he think she was really capable of pulling off some sort of terror conspiracy?
CANDIOTTI: You know, he really doesn't and nor does someone else who knew her think that. He believes that she might have been manipulated somehow into doing this as she is accused of this conspiracy. But he said this is not the person that he knew at all, and he also doesn't think she is really capable of doing such a thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORMAN: She wasn't a rocket scientist, so, I don't mean -- I don't -- it is hard to say what somebody thinks or how much they know. But it's not like she was a -- you know -- she was limited in her capacity there, so I mean -- I don't know how, you know, much thought she could actually do on her own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: But you know, Wolf, we did find a lot of online postings and she also visited one group called MuslimRevolution.com which advocates attacking Americans overseas. And we also uncovered a 2005 police report in which they said she attempted suicide here by mixing pills and alcohol.
But he really didn't talk much about that only to say that she had been depressed some time because -- for some time because she had lost her father and her brother to cancer. Wolf?
BLITZER: Susan Candiotti with the latest on that. Thank you.
We've been hearing a lot more at least recently about this notion of alleged homegrown terror cases. How serious is this issue?
Let's bring in our national security contributor Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush, also worked in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.
Homegrown terrorists. How big of a concern is this?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Huge concern, Wolf, and because -- you know most people don't realize it presents a much bigger challenge to law enforcement intelligence agents because, of course, if you've got to cross a border, you need documents to do it. And these are all opportunities for law enforcement intelligence agents to identify you as a threat to the country.
And so homegrown terror, where they're inside the country already, don't -- are much more difficult to ferret out. It really does, sort of, point us in the direction of the need for the cooperation of state and local authorities. The American people quite frankly.
You know I often said when we -- when I was at the White House, authorities, officials can't do this all by themselves. They really need the help of average Americans who spot anomalies, things that are strange, people who are behaving strangely.
BLITZER: Tips. In other words to call.
BLITZER: Who do they call if you suspect that a loved one or someone you know, an acquaintance, may -- quote, "may be" a homegrown terrorist? Who do you call? The local police?
TOWNSEND: Exactly. And that's why it's important to make sure that the FBI and federal authorities are sharing information about what the threats with the local authorities so they know what to look for and then they can then share that information back with federal authorities when they get those --
BLITZER: But one problem, though, is that if someone has a grudge or hate someone, they can simply make it up and effectively, at least for a short term, maybe not even for a short term, ruin somebody's life.
TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf. You're absolutely right. And that is a concern. But I will tell you, you know, Director Mueller since 9/11 --
BLITZER: He is the FBI director.
TOWNSEND: He's the FBI director -- has had in place a policy no lead goes uncovered. And so every lead that comes into the FBI gets run to ground as either a real threat or a bogus fraudulent claim.
BLITZER: And if it's bogus or a lie, you can be in deep trouble for lying to the FBI.
TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. For making the false statement to the FBI, for lying to them, it's a federal crime, and for that, you can be prosecuted.
BLITZER: So you should be weary of just going to someone and making all of this up.
BLITZER: But there is no easy way to prevent an American citizen if they want to become a terrorist from doing so?
TOWNSEND: No. I mean -- and that brings up the issue of self- radicalization. Remember Nadal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter. Very little indication in -- at the time that he was going to become self- radicalized. Of course looking back, there were points along the way that we should have realized.
And I think that you'll find the FBI, the Department of Defense and others now looking to incorporate those lessons that they learned from that tragedy into their operating procedures now.
BLITZER: And certainly with hindsight, there were a lot of points.
TOWNSEND: That's right.
BLITZER: Along the way that should have been more than just points.
BLITZER: But that's another subject. All right, thanks very much for that, Fran.
The president took aim and now the chief justice of the United States is firing back. Why John Roberts is calling the State of the Union address a troubling political pep rally.
Nothing good has been said about them for decades, but a new study says there may, may be at least a little benefit of cigarettes for a very select group of people. We'll give you the new information.
And she is using her fame to put a spotlight on violence against women around the world. I'll talk about that and more with the actress Reese Witherspoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REESE WITHERSPOON, ACTRESS: One in 3 women in your life, one in 3 women are being affected. That's someone everyone knows. It might not be in your household that it's -- might be your sister or your neighbor or someone in your community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Here is something about PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, that might surprise you.
AOL News reports the organization euthanizes more than 90 percent of the dogs and cats that are sent to its Virginia headquarters. According to state records, PETA euthanized more than 23,000 dogs and cats during 2009. Ninety-seven percent of all the animals brought in it adopted just eight.
By contrast in 2008, the Norfolk SPCA adopted 86 percent of its dogs and cats and while euthanizing only 5 percent. And the Norfolk, Virginia city pound euthanized about half of its dogs and cats last year.
Critics are fuming saying that PETA's numbers can't be ethically rationalized. They insist shelters should only euthanize those animals that are too aggressive or have health issues. They shouldn't simply just put them down because they don't have room for them.
But PETA tells a different story. They say the Virginia facility is not an adoption center but rather a shelter of last resort, taking in those animals that other shelters reject. PETA says its euthanasia program has never been a secret and that it is only one of the many things they do to alleviate the suffering of animals.
PETA says that it's worse for animals to be caged up in overcrowded shelters. They put the blame on breeders and pet shops that create six to eight million shelter animals every year which is why they also promote spaying and neutering of pets.
The irony is that PETA has a reputation for instantly jumping all over any group or individual who they consider guilty of poor treatment of animals. And some might suggest that putting animals to death would fall into that category.
Anyway, here's the question: Do PETA's euthanasia rates for animals make the group hypocritical?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thanks. Jack, stick around. I want you to listen to this next report.
For years, we've heard how much harm cigarettes can do to our health. Now a new medical study shows smoking may, repeat, may actually be a benefit for a very limited number of people.
Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has the details. Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I know it sounds strange, but doctors have actually known for years that people who smoke have a lower chance of getting Parkinson's disease.
Now what this new study adds is they tried to look at -- is it the number of cigarettes that you smoke or is it actually the duration, the number of years that you smoke? And they really did answer that question.
What they found is that people who smoked for less than 10 years have an 8 percent lower chance of getting Parkinson's compared to people who never smoked at all. But people who smoked for 40 years have a 46 percent lower chance of getting Parkinson's disease, so that is a pretty clear difference in a very large study.
Now, Wolf, I want to make it clear these researchers said over and over again, please make sure that you don't tell people to smoke. We do not want people to smoke. Smoking is terrible for your body, increases your chances of getting heart disease, and cancer and all sorts of other diseases.
So don't smoke, but what they're hoping is that from these studies that they can figure out what is it about cigarettes that help lower the risk of Parkinson's? Is it some specific chemical in the cigarettes and maybe they can make a drug out of that chemical where you get all the advantages of the cigarettes without any of the disadvantages? Wolf?
BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen with this latest study. Thank you. Fascinating. Potentially very significant.
The president took aim and now the chief justice of the United States is firing back. John Roberts is suggesting he may not even show up at next year's State of the Union address before a Joint Session of Congress.
And "Forbes'" billionaires list is no out. We're going to tell you who lost bragging rights as the world's richest man.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, is still upset over the atmosphere of the State of the Union address. You recall that President Obama drew cheers when he criticized a recent Supreme Court ruling with the justices sitting only a few feet away.
Our Brian Todd has been looking into this.
So, Brian, tell our viewers what's going on.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president drew cheers that night, Wolf, but it was clearly a moment of tension then in the chamber and our source says the chief justice has been simmering over it ever since.
TODD (voice-over): Sources close to Chief Justice John Roberts tell CNN since President Obama's State of the Union address, Roberts has been privately frustrated by this scene.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.
TODD: It was almost unheard of. A biting, face-to-face political jab at the court by the president with the whole world watching. With the exception of Samuel Alito's mouthing of the words "not true," the justices sat virtually motionless as congressmen cheered all around them.
Court sources say that bothered Roberts more than the criticism itself. And now he's firing back.
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT: The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court, according to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there expressionless, I think, is very troubling.
To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there.
TODD: And some may not be there again. One court source tells us it's a good bet Alito won't go to a State of the Union address any time soon and the source says Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy may not either.
Our sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they're not allowed to comment officially for the justices, say all nine members of the bench, even the liberals, were uncomfortable.
As for Roberts, the sources don't believe this is personal, but the two men clearly have a tense history. It dates back at least to late 2005 when then Senator Obama not only voted against Roberts' confirmation, but publicly criticized him on the Senate floor.
Quote, "He has far often more used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition of the weak." Three and a half years later --
OBAMA: I will now execute --
ROBERTS: Faithfully the -- office of the --
TODD: Roberts' slip at Mr. Obama's seminal moment was clearly unintentional, but became a metaphor for the awkwardness of the relationship.
Just weeks earlier, Roberts had tried to smooth uneasy relations between the court and other branches by hosting the president-elect. Despite the outreach, politics still drives a deep wedge.
CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says the Obama White House has its own problems with what it perceives as Roberts' aggressive pursuit of a conservative court agenda manifested in that campaign finance ruling.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The White House increasingly sees John Roberts as a political opponent and the White House sees the Citizens United case as a political opportunity because they think they're on the popular side of this issue.
TODD: And the political tensions surrounding the court is likely to continue. There is speculation that John Paul Stevens will retire from the bench in the coming months and the president will likely nominate another liberal-leaning justice just like him -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Justice Stevens is one of those who occasionally doesn't go to those State of the Union addresses.
TODD: That is right. Stevens and Justice Antonin Scalia have said that they don't always go because of the partisan nation of the events. Scalia has even made a reference to the fact that he believes that the justices are forced to sit there, quote, "like lumps -- like bumps on a log," and not react to anything that's said. So he doesn't like to go for that very reason.
BLITZER: Highly unusual to see this kind of little tension flaring up so publicly.
TODD: Public jab by the president.
BLITZER: Good report, Brian. Thanks very much.
Mary Snow is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What else is going on, Mary? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Pakistani intelligence officials tell CNN a suspected U.S. drone strike killed at least 12 people in northern Pakistan today.
They report the drone fired at least five missiles into a vehicle and when suspected militants came to help, the drone fired again. The officials say it happened in a village believed to be a haven for Islamic extremists near the border with Afghanistan.
Iran's president was in Afghanistan today where he accused the United States of playing what he calls a double game. This was in response to Defense Secretary Robert Gates accusing Tehran of undermining U.S. and NATO efforts to help Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban. But Tehran has said it supports the Afghan government and denies allegations that it offers any help to the Taliban.
And switching gears here. New street signs in the country of Romania warn -- get this -- they warn drivers to be careful of drunken pedestrians. These bright red signs are seen complete with the words "Attention Drunks" have gone up in nearby bars.
They were put up there by authorities who were worried about accidents involving drunken pedestrians who had possibly lie down in roads -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Mary, thank you.
"Forbes" magazine has now released its list of the world's billionaires and only -- after only the second time since 1995 the Microsoft founder Bill Gates is not the world's richest man.
The Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim is now number one with the net worth of $53.5 billion, edging Gates by $500 million and Berkshire-Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett by $6.5 billion.
This is the first time since 1994 that an American has not topped the list. There are more than 1,000 billionaires worldwide, up more than 200 from last year, still short of 2008's total.
The U.S. has the most billionaires of any country with 403, followed by China with 64 and Russia with 62.
Stimulus dollars meant to bring vital broadband connections to rural America, but is some of that money going to wire vacation homes instead?
And the actress Reese Witherspoon. She's here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM. She'll tell us why she's meeting today with Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, is the criticism of the Obama Justice Department simply going too far? George W. Bush's top advisor getting ready to weigh in. We'll have more of my conversation with Karl Rove.
A popular actress is putting the spotlight on violence against women. I'll talk with Reese Witherspoon about her work with the AVON Foundation.
And what former New York congressman Eric Massa has to say about an ethics investigation tickles Jeanne Moos. She has the "Moos Unusual Report."
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Broadband. It's been called the dial tone of the 21st century and the federal government wants to make sure it reaches rural America so the government is tapping stimulus dollars -- $7.2 billion. Communities across the country are vying for that money. But CNN has learned that the money may not be going exactly where you might expect.
Our Mary Snow is following the money for us, and she is joining us now live.
Mary, what are you finding out?
SNOW: Well, Wolf, you know, when you ask someone in rural America who doesn't have high speed Internet access what it's like, one man told us it's about as slow as sending something for the post office. So it might come as no surprise that 2200 companies applied for stimulus money to install broadband.
In recent weeks the government notified 168 companies they will get help from Uncle Sam. We'll show you a winner and a loser.
SNOW (voice-over): Tucked along the Mississippi River is this sound. That worries community leaders here in Minneiska, Minnesota, dial-up service. Not having high-speed Internet, they say, puts residents at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to the weather.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A tornado could certainly hit us.
SNOW: The small town relies on this weather siren in desperate need of an upgrade.
DAVE PRIES, CITY CLERK, MINNEISKA, MINNESOTA: This equipment that we have here is dated back to the '70s, '80s, maybe early '80s, and it's going to become obsolete at the end of this year. Half the people in town can't even hear it.
SNOW: Gary Evans thinks broadband is the answer. The CEO of Hiawatha Broadband, he envisions a system that could send warning signals straight to people's homes. So when the government announced it was giving away billions in broadband grants to rural communities, he jumped at the chance.
GARY EVANS, CEO, HIAWATHA BROADBAND: That's really what broadband connectivity means to rural America. It means survival.
SNOW: Evans faces a common dilemma. His company simply can't afford to install broadband in all the rural regions it serves. He covers a wide territory in Minnesota including the Prairie Island Indian community which sits next to this nuclear power plant.
VICKY WINFREY, PRES., PRAIRIE ISLAND TRIBAL COUNCIL: It's 600 yards from home, and our church is right over there.
SNOW: The tribal council president Vicky Winfrey tells Evans she'd feel safer if residents were connected by broadband, not dial- up, and then there are those like apple grower Dennis Courtier who says businesses without broadband are being left in the dust.
DENNIS COURTIER, OWNER, PEPIN HEIGHTS APPLE ORCHARD: Not having the kind of communication capacity that we need in rural areas in rural businesses is going to be about like not having electricity at the end of the depression.
SNOW: Hearing the needs of the communities he serves, Gary Evans thought he had the perfect case for government grant money and applied for nearly $6 million.
EVANS: Tough to read.
SNOW: So imagine the shock when he received not one but two rejection letters from Uncle Sam. One agency rejected him because his company didn't lay out enough of its own money. The second agency wasn't as clear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of the award decisions are final.
SNOW: Evans is taking it personally.
EVANS: They are real people with real needs that could be solved by technology, and we let them down. That is a horrible legacy for an old man to live with.
SNOW: What stings even more, take a look at one of the winners of taxpayer money. This is Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.
LARRY MAGOR, MOUNT WASHINGTON RESORT: This particular area right now --
SNOW: Larry Magor, the manager of the Mount Washington Resort, gave us a tour of a 15 million dollar renovation that resuscitated the luxury hotel.
(on camera): This is on constantly?
MAGOR: Yes, this particular area right here is all heated.
SNOW: So you walk on this heated sidewalk --
MAGOR: There is the heated swimming pool. It costs us about 45,000 dollar a month to heat it. SNOW: Forty five thousand a month?
MAGOR: Yes. And there is an entryway within the spa.
SNOW: And within the spa?
MAGOR: This room has wireless technology.
SNOW (voice-over): Technology is high on the list because of this man, real estate developer Charles Adams.
CHARLES ADAMS, REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER: Even though people are taking the weekend, they are constantly connected. They are connected to family. They are connected to work.
SNOW: Adams wants the community surrounding the resort wired with broadband, but it is really a vacation community. There are about 400 homes, but only about 40 of them have people living in them year-round.
ADAMS: You can see the ski area. You can see the Mt. Washington hotel.
SNOW: Adams shows us where he plans to build 900 more vacation homes. Right now, there is nothing there. It is all on hold because of the economy. But despite that, the Bretton Woods Telephone Company won a broadband grant of nearly one million dollars.
ADAMS: Having a robust technology infrastructure in a community is an economic development driver.
SNOW: Bretton Wood says that the government met its requirements and is under-served and, it points out, tourism is the lifeblood of the economy there. But the vast difference between the luxury vacation community that won the grant and the Minnesota community that lost out is a point of contention for broadband blogger Jeff Daily, who has been tracking the money.
JEFF DAILY, BLOGGER: If this is really supposed to be about connecting the unconnected, I think of that as more of an immediate thing of who needs for it the day-to-day lives, who needs it for their health care and their education and to find a job and do these kinds of things? Not as a nice to have amenity to encourage tourism in a ski chalet village.
SNOW: And Wolf, government officials assure us that they treat every applicant fairly and that their decisions are based on strict guidelines. What we did find out is that Hiawatha in Minnesota is hardly alone in not being able to put up enough of its money to eligible for a government grant. Now the government is changing its rules for round two, since it still has more than five billion dollars to give out. We will have more on that tomorrow as we press for answers. Wolf?
BLITZER: This is a story that affects a lot of people out there. Mary, thank you.
A troubled actor's early death; the 1980s teen star Corey Haim had a history of drug usage. What authorities are saying about the circumstances surrounding his death today.
And the global campaign against domestic violence. I will talk with the actress Reese Witherspoon about her involvement in the battle. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring the other top stories in "the situation room" right now. Mary, what else is going on?
SNOW: Wolf, Israel is expressing regret for embarrassing Vice President Joe Biden during his visit to the region to promote a new round of negotiations. Yesterday, leaders there announced a plans to enlarge a settlement on disputed land. That news drew Palestinian accusations that Israel is not serious about the peace process. Israel's interior minister concedes the timing of the announcement may not have been ideal, but adds it will continue with the plan to enlarge the settlement.
Here in the US, the 1980s teen heart-throb Corey Haim has died. The 38 year old actor was pronounced dead early this morning at a Burbank hospital after collapsing at his apartment. Police say Haim's death appears to be accidental, but could be due to an overdose of some kind. An autopsy is being conducted. Haim's long time friend and co-start, Corey Feldman, will be a guest on "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight. That is at 9:00 P.M. tonight.
And 65 years later, recognition for women who served during World War II. As civilians in the US war effort, the Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs, did not receive honors or benefits and were paid only 250 dollars a month. But today, the remaining few were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for backing up air service stateside so that the male pilots could go off to war. Wolf?
BLITZER: They are amazing, amazing women, and well deserve honor. A little late, but well deserved. Mary, thank you.
The actress Reese Witherspoon, she is with us here with me today in THE SITUATION ROOM. We are talking about what brought her to Washington, DC. That would be the issue of violence against women, right after this break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WITHERSPOON: It is a huge problem here in the US. I think that it is something that affects women every nine seconds, that a woman is hurt or beaten in her house. I think that this is something that not only -- when you talk about women, it is affecting their children. It's affecting schools, and families and communities. So it needs to be addressed immediately.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: International Women's Day is this week. And alongside the recognition of women's accomplishments is a renewed focus on the violence that targets them. Vital Voices and the Avon Foundation are launching a global partnership to end violence against women.
BLITZER: Joining us now is Reese Witherspoon. Reese, tell us why you are in Washington.
WITHERSPOON: Well, I am here with the Avon Foundation to partner with Vital Voices, launching new initiatives to stop violence against women throughout the world.
BLITZER: This goes -- this is a major campaign?
WITHERSPOON: Absolutely. It is a new effort on their parts to -- we have created fund-raising opportunities through three different products, through the women's empowerment ring, the women's empowerment necklace, and the women's empowerment bracelet. And the money received through Avon representations go directly to organizations that stop violence against women.
BLITZER: Are you traveling around the world, too?
WITHERSPOON: I have. I've been to Asia. I've been to Europe. I've been to Latin America, and all throughout the US, just talking to women about these issues, domestic violence, how to create legislation to bring more of the perpetrators to justice.
BLITZER: Where are some of the biggest problems right now that jump out at you?
WITHERSPOON: Well, when you talk about a statistic of one in three women worldwide is affected by violence in their lives, you are talking about everywhere. I mean, honestly -- I think about the Latin American community -- definitely down in Brazil, we were dealing with a lot of different legislative issues down there. A woman named Maria Depeno (ph) enacted the first law down there to bring violators to justice.
Throughout the world, really -- I just met with Sara and Gordon Brown about this same issue. It is an issue of domestic violence that a lot of people don't talk about very often. It is not something that is very easy to talk about. There is definitely a shame element associated with it.
BLITZER: Well, speaking of that, these honor killings that we have heard a lot about in various parts of the world, female mutilation, these are the issues that -- these are such important issues that you are dealing with.
WITHERSPOON: Absolutely, human trafficking. And I was lucky enough to go to the UN two years ago and hear just from different delegates from different countries talking about violence against women throughout the world. What a pandemic it is. You know, I'm just thrilled to be bringing the spotlight with me to highlight these issues here today.
BLITZER: Most of the rules, though -- around the world are still made by men. That has an impact.
BLITZER: Talk a little bit about that.
WITHERSPOON: Well, I think that, you know, legislation, you know, has definitely reflected that we have been a male dominant culture for a very long time. But I have a lot of hope. Today, I am actually meeting with Secretary Hillary Clinton and having a conference with Michelle Obama about these issues. I think that when you have women, strong, powerful women standing up and speaking out about these issues -- and not to mention how many women represent us in the House of Representatives and the Senate -- you are going to see a major change in these areas.
BLITZER: How do you get people to pay attention to the issues?
WITHERSPOON: Well, I think I am lucky enough to be able to share the spotlight that sort of follows me here today, and highlight these issues, just to get people to start to have a dialogue about domestic violence, and violence against women. I think that, you know, the most important thing is to start talking about it. No change can come until it's an issue that people don't feel ashamed talking about. So, I think that if we are really saying that we are going to create opportunities, whether it be through justice centers or creating new legislation, that starts with dialogue and communication.
BLITZER: How long have you been doing this now?
WITHERSPOON: Three years.
BLITZER: So, have you seen a difference yet?
WITHERSPOON: Absolutely. I mean, through the fund-raising alone, Avon Foundation has raised over eight million dollars in these products that have gone directly to the organizations that are helping support in local communities, all over the world, whether you are talking about Russia or you're talking about India, where people are suffering all sorts of different kinds of violence.
BLITZER: So women and men who are watching right now, what can they do?
WITHERSPOON: Well, I think first of all, it is important to start talking about it. I discuss it with my children all of the time, because obviously, I am traveling around the world and they want to know why mom is gone and talk about domestic violence with your kids when --
BLITZER: It is not an easy subject to discuss with little kids.
WITHERSPOON: Absolutely, but before they get into teenage relationships where these behaviors occur, I think it is important to talk to your kids when they're young. When you talk about one in three people in your life -- one in three women being affected, that is someone everyone knows. It might not be in your household, but it might be your sister or your neighbor or someone in your community.
So I think that is a big part of it. Also, purchasing an item like the empowerment ring for five dollars.
BLITZER: Let me see it? So that is a five dollar ring?
WITHERSPOON: This is a five dollar ring.
BLITZER: Reese Witherspoon is wearing a five dollar ring?
WITHERSPOON: I am. I can't tell you how many people stop me and say, is that from Tiffany's.
BLITZER: It's a beautiful ring. So what does that symbolize?
WITHERSPOON: The infinity symbol symbolizes the infinite possibility when women stand together. We can create change. It is for five dollars. And it's an incredible program, because it is so far-reaching, because there are so many Avon representatives, over eight million around the world. So if you think about that fund- raising opportunity, it is quite significant.
BLITZER: When you think about the campaign -- you are like a global ambassador now -- you think about the violence against women, it is happening all over the world, but not necessarily in the United States. But it is a problem here in the United States.
WITHERSPOON: Oh, it is a huge problem here in the US. I think it is something that affects women. Every nine seconds, a woman is hurt or beaten in her house. I think this is something that not only -- when you talk about women, it is affecting their children. It's affecting schools and families and communities. So it needs to be addressed immediately.
BLITZER: Did you ever think that you would be coming to Washington, in effect, getting involved in the political process and trying to get people engaged in this issue?
WITHERSPOON: No, I never thought I would, but it has been amazing. I started out in Hollywood really trying to find roles that empowered women and portrayed women as strong, intelligent people. And it was sort of a nice dovetail when Avon approached me to represent their philanthropic efforts, because they are a company that believes in empowering women, whether it is through economic opportunities or micro-lending programs or through the incredible philanthropic efforts, from breast cancer, to emergency relief, to domestic violence.
BLITZER: So you are going to see Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States. These are powerful women who have an enormous influence.
WITHERSPOON: Absolutely. And when they stand up on International Women's Day, and say, these are the issues that we're addressing; we're going to deal with violence against women today, I think that is an incredible day for women.
BLITZER: It must be an exciting day for you?
WITHERSPOON: I am thrilled. I am thrilled to be here. I got a cold two days ago. I was like, I am not missing today. I don't care. I am taking so much medicine.
BLITZER: Reese, welcome to Washington. Thanks for all the important work you're doing.
WITHERSPOON: Thank you, Wolf. I really appreciate it.
BLITZER: After the interview, Reese appeared over at an event here in Washington with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama. She gave an emotional speech, but she started off with a joke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WITHERSPOON: As an actress, I have always sought out roles that portrayed women as strong and powerful. Such as Elle Woods, who was in the "Legally Blond" movies, who happened to be the biggest fashionista who ever came to Washington, until Michelle Obama. Thanks a lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Very cute. She is an intelligent, lovely, lovely young woman. We are glad she joined us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, glad she's doing the important work she is doing.
He has captured our attention with his explanations in an ethics probe. But Jeanne Moos getting ready to take a most unusual look at Eric Massa's most unusual comments. And Jack Cafferty will be back with your responses of PETA's euthanasia practices. Stick around. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for the Cafferty File.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Do PETA's euthanasia rates for animals make the group hypocritical?
Clyde in Seattle writes: "PETA deserves some scorn of this, and they've been hearing it for years from other animal rights group. Euthanasia is a simple solution to a complex problem. Rates of 20 percent or less represent model shelters. Forty percent can represent an area where strays are a problem and attitudes towards spaying and neutering are out-dated. Ninety seven percent is simply extermination." Alison in Vancouver: "Where exactly would you find homes for 2,300 dogs and cats that are deemed unadoptable by other shelters? What would their lives s be like if they are kept in small cages, et cetera? It's far more humane to put them down. Those of you who are appalled by this, go visit some animal shelters and see what the conditions are like."
Chris writes: "Perhaps if PETA spent some of the money they currently throw at celebrities posing nude on the actual health and well-being of animals that they're allegedly rescuing, this wouldn't be an issue."
Dean writes: "Absolutely not. PETA is right on about being a shelter of last resort. The only animals turned over to PETA have been refuse by other lower-kill shelters. PETA very effectively advocates for policies that, if followed, would significant lower the number of animals that are turned into or picked up by shelters."
Reynard writes: "PETA is so critical of anyone who is accused of unethical treatment of animals, even before due process is granted. For them to have euthanasia rates that are so out of sync with other agencies makes me question their ethics. I wonder how Michael Vick feels about being socially, financially and emotionally destroyed by people with this type of track record. They should protest outside their own headquarters."
Eric in Houston writes: "It does make them appear hypocritical, but since they usually appear to be total lunatics, this is an improvement. Honestly, this may be the first thought out, responsible thing they have ever done."
And Michael in Phoenix writes: "sure sounds like it. We have two adopted cats and one dog in three years. Terrific pets, but they act just like children."
If you want to read more about this, you'll find it on my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Good question. He's offered a variety of reasons about why he's leaving office. Some of them are leaving political pundits a bit tickled. Jeanne Moos has a most unusual look at Eric Massa. That's next here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: He left Congress, but he hasn't left the political stage, at least not yet. Former New York Congressman Eric Massa is the subject of an ethics investigation, and as our Jeanne Moos reports, his explanations for what happened are most unusual.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We barely mastered his name --
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, "THE VIEW": Congressman Eric Massa. MOOS: But not since Rod Blagojevich --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they push out Massa so Obama care can Pass (ph)?
MOOS: Have we in the press been so tickled by a political character.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy is one taco short of a happy meal.
GOLDBERG: He lost a couple wheels off the back car.
MOOS: So here we go with some of former Congressman Massa's top ticklers. You can't say the guy hasn't owned up to things.
ERIC MASSA, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: I own this misbehavior. I own it.
I do own my own before.
MOOS: The question is what is he owning up to?
MASSA: I own this. I own that.
MOOS: How can you not appreciate a guy who brings tickling into the national conversation.
MASSA: Yes, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe.
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Tickle fights. Over tickle fights, you would step down?
MASSA: It's not tickle fights.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More creepy to me. I didn't grope him. I tickled him until he couldn't breathe.
MOOS: All of the tickle talk has inspired a don't tickle me, I'm a Republican t-shirt. It's been fun watching cable TV hosts grope for answers.
BECK: Did you ever touch anybody sexually or grope anybody sexually?
MASSA: No. No. No.
BECK: Is it true that you groped male staffers.
MOOS: Listening to Massa's top ticklers had Glenn Beck looking like he had a tickle he couldn't scratch. BECK: Bull crap. Bull crap, sir. Listen to me. No, no. Please don't be a commercial.
MOOS: Another thing we were tickled by were the former congressman's down to earth Massa-isms.
MASSA: This ain't exactly a Dunkin Donuts fest. It's the whole schmazol (ph). I'm collateral damage. I'm road kill. In 72 hours, nobody is going to remember who I am.
MOOS: Do you know who Eric Massa is?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No thank you.
MOOS: Do you know who Eric Massa is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crap. No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you talking about the restaurant upstairs, right?
MOOS: Wrong. Wrong. Massa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, the one that got in the proverbial pissing contest with the scum of the world, Rahm Emanuel, that one?
MASSA: It is terribly awkward. When is the last time you had a political argument with a naked man?
MOOS: Forget Tickle Me Elmo, this season's hit is --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tickle me Massa.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Happening now. Iran's president in Afghanistan, cozying up to a key ally, and lobbing insults at America. This hour, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rant may not be surprising, but his timing certainly is.