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THE SITUATION ROOM
Al Qaeda Suspect in Nuclear Plant?; New Reports Surface on Tiger Woods' Car Crash
Aired March 12, 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 views, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: A suspected al Qaeda member worked at five, five different nuclear plants here in the United States. Now the scramble is on to find out if he had access to any sensitive areas.
High above the southern border, unmanned aircraft track illegal immigrants until agents on the ground can catch up to them. We're going to give you a behind-the-scenes look.
And could new revelations about the events surrounding his car crash delay Tiger Woods' reported comeback plans?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our views in the United States and around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Get this. It turns out a New Jersey man suspected of being an al Qaeda man worked at five different nuclear power plants here in the United States. He was caught up in a roundup in Yemen and is accused of killing a guard during an escape attempt there.
Let's go straight to CNN's national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, who is working the story.
Susan, what do we know?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are getting a slightly better picture of this 26-year-old young man, an al Qaeda suspect under investigation by the FBI. And, as you indicated, we now have new information about what he used to do for a living here in the United States.
Sharif Mobley, who grew up in Buena, New Jersey, is now under arrest or in custody in Yemen suspected of murdering a security guard. Mobley was attempting an escape from a hospital where he was being held after a roundup of possible al Qaeda sympathizers.
Before Mobley moved to Yemen and after he graduated high school in 2002, he worked for about six years at five different nuclear power plants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Three Mile Island. A spokesman says he did routine work, including maintenance at the plants.
Of course, one of the questions being explored, did he have any ulterior motives? Certainly power plants have been on a long list of homeland security worries as potential terror targets.
BLITZER: Who is looking into this, as far as we know, the notion of background checks at the power plants? Did he pass those background checks? I assume that they did that in order to let him work there.
CANDIOTTI: You would think so, right.
Well, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission tells CNN that Mobley would have undergone criminal background checks and security checks before being hired. And an NRC spokeswoman says there have no information that there were any concerns about him.
However, the commission is working with the FBI to look into exactly what he was doing and whether Mobley, for example, had access to sensitive areas of the plants.
BLITZER: Have we heard anything, Susan, from his parents?
CANDIOTTI: Wolf, no. I was at their home in New Jersey yesterday. They have not answered their door or their phone or have returned any of our messages. We do know that the FBI, though, has spoken with his parents, and they told -- and the parents have told the Associated Press that their son is not a terrorist.
BLITZER: Do we know any more about what he was doing in Yemen?
CANDIOTTI: Well, very little, but he reportedly moved there to study Islam. We have been reaching out to some of the imams who knew him.
A law enforcement official tells CNN he has been on their radar for some time. Both that official and another law enforcement source says that he is not facing any charges in the U.S. at this time, but Yemen may be a different picture, since authorities say that he may be charged with murder, that murder of the hospital security guard, and seriously injuring another during his attempted escape.
BLITZER: A very disturbing story. Susan, thank you.
Twin suicide bombings killed more than three dozen people and wounded nearly 100 others today in Pakistan. The latest attacks come despite a punishing crackdown on insurgents.
CNN's Reza Sayah is in Islamabad.
REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just an awful Friday in Lahore, Pakistan, a day filled with terror.
It all started shortly after noon local time with back-to-back suicide attacks just seconds apart, targeting military personnel, one of the explosions captured on a cell phone camera, the attacks taking place in the cantonment area of Lahore, a place where you will find lots of military installations and military facilities. Police say that the attackers were on foot, each targeting military vehicles. Among the dozens killed, five soldiers, but most of the victims, police say, were civilians.
Then fast-forward nine hours late. That's when you had several low-intensity explosions throughout Iqbal Town in suburban Lahore. Again, these bombs were not powerful, but enough to terrorize the neighborhood.
The earlier suicide attacks were the second attacks this week targeting security personnel in Lahore. On Monday, there was another suicide attack targeting a law enforcement agency. These attacks come after a relative lull in Pakistan when it comes to large-scale suicide attacks.
They also come at a time when Pakistani security forces have made some real progress against the militants, with several successful offensives against the Taliban and several high-profile arrests of Taliban leaders, but these attacks clearly show that the Taliban are still here, still capable of launching deadly attacks that target Pakistan's security forces.
Reza Sayah, CNN, Islamabad.
BLITZER: We will stay on top of that story.
Here in the United States, not far from Mexico, though, high above the border area, they can track illegal immigrants at long range.
Ed Lavandera shows us what is going on.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are in Fort Huachuca in southeast Arizona and we are about to give you a up-close-and- personal look at how unmanned aircrafts are patrolling the southern border.
(voice-over): Inside this small trailer, a team of three Custom and Border Protection agents are steering a Predator-2 unmanned aircraft along the Mexico-Arizona border.
Jerry Kersey is at the helm, and it is already busy.
(on camera): So, Jerry, what is the situation we got here?
JERRY KERSEY, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: This is a group that we got off a cold hit from a sensor.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): The camera spotted 14 illegal immigrants crossing through rugged mountainous terrain some 40 miles away. They have no idea they are being watched from 19,000 feet in the sky.
KERSEY: Border Patrol agents should be responding.
LAVANDERA: But then a surprise pops up on the screen.
KERSEY: We have got another group. We have got -- how many? Start counting them.
LAVANDERA: There are now 31 immigrants walking north already 14 miles inside the United States. This is a huge area, and the Border Patrol lacks the manpower to fully patrol it. It is the reason some want to expand Predator patrols all along the southern border.
(on camera): And do you think sending more Predator aircraft across the border would help?
KERSEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. It is much more cost-effective to do that.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): We will return to that scene in the mountains in a moment. Earlier in day, the Predator focused its camera on me to give you a simultaneous aerial and ground view.
(on camera): I am told it is 5.5 miles in that direction. I can't see it. But we are going to put it to the test, walk around this park and see what I look like in the eyes of the unmanned aircraft.
KERSEY: The suspects are now running across the field. He has gone under some bushes in a covered area, so we will keep our camera focused in that area. If he tries to pop out either side of that, any angle on that, we will know which way he goes.
LAVANDERA: I am going to keep moving and see if I can find another place to try to hide. I find a place to sit under a tall pine tree.
KERSEY: You see him moving around trying to hide, the suspect entering what appears to be a playground area. He can run, but he can't hide.
LAVANDERA: It makes you feel like you are 10 years old playing hide and go seek.
(voice-over): Of course, these CBP agents are engaged in a real- life version, and Border Patrol agents have now found the 31 illegal immigrants we told you about earlier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One you start seeing our vehicles, you can just guide us in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. The group, let's see here. They are starting to run across the road now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop. Stop. Group is to your right. You are less than 30 yards from them.
(CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they're gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Group is running. Group is running.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Jesus Christ, just what we need. We have got to get away from those clouds.
LAVANDERA (on camera): And those clouds come at the worst time possible.
KERSEY: Exactly. Exactly. So, you have got elements out there that you don't control, but tomorrow is another day. We will be right back at it, trying to get more.
LAVANDERA: It is 11:00 and the mission for this aircraft is over tonight, but the scenario some 40 miles away continues to play out. Border Patrol agents are still looking for those 31 illegal immigrants. We know they have caught three, but everyone here will have to wait to see how it all plays out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Lavandera with that report.
By the way, shortly after Ed sent us that report, Border Patrol agents called to say they had captured 18 of the 31 illegal immigrants in that group. That means some 13 others got away. We don't know where they are now.
The space shuttle program is due to end this year, but will NASA keep it going just a little bit longer?
And new revelations about the night Tiger Woods' car crash occurred, will they have any impact on his rumored return to tournament play?
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Democrats could face unmitigated disaster in the midterm elections, if they continue to ignore the public's opposition to health care reform. This dire warning comes by way of pollsters who worked for the last two Democratic presidents.
Pat Caddell and Douglas Schoen write in "The Washington Post" that the Democrats' -- quote -- "blind persistence in the face of reality threatens to turn this political march of folly into an electoral rout in November" -- unquote. They suggest that if health care reform passes, the Democrats' losses in the midterms will be even worse.
They say the political reality is that the battle for public opinion on this has been lost. Polls show a solid majority of Americans oppose the health care reform plan, even though most believe that health care reform is needed and they support certain parts of the bill.
Caddell and Schoen write that President Obama and the Democratic Party are deceiving themselves into believing that this reform is what the public wants.
They also point to polls that show the country is moving away from big government, saying the debate over health care has now become less about the issue itself and more about the politics surrounding it. The American people see a government that -- quote -- "will neither hear nor heed the will of the people" -- unquote. No kidding.
They suggest the only way for the Democrats to change course is to acknowledge that health care reform is a failure, whether or not this bill passes.
So, here's the question: Which will be worse for the Democrats in November: passing the health care bill or not passing it?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, and post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: It's a great question, Jack. Thank you. A lot of people are asking.
The wife of the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid underwent surgery earlier today, after breaking her neck and her back in a car crash yesterday. A doctor at the Virginia hospital where she is being treated says the procedure successfully stabilized her injuries, and that she is not at risk of paralysis.
Reid's daughter was also injured when a tractor-trailer rear- ended the car the two were driving in yesterday. She has now been released from the hospital.
We wish both of them a speedy, speedy recovery.
BLITZER: There is another way, by the way, for you the follow what is going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at Twitter.com/WolfBlitzerCNN, at WolfBlitzerCNN. That is all one word.
Is Tiger Woods on the verge of a return to professional golf? There are conflicting reports right now. I will be joined, though, by two sports reporting veterans to sort it -- to sort through it all.
And the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, now says Israel insulted the United States during Vice President Joe Biden's visit this week. You are going to hear what the secretary has just told CNN's Jill Dougherty. Stand by, strong words from Hillary Clinton on Israel right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the United Nations today about women's rights, but she still sounds pretty upset about Israel's decision to go ahead and build new housing in a disputed part of Jerusalem.
Before her speech, she called Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to complain.
Then she sat down with our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, who asked if the relationship between the United States and Israel is at risk right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Oh, it is not at risk. Our relationship is durable. It's strong. It is rooted in common values.
But we have to make clear to our Israeli friends and partner that the two-state solution, which we support, which the prime minister, himself, has said he supports, requires confidence-building measures on both sides. And the announcement of the settlements the very day that the vice president was there was insulting. I mean, it was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone, the United States, our vice president, who had gone to reassert America's strong support for Israeli security.
And I regret deeply that that occurred and they made that view known.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Do you blame him for that?
CLINTON: Well, I don't have any reason to believe he knew about it, but he is the prime minister. It is like, you know, the president or the secretary of state. When you have certain responsibilities, ultimately, you are responsible.
DOUGHERTY: But who is behind it then? Is there some group that wants to undermine this entire process?
CLINTON: Well, I think, on both sides, there are people who do not favor the two-state solution, who do not favor a peaceful path toward the resolution of the issues that divide the Israelis and the Palestinians. There are a lot of outside actors who agitate, as we know.
But I think that the resumption of the talks, which we are very committed to, is the most important goal. And we want to see that take place. And we want to get about the difficult negotiations that will lead to the two-state solution.
DOUGHERTY: In the speech that you just gave at the U.N., you said that the oppression of women is a national security threat to the United States and to the world.
CLINTON: Because, by definition, the denial of women their rights means that you don't have a democracy. One of the things we've learned is that democracy doesn't guarantee peace, but it's a pretty good criteria for determining whether you're going to have a peaceful, stable relationship.
When you have women who are denied their rights, it's often in cultures that are prone to extremism. We've seen that again and again. And, generally, it is such a challenge to American values and American interests when you have half a population of a country denied the fundamental rights that we stand for.
And if you look across conflict zones, where we spend a lot of our time worrying, from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Somalia, to Yemen, every place that we worry about is a place where women are denied their rights.
DOUGHERTY: A disturbing new report that came out about the embassy in Kabul, low morale, overcrowding, people working exhausted, isn't that going to really -- how can you sustain that civilian surge under those conditions?
CLINTON: Well, that's why we are bringing in more people all the time, because it is the fact -- and I've been there several times, as you have -- the work is so intense.
I mean, it's important work, and the people who do it are very committed to it, but you can only work so many 100-hour weeks. You can only worry about your safety when you drive down a road so many times. You can only wonder whether you're going to get somebody you can trust who can help you build that school or provide that health care or help that farmer plant his crops.
It's very demanding and intense work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The secretary of state speaking with our own Jill Dougherty up at New York.
The space shuttle program is supposed to end this year, but will NASA find a way to keep it going just a little bit longer? We are going to taking a closer look at what is at stake.
And toxic air and airliners -- nasty fumes can enter the cabin, but how big of a problem is this? Is there really any risk to our health?
And newly released documents offer fresh details on Tiger Woods' car crash. Is it the right time for him to make a comeback?
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: It is known for its work helping underprivileged kids, attracting even President Obama's attention, so why are the executives at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America now coming under fire?
Also, it was the subject of the hit film "Remember the Titans," but now this legendary high school is suffering from some serious problems.
And does Nancy Pelosi have the votes to get the health care bill passed, and, if so, how and when? You are going to want to hear what one leading Democrat has to say.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Newly-released police documents raising fresh questions about what went on the night of Tiger Woods' car crash. The ambulance crew would not let his wife ride with him to the hospital, apparently viewing the case as one of domestic violence, something he has rejected.
The police reports also show that Woods' wife handed officers two bottles of pain pills that she says he had taken that day. Could all of this delay the golf great's rumored comeback in the next few weeks?
Joining us now, two sports reporting veterans, Christine Brennan of "USA Today," and the former sports anchor Pat O'Brien.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
First, Christine, what do you make of these new revelations in these documents that just came out today? Will it delay his return? He is now supposedly going to be ready for the Masters in a couple weeks.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, "USA TODAY": That is what we are hearing. Four weeks from yesterday, he would have teed off if it's the Masters, Wolf.
I don't know. The story gets weirder and weirder. And just when Tiger Woods and his people want this to calm down and want it to be about golf, then, of course, things pop up again.
And, to me, the interesting thing is the painkillers. He was -- of course, had that bad knee and leg injury. He won the U.S. Open a couple of years ago on that. What is the story there? I think, as someone who is an athlete, and with drug testing, you do wonder about those questions.
I would say that is the competitive story that is more interesting to me than these continuing allegations about whether there was domestic abuse or not.
BLITZER: Which he flatly denies that.
What did you think about these revelations today, Pat? PAT O'BRIEN, SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: Well, I think they answered a couple of questions.
Let's like about the pain medication, because, as Winston Churchill once said, the truth gets halfway around the world before a lie -- or a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has time to put its pants on.
It was two bottles of medication, prescription medication. And when the report came out a couple hours ago, it said two small bottles of pill. By the time I heard it on television 20 minutes later, it said two vials full of pills.
And by the time it gets to the entertainment shows tonight, he will be addicted to Vicodin. I think we have to give the guy a break. He was in some pain. He probably had some medication in his house.
But I think this report cleared a lot of things up. The district attorney said there was no evidence for domestic violence. There was some misinformation from the crew that picked him up. There was no evidence in the house. She had no facial scars or cuts or anything on her face.
And I thought it cleared a little thing up. But I agree with Christine, again, that this is why Tiger really kind of needs to have some sort of question-and-answer thing to really, ultimately, put a no to these, because every time the guy steps out or any rumor like now that he's going to come out, this kind of stuff is going to be in the headlines and not his golf.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure it will be.
Christine, the last time we spoke, on February 19th, you -- you expressed skepticism that he would be back in time for The Masters, let alone some earlier golfing events later this month.
Are you surprised now that it seems like he's getting ready to return to the golf course?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, "USA TODAY": I am, Wolf. And I base that, as did Pat, on a conversation three weeks ago based on Woods' statement, of course, three weeks ago today, where he used the words, "I've got a long way to go," "it will be a long time," "I will come back to golf one day."
That was a broken man who was delivering that 13 minute -- 13- and-a-half minute statement.
It was interesting, Wolf. I went back and -- and looked at it yesterday. At the 12:00 minute mark is when he mentioned golf. And it was two to three sentences and he was done.
I've got to ask the question, was that all an act?
Because if he is, in fact, going to be announcing, in the next couple of days or whenever, that he's coming back, either for the Arnold Palmer Tournament in Orlando or the Masters, which, as I said, would be less than four weeks he'd be teeing off, that, I think, would render almost everything he said questionable.
BRENNAN: I took him at face value. And -- well, didn't you?
I mean when he was using those words, "long way to go, I'm going to go back into rehab," to think he'd be back in four weeks (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Pat.
Is he rushing it, Pat?
O'BRIEN: Yes, I think, so, too. You know, I said before -- by the way, Christine and I -- our new show on CNN will be debuting next week on television. So (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: It will be a good show.
O'BRIEN: But, no, no. You know, I think he needs help in this public relations area again. I think it's too early to play golf. But I don't know Tiger. I mean, I know Tiger, but I don't know what he's thinking.
BLITZER: But you do know golf, Pat.
BLITZER: You know that this is a head game, that you've got to focus. You've got to be ready. You can't have a lot of other distractions if you're going to play and play well.
O'BRIEN: Well, the one thing about The Masters is that they are as controlling as Tiger and his people might be. So they'll keep all the kooks out and they'll keep, you know, people away from him. And I'm not sure, the journalists or the people who are covering it are really anxious to bear down on the Tiger with questions. So it's a pretty safe place to go for Tiger Woods at this time.
BLITZER: Is he ready, do you think, mentally, Christine?
What do you think?
BRENNAN: You know, I -- I don't know. I mean that's -- there's a lot of unknowns still, of course. But I think comparing him to the man we saw that, at rock bottom, Wolf, such a different view than what we normally see on a Sunday afternoon with the fist pump and the red shirt, then I -- I have to say, how quickly did this turn around for him?
That would be my -- from what we saw three weeks ago to now. But I do agree with Pat that The Masters is the perfect place. No only has it won it -- he won it four times, he loves the golf course, he loves the tournament, but the security is extraordinary. BLITZER: But the fact that he hasn't played professionally now for, what, four months, that will take a toll on him.
O'BRIEN: Well, obviously it will.
BRENNAN: Well, and I think it will. And, in fact, the last time that he did that, when his dad passed away, he missed the cut at the U.S. Open.
O'BRIEN: Yes, (INAUDIBLE).
BRENNAN: So Tiger may be a great golfer, but he still could have some trouble.
O'BRIEN: And that's -- you know, that's another -- that's another point, too, because let's say Tiger plays at The Masters, all the buildup and now the television ratings are at Super Bowl levels and then he loses or doesn't make the cut. Then he's got a whole another round of headlines on why he came back so early that not even Ari Fleischer will be able to explain.
BLITZER: And Ari Fleischer, the former Bush White House press secretary, who now is supposedly advising Tiger Woods on all of that.
How important, Christiane, is this for golf, the fact that if he comes -- does come back, he's going to be playing in the Masters and then, presumably, continuing on the tour?
BRENNAN: It would be huge. And I think the -- the golf industry, Wolf, would be thrilled. Because when Tiger is not playing, ratings drop 50 percent. It's almost as if the -- the game has gone dormant. You know, most people don't watch. Grandmothers in Dubuque don't watch. This guy is everything. He is the game of golf.
So they're -- they can't wait to have him back. And I think that's why the PGA Tour commissioner, Tim Finchem, was so willing to be a part of that dog and pony show three weeks ago when the media -- of course I didn't think journalists should be covering that, that announcement that wasn't a press conference. And I -- I guess they probably are encour -- I would think they're encouraging him to come back.
BLITZER: Yes. And what about the sponsors, Pat?
Will they come back, assuming he does well?
O'BRIEN: Oh, the sponsors will be there in a second, as soon as a lot of this stuff is cleared up.
But the point on golf is, is that, you know, the Doral is being playing now and there's some guy whose name I don't know who's like eight under par after a few holes and nobody's talking. That's an amazing score. And the galleries, the spectators, they're are full.
But you're right, without Tiger, this sport is kind of lost. With him, it's way back up top. And, by the way, winning will -- winning and taking care of himself solves a lot of problems.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right.
Pat O'Brien and Christine Brennan.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
BRENNAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: It's a big day for Apple. The computer maker is now taking orders for its new iPad. We're going to tell you how it's selling.
And if you're looking for the typical salmon roll or spicy tuna, you might get more than you bargained for at one California sushi restaurant. You won't believe what animal activists say they're serving up.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa, what do you have?
SYLVESTER: Hi, there, Wolf.
Well, the orders for the new Apple iPad appear to be pouring in. Apple began taking online orders for the trendy device today. And analysts report more than 50,000 orders in the first two hours. Apple is reported to have around 300,000 iPads available for sale in early April.
The filmmakers behind the Oscar-winning documentary, "The Cove" and other animal rights activists are protesting the sale of whale meat at a Santa Monica sushi restaurant. Federal prosecutors filed a complaint today charging the parent company of the restaurant, The Hump, and its chef, with the illegal sale of a mammal for an unauthorized purpose. It is illegal to sell whale meat in the United States.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office says '80s heartthrob Corey Haim had an enlarged heart and fluid in his lungs when he died unexpectedly Wednesday. Authorities are still working to determine the cause of death and they recovered four prescription drug bottles in the actor's name, but so far have found nothing illegal. Despite an autopsy done yesterday, officials are still awaiting the results of toxicology tests, which could take months.
And take a look at this photo. Hollywood stars, Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg, joined President Obama in the White House movie theater yesterday for a private screening of their new World War II series, "The Pacific." The drama premiers this Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, on HBO.
That is one beautiful room.
And you've been around for a while, Wolf. Have you been to the White House for...
BLITZER: Yes, I was at the White House for a -- during the Clinton White House, I was invited to a screening right there, a Jack Nicholson film called, get this, "Wolf." And the president -- President Clinton and the first lady invited me to have a screening. They had popcorn, the whole nine yards. A nice little movie theater they have in the White House.
SYLVESTER: Yes, I've hour -- I've heard good things about it so...
BLITZER: Why do you think they invited me to watch that movie?
SYLVESTER: You're one of the lucky few. Maybe I'll get an invitation with this administration...
BLITZER: Maybe they'll invite you. They should.
SYLVESTER: Well, if you're watching, you know...
SYLVESTER: -- think about Wolf.
BLITZER: It's cool to watch a movie in the White House. Not so bad.
All right, our sister -- we should say, our sister network, HBO, they've got the -- the mini series that starts Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Keeping them flying -- could NASA extend the life of the Space Shuttle program beyond this year's expiration date?
We have new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: NASA's shuttle program is scheduled to fly one more mission before the fleet is retired this year.
But could the deadline be extended?
CNN's John Zarrella has been looking into the story for us -- John, how serious is this talk that maybe it could be extended into 2011, let's say?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, right now the current plan is for the shuttle fleet to be retired in September, with the launch of the Shuttle Discovery. But multiple sources at the U.S. space agency, NASA, have told me that they are looking into the feasibility of extending -- of adding one more shuttle flight that would happen in probably early 2011.
Now, if NASA does deem that they can do it and the White House decides that they want to go ahead and add this mission, the talk is that the president would announce this during an April visit to Florida. In mid-April, he's scheduled to be in Florida.
But at this point, Wolf, the administration has not signed off. Even if NASA says they can do it, the administration has not signed off yet on going ahead with that -- with that flight. But NASA is apparently now looking into the feasibility -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, how would they do it?
Do they have the hardware to get it done?
Can they do it?
ZARRELLA: Yes, now, that's the interesting part. I think ultimately you're going to find that NASA is going to come out and say, yes, we can do it. In fact, I talked to Senator Ben Nelson this afternoon, the senator from Florida, a huge proponent of the space agency. He says, NASA already knows they absolutely can do it.
Now, how would they do it?
They would take the Shuttle Atlantis, which is designated right now as a launch on need vehicle, which means if, in that September mission, something happened to Discovery, Atlantis could be used as a rescue vehicle. That vehicle would then be used as that next 2011 vehicle.
They would also take, for instance, other major components. The giant external tank -- there is a tank down in Louisiana that was damaged during 2005, during Hurricane Katrina. They are currently getting that ready as a launch on need tank. They would use that.
And out in Promontory, Utah, at ATK, the manufacturers of the giant solid rocket boosters, they are also preparing additional boosters for that launch on need. So the boosters, the external tank, the shuttle -- rather than being the launch on need vehicle -- would be that next launch -- that fifth shuttle flight coming up in 2011, if NASA decides and the president decides to go that way -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And so -- but the other, I guess the broader question is why do it?
ZARRELLA: Well, the only reason really we can think of is one additional resupply mission to the Space Station. But more importantly, you would extend -- extend out for four or five, six months the workforce. Right now, they're scheduled to lose 7,000 to 9,000 workers at the Kennedy Space Center alone after October. This would allow them to hold those jobs for maybe four or five or six additional months -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Good reporting, as usual, from our man in Florida, John Zarrella. Thank you, John.
Earlier this hour, Jack Cafferty told us about polling that suggests that if health care reform passes, it would hurt the Democrats in the midterm elections. So he's asking you, which will be worse for the Democrats in November, passing the health care bill or not passing it?
Jack and your e-mail coming up.
Also, most people who fear air travel are concerned about a plane crash or terrorism. But there may be another danger right in the cabin. We're going to have the second of our two part investigation.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, which would be worse for the Democrats come November in the midterm elections, passing the health care bill or not passing it?
Rob writes: "They're screwed either way. The main focus should be the economy and jobs. The public's sick of backroom deals and that's all this health care reform bill is -- a gigantic windfall for the insurance companies and big pharma. It's a complete joke."
Jeff in Minnesota writes: "The worst thing they could do is pass any of the proposed health care solutions that are on the table. The American public knows none of these proposals actually solves the problem at hand."
Doug in Dallas: "Once health care is passed and people see it's not the disaster the Republicans have made it out to be, I think the Democrats will do better than expected. Then the Republicans will be the ones to worry. If it doesn't pass, I believe they all should worry, because it will further prove we need new representation in Washington across-the-board."
Keith in Kentucky writes: "It will be worse for the Democrats and the country if this bill of bribes and backroom shady deals goes through. I wrote my Congressman and told him if this thing passes, I will hold him responsible whether he votes for it or not and I will do everything I can to see him defeated come November."
Vince writes: "Passing it is definitely worse, especially for those Congressmen who voted no the first time around and then changed their vote. They might as well sign up for unemployment."
And Craig writes this: "The Democrats have shot themselves in the foot whether they pass health care or not. If they make major changes that comply with the wishes of most Americans, they'll anger their base. If they stick with the abomination they've shown us so far, everyone but their base will be disgusted with them. At this point, I believe they'll lose either way. It's difficult to imagine any piece of major legislation could have been handled so arrogantly and so ineptly."
If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Will do, Jack.
When we report on executive compensation scandals, we're usually talking about major Wall Street firms, large corporations. But now the spending practices of a popular and longstanding charity are raising eyebrows. We have details.
But first, is the air you breathe on a plane safe?
CNN's Allan Chernoff goes on board with testing equipment to find out. That's ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A reminder here -- most of us need to remember to set our clocks forward by one hour before we go to sleep Saturday night. Daylight Saving Time officially returns at 2:00 a.m. -- 2:00 a.m. Eastern Sunday. Only residents of Hawaii and Arizona don't need to make the change. Those states stay on Standard time year round.
When it comes to the fear of flying, many of us have been worrying -- worrying about the wrong danger, some say. It's extremely rare for a plane to crash, but it's far more common to have problems with the air inside the cabin.
CNN's Allan Chernoff has been investigating so-called fume events.
He's here with part two of his investigation -- Allan?
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. We've reported how toxic fumes from engine oil can actually seep into the cabin's air supply system because that air comes through the engines.
So how do we know that the air onboard our flight is actually safe?
Well, we collected samples on board a transcontinental flight. I'm not going to mention the airline, because this is really an issue that affects all airlines. Even though I was very well aware of the risk, I have to say, our results were surprising.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): Could the air onboard your next flight be toxic?
Ventilation air comes through the engine, so an oil leak can result in engine oil mist containing neurotoxins to seep into the cabin.
(on camera): So we're going to test the air on board this plane. I'm turning the air monitor on. For 90 minutes, it's going to sample the air.
Toxins in the air would leave residue on surfaces of the cabin, so I'm swabbing here to bring samples back to the laboratory so we can determine if, indeed, there have been any of those toxins in the air here.
CHRIS VAN NETTEN, TOXICOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA: Let's have a look.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): Toxicologist Chris Van Netten at the University of British Columbia has studied air quality on board planes for years.
VAN NETTEN: We'll take this out very carefully.
CHERNOFF: Van Netten places the air filter and alcohol swabs into test tubes. His research associate, Tim Ma, adds solvent to extract whatever chemicals our samples captured. They also analyze some of producer Laura Dolan's (ph) hair to see if it collected toxins from her seat back cushion.
Tim runs the resulting chemicals through a mass spectrometer, device that measures molecular weight and chemical composition.
Our swabs of the air cabin surface do contain the neurotoxin, Tricresyl Phosphate, known as TCP, which is in engine oil.
VAN NETTEN: It's the pattern that really nails it down to the actual engine oil. This is the pattern that you find in engine oil and this is the pattern you find in the swab sample that you took from the aircraft.
CHERNOFF: Tim Ma has analyzed surface swabs from 40 different flights and says he almost always finds TCP.
(on camera): And on virtually all of them, do you find it?
TIM MA, UNIV. OF BRITISH COLUMBIA: Pretty much so, yes. The weights are at significant levels, but...
CHERNOFF (voice-over): Significant, but not large. The biggest amount we found -- 44 billionth of a gram -- not enough to have any health consequences.
Our air samples do not show any traces of TCP. That means toxic residue has collected on the surface of the cabin from either a prior fume event or from a gradual, continual accumulation of toxins.
VAN NETTEN: There is a fair amount of remnant material floating around literally in the ventilation system. This comes out on a regular basis. And that's what you're measuring.
CHERNOFF (on camera): So even if the flight you're on hasn't had a fume event, there are toxic fumes in that ventilation system and it's coming out?
VAN NETTEN: That's exactly the case.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): Van Netten explains his research shows when engines are shut down, some oil can leak overnight. When a plane starts up in the morning, a mist of oil can spread through the cabin.
(on camera): So you don't want to be the first person on the plane in the morning when they turn it on?
VAN NETTEN: That's what pilots are. The pilots are the ones that turn on the engine.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): Laura's hair shows traces of TCP as well, though only one trillionth of a gram.
(on camera): Her hair probably picked it up from the seat, right?
VAN NETTEN: Yes.
CHERNOFF: That would say to us, when you get off that plane, you should take a shower, right?
VAN NETTEN: Well, you should take a shower anyways.
CHERNOFF: The two leading aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, which both use the same ventilation system, acknowledge fume events can occur. But they say the system provides good and safe cabin air quality. Again, Chris Van Netten says the amount of toxins we found on the cabin interior are not going to cause health problems. The people at greatest risk are those who actually work on board the plane -- pilots and flight attendants. Van Netten says that crews should be equipped with air monitors so they can measure toxicity levels, especially if there were to be a fume event -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Allan Chernoff...
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN.
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This hour, new information about Woods' plans and about the crash that exposed his scandal.
And it's a legendary high school, a sports powerhouse and the subject of a movie, "Remember the Titans." But it's rated as one of the worst performing schools in the nation.