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Uprising in Kyrgyzstan; Conservative Census Divide

Aired April 8, 2010 - 18:00   ET


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

Happening now: dramatic, fast-changing developments in the case of a Middle Eastern diplomat who caused an airline bomb scare. Now his country is taking dramatic action.

Also, scenes like these are raising grave concerns in Washington and beyond, a deadly coup in a country critical to the war in Afghanistan. Right now, we're getting new information.

And he spent decades in West Virginia's coal mines, but he barely escaped this week's deadly explosion. Now life and that of his family is at a crossroads as he weighs his future.

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

It's a diplomatic mission that seems to be boiling over into something of an international incident. A United Airlines plane was sequestered in a Denver hangar last night after a very serious disturbance on board. A diplomat from Qatar had touched off an in- flight bomb scare, compounding the incident, word today that Mohammed Al-Madadi was on his wait to meet with a jailed al Qaeda agent.

His country responded, saying the visit was routine, but CNN has learned that that diplomat will be sent back to Qatar, at the request of the government of Qatar.

Our national security contributor Fran Townsend is here, looking at what's going on.

First of all, Fran, is it normal for a diplomat to visit a convicted al Qaeda operative serving a long sentence in a maximum security facility in Florence, Colorado?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely it's normal. In fact, Wolf, when our citizens are arrested in foreign countries around the world, we have consular officers at the State Department at our embassies who go and visit U.S. citizens, so this is not unusual.

It really does not matter what crime you have been accused or convicted of. You're entitled to consular visits. And so this -- it would have been a routine consular visit from a Qatari diplomat to one of the Qatari citizens who is in jail, regardless of the fact that that's a convicted terrorist.

BLITZER: All right, so he was questioned by authorities. He was on this plane. Something suspicious -- as he walked out of the bathroom on the plane, somebody smelled some smoke, and then the F-16s went up there. They brought this plane down. He was questioned, eventually allowed to come back to Washington.

Did -- who -- did someone overreact here? Because there clearly were no explosives on that flight. And he was apparently just in the bathroom having a cigarette, which he's not supposed to do.


Well, Wolf, we have to remember the context. Of course, we had the failed Christmas Day bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight coming into Detroit. And, of course, air marshals watch the lavatories. We have seen intelligence in the past that suggests that individuals, terrorists, will go into lavatories, use them to assemble a bomb.

And so air marshals rightly were watching it. They were suspicious when he was in there so long. There was some sort of smell or indication of smoke.

And then when he was confronted and questioned, he makes, we're told, some snide remark about having been trying to light his shoe on fire. You can well imagine, Wolf, in the wake of the 2001 Richard Reid attempted attack on a flight, that was taken pretty seriously.

And so exactly what you would expect to happen at that point does. He's restrained. The cockpit is notified. They notify the ground. F-16s are scrambled. Law enforcement is notified to meet the plane. Names are run, and the investigation proceeds.

BLITZER: So, from your perspective, it was done the way it was supposed to be done? Nobody overreacted?

TOWNSEND: No, that's exactly right, Wolf. And imagine now, remember, President Obama was on his way to Prague to sign the START treaty. You can -- we know now from the White House that the president was notified. You can be sure when they didn't know whether or not this was a serious attack, they were trying to figure out whether or not he should come back and how much he needed to know about this event.

BLITZER: Better to be safe than sorry. I think that's always smart.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. And we should take some comfort that all the communications that -- needed between the airplane, DHS, DOD, and the White House policy-makers went the way it's supposed to, even though this turned out to not to be a real threat.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much.

TOWNSEND: Sure. Deadly violence that has the State Department and the Pentagon very concerned. This is the scene in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, a country where some 50,000 American troops pass through each month on their way to and from Afghanistan. The former Soviet republic has been racked by days of political upheaval. The country's president says there has been a coup, but he will not abandon his duties.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is following all these developments.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, still a degree of uncertainty in Kyrgyzstan, but one question is starting to be answered at least, the status and whereabouts of the country's president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

He apparently fled the capital, Bishkek, as the violent anti- government protests in the city got out of hand, protests that the interim government now says left at least 75 people dead and more than 1,000 injured.

In a statement posted on a prominent Kyrgyz news Web site, President Bakiyev is quoted as blaming the opposition for the violence and refusing to resign. The president was also interviewed on an independent Russian radio station here in Moscow -- it's called Ekho Moskvy -- on which he confirmed that he's still in Kyrgyzstan, in fact, in the south of the country, ending speculation that he has gone into some kind of exile. The big question now, though, is whether he will accept defeat and step down, or attempt to muster enough support to return to the capital and to reassert his authority.

It may mean the difference between peace and more bloodshed.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


BLITZER: The White House says President Obama is following all these developments in Kyrgyzstan, he's in Prague right now, the president, where he signed a major nuclear pact with Russia today.

The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, issued a statement saying, among other things: "We deplore the use of deadly force by some of the security services against the demonstrators and by some demonstrators, and continue -- continue to be concerned by ongoing looting and disorder. The United States looks forward to continuing our productive relationship with the people of Kyrgyzstan and the renewal of Kyrgyzstan's democratic path" -- that statement from the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs.

As we mentioned, Kyrgyzstan is a key transit point for U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan right now.

CNN's Josh Levs is joining us with more on what's at stake for the U.S. Josh, explain to our viewers why this is so significant.


This is a perfect example of a time that you see a dot of unrest in the part of the world, and we here at CNN can draw a straight line for you, show you why it impacts the United States, why it can impact the whole world, what the ripple effects here will be.

And we do that by starting off with the region. And I'm showing you -- here, you're seeing Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. What we are going to do, though, is zoom in over to Kyrgyzstan, because there's a few things you should know about Kyrgyzstan.

First of all, Kyrgyzstan is a predominantly Muslim nation at a time that the United States can use as many Muslim nation friends as possible -- 5.4 million people there. Three-quarters of them are Muslim, so an important friend, importantly ally to the United States.

But the most immediate concern is something we have referred to, this air base. Let's zoom in there. That's at Manas. Now, that base was actually something the United States set up just after 9/11, two months after 9/11. It became clear to the U.S. military that there was going to be these actions in Afghanistan to prosecute the war on terrorism and this was set up, Manas Air Base.

The military officially calls it a transit center. Effectively it's an air base. What is so interesting is this was once an airport set up by the Soviet Union back in the day when this was part of the Soviet bloc. The U.S. basically retrofitted this airport to serve as an air base in the war in Afghanistan, and it's used all the time -- 50,000 troops a month go through here.

And in addition to that, fuel goes through there. Supplies go through there. Some people say could the U.S. continue to do it without this base? It could. But there not be any base that would be as close, as convenient. And as we all know, at a time the United States is ramping up the effort in Afghanistan, right, what we need is the closest proximity to that site.

So, what you're seeing is the United States has tremendous interest in holding on to that base and making sure that the unrest does not trouble Manas base -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How close is that base, Josh, to the actual violence? And the violence is very significant.

LEVS: Yes. And you know what, it's pretty close.

In fact, let's zoom back in here. What we're going to see here is, I will show this directly. It's only 14 miles, because we're not talking about a huge country to begin with. So, you got Manas Air Base here. You have Bishkek, which is the capital right there.

And when you look at that distance, it's not too much at all. So, if it continues to spread out, if we see some violence spreading out from here, it could trouble this area. And, as it is, any problem in this region can trouble much of the country, including the areas surrounding Manas Air Base, which is something the United States needs to protect, absolutely could affect that base -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Excellent explanation. I remember visiting Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek back way early in the 1990s, 1991, when it was still part of the Soviet Union.

LEVS: Yes.

BLITZER: It's changed a lot since then. If someone would have said to me at that time, you know what, the U.S. would have a major air base in Kyrgyzstan in the years to come, I wouldn't have believed it, but, you know, stuff happens. And that's very dramatic example of that.

LEVS: Wolf, Russia probably wouldn't have believed it either, and as we know, there are times Russia has said, hey, we're not too happy about the U.S. having a base in that region as well.

So that's another part of the tension here, the U.S. desire to hold on to that base there in Kyrgyzstan.

BLITZER: Josh Levs, excellent report for us. Thanks very much.

LEVS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lives turned upside down by that deadly mine explosion, and now some miners are struggling with their own future. Can they return to the only job some of them have ever known?

And growing concern that conservatives might be undercounted in the U.S. census, why Republicans are divided over filling out those forms, and what's at risk if too many don't.


BLITZER: President Obama's ordered a preliminary report on the West Virginia mine disaster that killed 25 people. There was a major setback this morning in the search for those four miners who are still missing. Rescuers were forced out of the mine when spiking gas levels raised serious concerns about new explosions. One mine official describes the crew's reaction.


CHRIS ADKINS, COO, MASSEY ENERGY: Very angry. You can imagine hauling equipment for a long distance, getting up there, getting exactly where you need to be, and then having to double-time back out because you find yourself in harm's way.

At the same time, they're running on adrenaline right now. They're very tired. And, you know, you have to make decisions that are conscious decisions in the best interests of the rescue workers, because we can't put them at risk either.


BLITZER: CNN's Brian Todd is over at the scene of this disaster.

Brian, the impact all of this is having, specifically on some of those miners who managed to escape?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is incredible to witness.

You know, outsiders like us have come into this town. We have seen the devastated families. We have gotten an inside look at how incredibly dangerous this profession really is. And we always ask the miners one key question.

Why do you keep going back in there? Well, the answers are complicated and often very emotional.


TODD (voice-over): Stanley Stewart was just inside the Upper Big Branch Mine when the massive explosion killed several of his friends. He can easily describe the fear and panic. He would rather talk about the guys.

STANLEY STEWART, SURVIVED MINE BLAST: I love them dearly. I worked side by side with them for years. And my -- my heart is just so heavy with sorrow. There's no words to describe it. I'm just hollow.

TODD: He's also conflicted. A miner for 34 years, Stewart's seen everything, survived another explosion years ago at the same mine. Now, when I ask him if he can go back to work:

S. STEWART: I don't know if I can.

TODD (on camera): Why not?

S. STEWART: Just everything that's happened. My buddies would be in my mind. And I would just feel that it could happen again. And I would just -- I don't know that I can handle it. Now, I have been able to handle anything that ever came my way my whole life, but this one -- this one has just got me right now.

TODD (voice-over): While he struggles with how to move forward, Stanley's wife has implored him to stop.

MINDI STEWART, WIFE OF MINER: You know, just those few hours of not knowing was enough for me for a lifetime. And the thought of him going back in there, I mean, it just -- it's beyond words.

TODD: But for the Stewarts and many others in this area, it's been a difficult balance for generations. Constant fear of the mines and resentment toward the operators is weighed against the very powerful draw of a lifestyle not available to most outside this industry.

Charity Alderman is brutally honest about what it means for her and her husband, Alvis (ph), who works in another mine.

CHARITY ALDERMAN, WIFE OF MINER: He never went to college, but his income is substantial enough that we live comfortably.

TODD: In fact, many miners make six-figure salaries. But it goes way beyond paying the bills. Miners speak of an emotional pull, a sense of discovery that lures them back into these blackened tunnels, despite the peril.

(on camera): It's more than an economic situation?

S. STEWART: Oh, yes, sir. It's just -- it's just a different type of work. And any time you mine a cut of coal, you know, you're in a -- you're in a place where no other man has ever been before. It's like walking on the moon. That's the way we look at it.

TODD: Community activist Grace Lafferty says this industry is simply ingrained in West Virginia's culture, an overwhelming pride in the bravery and hard work of humble men.

GRACE LAFFERTY, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: They will get up tomorrow, and they will strap their boots on, and they will take their bucket and they will go to the mine, because that's who we are.


TODD: You hear that all over this area. People are very anxious about the fate of the miners. They are heartbroken at the same time, but they all say, we simply cannot afford to lose this industry -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd working the story for us, a sad story, indeed. You will let us know if there are any developments as far as those four missing miners are concerned.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Brian, we will get right back to you. Appreciate it.

The Republican Party has lost control of Congress, and now it's worried about something else. GOP leaders are deeply concerned about the impact of a low census count.

CNN's Mary Snow is working this story for us.

How concerned are they about this, and why, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're concerned, Wolf, because some conservatives have blasted the census. Now a number of Republicans are speaking out on the census. South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson is the latest one.

On his Twitter page today, he urges constituents to mail back their forms, because if they don't census workers will have to knock on doors, and that will cost taxpayer money. But there's also an underlying concern about being undercounted. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)




SNOW (voice-over): Count President Bush's former political adviser as one conservative urging people to fill out their census forms.


ROVE: One of my favorite founders is James Madison, principal author of the Constitution. He created an instrument of democracy by writing into the Constitution a requirement for a census every 10 years to ensure fair representation in Congress.


SNOW: Karl Rove's pitch for the Census Bureau comes as some Republicans worry that an anti-government fervor will lead to a low census count and ultimately hurt them -- among those concerned, Republican Congressman Ted Poe of Texas, a state lagging behind the rest of the nation.

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: The reason it may be low right now is because people seem to be a little cynical about the census.

SNOW: Some of the more conservative counties in Texas are behind the national average on the census count. The stakes are high. Congressman Poe says Texas stands to gain three, if not four, additional congressional seats depending on the number of people who participate in the 2010 census count.

POE: I don't think we should get into a situation where any member of Congress is encouraging people not to fill out the census, no matter where they live. So, I would disagree with anyone who says, don't fill out the census.

SNOW: Fellow Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul for one has called the census too personal. It asks 10 questions that include age, sex, and race. Paul says the only question that should be asked is: How many people live here? And Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has been raising objections for months.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: I just don't think Americans should be compelled to answer personal questions that the federal government mandates that they answer. I think people have a zone of privacy that the government should respect.

SNOW: But now, citing low response rates, Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina took to the conservative Web site He says returning the census is a constitutional duty, writing: "Few things will make Nancy Pelosi happier than large numbers of conservatives failing to respond to the census. If we do not respond, we will not be counted, and, if we're not counted, then we effectively will not exist."


SNOW: And, Wolf, right now overall across the nation, about 64 percent of the nation has returned census forms. Checking Texas right now, that rate is about 59 percent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I filled out mine. Did you fill out yours?

SNOW: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Good. All right, Mary, thanks very much.

Record-setting rains are triggering mudslides that have killed hundreds of people in Brazil. There are new images and new information just coming in.



BLITZER: President Obama signs a major nuclear arms control agreement with Russia today, but can he get the U.S. Senate to ratify it? And what is he getting from Russia in return? I will speak about that and more with the National Security Council's chief of staff, Denis McDonough. He will join us from Prague.


BLITZER: A major shift in U.S. nuclear strategy this week. The latest piece of that strategy came today, when President Obama and the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, signed an agreement to slash their nuclear weapons stashes by one-third.

For that and more, we turn to the chief of staff of the president's National Security Council, Denis McDonough.


BLITZER: Denis, thanks very much for joining us.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, CHIEF OF STAFF, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Happy to be with you, Wolf. Thanks a lot for the chance.

BLITZER: Can you get 67 votes in the United States Senate to ratify this new treaty?

MCDONOUGH: I think that's the right question, Wolf, especially now that the difficult work of negotiating the treaty is completed.

To protect against that, what we have done and what the president has insisted on is working very closely with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate over the course of these negotiations. So, we have kept the Senate fully apprised. Frankly, we have raised a lot of the issues that they raised -- they wanted us to raise.

And we have a history in this country of having very strong bipartisanship support for arms control treaties. Going back over the course of the last 20 years or so, it's hard to find a treaty that passed with fewer than 90 votes in the Senate.

So we feel pretty good about it, but, frankly, we're not taking anything for granted. That's why we are going to keep working this. And, frankly, earlier on Thursday, many of our colleagues were briefing from here in Prague back to Washington to make sure that the Senate had the best understanding of this.

So we're going to keep working this. We're not taking anything for granted. But we think it's a treaty that's in our interests. So I think we feel pretty good about it.

BLITZER: I think a lot of members in the Senate, not only Republicans, but Democrats, as well, will be looking at Russia and its behavior in the coming weeks and months.

Do you have a firm commitment from Russia that it will support a new round of tough sanctions against Iran?

MCDONOUGH: Well, on the first instance, let's keep in mind, Wolf, that we believe this treaty, in and of itself, is in our interests. It's going to make sure that we lead the world here in drawing down our nuclear weapons. We're going to -- in so doing, we're going to isolate those actors like North Korea and Iran, who want to break out of the international proliferation system.

And so we think it's, in the first instance, very much in our interests to do that.

As it relates to our cooperation with Russia, we feel like we're making good progress on that. The president and President Medvedev, on Thursday, spent a lot of time talking about that. So we think we're making good progress on it. But we're, again, we're not taking anything for granted on that, either. The negotiations up in New York are ongoing. The cooperation we're getting from Russia in Afghanistan in terms of transiting lethal equipment to our troops s down there, through Russian airspace, that's proceeding apace.

But we're not going to take anything for granted. We're to keep pushing this thing right on through as it relates to Iran, as it relates to Afghanistan, as it relates to North Korea and a range of other issues.

BLITZER: There have already been at least three or four rounds of sanctions against Iran. And it doesn't seem to have had any impact on Iran's decision to go forward and pursue a nuclear weapon, that according to U.S. officials.

So what makes you believe that a new round of sanctions would -- would have any impact at all?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I think that the bottom line, Wolf, is that we're not going to hang our hats solely on sanctions, although, a strong resolution out of New York, as we've seen related to North Korea, can have an impact.

But we're not hanging our hat on -- on only that. In fact, over the course of the last 15 months, we've unwound the strategy as it relates to Iran. That has resulted in Iran being less -- less united at home; frankly, more divided politically than we've seen it in some time, more isolated in the world. They're seeing the balance of power in the region moving away from it.

And, frankly. We're seeing according to the IAEA, some struggling from the Iranians with their nuclear program.

So there's no silver bullet here, Wolf. You're right. But we're not counting on one silver bullet. We're working very closely with our allies and with our friends, as you mentioned, the Russians, for example. And we're going to continue to push on exactly that.

BLITZER: Is a military option still on the table?

MCDONOUGH: Well, I think, you've heard the president say that, you know, no commander-in-chief puts -- takes options off the table one way or the other here. But what he has also been clear, is that we believe diplomacy is the right way to go, at the moment. We believe, as I indicated a minute ago, that our diplomatic efforts over the course of the last 15 or so months have resulted in a weaker, more isolated Iran. We think that's in our interests. And, frankly, we've seen from our -- our allies and our friends, from Great Britain to France to Israel, all strongly supporting that diplomatic effort. And we're going to continue to pursue just that.

BLITZER: Is Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, still coming to Washington on May 12th?


BLITZER: No change, given some of his controversial statements over the past few days?

MCDONOUGH: You know, Wolf, we're -- we're very focused on results. Let's remember why we're in Afghanistan. We're in Afghanistan because we were attacked on 9/11 with a level of attack that, frankly, we had not theretofore seen in the United States.

The president of the United States is bound and determined to make sure that that does not happen again. And so we're working very aggressively to advance our interests in a stable and secure Afghanistan. And we're working with our partners in Afghanistan, including President Karzai. So we're focused more on the results, Wolf, than we are on a particular statement here or there. And we're going to be candid with our partner where we disagree and we'll be candid where we agree.

But the bottom line is the president saw some good progress after his visit to Kabul. We're seeing some good progress in the run-up to the May 12 visit. And that's exactly what we're focused on, is progress on the ground to advance our interests and stability there.

BLITZER: Do you still have confidence in Karzai?

MCDONOUGH: You know, Wolf, I do. But the more important thing is that the president does. And most importantly, he has a lot of confidence in the strategy that we were able to hammer out across the agencies of our government, from the State Department to the Defense Department to our intelligence community and our foreign assistance -- foreign assistance efforts.

So we have a comprehensive effort that underscores our interests, that advances our interests, not just in Afghanistan, frankly; but also, in Pakistan. And so we have confidence in the strategy that we've laid down. And we're seeing that unfold. We've seen it's unfold in Marjah. We're seeing it unfold in -- frankly, in the capital. And I'm sure we're going to see that unfold over the course of this summer in Kandahar, as well.

BLITZER: Denis McDonough is the chief of the staff of the National Security Council.

Denis, thanks very much for joining us.

MCDONOUGH: Thanks a lot, Wolf.

It's good to be with you.

BLITZER: Her cover was blown in advance of the second Iraq War. Now that former CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a public figure. And she's using her name and her reputation to take on a new mission -- a world without nukes.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: All right, this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We've just learned that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has decided to cancel his visit to Washington this weekend for the nuclear summit that President Obama is hosting on Monday and Tuesday. He was supposed to participate, along with leaders from about 40 other nations, but has decided not to come, when all is said and done; instead, sending another minister, Dan Meridor, the minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy. The "Ha'aretz: Newspaper is reporting that he decided to cancel the trip over fears that some of the Muslim participants, led by Egypt and Turkey, would demand that Israel sign up to the international Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, which Israel has not signed up to.

My own suspicion is the way he was treated last time when he was here in Washington may have been a factor, as well. We'll continue to report on this story and get more for you. The bottom line, though, is Prime Minister Netanyahu canceling his visit to Washington to participate in President Obama's nuclear summit. As we reported, President Obama and the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, signed the most significant nuclear arms agreement in a generation today. The so-called new START Treaty will cut each country's nuclear stockpile by about one third over seven years. The deal still has to be ratified by lawmakers in Moscow and Washington.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is joining us now with more on what this means.

Some people say it's a good step, but they'd want to go a whole lot further.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, right. Really, all the way with no nukes. You know, it's been decades since we've had a debate here in the U.S. on eliminating nuclear weapons. But now, on this very day, President Obama did sign that START Arms control treaty, some say it's time to rid the world of nukes, period.


DOUGHERTY: (voice-over): A world without nuclear weapons -- two high profile movies hope to make eliminating nukes a worldwide cause.

QUEEN NOOR, JORDAN: There is still time to change direction and chart our course to zero, but the clock is ticking.

DOUGHERTY: is promoting a new and scary documentary by the same producer, who did Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would it not be better to do away with them entirely?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we'd be better off without them.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero nuclear weapons.






DOUGHERTY: Former CIA officer, Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown during the run-up to the Iraq War, is a Global Zero supporter.

(on camera): Why are you motivated to join this side?

VALERIE PLAME WILSON, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I loved what I was doing at the CIA. -- covert operations. I worked trying basically make -- trying to make sure the bad guys didn't get the bombs. So this opportunity came out of the blue and it has allowed me to use my expertise in something I care passionately about.

PAULA DESUTTER, FORMER BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that we need to maintain a viable and robust nuclear deterrent.

DOUGHERTY: Critics, like this arms control official under President George W. Bush, say the idea of getting rid of nukes entirely is dangerously naive.

DESUTTER: As our numbers go down, it may be that -- and as our capability to maintain the reliability of those weapons is decreased, we further incentivize other countries to have those nuclear weapons.


SAM NUNN, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: If a terrorist group gets those materials, they can make a rudimentary bomb.


DOUGHERTY: But Washington heavyweight, former Senator Sam Nunn, says even in a dangerous world, getting rid of nukes isn't a pipe dream. The organization he co-founded the Nuclear Threat Initiative, has its new movie that he screened for President Obama at the White House this week.

NUNN: I think to compare a nuclear war to any kind of conventional war in history is to miss the basic nature of -- of nuclear weapons. This is a different kind of indiscriminate, massive destruction, threatening God's universe type weapon.


DOUGHERTY: And supporters of a world without nuclear weapons hope that idea will excite young people, as well as others who didn't even experience the cold war. And you can bet that Senator Nunn actually said that even some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have never had to deal with evaluating and possibly ratifying an arms control agreement. So you can bet that both sides -- supporters and opponents of zero nukes -- will be out there educating and trying to convince people that they're right.

And, you know, Wolf, a lot of our viewers who visited the White House probably remember the anti-nuclear protesters who were right in front of Lafayette Park. We saw them again today. And, you know, they've been there for almost 30 years. One of them told me he has more hope now that what they've been fighting for could eventually, in the far future, become a reality.

BLITZER: They were there when you and I covered the White House... DOUGHERTY: That's right.

BLITZER: -- during the Clinton administration. And they're still there.


BLITZER: They're still on the job.

Thanks very much for that, Jill Dougherty.

Virginia's governor has apologized for leaving out any mention of slavery in proclaiming Confederate History Month in Virginia -- why some people believe Governor Bob McDonnell's glaring omission was intentional. We'll have that and more, when we come back.


BLITZER: As we reported yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the governor of Virginia has apologized for failing to acknowledge the existence of slavery in his recent proclamation for Confederate History Month in Virginia.

For some, though, that apology is not enough.

Let's bring in CNN's John King.

He's the host of CNN's "JOHN KING USA," which airs right after THE SITUATION ROOM.

A lot of folks are asking -- he's a very smart guy, Bob McDonnell, what was he thinking?

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": And it's a great question, because you mentioned he's a smart guy. He just ran an incredibly well disciplined campaign to be elected governor of Virginia. Many believe he has aspirations after he is governor. Virginia has this strange law, you can only serve one term. So once you get elected, people begin to asking immediately, where are you going next?

A lot of conservatives say, look, he made a mistake, he's a new governor, cut him some slack.

But Democrats, Wolf, in this political environment -- I talked to a leading African-American member of the state senate last night. He says, I don't accept the apology.

We went out to Northern Virginia today and caught up with Democratic Congressman Jim Moran. He says he thinks the governor did this on purpose.


REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: Of course it was. Of course it was intentional. The -- his -- the last two predecessors, who were Democrats, didn't issue such a proclamation. The previous governor did, but he also mentioned slavery as something that we should not be proud of. This guy doesn't mention slavery because he doesn't want to imply that he's not proud of it so.


KING: And so you see the Democrats are not going to let this go. The governor says I've apologized, it was a big mistake, let's move on.

Democrats see an opportunity to rough him up a little bit.

BLITZER: But it's becoming a -- sort of a bigger issue by the moment in Virginia, I assume.

KING: Absolutely. Because it's a -- now it will become a question of sensitivity. It won't be just about slavery and the proclamation about Confederate History Month, it will be -- the African-American state senator I talked to last night said we're going to press him now. We think he's insensitive to minorities on education policy and on other policy.

So this will become some -- a legacy that carries forward into other debates, of course.

And -- and one of the questions is, will Governor McDonnell call all these folks in and have a meeting?

The African-American community says we'll attend such a meeting, but he'll have to instigate it, not us.

BLITZER: And another political story in Florida. Charlie Crist, Marco Rubio -- they're both running for the Republican Senate nomination.

What happened today?

KING: Well, there's a great drama. This is a fascinating race. Charlie Crist was, we thought, the most popular politician in Florida. Now Marco Rubio, the conservative state legislator, he is speaker of the house. He is now beating Charlie Crist in most of the polls down there. He's raising more money than Charlie Crist. So many people think, will Charlie Crist drop out of the Republican primary and run, instead, as an Independent?

Charlie Crist's campaign says no way, that's just rumors. He's -- he's proud to be a Republican. He will be a Republican.

I checked in, Wolf, with two very prominent Republicans close to Crist down there today and they said they don't think that's going to happen, but because this race has become so volatile and, at the moment, trending away from Governor Crist, they don't rule it out down the line, especially maybe if he loses that primary.

BLITZER: You're going to have a lot more at the top of the hour. "JOHN KING USA" -- we'll be watching.

Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: A U.S. senator is caught up in an earthquake. We're going to tell you who that is and where.

And researchers are confirming that a giant lizard discovered in the Amazon is, in fact, a new species. Wait until you see how big this lizard really is.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- what else is going on, Lisa?


Well, the California-Mexico border has suffered yet another blow nearly a week after being hit by a major earthquake. A magnitude 5.3 aftershock struck the area as U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who represents California, was surveying the quake's damage. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also visited the area today, but he left before the aftershocks occurred. So far, there have been no reports of injuries.

The man accused of threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi broke down in a federal courtroom today. Gregory Giusti was charged with making obscene, threatening or harassing phone calls to the speaker. He wept while talking to his attorney. Giusti remains in police custody and has not submitted a plea. If convicted, though, he could face two years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

And take a look here at this guy here. A new study concludes that the giant golden-spotted monitor lizard is actually a whole new species. The creature, which measures in a very long 6'6," was discovered in the Philippines back in 2004. But it took until last year to determine that it was new.

And we want to just give you a sense of exactly how tall a 6'6" lizard is. Take a look at the picture there. Well, if he stood up, he would be just about as tall as former NBA All Star Charles Barkley.

It's a cute little guy there. Pretty tall to measure it, though.

BLITZER: Yes. It's just...

SYLVESTER: I didn't even realize Charles Barkley was that tall.

BLITZER: Oh, Charles, Charles...

SYLVESTER: That's -- that is -- that's very tall.

BLITZER: He's a friend of mine. He's a -- he's a great guy. He's a huge guy, 6'6." But he's a little wider than that lizard, too.

SYLVESTER: Yes, I know. The lizard is a little skinny thing there.

BLITZER: Yes. Right.

SYLVESTER: But it's still a cute little lizard.

BLITZER: But he's a big -- a big lizard.

All right, thanks very much for that.

It's a mainstay of school lunch boxes and deli meals -- something, anything between two slices of bread. But wait. One fast food check -- fast food chain is defying our very concept of what it means to be a sandwich.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: You may have seen pictures of it -- a sandwich missing the key ingredient that defines it. In the fast food world, it's on the lips of everyone.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a bite of this Moost Unusual sandwich.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Behold the bunless wonder.

(on camera): Ready?


MOOS: Let's go.

(voice-over): Now you get a taste of it.

(on camera): Good.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just tell America it's good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good. I don't miss the bun.

MOOS: Ah, the missing bun. KFC's Double Down is the talk of the sandwich world -- a slab of chicken, special cause, cheese, bacon, cheese, more sauce, chicken.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no bread.

MOOS (on camera): There's no bread. It's a sandwich without the bread. That's the whole...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is slippery.

MOOS (voice-over): Even as it was being tested in a couple of markets...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A Double Down sandwich combo?

MOOS: -- it became legendary on the Web.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is so disgusting.

MOOS: Dissected, even serenaded.


MOOS: The nastiest part is that it's a salt bomb, 1380 milligrams.

(on camera): I'm about halfway through my daily salt requirement right here, huh?


MOOS (voice-over): Tell that to the guy whose eyes widened with pleasure at the first bite.

(on camera): There's a lot of salt and stuff there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, even better.

MOOS: What kind of diet are you on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The kind you don't want to eat that. Every day I eat lunch, I've got to take a picture of it and send to it my girlfriend.

MOOS (voice-over): Imagine sending her this, though it is only 540 calories, similar to a Big Mac, but with more salt than fat, 32 grams. And it comes in a 460 calorie grilled version.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll give you a dollar for one.

MOOS: It will cost $5 when KFC starts selling them Monday.




MOOS: Almost everyone who tried it liked it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's pretty righteous right there. That's awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chicken overload.

MOOS (on camera): Chicken overload.


MOOS (voice-over): Will the Double Down challenge the very definition of...


MOOS: Two or more slices of bread with a filling between them. Still, if you don't like carbs...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the best idea that I've ever seen, ever.

MOOS: On the Web, the Double Down is being imitated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A piece of French toast in between two pancakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two pieces of fish and some instant ramen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is two steaks with a fried egg on top of a bed of hash browns.

MOOS: As for the fate of the bun...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who cares about the bun?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No bun, because bun, I mean bun. We don't want buns.

MOOS: Remember when it used to be the meat that was missing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where's the beef?

MOOS (on camera): Where's the bun?

(voice-over): But not even KFC can make all buns obsolete.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, where's the beef?

MOOS (on camera): Where's the bun?

(voice-over): New York.


(END VIDEO TAPE) BLITZER: It looks delicious.

Remember, you can follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm on Twitter. You can get my Tweets at Wolfblitzercnn -- all one word.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "JOHN KING USA." It starts right now.

KING: Thanks, Wolf.

This hour, we're expecting important new developments at the scene of that West Virginia mine explosion.