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As America Marks The 15th Anniversary Of The Oklahoma City Bombing, President Clinton Warns That The Political Debate Now Is Very Similar To Mood That Ignited McVeigh's Violence; Inside Nuke Weapons Test Lab; One-On-One with Michelle Obama

Aired April 17, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It was the blast that shook America to its core and awoke the country to a new threat from within. Remembering 15 years since the Oklahoma City bombing. Bill Clinton was president at the time. I'll talk with him, one on one, about the heated anti-government rhetoric that fanned the flames of extremists like Timothy McVeigh. Are we facing a similar danger now?

Plus -- testing nuclear weapons without detonating a bomb. We'll get an exclusive look inside one of the top U.S. laboratories where researchers carry out about 1,000 explosions each year.

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

Almost every American can recalls exactly where they were when they heard the news 15 years ago Monday. A massive homemade bomb ripped apart the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people. The shock of the attack was compounded when it became clear that it was an act of domestic terrorism, carried out by a young army are veteran who had grown to hate the federal government.

Bill Clinton was the United States president at the time. He sat down with me to recall that day.


BLITZER (on camera): Mr. President, thanks very much for joining us.

It seems only, at least for me, and I assume for you like yesterday, April 19, 1995. When you first heard that there was an incident in Oklahoma City, I assume you remember where you were and what immediately went through your min mind.

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yeah. I was in the White House. And we -- first I thought that it had to be some sort of attack. And second, I wanted to make sure we were doing what we were supposed to do. And the third thing I remember thin thinking was we can't jump to conclusions here. The easy thing would be to go out and start talking, and we needed to just be quiet, help where we can, and see what the real facts are.

BLITZER: Because the immediate instincts for a lot of analysts, after the '93 first World Trade Center bombing, these must be Arab terrorists.

CLINTON: A lot of people thought it was Arab terrorists. And frankly, it wasn't just eh World Trade Center bombing, by them we had been trying to block attempts to blow up the U.N, and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, I mean there was a lot of evidence that there was a sustained effort to conduct operations in America.

But you know, we held back. There was just instinctively it seemed sort of funny. It wouldn't have been even irrational for foreign terrorists to try to pick a target in the heartland, but I'm glad we didn't. And of course we know now it was different.

BLITZER: We have some video. I want to show you these pictures. Look at these pictures. Because people don't remember what was going on. You were there, I was there. But it wasn't just the federal, the Murrah Federal Office Building, it was that whole area.

CLINTON: Oh, yeah. Look at it, 300 buildings had some damage or another. If you look at the Murrah Building, what happened was it just, the bomb was a concussion, I think a lot of times ordinary people that you get hit by a bomb, something goes into your body and pierces it. Most of these people were casualties of this powerful concussive effect that brought that structure down.

This is an exaggerated example which will help everyone understand why traumatic brain injury is such a big problem of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan now, if they're around these road side bombs, their brains can rattle around in their skulls. That's what happened to all these buildings and that's what killed most of these people.

BLITZER: It is hard to believe, you look at these pictures now. It's hard to believe. This was -- until 9/11, this was the worst terrorist attack.

CLINTON: Worst terrorist attack in our history. Look at it. It's -- and when you look at this building, you can also see why for days an days, it was hard to be sure that everyone who's body had not been recovered was dead because people thought -- you can also see looking at this how the young man who introduced me here today who was there fell from the 7th to the 3rd floor.

BLITZER: And survived?

CLINTON: Survive and was conscious and crawled his way out of the building there. But he fell four floors. Now when you look at what happened, the face ripped off of the building, you can see how it happened.

BLITZER: So, you came out there. I remember that memorial service.


BLITZER: Where you spoke. And I think it was one of the turning points, if not the turning point in your first term, because it resonated with so many people out there. But play a little clip for you. What you said.


BLITZER: On that day. Listen to this.


CLINTON: This terrible sin took the lives of our American family, innocent children in that building only because their parents were trying to be good parents, as well as good workers. Citizens in the building going about their daily business; and many there who served the rest of us.


BLITZER: As you think back on that and you think ahead 15 years, could that kind of domestic terror attack occur again?

CLINTON: Well, I think that in fairness to the public officials that were the main victims here, and their families, I think that we've done a much better job over the last 15 years of preparing for it and guarding against it, and trying to be alert to the most extreme members of groups that advocate violence, for example.

But I think the circumstances have a lot of parallels. For example, there's the same kind of economic and social upheaval now than there was then. I would say in 1993, the economy for most average people who are likely to be drawn into this was not quite as bad as it is today but the social upheaval was even greater. There was more crime, there was more gang violence, there was more sense of disintegration after the Cold War. So, there were big psychological pressures. Then you had the rise of extremist voices on talk radio. Here you've got a zillion Internet sites, people, you know, pumping up a lot of these-

BLITZER: So what you're saying is it potentially could be worse today because of the echo chamber.

CLINTON: Yeah, the echo chamber is bigger today and there are more voices in it. But I think that the country is not without memories of this. And I think this 15th anniversary will bring them back. And I believe that not just at the national level, but the state and local people are better at scoping the potential attacks out.

BLITZER: Is the --

CLINTON: Could it happen again? Yes. But will it? I hope not, and I think we've learned something from it.

BLITZER: We're talking about domestic terrorism now.

CLINTON: Yes, of course.

BLITZER: The hatred that Timothy McVeigh had, there are others, there are plenty of people like that right now. CLINTON: Lots of them.

BLITZER: Do you feel it's more intense today and greater today than it was 15 years ago?

CLINTON: I can't say, but I will - Oklahoma City was the last of a series of very high profile violent encounters. At least the last high profile one, we've had several since. And now there are all these groups, you know saying things like the current are political debate is just a prelude to civil war, and all that kind of stuff. But, you know, there was a lot of tough stuff back then. Gordon Liddy was on the radio telling them if the ATF agents came to be sure and take a head shot at them because they had vests on.

BLITZER: He didn't have much support at that time.


BLITZER: Now there seems to be, at least if you go to these websites and listen to these --

CLINTON: That's the thing. It's still a minority but they have -- they can communicate with each other much faster and much better than ever before, the main thing that bothered us at the time of Oklahoma City was already there was enough use of the Internet that if you knew how to find the websites, not even everybody had a computer back then, but if you knew how to find it, you could learn, for example, how to make a bomb. Now everybody has got a computer, web sites are easily accessible. And you can be highly selective and spend all your time with people that are kind of out there with you.


BLITZER: There's much more of my interview with former President Bill Clinton. Up next, we'll talk abut the anti-government anger of the Tea Party Movement. Are we hearing echoes of the hatred that fueled Timothy McVeigh?

Also we talk about the plight of Haiti three months after the quake that devastated Port-au-Prince.

Plus President Obama puts a spotlight on securing nuclear weapons. We get an exclusive look inside the lab where U.S. weapons are tested without detonating a single bomb.


BLITZER: As we near the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, there's concern that heated new anti-government rhetoric could inspire extremists. Here's more of my interview with former President Bill Clinton.


BLITZER: I guess the question is, is the rhetoric we're hearing today, I don't know if you want to get into the Tea Party, or some of the expressions you're hearing there, or what we're generally hearing from small, but very, very vocal group? Is that potentially dangerous?

CLINTON: Yes. Most of the Tea Party people though are explicitly political. You got to give them that. Forget about whether we disagree with them or not. It's really important to be able to criticize your government and criticize elected officials. That never bothered me. Nobody is right all the time and it's part of the lifeblood of liberty, the freedom of speech means the freedom to criticize in part.

So most of them have been understanding that they are not like the Boston tea party when there was no law, there was no representation, they just have representation that they didn't vote for and don't agree with. Most of them have been well within bounds and they're harsh, but limited criticism, that is they're not advocating violence, or encouraging other people to do it.

But some of the things that the secessionists have said, the Idaho militia says that if they want to succeed in Idaho they'll support them militarily. Some of the things these three presenters have said, some of the things these Oath Keepers have said, that's more like the extremists an militia groups, like what David Koresh did, or some of the other people that all of which influenced Timothy McVeigh.

I think it's important not to draw too tight an historical analogy. The only thing I want to say is I'm not interested in gagging anybody. I actually love this political debate. I would like to be a part of it. You know was a tiny part of it when the president asked Hillary and me to make some calls on the health care thing, and for me to speak to the Senate and others on it. But I just think that we have to be careful. We've been down this road on more than one occasion before. We don't want to go down it again.

BLITZER: The other difference, yes the Internet has exploded over these 15 year, there's a Democratic president now. You were a Democratic president then, but the other big difference is there's an African-American are president.

CLINTON: Yes. And an African-American president who's father was from Kenya whose mother's second husbands were a Muslim. And so he's had all these attacks from the birthers, and others. I do think and he's had a lot of threats, and also the members of Congress have had a lot of threats against them.

We had a lot of threats. I remember that guy came from Colorado and opened fire on the White House with an assault pressure and sprayed the press room. Remember that? Some of the bullets got into the pressure room.

BLITZER: On the North Lawn of the White House.

CLINTON: They were so angry with me. They were madder at me. I was sort of an apostate and he's an outsider. That is the white Southern protestants, of which I am one, were the heart and soul of the then-right wing movement in the America, the right wing of the conservative party. And also were a lot of the people who were the most alienated. So they figured what was the matter with me? I was a traitor to my class, sort of. President Obama is different and symbolizes the increasing diversity of America.

And both of them, for him, it's like a symbol of he symbolizes the loss of control of predictability, of certainty, of clarity, that a lot of people need for their psychic well being. And so I worry about it. Look, he's well protected by the Secret Service. They're terrific. And a president, I can tell you I've never met a president - look, George W. Bush had some threats against him, people who strongly disagreed with his policy. Some, Eric Cantor got a threat here. The governor of New Jersey has been at least jokingly threatened by some of the interest groups in New Jersey, the Republican governor of New Jersey.

But by and large, in the last 50 years, at least since the early '70s when we still had some left wing problems, by and large, these have been systemically coming out of the far right. And again I think that all those folks have a place in our political debate, we just have to know where to draw the line. We have enough threats against the president, enough threats against the Congress that we should be sensitive to it.

The 15th anniversary of Oklahoma City, I'm not trying to draw total parallel, I am just saying we should be aware of this. This is a vast echo chamber, this Internet. And there's lots of folks listening. And as I said, some are serious, some are delirious, some are connected, some are unhinged. We, all of us, who have any responsibility have to exercise that responsibility so that we're intellectually honest about our political positions, but we're also intellectually honest about what certain words might do to people who are less stable.


BLITZER: How is Bill Clinton's health? I'll ask the former president in my one on one interview. More coming up. And we'll take you inside the secret facility where America tests its nuclear bombs without blowing anything up. It's a CNN exclusive.


BLITZER: As the country grows more divided and the political debate grows sharper is there a way to bring Americans back together? Let's get back to my interview with the former President Bill Clinton.


BLITZER: What can a president -- you had to deal with this--what can any president do to heal this divide?

CLINTON: First, President Obama genuinely has tried. He's reached out to the Republicans on health care, he has reached out to the Republicans on financial reform, he's -- he included a Christian evangelical minister, with whom he has a good relationship Rick Warren in his inaugural, took some grief from the liberals for it. He campaigned openly to Republicans in the states where they could participate in the Democratic primary process, or the Democratic caucus process. He wants to be a unifying figure. He had Republican friends in the Congress.

The problem is that once you get to be president, as I found out, much to my chagrin, it is very much in the interest of the people in the other party, in the short-term interest, for you not to succeed because that enables them to argue that they deserve a chance. Or if you are going to succeed it's in their interest for to you succeed with only members of your party so they can claim they would have done it differently and better.

I think -- I guess what I was appealing for today is that on some of these core issues, I don't want us to have to have another Oklahoma City to sober up. Because Oklahoma City really helped us in a way as a country, that is after it, it made the conflicts seem smaller than our common humanity. They were so brave. They were so courageous, they were so magnificent. That all of us, and as I said, I included myself, I had said some things that I never said again after Oklahoma City.

BLITZER: Like -- going after federal bureaucrats?

CLINTON: I think the president, or when I was a governor, referring to federal bureaucrats, it is like they're all arrogant, they're all power abusers, they're all insensitive or they're all not competent. That's not good.

BLITZER: Most of the people killed in Oklahoma City were federal bureaucrats.

CLINTON: Yes, they were and most of them were very good at what they did and were very much liked and respected by the people who they served.

BLITZER: Let me wrap this up with you about Oklahoma City, by reading to your book from your book "My Life." Because these words, I'll read them to you, could be said today by the president of the United States.

"Anti-government paranoia has been building in America for years. As more and more people took the historical skepticism of Americans toward government to a level of outright hatred. This animus led to the rise of armed militia groups that rejected the legitimacy of federal authority and asserted the right to be a law unto themselves. The atmosphere of hostility was intensified by right-wing radio talk show hosts, who venomous rhetoric pervaded the airways daily and by web sites, encouraging people to rise up against the government and offering practical assistance, including easy to follow instructions on how to make bombs."

Now you wrote that, recalling what was the mood in 1995. I think President Obama could say the same thing right now.

CLINTON: He could. And that's why I have said what I did today. I don't want something bad to happen for us to get this thing right again. And as I pointed out today, after Oklahoma City, we kept right on having our political disagreements, you know, but the speaker, they closed government twice in 1995. You remember it very well at the end of the year. We had an election in 1996. Oklahoma was a Republican state, I still didn't carry it. But I loved them because they reoriented me, and all of us.

I don't want the country to have to go through that again. I want us to resume this political debate and resume the dialogue and keep it within the limits that the framers intended. Beyond the law, there is no freedom. The reason all these groups have the freedom to advocate whatever they want is because of the rule of law. So we can't have violence or the advocacy of violence, and we've got to be careful who buy we get close to that, particularly if we're in positions of influence.


BLITZER: There's more of the interview with the former President Bill Clinton. We'll talk about Haiti, the short-term and long-term prospects for that country. Stand by for that.

And Tea Partiers around the country used tax day to protest big government this week. Now our new poll shows most Americans think the government is wasting their money.

In the wake of strained U.S.-Israeli relations is it time for President Obama to consider a new tragedy toward the Middle East? Two leading members of Congress getting ready to weigh in.


BLITZER: A new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll finds that most Americans think the government is wasting their money.

Joining us now to talk about that and more, I'm joined by the House Majority Leader Congressman Steny Hoyer and House Minority Whip Representative Eric Cantor. Both the number two leaders of their respective parties in the House of Representatives.

Congressmen, thanks very much for coming in.



BLITZER: Steny Hoyer, let me show you the results of the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll today. We asked the question how much of your taxes does government waste? Seventy four percent said a lot, 23 percent said some, only 3 percent of the American people - only 3 percent say not much.

That's not a vote of confidence in what you guys are doing up on Capitol Hill.

HOYER: Well, you know, I think the - the 3 percent are correct. Not much. Do we waste some? Yes. Any enterprise this large, private sector, public sector, obviously has trouble keeping track of every nickel.

But, very frankly, it depends upon what you mean by waste. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid take a - a huge sum of money that we pay for health care and senior retirements and poor people who can't get health care.

So is that a waste? Do we waste some money within that? We do. Do we need to be very careful about it? We do. In the health care bill that we just passed, of course one of the major investments is to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in the health care programs.

But they're right. We - it's an important consideration for us. We need to go after waste, fraud and abuse.

BLITZER: It's a lot easier, as both of you know, said than done.

If we asked that you that question, Congressman Cantor, how much of your taxes does government waste, would you say a lot, some or not much?

CANTOR: I think you're going to predict right, Wolf. I'm going to say a lot.

And, you know, today is Tax Day, as you said before, and, you know, Steny and I worked together on a lot of things, and, as you may expect, we disagree on some and I think today, Tax Day, though, would be a great time for us to start and - and maybe join together.

And I would challenge Steny to say hey, come on, let's just say right now we're not going to allow for tax hikes to occur this year because we don't need any more money coming out of people's pockets into Washington. That would probably be the best response to the poll that you speak about.

BLITZER: Are you ready to accept that challenge -

HOYER: Eric - Eric -


HOYER: No only will I accepted the challenge, we accepted the challenge. Taxes for Americans, 95 percent of Americans were - were reduced substantially last year, over $300 billion in tax cut last year, and the average refund is 10 percent greater this year than it was last year, under the last year of the Bush administration. So, very frankly, taxes have gone down.

Eric of course doesn't mention that, but a third of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act were tax cuts.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Eric Cantor.

CANTOR: Well, listen, what I - what I'm saying is this, certainly we can argue about the Stimulus Bill, but what I can say is this, every American knows their taxes are going up in December.

Let's say right now we're not going to allow taxes to increase, especially when we've got the unemployment that we have and the - and the need for us to grow in this economy and to produce jobs. Let's say right now, no tax hikes this year.

HOYER: Wolf, clearly, if - if what Mr. Cantor is talking about, I suspect he is, is the tax program that was adopted in '01 and '03, and then had a 2010 ending date, and so automatically taxes would go up.

The answer to his question, the president has said, we've said, we're certainly going to make sure that middle class taxes don't go up.

CANTOR: Well, I'm a -

BLITZER: But - but it will go up for - for people making - households making more than $250,000 a year, individuals making more than $150,000 a year. Steny Hoyer, is that right?

HOYER: Well, that may be the case.

CANTOR: And all cap - and all capital gains tax.

HOYER: You know, we've got a big, big deficit.

BLITZER: All right, go ahead. What will be - what was the point, Eric Cantor, you want to -

CANTOR: And, Wolf, I would say, Steny - Steny knows, too, that all capital gains taxes will go up. We'll have marginal rates increase. This is a huge tax increase on the American people that is set to happen -

BLITZER: I want both - all right.

CANTOR: -- in a time in which we've got really high unemployment and the need for job growth. But -


BLITZER: A quick answer on this, Steny Hoyer, first to you, because a lot of buzz out there about a new tax, a value added tax, the so-called national sales tax. Yes or no, good or bad idea?

HOYER: Well, I don't think we're going to do a value added tax. The Senate is going to pass a resolution today, or a sense (ph) of the Senate, that no value added tax. I don't know whether they'll pass it or not, but I understand it's coming over to us. But there's no discussion right now about a value added tax.

What I have said in the commission that the president has formed with respect to how do we get a handle on this debt and deficit that confronts us, one of the most serious problems that confronts this country, everything's got to be on the table. We've got to pay for what we buy, if we want to buy it. The problem is the Republican leadership, during the - the last decade, bought a lot of things, tax cuts, wars, drug prescription programs - not bad programs -

BLITZER: They just -

HOYER: -- but they didn't pay for it.

BLITZER: They just, by the way, Eric Cantor passed in the Senate a nonbinding resolution saying this idea of a value added tax or a national sales tax, not a good idea.

CANTOR: Well, listen, that - that is certainly good news. Nobody in this country wants to become like some of the big government nations in Europe, where taxes really are effectively, even just in the marginal rates, over 50 percent, then you put a value added tax on, they're over 60 percent taxed.

And - and like your poll said, Wolf, you know, Americans think Washington wastes a lot of money, and we do. We don't have a revenue problem here, which is why I say we ought to join together and say no tax hikes this year.

BLITZER: Eric --

CANTOR: We've got a spending problem, and Steny talks about the commission the president has put in place, and you know what? Though the intent and the goal is laudable, the problem is they didn't put tax hikes off the table, and we can't afford tax hikes right now when we have to grow jobs in this country and get investors back into the game of putting their capital to work so that we can grow again.

HOYER: Wolf, let me - let me make a comment. You know, since Ronald Reagan, they've been talking about waste, fraud and abuse. We ought to get rid of it. I agree with that. Eric has just said there's a lot of waste in the government.

They were in charge for eight years, just a few months ago, they were in charge, and they should have gotten rid of that waste, fraud and abuse that they think exists. We'd be for that. We think we ought to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse.

BLITZER: But let me - let me mover on. I want to move on -

HOYER: But, what they didn't do, Wolf, was pay for what they bought, and that's created a great big deficit problem for us that's got to be solved.

BLITZER: All right. I - I want to move on because we have a limited amount of time. There is one issue both of you agree on, and that is U.S.-Israeli relations.

Steny Hoyer, you weren't very happy with the way President Obama treated the Israeli prime minister on his recent visit here, were you? HOYER: Well, I think that we need to treat Israel for what it is - our closest ally in the Middle East, one of our closest friends in the world. And, when we have differences, those differences need to be discussed, in my opinion, in private.

I think the administration has made it very clear that our relationship with Israel is very, very strong, as strong as it's ever been. There is no way to dissolve the bonds between us and Israel.

But, obviously, I have indicated that I think that whatever differences we have ought to be discussed in private.

BLITZER: Eric Cantor, you and Steny Hoyer co-sponsored a letter, 333 members of the House signed it, Democrats and Republicans, basically - correct me if I'm wrong, because I've read it carefully, rebuking the White House for the way the president treated Benjamin Netanyahu.

CANTOR: That is correct. I stand side by side with and salute the leadership of Steny Hoyer on the question of the U.S.-Israel relationship. I think it is very clear to most Americans that Israel's security is synonymous with our own.

We have a lot of struggle out there in this world, and we are in an ideological fight with the spread of radical Islam, and it's something that we've got to take seriously because we know the impact of what that can have on free loving people like those of us in the united States.

And Steny and I, also working hand in hand together on a resolution that I'm hopeful that Congress will produce very shortly which will impose real sanctions on any nation doing business with the state, the - the nation of Iran, because it is Iran that poses an existential threat to us here in this country, as well as Israel.

BLITZER: On that note of cooperation -

HOYER: Wolf, if I can follow-up on -

BLITZER: Very quickly, 10 seconds -

HOYER: Wolf, what I wanted to say is, obviously the president has said, the Congress has said, a nuclear armed Iran is not an acceptable alternative, and we need to be very strong and clear on that proposition.

BLITZER: Steny Hoyer and Eric Cantor - they agree on that issue. We'll see if they agree on some other issues down the road.

Gentlemen, thanks very much.

HOYER: Thanks, Wolf.

CANTOR: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Coming up, a CNN exclusive. How do you test a nuclear weapon without blowing anything up? We'll take you behind the scenes at a secret test laboratory.

And three months after Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, thousands of people are still living in tents. We'll get an update when my interview with Former President Bill Clinton continues.

Plus, pictures worth a thousand words - our "Hot Shots" of the week. That and more.


BLITZER: Despite all the efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals, what if - what if the president one day had to order a nuclear attack? Nearly two decades after the U.S. stopped testing these weapons by exploding them, how could it make sure those warheads actually work?

CNN's Jill Dougherty takes us on an exclusive tour of the U.S. nuclear testing facility in Livermore, California.


EDWARD MOSES, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL IGNITION FACILITY: This is the only place in the world where you can get to the nuclear phase of a weapon without blowing up a bomb.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. stopped testing nuclear weapons by blowing them up above ground or below ground 18 years ago. Now, it's virtual testing, thanks to the world's largest laser at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

It generates temperatures and pressures found only in stars and in nuclear weapons.

MOSES: This is an actual target and its actual size.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): That little red thing?

MOSES: And the little red thing in the middle. The little red thing is where the isotopes of hydrogen sit there and get ready to be blown to bits.

DOUGHERTY: So how does this little tiny target explain how a nuclear weapon is functioning or isn't?

MOSES: Because we can model different parts of the physical processes that go on inside a nuclear weapon without testing.

DOUGHERTY: This is the heart of operation. It's the control room. And, right now, this team is getting ready for a laser experiment later on tonight.

From this room, they use 2,000 computers and 60,000 control points. MICHEL MCCOY, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, COMPUTATION: This is the purple machine, 100 trillion floating point operations per second, where we pull together all of the physics that's necessary to model a nuclear weapons reliability and safety.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): With the world's most powerful supercomputers and explosives testing facilities, the scientists here at Livermore analyze all of the country's nuclear stockpiles to make sure they're functioning correctly.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): We're in the high explosives applications facility where they carry out about 1,000 explosions every year.

This is Brian Crachiola (ph). He's the operations manager, and Brian, tell us what exactly this is.

BRIAN CRACHIOLA (ph), OPERATIONS MANAGER: So what you see here is a mock-up in our tank of what we call a scaled thermo-experiment, because when and if the president ever has to push the button, we need to know that the weapons are going to work.

DOUGHERTY: Blowing up some materials inside there, how does that help to test nuclear weapons?

BRUCE GOODWIN, WEAPONS PROGRAM DIRECTOR: OK. Well, nuclear weapons, like anything else, age. You know, they're created by man, right? There - there are things that can go wrong with them.

And so we test the high explosives here to ensure that they're always safe and reliable, safely.

DOUGHERTY: You mean you (ph) actually look in?

GOODWIN: Sure, sure.

It vibrates the atoms at the rate of a million billion per second. That is so fast that heat cannot be conducted, shock waves can't be conducted.

DOUGHERTY: There's a big debate right now where people say is this testing really sufficient to be absolutely sure that that nuclear device will go off? How do you answer that?

GOODWIN: Well, we - we probably look at these weapons today more extensively than we did even when we were doing nuclear testing.

There are hundreds of ways that a nuclear weapon can fail, and we found failure modes in the stockpile that we could never have found with nuclear testing because we're able to do these massive simulations, the largest calculations that man has ever done.

MOSES: This tank here is really cool. Now, we call this laser a long pulse laser, and, you know, we're finally at the place with this - this laser facility, with our computers and with other facilities for the first time to do this kind of experiment. I think this is why President Obama probably has more confidence in - or one of the many reasons he has more confidence in going forward with his new policies.


BLITZER: Jill Dougherty reporting for us on that what if - what if scenario.

The former President Bill Clinton keeps an often grueling schedule, especially for his work to help Haiti come back from its devastating earthquake. He tells us how many more years he plans to be involved.

And, in the midst of it all, a health scare and more heart surgery. How is he feeling? We'll find out.


BLITZER: More now of my interview with the former President Bill Clinton. He's the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti, and three months after the catastrophic earthquake, are things getting any better anytime soon?


BLITZER: Quick question on Haiti and then I'll let you go. Short-term prospects and long-term prospects.

Short-term prospects, there's been $10 billion pledged over the next few years. I don't know if the money will actually get delivered.

But the long-term prospects, I'm - I'm worried because Haiti's such a poor country even under the best of circumstances.

CLINTON: Well, the real critical pledge was for $5 billion for the next two, because that's a billion more than we asked for and we expected originally.

BLITZER: It's one thing being a pledge, it's another thing to get the cash.

CLINTON: Another to get the money.

Well, one of the reasons that the Prime Minister - the president asked me to co-chair this effort with the prime minister and the one - the U.N. asked me to help is that they think I'll be better at collecting the money.

But here's what I think. In the short term, our big problems are not allowing the rainy season to kill anybody. We've got to get people out of the wet places.

BLITZER: Do you know how many people died actually so far? >

CLINTON: We don't have a good number, but -

BLITZER: Two hundred thousand?

CLINTON: More. Probably around 230,000, but we don't have an exact number and we may never have an exact number.

BLITZER: A lot more could still die.

CLINTON: Yes, because for two - in - in a couple of ways. First, the rainy season, we are going to be able to get people out of the low lying areas where they're in tents, so I don't expect anyone to drown. But we still - because hundreds of thousands of people are living in these new settlements, in tents, we still don't have what I would call even an adequate sanitation.

So the prospects for water that's standing to be polluted and then to make children sick is quite high. So that's the second big thing. We still got to keep working on the sanitation.

And then we need to try to have some structures that can be built in a hurry by all these big tent cities so that if the winds are particularly severe, they can run to those structures.

See, the Haitians aren't used to being afraid of the winds because they live in concrete buildings. They got killed in - in hurricanes by the water, you know, and all the clogging of the waterways and all that. That's all pretty well been taken care of.

But now they're in tents, so what - a wind that wouldn't, you know, make a scratch in a building could blow a lot of tents down. So we're - those are the short-term problems.

I'm actually more optimistic over the long run for a simple reason. They have - they're smart people. They have better leaders than they've ever had, and they want to build a truly independent state.

They're willing to think about going wireless. They're willing to think about maximizing solar. They're thinking about things they would have even talked about before. They want to begin anew.

So, I think they have an excellent chance, and if they do, it will be a model for modernization everywhere in the world.

BLITZER: You're committed, not just the short term or long term?

CLINTON: Oh, no, no. I expect to be there three to five years anyway.

BLITZER: All right.

CLINTON: As long as I can keep chugging along, I'll be there.

BLITZER: They're counting on you, Mr. President.

CLINTON: I'm counting on them. BLITZER: You look good. You feel all right?

CLINTON: Great. Really good.

BLITZER: Excellent.

CLINTON: Thank you. Thanks.


BLITZER: Compelling stories, compelling pictures. They're all part of THE SITUATION ROOM.

For instance, a man's feet to the fire. Why would he do that?

It's just one of the parting shots you'll see when we come back.


BLITZER: Michelle Obama this week made her first solo foreign trip as First Lady, and in Mexico City she sat down with Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN in Espanol.

He started off by asking her why she chose Mexico for this first trip abroad. Listen to this.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, it just made all the sense in the world. I mean, the relationships between Mexico and the United States are deep and - and broad and - and meaningful.

We have the largest number of U.S. citizens living here in Mexico, tens of millions of U.S. citizens connect their roots here. In my hometown, Chicago, we have one of the most vibrant Mexican- American communities in - in the country, and there's so much in terms of the values between our countries.

You know, valuing family and faith and, you know, ensuring that we're working hard. There's a work ethic that we share and a belief that you sacrifice for the next generation.

So this seemed like a natural outgrowth, and we've developed what I think is a very - you know, it's a very pleasant and meaningful relationship with the president and the First Lady, Mrs. Zavala, who I admire. She is smart, she is passionate, and I just really enjoy spending time with her.

So, from a personal perspective, it's easy for me to - to be here.

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: Nearly 23,000 people have died in the last three years and many are questioning the - the validity or the necessity of that war. What can you tell them to make them believe that it is necessary to fight that war? OBAMA: Well, I think that the - the response is that we have to fight the war but keep looking at other ways to address the problem.

Mrs. Zavala is working on curtailing the demand on this side of the border with her new life centers that have been created to train and educate families, to help with prevention on the front end so few of our young people become addicted and involved in the drug trade. On our end, we need to do the same. We need to do more of the same.

But education is - is also key to this issue, because what we do know in both countries is that if young people have opportunities, if they know that they - they're going to get a solid education, perhaps go to college or at least get a job that's going to pay a wage, that's going to allow them to live a decent life and care for their families and their grandchildren, they're going to make the better choice.

But, so often in our countries, those opportunities don't exist, and I know that both of our presidents are working to revive our economies and to ensure that education is available to all. That's a part of the problem - that's a part of the solution as well.

So I agree that one approach isn't going to eliminate the problem. This is a problem that is big, it's deep and it's going to require multiple approaches from both of our countries.


BLITZER: Here's a look at our "Hot Shots", coming in from our friends at the "Associated Press".

In India, look at this, a villager walks on fire at a festival celebrating the New Year. In Mexico City, an activist holds a sign that reads "let's stop obesity" during a protest in favor of vegetarian food.

In Bangkok, Thailand, children play in a water fight during a water festival. And in Germany, look at this, a young orangutan peers through her bars over at a zoo.

"Hot Shots", pictures worth a thousand words.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. Eastern, and every Saturday at 6:00 P.M. Eastern right here on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.