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THE SITUATION ROOM

Authorities Investigate Bomb Plot; Efforts Continue to Stop Oil Leak

Aired May 3, 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 you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news: The SUV in that failed Times Square bomb plot was sold for cash with no papers exchanged. Authorities say they have got good leads, but they hope the man shown in the surveillance video can give them a lot more.

As the 60-mile oil slick closes in on the Gulf Coast, workers race against time to build a dome to cap the oil leak. We're on the scene for you.

And Nashville is under water, with more on the way. At least 19 people are dead in the Southeast, most of them in Tennessee, as storms slam the Southeast.

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

We have got breaking news about the failed bomb plot in New York's Times Square. Sources close to the investigation say the explosives-packed SUV was purchased online in a cash deal with no paperwork. Authorities are also looking for two men caught on camera as the incident played out, hoping they can provide some clues.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has been tracking the history of the SUV. She is joining us from Stratford, Connecticut, with more.

What do we know, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you, a law enforcement source's knowledge of this investigation is telling us that in fact that Nissan Pathfinder was purchased online on craigslist about three weeks ago.

Investigators did talk to the seller of the vehicle, and the seller says that the man who purchased it was a man in his late 20s, early 30s. He paid $1,800 in cash. There was no paperwork exchanged whatsoever. And the transaction actually took place in the parking lot of a shopping mall. That's what we were learning, all of this being done in Connecticut, which is where we are, a lot of the leads taking investigators to this region, about an hour-and-a-half outside of New York City and Times Square.

We spoke to one dealership. He says that, in fact, investigators knocked on his door very early one morning because of a simple clue found on that Pathfinder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM MANIS, THOMAS ANTHONY AUTO: They felt this car, it was sold -- had our dealer sticker on back on the tailgate.

FEYERICK: OK.

MANIS: That's the only thing they had to go by, because they were coming up with nothing on the vehicle identification number, and there was no name in the glove box or anything like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: And we are told that the vehicle identification number, usually known as the VIN, was changed, was altered. But it's not clear whether in fact the buyer of the car was the one who altered it, or whether it was altered in its previous history, because it does seem like this car did exchange hands several times.

Now, right now, we're here at Kramer's Auto Used Parts shop here in Stratford, Connecticut. This is where investigators believe the license plates that were found on the car -- the license plate, I should say, actually came from. And it may have even come from this area, a Ford truck, much like the one you see just behind me here.

We walked along this fence, and really it's very easy to get into. There are holes that you can get in. The fence, while it's got a chain, is not necessarily secure. Also, part of the fence has sort of been pulled down, making it very easy for anybody who wants to get into this junkyard, effectively, to actually gain access.

So, all of those are leads right now under investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, the individual who sold the SUV didn't -- doesn't know the name or the address or have any significant information about the individual who bought the SUV for cash from him? Is that what you're saying?

FEYERICK: Well, that's what is so interesting. Because of the kind of purchase that it is, in fact, you know, there really doesn't have to be any formal paperwork. Now, sometimes, dealers will actually go online, sell on craigslist, because it allows them to avoid a lot of federal and state tax.

They don't have to do a formal registration. They don't have to necessarily write down the details of who is buying the car, which is, in fact, a law which happened after 9/11, that in fact dealers do have to record this kind of information.

So, it's a very clean way to sell a car. All you have to do is hand over the registration, and, voila, that car no longer belongs to you. Of course, then it's up to the buyer of the car to actually get a new license plate, register the vehicle. But once that sale is made, whoever sold the car really doesn't have any obligation -- Wolf. BLITZER: But I assume the individual who sold the car was able to give the police a fairly good description of the individual who bought the car. Do we know what the individual looked like, anything specific about this person who bought the car?

FEYERICK: Well, right now, all we're able to tell you, according to a law enforcement source, is that he is a man in his late 20s, early 30s. They have more of a description. But, again, they are really running that down.

We are told that they are looking into phone records. Again, this was a transaction that was initially done on craigslist, which is where people meet and decide to buy and sell. But, as far as what nationality or -- that right now still outstanding, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of questions still out there. Thanks, very much. We will get back to you. We will get more on this story.

I want to go right to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, President Obama is taking aim at the rising angry anti-government rhetoric in this country.

In a commencement speech, the president suggested that this heated language is out of line and could be dangerous. Quote: "At its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response" -- unquote, just like it was for the colonists, once upon a time when they finally got a bellyful of the English crown.

Peggy Noonan writes in "The Wall Street Journal" that the American people feel increasingly alienated from their government in Washington, which is ignoring public unrest and refusing to address some big, big problems. Noonan says that alienation often leads to deep animosity, which is in turn followed by -- quote -- "the breaking up of things" -- unquote.

So, why is the public so steamed, you ask? Skyrocketing debt and deficits, nothing done, just a commission with no legal authority, immigration reform, nothing done, forcing states like Arizona to take matters into its own hands. Health care reform, something passed, but without a public option, and with almost two-thirds of the country opposed to the bill that did pass.

Two wars are still being fought, despite endless promises to end them. Climate change, nothing done. Gays in the military, nothing done. Campaign finance reform, nothing done. Financial reform, nothing done. Tax reform, nothing done. No trade agreements renegotiated to bring jobs back to this country. Overseas, nothing done about Iran's nuclear program. Nothing done about peace in the Middle East.

The list just goes on and on and on. It's not whether or not we're angry. It's why we continue to tolerate this. So, here is the question. How do you feel about the rising level of public anger against the federal government? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of folks are pretty angry out there right now. And I assume they will be for some time to come.

CAFFERTY: Well, this town you're in down there would try the patience of a saint.

BLITZER: That's a good point. Jack, thank you.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Could the Times Square terror plot have an international connection? We're learning more about the bomb that was found in the SUV, what it tells police.

And a race against the clock, as workers rush to build a containment dome for the oil gushing from the Gulf well. The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, now has some second thoughts about offshore drilling.

Plus, the U.S. reveals just how many nukes it has, even as Iran's president sparks a U.S. walkout at the United Nations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: That massive oil slick is now just a few miles off Louisiana, and the race is on to try to stop 200,000 barrels a day from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Rough seas are making it hard for crews to contain the oil slick. And now there's an urgent push to build a containment dome to cap the leak.

Brian Todd is over at the scene of all of this. This effort is intense right now.

Brian, explain to our viewers how they're hoping against hope that, within a week or so, they can stop this oil spill.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, that's the contention of a lot of people who are observing this process, Wolf. The people here, and elsewhere around this containment process who we have talked to believe this is not hoping against hope. They believe they have got a real shot at stopping the flow of oil.

This is one of the things that they're going to be trying that they believe gives them a real chance. Take a look at this. This is the pollution containment chamber, the so-called dome we have been talking about for the last several days. For the first time today, we have live access to this.

It's the first time you're seeing this thing in any, you know, real vivid form. We have a live picture of it for the first time. You see those guys up there on the top of it? They have been working here for more than a week, 25 to 30 people working 24/7 to get this thing constructed. This is about 40 feet high. It's about 15 feet wide. And it's supposed to go down into the ocean, into the bottom of the ocean, where it will lock on to the leaking pipe and straddle it, and it will also dig about 15 feet below the floor of the ocean to kind of latch on to the ocean floor, the idea being that this will essentially capture the oil as it comes out of the well head, and funnel it on a riser, on a pipe, that will take it to a tanker ship and get it out of there.

They believe, with this device, they can contain up to about 85 percent of the outflow of that oil. This is going to be finished here in the yard within about 48 hours, they say. They hope they can get it finished by then.

Then they have got to do quality control checks, and then they believe, by the end of the week, they can get it out there over this well, and start to lower it down. That's several days, but it is something that they believe will work. However, they have never tried it at this depth, 5,000 feet.

And, frankly, they have never built anything to do it that is that big. This is the biggest device of its kind that has ever been attempted. So, it's an ambitious project, but they believe this is not hope against hope.

Over my left shoulder and to your right, there is a smaller version of it. That is not going to be ready quite as soon. So, they are trying just different versions of this, and they are going to be basically shipping these containment, these pollution containment devices out and lowering them down.

Elsewhere, we are told that there are no really significant accumulations of oil on the shores of Louisiana yet. They're scrambling to kind of get this contained. They have placed more boom along the shoreline today. They did get a break in the weather today. It's not as harsh as it has been for the last couple of days, still preparing these chemical dispersants that they want to shoot under water to try to disperse the oil and get it to sink, all these different methods, Wolf, being tried.

Frankly, none of it has worked yet, but they're pulling out no stops, sparing no expense to try to get this thing contained.

BLITZER: Well, Brian, let me just be clear. If this cap that they want to put over 5,000 feet underground, if -- under the water, if this option doesn't work, do they have a plan B in mind?

TODD: You know, that's a good question, Wolf. This kind of is plan B, to be honest. Plan A was those remotely operated submersibles that were supposed to go down and activate the blowout preventer and actually shut that well down. Those didn't work.

They're trying to drill relief wells. Those have not even been put down yet. That may take several more days. And they're trying these chemical dispersants under water. This is, what, now four different things that they have tired? This -- this device, they believe, has a real shot at doing it, but, again, probably not going to get down there until the end of this week, at the earliest.

BLITZER: And, as you point out, they have never done it this deep as well.

TODD: No.

BLITZER: So, there's a lot of questions still.

Brian is covering the story for us, has been doing an excellent job since he got down there.

Thank you, Brian.

The California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is withdrawing his support for a plan to expand oil drilling off the state's coast. At a news conference today, Schwarzenegger said he has changed his mind about the safety of offshore oil drilling after seeing pictures of the massive Gulf of Mexico spill.

The Republican governor had proposed expanding oil drilling as a way to help close California's huge budget gap, but now, as we say, he has had a change of mind.

While oil giant BP says it will pay for the Gulf cleanup, at least one federal official is willing to stand up and say, the buck stops here. Listen to the Coast Guard commandant, Thad Allen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD COMMANDANT: By law and by statute and by regulation, BP is the responsible party. They will bear all the cost of this event. That said, the Coast Guard is accountable for the federal government, for the oversight. This is ultimately a shared responsibility. They are responsible, but we are accountable. And, frankly, I am accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Coast Guard chief spoke to CNN earlier in the day.

You can help, by the way, in the effort to minimize the effect this spill will have on the environment. To see how, head over to CNN.com/impact. There, you will find a list of local organizations helping out right now in the cleanup effort. That's CNN.com/impact.

New information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM now about the bomb found in the SUV in Times Square. You're going to find out what experts are learning from the device and what it says about who could be behind the attack.

And most of the Boston area now has no safe drinking water, at least at the moment. President Obama is getting involved. We will explain, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: An SUV bought online for cash and packed with explosives, a potentially devastating bomb, fails in New York over the weekend, but gives no immediate clues as to who might have planted it. What are the odds it was the work of international terrorists? Stand by.

Also, Iran's president calls the U.S. a global danger. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, blasts Iran and calls for sanctions -- the nuclear war of words intensifying in New York today.

And Nashville's Opryland is now under water. What can the country music capital expect -- when can the country music capital expect the waters to recede?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story, the breaking news that the SUV loaded with explosive materials and left in New York City's Times Square was sold on craigslist only three weeks ago in a cash deal with no paperwork.

The White House is characterizing the bomb plot as terrorism. As investigators race to try to find out who was behind it, let's bring in our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, and our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush.

Fran, let me start with you.

Based on what you're hearing and seeing right now, does this look like the work of individuals who had links to international terror -- terror groups?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, I think it's hard to say what constitutes links.

Certainly, this looks to me like somebody, a group -- an individual or a group of people who are inspired by al Qaeda. You know, domestic, local domestic groups, I think Peter and I would agree, rarely pick icons. Times Square is a crowded place. It's iconic. And so it would be odd to me.

It also seems to me, we have seen al Qaeda and extremist groups use improvised explosive devices in automobiles. We have seen it in Iraq and Afghanistan, obviously, but we have also seen them in the 2004 pre-election threat to the financial district in Lower Manhattan, where they talked about using propane tanks inside automobiles.

It was also in Glasgow. It was in -- the same technique in a car bomb outside a London discotheque that was disarmed. And, so, it has the feel to those of us who have been in this business of being at least inspired, if not directly linked, to al Qaeda.

BLITZER: But does it have the actual sort of fingerprints, the characteristics, Peter, of some of these international terror -- terror plots?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It does. And I agree with everything Fran said.

And, look, if it's -- it could be right-wing domestic terrorists, but right-wing domestic terrorists tend to attack U.S. government buildings. They attack abortion clinics. They attack synagogues. They view the American people -- they look at the American government as the enemy, not the American people.

They wouldn't go for a mass casualty attack in a very largely populated place like Times Square. So, when you eliminate that group, at least from the motive, it looks more like a jihadi militant group, which may or may not have links to al Qaeda. It may be an Internet -- they may have links on the Internet. We just don't know yet. But...

BLITZER: So, your instinct, it's not domestic terrorists, whether right-wing, or left-wing-for that matter, anarchists way out there on the left, for example?

BERGEN: Well, I think it could be a domestic terror group that is inspired by al Qaeda's ideas. It's interesting that the NYPD is looking for something to Pennsylvania with the SUV.

Jihad Jane, a Caucasian woman in her late 40s, came from Pennsylvania. She has been allegedly part of a group of Islamist terrorists who are looking to kill a Swedish cartoonist in Europe. You know, the fact that this SUV was near the building, which is the Viacom building, which is responsible for "South Park..."

BLITZER: It's the parent company.

BERGEN: Yes. And there is a controversy about the Prophet Mohammed in one of those cartoons. You know, that, again, might be something to look at as well.

These are merely hypotheses right now. But almost everything the government says about these things in these cases initially is wrong. Look at Christmas Day. They said that the Christmas Day bomber was a lone actor initially, when it was blindingly obvious he was part of a larger conspiracy. By his own account, he said he got the bomb in Yemen.

BLITZER: There seems to be so many leads, so many clues, Fran.

Walk us through -- because you used to be in the White House, the homeland security adviser to President Bush, walk us through what's going on right now in terms of cooperation between the federal government, specifically the FBI, local police, the NYPD, et cetera.

TOWNSEND: Well, no question, look, John Brennan, the president -- the -- who succeeded me. He's the president homeland security and counterterrorism adviser. He is fully employed at the moment, between the NYPD, the Times Square bomb plot, and the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.

He would be -- both fall in his portfolio, and so he is pretty busy. But no doubt that the White House, working with the National Counterterrorism Center, is coordinating the interagency sharing of information and the following of leads.

Mike Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, would be running that, basically, that interagency coordination. He will be looking for the -- any international connections. He will be pulsing the intelligence community. He will be taking in information from the NYPD, and seeing whether or not that matches up with anything in the databases of the federal government, and then passing that information back to the NYPD through the joint terrorism task force in New York.

This is a complicated set of facts for them. They want to understand very clearly, was there information in federal databases or communications that they didn't realize the importance of before the event that they can find now that will add texture and context to this -- this ongoing investigation?

At the same time, they want to support the NYPD. They are -- they clearly are the lead in this investigation, and have the most local information that they can provide to further it.

And so this is one of those where the National Counter-Terrorism Center, working with the FBI, will help put the picture together.

BLITZER: We've heard a lot lately, Peter, about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- Al Qaeda in Yemen, specifically, and more restricted, less huge terror plots, if you will -- simple targets, easy targets or what they call soft targets.

Is it possible that that's what we're seeing now, a new sort of attack level here in the United States?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, as you know, the pak -- the Pakistani Taliban have released a series of statements recently, one of which took credit for this that doesn't seem very plausible; another which, more plausible, saying we're planning attacks in the United States. And the reason that I think that we should take those somewhat seriously is the Pakistani Taliban sent suicide bombers to Barcelona in January of 2008, a group. Spanish prosecutors and the Pakistani Taliban agree that they did send these suicide bombers to Barcelona. Those guys are now in prison.

So the Pakistani Taliban has demonstrated out of area operations in the West already. So to completely dismiss that idea, I think, is dangerous.

BLITZER: So you -- you're saying Pakistan Taliban more than Al Qaeda in Yemen -- this might be more aligned with them, is that what you're saying?

BERGEN: Well, yes. But I mean, you know, both of these groups have demonstrated a desire -- an intent to attack the West and, also, you know, some capability.

And then let us not forget, Al-Shabab in Somalia which sent a -- sent a guy to -- to Denmark to try and kill a cartoonist who painted an offensive cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

So all these sort of al Qaeda affiliates are now actually showing some demon -- some ability to reach out into the West.

BLITZER: We'll watch it. Obviously, we're standing by for more information.

Guys, thanks very much.

Peter Bergen and Fran Townsend.

It's enough firepower to destroy the world. The U.S. counts its nuclear warheads and shares the tally with the world.

And assigning blame and calling names -- President Obama takes on what he calls a poisonous political atmosphere.

Will doing so make it go away?

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama took a moment during his commencement address at the University of Michigan over the weekend to respond to what he described as a poisonous political atmosphere.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The problem is that this kind of vilification and over the top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise.

It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning, since after all, why should we listen to a fascist or a socialist or a right-wing nut or a left-wing nut?

It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out.

If you're somebody who only reads the editorial page of "The New York Times," try glancing at the page of "The Wall Street Journal" once in a while. If you're a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post Web site.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's talk about this with CNN's John King.

His new show, "JOHN KING USA," airs right after THE SITUATION ROOM at the top of the hour. What -- what's the political rationale -- thinking for the president to give a commencement address and raise this -- this entire issue?

JOHN KING, HOST: Well, his aides say the main point was to try to tell the young people in that audience to participate, that if all this pointed, polarized rhetoric turns them off from the process, that that's the wrong prescription, that they should get involved. That is what his aides say was goal number one.

But, listen, whether you're a fan of the president or not, if you like politics, this speech is must-see reading or viewing, because the president gives pretty much his sense of today's political environment. He blames our business, cable television, for part of it. And he blames his critics.

And what his critics would say is, Wolf, is -- you know, many of this president's critics say for a guy who promised to be post- partisan, that he's pretty personal sometimes, as well -- not as personal as, say, you know, socialist or some of that rhetoric out there. But it was just a fascinating take of the president's assessment of the current political environment and trying to tell young people -- and, look, he needs young people in the midterm elections -- don't let this turn you off, please get involved.

But a polite way for the president to sort of zing his critics a little bit.

BLITZER: Because he had promised he would do his best when he was running for the office that, you know what, no matter what the outcome was, he wanted to move beyond all the bitterness and all the political rancor that's -- that's existed in Washington for so long, that seems, over the past year, to have become even worse.

KING: He's the third president in recent memory -- and probably this goes back -- and even the president said in that speech, it goes back to the founding fathers, who had their own bitter times, as well. But remember, Bill Clinton came here from Arkansas and said he was a different kind of Democrat. He said he was a centrist. He said he was a governor who knew how to work with the other party, he was going to do it here.

He did, to a degree, after Republicans took power in the -- in the 1994 elections.

George W. Bush was a uniter, not a divider. It turned out to be a very polarized time, largely over the Iraq War and other things.

President Obama, as you noted, did promise to be different. But -- and that is -- it is the one -- the biggest promise he has been unable to keep.

Let's not assign blame in this conversation -- but that ag -- that the Democrats will tell you hurts out there in the country, because Independent voters say, I thought Washington was going to be different. Some of the idealists who rallied to his campaign say, I thought Washington was going to be different.

So it is a big political challenge for the president to try to change that mo -- in that mode. But failing to change Washington -- again, not assigning blame, because there's probably enough blame to spread around -- has undermined this president politically. And that's one of the Democrats' big concerns going into the mid-term elections, that the -- the intensity on the left especially -- it's like, you know, why?

What's the difference?

BLITZER: Yes. I read that speech. I didn't see it on Saturday, but I read it. And it -- it is a fascinating speech. And I agree with you, our viewers should, if they have a chance, go read it...

KING: No matter what you think of the president...

BLITZER: Yes.

KING: -- it's just a great civics lesson.

BLITZER: Yes.

Good for you.

All right, John.

We'll see you at the top of the hour.

KING: OK.

BLITZER: "JOHN KING USA".

KING: All right.

BLITZER: Nashville underwater right now -- shocking images of a city submerged as storms ravage the Southeast, killing at least 19 people.

Plus, the U.S. reveals just how many nuclear warheads it has and it tells -- tells off Iran's president after his blistering speech today at the United Nations.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A major American city underwater as storms slam the Southeast. At least 19 people are dead, most of them in Tennessee, where the scale of the disaster is shocking.

Lisa Sylvester is following this for us -- and the images, Lisa, I've seen them. They're extraordinary.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They really are. You know, parts of Tennessee have been soaked with 20 inches of rain over the last couple of days. The Cumberland River in Nashville is not expected to crest until today. And at least 12 people in Tennessee were killed in the weekend floods.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is definitely history-making, unprecedented levels of water that this area has seen.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Side streets turned into rivers, neighborhoods into lakes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WKRN)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were ankle deep in the house. And we actually had a friend come -- we had friends trying to get to us by boat yesterday morning. And by some miracle, they got there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people's homes are going to get washed away. That little car, there's no way they can make it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think it's not going to happen to me. That's what most people think. And it does happen to people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is some mess right here. I wouldn't walk across there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WSMV)

MAYOR KARL DEAN, NASHVILLE: The river is not predicted to go back below 50 feet for at least the next 24 hours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: Ten feet of muddy water filled the historic Gaylord Opryland Hotel -- 1,500 guests swapping luxury for a cot in a local gym.

TAD AGOGLIA, FIRST RESPONSE TEAM OF AMERICA: And it's threatening the -- the historic district of -- of Music City. And to be quite honest with you, I don't think we're out of the danger zone.

SYLVESTER: More than 600 people rescued as the water closed in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I've been down here for 40 years and never saw it like this.

(END VIDEO TAPE) SYLVESTER: The flooding in Nashville is expected until at least tomorrow. That's when the Cumberland River will finally begin to recede.

And, Wolf, you know, I used to live and work in Nashville, and I can tell you, the downtown area in Nashville, this is a real problem. You've got restaurants, you've got shops there.

Also, they were -- Davidson County was scheduled to have local elections tomorrow. Those elections have now been postponed for a couple of weeks.

BLITZER: In Opryland, in the hotel -- that whole area is basically underwater?

SYLVESTER: It is. I mean, you know, if you look -- and we have some pictures there -- where there's at least 10 feet of sitting water. And the hotel right now is closed indefinitely. They're going to have a real mess on their hands trying to clean up and get all that water. And anyone who's been in that hotel, that is a gorgeous, gorgeous hotel. And it's unfortunate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very unfortunate.

We wish only the best for those folks.

SYLVESTER: Right.

BLITZER: Good luck.

Thanks very much.

I didn't know you had spent some time.

SYLVESTER: Yes. I lived there for -- I lived there for three- and-a-half years.

BLITZER: Oh.

SYLVESTER: I worked at WKRN, so pretty -- pretty chop there (ph).

BLITZER: So you're familiar.

SYLVESTER: Yes.

BLITZER: And I'm sure you still have a lot of friends there, as well.

SYLVESTER: I do.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Lisa.

The U.S. breaking protocol and sharing just how many nuclear warheads stand ready to fly.

Does knowing that number make the country safer or weaker?

And presidential duties require talents in a variety of disciplines, but is he funny?

We're going to find out.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: For only the second time in its history, the United States is revealing what was once top secret information about its nuclear stockpile. The government now saying it has more than 5,000 nuclear warheads in its current arsenal and thousands more that have been retired or are awaiting to be dismantled.

The news comes amidst a heated day over at the United Nations -- a conference on non-nuclear proliferation, where the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traded blows.

Let's talk about this with our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty -- Jill, this -- first of all, the -- the decision to go ahead and release the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, how big of a deal is that?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a big deal. Some people might say it's -- it's dangerous, because in the cold war they certainly didn't do that with Russia.

But today, if you talk to nuclear experts, they say it's not a threat because, after all, nuclear experts pretty much knew the number, almost down to like a few dozen. So they -- that was very clear. The United States has enough weapons to blow up the world many times over.

But finally, Wolf, what it is, is it's an attempt to get other countries to be transparent. The U.S. now is the most transparent country when it comes to nukes. And what they're trying to do is convince other countries. Think about China. We don't really know how many nukes China has.

BLITZER: Did Ahmadinejad, at the United Nations today, offer any suggestion that the Iranians were willing to allow their nuclear program to be fully inspected?

DOUGHERTY: No. And that's, you know, one of the -- the things that they were sparring -- Secretary Clinton and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were sparring about. And what Ahmadinejad was trying to do was really shift the table -- shift the debate and say, look, the real threat to the world right now is not Iran, the real threat is the United States, because the United States is the country that has thousands of nukes.

So here's how he put his argument. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): The United States government has always tried to divert the public opinion's attention from its noncompliance and unlawful actions by bringing into focus some misleading issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: OK. And so the third thing, Wolf, I think is Secretary Clinton...

BLITZER: Yes.

DOUGHERTY: -- having (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: She responded pretty forcefully and immediately -- Jill.

DOUGHERTY: You know, she did. And -- and, essentially, what she is saying is Iran is the outlier. And they know -- the United States would love to get a very strong statement from the countries that are in the NPT. But they know they're not going to get it, because it has to be consensus and Iran will never go along with it.

But what Secretary Clinton is trying to do is rally the world -- and the world -- and the words were very strong today -- to say that Iran is a problem and we have to join together and push them to do what they're supposed to do.

Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We know there are some countries who will choose not to be constructive. This morning, Iran's president offered the same tired, false and sometimes wild accusations against the United States and other parties at this conference. But that's not surprising.

As you all heard this morning, Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record and to attempt to evade accountability. Ultimately, however, we will all be judged not for our words, but for our actions. And we will all be measured not by how assertively we claim our rights, but by how faithfully we uphold our responsibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: You know, so, Wolf, this is really important for the administration. They probably, obviously, won't get what they want in this statement. That they -- what they want is a super majority, as she put it -- the world united against Iran not doing what they say Iran should be doing.

BLITZER: And we're just learning, Jill, that the Obama administration has now decided to renew sanctions against Syria in the wake of those reports that Syria transferred SCUD missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This coming at a time, after a few months when US/Syrian relations were improving, but that now is going in the other direction.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. And, Wolf, some of the reasons that they cite -- support for terrorist organizations, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, missile programs and then, also, in this statement by the president, it goes so far as to say that Syria is a threat to the foreign policy and the economy and the national security of the United States.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, how do you feel about the riding level of public anger against the federal government?

Ryan writes: "Public anger at the government coincides with the wasting death of the true moderate. During the previous administration, politically polarized individuals took to the street to jeer, mock and protest George W. Bush and his policies. During this administration, the same thing is happening. In each case, the side in power portrays the protests in a poor light. But to assume certain qualities that are the province of a given group is a dangerous game. We can paint an angry person with the brush we like, but that will never change the simple fact that they're angry. And we do ourselves a disservice when we fail to ask uncomfortable questions as to why that might be and instead fall back on easy and often insulting answers."

Eric writes: "$10 trillion, $20 trillion in debt -- it seems like the numbers just don't mean anything anymore. The fact is, the country can't support itself. It's broke. Many of our states are worse off than Greece. The best scenario is to start over with an agenda-based limited credit and having only what we need.

How can such a small percentage of the population have 98 percent of the money?"

Michael in Phoenix writes: "I feel it's about time our country has a ruling class that does not represent its citizens, which, from my recollection, is one of the reasons the country was created in the first place."

Greg in Minneapolis: "Obama is getting his feelings hurt over legitimate criticism of doing nothing. There was no end of the criticism of the Bush administration before, during and long after they left office. And that criticism -- some deserved -- was trumpeted as justified by the same people who are now complaining about criticism of the Obama regime. There are words to describe this double standard. Hypocrite is one of the few that can be broadcast."

And Betty writes: "We should be angry. They were hired to do a job and that job is to do the will of their constituents. They refuse to listen to their constituent or to do that job. We've got to fire them all in November -- Democrats and Republicans."

If you want to read more on this, you'll find it on my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf, I'll see you tomorrow.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

See you tomorrow, indeed.

He's a Moost Unusual comedian and Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look at the comedian-in-chief.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look at the comedian- in-chief.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): President Obama may have entered to "Hail to the Chief," but by the time he left, he was being hailed as comedian-in-chief.

OBAMA: Though I am glad that the only person whose ratings fell more than mine last year is here tonight. Great to see you, Jay.

MOOS: Obama sizzles, Leno fizzles -- whether the joke was about how Joe Biden convinced him to come to the Correspondents Dinner...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a big (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) meal.

MOOS: -- or about his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

OBAMA: And Massa claimed that Rahm came up to him one day in the House locker room start stark naked, started screaming obscenities at him. To which I say, welcome to my world.

MOOS: The verdict was, President Obama kills, Jay Leno dies. Leading twin comedians, the Sklar brothers, to joke...

RANDY SKLAR, COMEDIAN: Police defused a bomb in Times Square.

Where were they when Leno was performing at the White House Press Dinner?

MOOS (on camera): So what are this president's comedic techniques?

OBAMA: I'm also glad that I'm speaking first because we've all have seen what happens when somebody takes the time slot after Leno's.

JASON SKLAR, COMEDIAN: Obama was amazing. I thought he had amazing timing.

MOOS: But even after the punch line, President Obama often delivers one more comedic punch. For instance, when he said the jokes were supplied by Goldman Sachs.

OBAMA: They make money whether you laugh or not.

MOOS: Eight seconds after the joke is over, the president cracks a smile. And that's the moment when he usually gets a second little ripple of laughter.

(on camera): As first reported by "The Daily Beast," the presidential speechwriters had a little help with this event. A writer from Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" helped tweak some of the jokes.

JASON SKLAR: But he delivered it as if it was his own.

RANDY SKLAR: I mean he made it his own.

JASON SKLAR: He made it his own.

MOOS (voice-over): Adding asides, for instance, when joking about Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele.

OBAMA: AKA notorious GOP.

MOOS: The tag was as good as the joke.

OBAMA: My brother.

MOOS: But one of America's best known comedians.

JAY LENO, COMEDIAN: Who said tough room?

MOOS: But far from being tough, for the comedian-in-chief, it was like picking low hanging fruit.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Lots of fun.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.