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British Hostage Killed by U.S. Grenade?; Chilean Miners Nearing Freedom

Aired October 11, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: New revelations are raising troubling new questions about the failed attempt to rescue a British hostage in Afghanistan. Was she accidentally killed by American forces?

Also, trapped deep underground for two months, those Chilean miners are now getting ready for the long journey to safety. Details of what they're doing to prepare.

And she's locked in a tight battle to unlock the Democratic hold on California's Senate seat. Republican Carly Fiorina, she is here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour. She will talk about the heated race and the hot issues.

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


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Linda may not have died at the hands of her captors, as originally believed. That evidence and subsequent interviews with the personnel involved suggest that Linda could have died as a result of a grenade detonated by the task force during the assault.


BLITZER: The British prime minister, David Cameron, speaking just a little while ago, a hostage rescue that now appears to have gone horribly wrong, the British aid worker possibly killed by an American grenade thrown by the very forces trying to free her from her Taliban captors.

Brian Todd is here. He's working this investigation for us.

The stunned reaction to Linda Norgrove's death, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, NATO and British officials first said that Linda Norgrove was killed by her captors. Today, America's top commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, told the British prime minister of the new disturbing new information, which now raises so many questions about exactly what went wrong on this mission.


TODD (voice-over): Colleagues of Linda Norgrove are clearly shaken by her sudden and violent death over the weekend. U.S. and British officials now say Norgrove, held hostage by Taliban commanders in Eastern Afghanistan, may have been killed by a grenade thrown by American special forces closing in on her captors.

The British national had been working for a contractor called DAI helping Afghans rebuild their local economy.

(on camera): Officials here at DAI's headquarters in suburban Washington let us into the building and spoke to us extensively on background, but they didn't want to be filmed and they didn't want anything filmed inside. They're still trying to absorb the shock of Linda Norgrove's death, and they also want to cooperate with the investigation and don't want to compromise that in any way.

What they're saying is that she was here just a couple of months ago meeting with the staff here. They were all inspired by her seriousness and her commitment to her mission. On the actual mission to rescue her, they say they don't want to get into speculation at this point and they don't have the information or the inclination to second-guess the decisions that were made on tactics.

(voice-over): Retired Major Jeffrey Beatty, a former Delta Force assault troop commander, has been on several top hostage rescue teams. He says these are the hardest of missions for special forces.

MAJ. JEFFREY BEATTY (RET.), DELTA FORCE: Because of the danger of the hostage-takers killing the hostage and perhaps even having someone dedicated to that job should there be a rescue attempt, every effort has to be made to try to identify all the hostage-takers and take them all out at once as the assault begins.


TODD: Beatty says U.S. forces must have had Norgrove and her captors under surveillance and would not have moved in unless they felt that surveillance may be compromised or that her life was in imminent danger.

Other former special forces officers told me in these situations, they're often trained to use stun grenades first. No one is saying at the moment whether that was the intent here or not. A full investigation is about to start led by U.S. Central Command -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They announced that investigation today down in Tampa. What are going to be the keys, Brian, to determining exactly what happened?

TODD: Often in these special forces operations, it's the surveillance of the operation, the surveillance footage, that is key. But we're told by the U.S. military in this case neither the surveillance footage nor the discussions with members of that special forces team conclusively prove what caused her death.

The autopsy is going to be key here. And that's going to be carried out by British officials.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story. All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd.

Chile's mining minister now says the rescue of those 33 men trapped a half a mile underground may not start until Thursday. That's a day later than some thought was in the works. Officials are optimistic, though, following tests of the rescue capsule, which was lowered within about 40 feet of the chamber where the men have spent the last two months.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is on the scene for us in Chile.

But, first, let's get some of the details of the rescue from CNN's Chad Myers.

Chad, what else do we know about this rescue operation? I understand the actual lift out of the mine will not be entirely vertical.


It is actually at an 80-degree angle to the vertical or 10 degrees actually just off. That only matters because what they did to this capsule, unlike the capsule that was used in the Quecreek mine, which was that yellow one that we saw the miners just all muddy coming out of, they installed wheels, wheels on the Phoenix to go up better at the angle because they knew that this thing would just bounce all the way up and down along this -- kind of this inverted shaft here because it is not quite on the vertical, wheels on the top and wheels on the bottom.

Also inside will be oxygen. It's been very hot down there. It's been in the 80s and the 90s. You think, wait a minute. The mines in America, isn't it's always like 60? Isn't it always like cool down there? That's why they made wine cellars.

But if you get too deep, like these guys are, 2,000 feet down, you get closer to, well, magma really, closer to what is underneath the ground, closer to the warmer part of the core of the Earth, rather than just the top crust.

So the men, we know now that all men will be able to fit in here. They know that that's good, because for a while, Wolf, we didn't know whether they would have to actually do something drastic, like maybe break clavicles to be able to almost fold these men in. That doesn't look like that is going to have to be the case. All men should be able to fit in here.

And believe it or not, this was an amazing feat of surgery almost by getting this pipe, this drill, a small drill originally, down into the cave. Then they brought in the larger drill, in fact, one made in America, the T-130. If you will go look at Schramm, you will able to find this -- this drill bit that came down.

They broke four drill bits trying to get down to these men. They had expected to only have to use one. Well, this was very hard ground, very hard earth, very hard dirt and also rock. That actually turned out to be a good thing, because now this sleeve, if you will, of rock that they're going to be going up is smooth.

If this was an easy task, they would have torn up sandstone, limestone, whatever it might have been, and it could be a very rough way up. They would have had to line that with a casing of metal. It doesn't seem like that is going to have to happen. It's a pretty smooth bore.

They had this thing all the way down to 40 feet above the men today, the Phoenix capsule, down to 40 feet above them. They wouldn't go any farther because they thought that somebody might try to obviously climb in at the very last minute.


BLITZER: And that capsule, when they go up, it's going to be about a 15-minute ride for these 33 miners. We know they will have oxygen in there. Will there be any light or will they just be in a dark capsule going up and praying and hoping for the best?

MYERS: There will be electronic equipment in there with small little lights.

But they're going to have -- literally they are going to have these goggles on. You can imagine what your eyes might -- must have happened to them over these months now, literally two months of darkness down there. Some small amounts of light have gone down with these other shafts.

But they will put these big goggles on them, so when they get on up to the surface, literally they're coming out into a desert. And if they're coming out during the day, it will be a very bright event. They will have those goggles on to keep them -- keep their eyes from getting almost burned out because of how big their pupils are right now.

No lights really that we know of that we have talked about. This is going to be a quicker event than originally thought. Because of the way this is engineered, we thought that this could be a one-hour or at least a half-hour trip going up. But now because they know that this bore is so smooth, it will only be a 10 to 15-minute ride to the surface.

BLITZER: Yes, we can't wait for that to happen.

Chad, thanks very much.

Let's go to the surface over there at the mine. CNN's Patrick Oppmann is joining us on the phone right now.

What's going on, Patrick, right now?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're seeing practice runs being done. They're gearing up for this rescue. They have done quite a bit today in terms of lining the mine hole, doing that first test that I think Chad discussed earlier, lowering that capsule down to almost the mine floor.

We have seen helicopters taking off and landing. That's how they will transport the miners once they're at the surface to a nearby hospital. So, they're fine-tuning this. It's really quite a large operation. And they want to get every detail just so.

BLITZER: How are they going to determine the order of the miners leaving, Patrick?

OPPMANN: You know, that's become something of a point of contention. The government officials want it to go like this. They want probably the five most technically adept miners, the miners who are really quite competent, have been in good shape throughout this ordeal, to go first.

If there are any issues in that capsule ride, those are the kinds of men who can troubleshoot it, figure it out, because even though they will have communications equipment, they will be on their own. The next 10 or so men are going to be men who have had problems with the claustrophobia in these very tight settings, men who are suffering from hypertension and several men who are suffering from diabetes, we're told.

The next men will be the men who are strong enough that when their colleagues start leaving them, they will be able to hold it together for those fateful final hours and be able to leave the mine at the -- at the very end and not break when they're basically left in the mine shaft alone.

BLITZER: Patrick Oppmann is on the scene for us. We will stay in close touch. And we're praying for those 33 minutes.

Patrick, thank you.

President Obama's asking Congress for $50 billion to upgrade aging U.S. infrastructure. He's proposing a six-year plan to rebuild roads, railways and more. Senior administration officials suggesting that they could be paid for by closing tax loopholes, rather than by incurring new national debt. The president says the United States is falling behind global competitors.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, as a percentage of GDP, we invest less than half of what Russia does in their infrastructure, less than one-third of what Western Europe does.

Right now, China's building hundreds of thousands of miles of new roads. Over the next 10 years, it plans to build dozens of new airports. Over the next 20, it could build as many as 170 new mass transit systems. Everywhere else, they're thinking big. They're creating jobs today, but they're also playing to win tomorrow.

So the bottom line is our shortsightedness has come due. We can no longer afford to sit still.


BLITZER: The president says investing in infrastructure will create good middle-class jobs will also helping the overall U.S. economy.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he will extend the freeze on new Jewish settlements in the West Bank if Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The settlement issue is threatening to derail the latest U.S.-sponsored peace efforts.

Palestinians rejected such calls in the past, saying they have already recognized Israel's right to exist as a state, and that recognition as a Jewish state could hurt efforts of Palestinian who want to return to Israel.

He's already taking heat for anti-gay comments. And this Republican candidate's latest remarks about gay pride parades are likely to throw fuel on the fire.


CARL PALADINO (R), NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I have been to one in Toronto, all right? I saw the men in their little Speedos gyrating on each other. I think that's disgusting.


BLITZER: CNN's Mary Snow catches up with the New York governor, the candidate -- the New York governor candidate, I should say, the Republican nominee, Carl Paladino, and he doesn't hold back.

Also, an exclusive interview with a death row inmate who came within minutes of his execution -- relatives of those he's accused of killing. We will tell you what's going on. Will DNA testing exonerate him?

Plus, Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, she is being endorsed by Sarah Palin. So why is she skipping Sarah Palin's fund- raising event right in Fiorina's backyard? I will ask her. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The Republican candidate for New York governor is facing some sharp criticism for anti-gay remarks he made over the weekend. The defense he's offering is unlikely to make any of his critics any happier.

Mary Snow spoke with Carl Paladino about this new controversy. All right, Mary, what's he saying?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Carl Paladino is trying to frame this controversy into a debate over same-sex marriage, but critics aren't swayed.

And now Paladino is criticizing gay pride parades, calling it disgusting, in his words, that his opponent took his children to one.


SNOW (voice-over): Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino on the defense. Marching in the Columbus Day parade, he insisted he's not anti-gay after saying this to a Jewish group on Sunday.

PALADINO: I just think my children and your children will be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family. And I don't want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. It isn't.


SNOW: We caught up with Paladino and asked him what he meant.

PALADINO: I'm 100 percent in favor of all gay rights and always have been. There's one reservation. I don't think they should be married.

SNOW: He then criticized his Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, for attending a gay pride parade.

PALADINO: Andrew comes out and tells us, he takes his daughters, young girls, OK, to the gay pride parade. I have been to one in Toronto, all right? I saw the men in their little Speedos gyrating on each other. I think that's disgusting.

SNOW: Andrew Cuomo also at today's Columbus Day Parade fired back.

ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: He's probably the last person I will take advice from on how to raise my daughters. I thought it was reckless. I thought it was cynical. I thought it was divisive.

SNOW: And what fueled the controversy even further was a line in Paladino's prepared speech Sunday that read, "There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual."

Paladino didn't read it as prepared.

PALADINO: There was a couple lines in there that I deleted and never spoke, purposefully, because I didn't want to.

SNOW (on camera): Who wrote those lines?

PALADINO: I don't know who wrote them. Somebody wrote them and gave them to our staff, as a -- their suggested position on something.


SNOW: Are you saying that you didn't -- your campaign didn't write them, that these were...

PALADINO: Absolutely not.


SNOW: Now, Wolf, Paladino's campaign manager told us the campaign collaborated with Jewish community leaders in writing the remarks that Paladino delivered Sunday. And a Jewish leader involved told us that did happen. And Paladino's camp says the draft handed out to reporters was not the speech that was delivered -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is he saying that these Orthodox Jewish leaders there in Brooklyn wrote the speech for him and that he read most of it, but he deleted a line or two? Is that what he's saying?

SNOW: Yes. The campaign is saying they worked with Jewish community leaders in writing that, that they had gone over drafts, and that Carl Paladino had said that he edited it yesterday on the way to this event.

But they said that they collaborated with this. And I asked the campaign manager about that, and he said, you know, that he said that was not unusual.

BLITZER: And as you say, he's also arguing that, as a Catholic, the views he expressed were consistent with Catholic doctrine. Is that what he's saying?

SNOW: Right. That is a point that he made. And, you know, today at the Columbus Day Parade, he stopped at St. Patrick's Cathedral and greeted the cardinal.

But, yes, he says that this was a position that Catholics have, that the Catholic Church has in terms of same-sex marriage and that his position was not any different from the church.

BLITZER: Mary Snow is in New York for us covering the story.

Thank you.

In the heart of New York City, streets around a cemetery shut down. What the caretaker discovered to put the bomb squad on high alert.



BLITZER: Her rival is blasting her jobs record as a CEO, so what would Republican Carly Fiorina do differently as a United States senator to bring jobs to California? The candidate is standing by to join us.

And he's treading where President Obama can't -- the former President Bill Clinton on a campaign swing sending some Democrats swooning.


BLITZER: She's trying to break the Democrats' nearly two decades' hold on California's Senate seats. And here are a few things you should know about the Republican candidate Carly Fiorina.

Search is one of the most powerful women in the U.S. tech industry. She was CEO of Hewlett-Packard for six years, executive at Lucent and AT&T before that, having worked her way up from secretary and receptionist positions.

More recently, she was an adviser to Senator John McCain's presidential campaign. Now she's challenging the California Senator Barbara Boxer.

And Carly Fiorina is joining us now.

Thanks very much for coming in.

CARLY FIORINA (R), CALIFORNIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: It's great to be back with you, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Let's go through some of the issues that are out there. Barbara Boxer, her campaign keeps saying that, when you were CEO of Hewlett-Packard, you laid off 30,000 workers. Is that true?

FIORINA: You know, Barbara Boxer is saying just about anything to try and distract attention from her record of 28 years of failure.

I managed Hewlett-Packard through the technology recession, the worst in 25 years, the dot-com bust. But, net-net, we created jobs. Sadly, here in California, however, jobs are being destroyed every day. We have 23 counties with unemployment above 15 percent.

Where has Barbara Boxer been for the last six years, the last 12 years, the last 18 years, the last 28 years that she's been in Washington, D.C.? Where she has she been?

Where she's been is voting for more taxes, voting for more borrowing and spending. She has been profiting from her own time in public office, as has her family members. So it's time that the voters of California understand, what's at stake in this election...

BLITZER: All right.

FIORINA: ... are jobs and out-of-control government spending and the fact that Barbara Boxer has acted as if she isn't accountable to the voters of California.

BLITZER: So, the 30,000 figures who were laid off during -- I guess the dot-com bust, if you will, I guess that's true, even though you say you created more jobs than you than you had -- were forced to lay off? Is that what you're saying?

FIORINA: Yes. Net-net, we created jobs.

BLITZER: What does that mean, net-net?


FIORINA: Well, it means there were more employees working for Hewlett-Packard the day I left than the day I arrived.

And a lot of those jobs were important R&D jobs. They were manufacturing jobs. We are destroying the manufacturing base in our country because of the policies that Barbara Boxer has pursued. That's why the California Manufacturing and Technology Association has endorsed me, their first endorsement in 92 years.

We are also losing our competitive advantage and our edge in innovation. That's why I believe we need to make very clear strides to improve our competitive position, like, for example, making our R&D tax credit No. 1 in the world. It's now No. 17 in the world.

Barbara Boxer has had plenty of time to grapple with the huge issues we have in this state of unemployment, of a declining manufacturing base. She's had plenty of time to deal with out-of- control government spending. She hasn't dealt with any of it.

BLITZER: Let's get to some other issues. Do you see yourself as part of the Tea Party movement?

FIORINA: You know, I see myself as a citizen running for public office for the very first time. I see myself as serving the voters of California. There are Tea Parties, and I would say plural, in California. There's a Tea Party in Marin County. There's a Tea Party in San Diego. But there are many independent voters, decline-to-state voters, Democrats as well as Republicans who are endorsing and supporting my candidacy.

This is about how to get our state and our nation back on the right track. Believe it or not, 78 percent of the swing voters here in California believe that our nation is headed in the wrong direction and believe that Barbara Boxer has been in Washington, D.C., too long.

BLITZER: You're neck and neck in this most recent Reuters/IPSOS poll. Barbara Boxer, 49 percent; Carly Fiorina, 45 percent, but 4.5 percent sampling error.

Sarah Palin is coming to California to do this big event there, but you and Meg Whitman, who is running for governor, you're going to stay away from that event. How come?

FIORINA: Well, because I'm doing a whole series of other events including an event with veterans with John McCain. As you, of course, can appreciate, your campaign schedule gets set quite far out in advance in terms of commitments. Sarah Palin is here to endorse her book, I believe, and to raise money, and I am here running for office. So we're all busy. And it's important that I continue to meet with as many voters as possible, because this is a very important election. And I believe the voters of California agree with me that the direction of our state and our nation is at stake here.

BLITZER: I remember during the campaign the McCain campaign, you said at the time -- you got into trouble for saying it -- you didn't think Sarah Palin was qualified to run a major corporation like Hewlett-Packard, but she's endorsed you now. Do you think she's qualified to be president of the United States?

FIORINA: I certainly think she's qualified to be president of the United States. You may remember, Wolf, I also said that Barack Obama, John McCain and Joe Biden weren't qualified to run a major corporation.

Look, you need technical skills to run a company. I couldn't fly a jet airplane tomorrow either. But ours was intended to be a citizen government. That is what "of, by, and for the people" means. And somehow we've grown accustomed to career politicians like Barbara Boxer, who has done nothing else in her professional life, virtually, other than be a politician. It isn't what our Founding Fathers intended.

And I think a lot of people in California want someone who hasn't been in Washington forever, who isn't a bitter partisan who has accomplished nothing virtually. That's why her own hometown paper wouldn't endorse her. They called her ineffective and bitterly partisan.

They want, instead, someone to go to Washington who has a track record of solving problems, who has a track record of reaching out and working with other people to get something done. That's what we've got to do now, get something done.

BLITZER: Let's get to some specific issues to differentiate between you and Barbara Boxer. You can probably give me quick yes or no answers on these. She supports, Barbara Boxer, medical marijuana with a doctor's prescription. Do you?

FIORINA: Well, if it's with a doctor's prescription, if we're using marijuana as a medicine, then let's regulate it as a medicine. I'm a cancer survivor. I battled breast cancer last year. And I remember well the doctors that I had warning me about the dangers of medicinal marijuana. It's not truly well understood. It's abused terribly in this state. If it's truly going to be a medicine, then it should be prescribed as a medicine.

BLITZER: She supports gay marriage. Do you?

FIORINA: You know, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I certainly support civil unions. I am where the president of the United States and the vast majority of the U.S. Senate is on this issue.

BLITZER: Abortion rights, she supports abortion rights for women. I suspect you don't, but explain.

FIORINA: Well, I personally am pro-life. And I know that not all women agree with me. But it is Barbara Boxer who is extreme in her views here. She supports partial birth abortion. She says that babies don't have rights until they leave hospitals.

But you know what, Wolf? All the issues that you just asked me about are not the issues on voters' minds this year. What's on voters' minds is jobs. Where are they? We have a 12.4 percent unemployment rate here in California.

BLITZER: We started off with...

FIORINA: And their minds are also on out-of-control government spending. Our debt has grown from $10.7 trillion to 13 trillion...

BLITZER: Whoops. Unfortunately, we lost that signal. We apologize to Carly Fiorina. Hopefully, we'll have her back. Carly Fiorina, the Republican Senate candidate. We've invited Barbara Boxer to join us as well. Hopefully, she'll say yes. So far, we have received a "no" answer from Barbara Boxer. Hopefully, she'll say yes down the road. We thank Carly Fiorina for that.

A Texas Death Row inmate says DNA evidence will prove his innocence. CNN's Kate Baldwin speaks exclusively with him about his Supreme Court case that could have far-reaching implications.

And he calls President Obama's charges beyond the pale. Former Bush advisor Karl Rove is hopping mad at the president.


BLITZER: A hectic swing by former president Bill Clinton, campaigning for fellow Democrats in Kentucky, West Virginia, and New York. Our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us now from Morgantown, West Virginia, where President Clinton was at a rally for the governor and would-be senator Joe Manchin.

Brianna, how's it going?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I really had to chuckle earlier. I spoke to this man here in Morgantown, and he said ex-presidents rule, because you've forgotten why you didn't like them. I think, really, the question here may be how much more popular is Bill Clinton than President Obama? And the answer is a lot.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you. Hey, man. Thank you. Thank you.

KEILAR (voice-over): He was the last Democrat to carry West Virginia in a presidential election.

CLINTON: When I ran for president in 1992, all of you know that West Virginia was one of my three best states. You were so good to me.

KEILAR: Now three weeks before the midterms, Bill Clinton is stumping for Democrats in states and districts where President Obama may not be so popular. Places like West Virginia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bringing Obama in right now to our state just would not be a good thing for the Democratic Party. I think they're more accepting of Bill Clinton.

KEILAR: Clinton is on a multi-state blitz, speaking to moderate and conservative voters. Later this week, he'll hit Nevada, Arkansas and New Mexico. Monday, he backed up Democratic Senate hopeful Jack Conway in Kentucky before stumping for West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin.

CLINTON: You have got to elect him to the United States Senate.

KEILAR: Manchin is in a neck-in-neck race for the state's open Senate seat, and his Republican challenger, John Raese, is trying to tie the Democrat to his party's leaders in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Manchin will do anything to avoid talking about being a rubber stamp for Barack Obama.

GOV. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV), WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Have you heard this commercial about a rubber stamp? Let me tell you something. The only rubber stamp that I have ever been or I will ever be is for you in the state of West Virginia. I can assure you of that.

KEILAR: And to make his point, Manchin is out with a new ad of his own.

MANCHIN: I'll repeal the bad parts of Obama care. I sued EPA, and I'll take dead aim at the cap and trade bill, because it's bad for West Virginia.


KEILAR: Manchin isn't the only one getting some national star power in West Virginia, Wolf. Just today (AUDIO GAP).

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar in Morgantown, West Virginia, for us. Thank you.

A reminder: I'll come moderate a debate in another closely- watched Senate race in Delaware. The candidates, Christine O'Donnell and Chris Coons, they will face off Wednesday night at the University of Delaware. You can see it right here on CNN. The debate begins after THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:30 p.m. Eastern. The debate in Delaware.

Could DNA testing exonerate a Death Row inmate who came within minutes of execution?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the district attorney has got to do is turn over the evidence and test it and let the chips fall where they may. If I'm innocent, I go home. If I'm guilty, I die. How hard -- what's so hard about that?


BLITZER: An exclusive Death Row interview with the accused and the family of his alleged victims.


BLITZER: President Obama's not holding back. Over the weekend, he unleashed a torrent at Republican campaign tactics.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United, they are being helped along this year by special interest groups that are spending unlimited amounts of money on attack ads, on attacking folks like Patrick Murphy, attacking folks like Joe Sestak, just attacking people, without ever disclosing who's behind all these attack ads. You don't know. It could be the oil industry. It could be the insurance industry, could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don't know, because they don't have to disclose.

Now, that's not just a threat to Democrats. That's a threat to our democracy.


BLITZER: The president's charges have Republican strategist Karl Rove hopping mad.


KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISOR: Have these people no shame? Does the president of the United States have such little regard for the office that he holds that he goes out there and makes these kind of baseless charges against his political enemies? This is -- this is just beyond the pale. How dare the president do this?


BLITZER: Let's discuss with CNN's John King. He's the host of "JOHN KING USA" that comes up at the top of the hour.

These charges made by the president, they're very tough. Are they fair?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Are they fair to say, "Disclose your books"? Welcome to politics. All is fair in life and politics.

The Chamber of Commerce says it is not using any foreign money, and it said the Supreme Court said it doesn't have to disclose its donor.

What the White House says in turn is, "OK, you may be following the law, but doesn't the public have a right to know?"

There are Democratic and liberal groups that spend this. The problem for the White House is, Wolf, they're not spending on anywhere near the scale these conservative groups are spending.

So the White House has decided, and Democratic pollsters will tell you they have tested this message, and it tests well with the Democratic base to go after the Chamber of Commerce, viewed as a big business group, to go after Karl Rove, essentially the architect of the Bush administration, go after people, Democratic base voters don't like and try to use it as a motivational tool for the Democratic base. These groups are within the law. They don't have to disclose who gives them money. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, the president tried to get a bill passed through Congress and couldn't get the votes.

BLITZER: Do we see any evidence, though, that all this money is making a difference already?

KING: Yes. And that's why the president is so mad. If you go to congressional direct after congressional district, sometimes in governor's races but mostly in the Senate and in the -- in the House races, what this has allowed the national political parties to do is they can't coordinate with these groups, but they know that they have friends out there. So they can spend in some races, and they know others are spending in other races.

And what these outside groups have done in a number of cases is proven that Democrats are vulnerable by going in and spending hundreds of thousands, in some cases more than that, on these ads that have weakened Democratic incumbents that were not originally on the Republican target list. Then the Republicans see that they have been weakened and they're vulnerable, and they come in with more traditional party money.

So this one-two punch, sometimes one-two-three-four punch from the conservative groups and the Republican Party without a doubt is having a negative effect on the Democrats.

BLITZER: And very briefly, why are the conservatives -- why is the conservative money so much more plentiful right now than the liberal money?

KING: Because they're angry. And when you're angry, you tend to get more active in politics. There are a number of deep-pocketed business leaders and business groups that don't like the health care bill, think this president is anti-business. And they have decided that they want the Republicans to run the Congress. And they're anti- Obama. That's where most of this money is coming from.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much. See you at the top of the hour. After 17 years in prison and a brush with execution, a Death Row inmate gets a Supreme Court hearing. In a CNN exclusive, he says DNA will set him free.


BLITZER: A Texas Death Row inmate who came within minutes of execution says he's innocent and DNA evidence will prove it. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear what could be a landmark case. In a CNN exclusive, our own Kate Bolduan spoke with the convicted killer and the victim's family.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We met Hank Skinner on the Texas Death Row.

(on camera) I wanted to ask you first, Mr. Skinner, about the Supreme Court case.

(voice-over) Skinner is lucky to be alive today.

(on camera) What has it been like behind bars for 17 years?

HANK SKINNER, TEXAS DEATH ROW INMATE: Living hell. There's hell on earth, this is it.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): In March he came within 45 minutes of lethal injection when the Supreme Court stepped in, agreeing to hear his case.

SKINNER: I just kind of slid down the wall. I felt so light that I thought I was going to float away.

BOLDUAN (on camera): You were ready to die?

SKINNER: No, I wasn't ready to die. But I didn't have any choice.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you point blank: did you commit this crime?

SKINNER: No, I did not.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): To prove that, Skinner wants untested DNA evidence from the triple murder crime scene analyzed now.

SKINNER: All the district attorney has got to do is turn over the evidence and test it and let the chips fall where they may. If I'm innocent I go home; if I'm guilty, I die. How hard -- what's so hard about that?

BOLDUAN (on camera): Skinner has always maintained he is innocent. Now the case has made its way to the Supreme Court. The question: do Death Row inmates have a basic civil right to have forensic evidence reviewed post-conviction? This almost two decades after the gruesome crime that rocked this small community. LISA BUSBY, SURVIVOR: It still makes me sad.

BOLDUAN: Lisa Busby, who is developmentally challenged, is now the lone surviving member of the Busby family. New Year's Eve, 1993, her mother, Twila, and two older brothers were murdered in their Tampa, Texas, home. Twila Busby was Hank Skinner's girlfriend. Skinner admits he was there but told CNN he was passed out on the couch at the time of the murders.

Lisa Busby and her uncle remain certain Skinner is guilty and certain any additional evidence will further prove that.

BUSBY: They should kill him.

BOLDUAN (on camera): They should kill him.

BUSBY: Yes. Let him suffer for what he did.

DAVE BRITO, UNCLE OF MURDER VICTIM: Test the DNA, execute him, and get it over with.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Prosecutors argue if Skinner wins now, it will open the flood gates to frivolous lawsuits clogging the criminal justice system.

GREG COLEMAN, ATTORNEY FOR TEXAS DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Mr. Skinner has tried, and he has failed to make any showing that there's any reasonable probability that this testing would likely show him to be innocent.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Are you prepared to deal with any consequence that comes if it would further prove your guilt?

SKINNER: Without sounding like a smart ass, lady, I've been here 17 years, and I'm ready for anything.

BOLDUAN: No matter how the high court rules, this decision will have far-reaching implications for every death-penalty case and any inmate, innocent or not, seeking to overturn a death sentence.

Kate Bolduan, CNN, in North Texas.


BLITZER: The U.S. Supreme Court, by the way, will hear oral arguments on this case Wednesday. We'll follow up.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right at the top of the hour.

But first, a young pianist takes China by a storm. He plays in a "Most Unusual" way: with his toes. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Finally, a pianist who's brought Chinese music lovers to their feet by playing with his toes. CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story of the "Most Unusual" musician.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You know how people talk about someone having the hands of a pianist? Well, make that the feet. You're listening to the winner of "China's Got Talent," talent down to the toes. Twenty-three-year-old Liu Wei has no arms, but he disarmed the judges with his feet.


(MUSIC: "You're Beautiful")


MOOS: His first appearance back in August, he played an all- instrumental piece, a piece that brought at least one judge to tears.

After losing both arms, he learned to dress, swim, use a computer, and even write. So it wasn't such a stretch for him to start tickling the ivories with his toes at the age of 19.

Four years later he's helped make "China's Got Talent" that country's most popular show.

(on camera) Liu Wei was 10 when he lost his arms in an accident. He touched a wire and got shocked while playing hide and seek.

(voice-over) Now he's the one electrifying audiences.


MOOS: He told the judges, "At least I have a pair of perfect legs."

We've seen legwork before on piano keys. From the movie "Big" to a Swedish stairway designed to entice people into taking the stairs rather than the escalator.

But this type of toe work led to cramps and abrasions when he first started.


MOOS (on camera): A bit of irony: guess who sponsored the competition won by an armless guy playing piano with his feet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Head & Shoulders.

MOOS: Liu Wei "Head and Shoulders" above the competition with toes that are truly touching.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: What an amazing story and what an amazing talent.

Remember, always follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on twitter. I'm on -- get my tweets at, @WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.